Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, gives us an update on Marine Protected Areas in Scotland.

Saving Scotland's Seas

Visitors watching seabirds at Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve, Scotland.

The designation of Marine Protected Areas last summer sought to address the over exploitation and lack of protection of Scotland’s marine wildlife by safeguarding the most important and most threatened species and habitats we have. For these MPAs to become more than just lines on maps or paper parks, as some have called them, they need to be properly managed.

It is management which gives MPAs their value and allows them to contribute to the conservation of the weird, wonderful and incredibly important things in our sea. In practice management means prohibiting activities within MPAs that will harm the species or habitats for which an MPA has been designated.

Marine wildlife needs our help, and it is completely right that conservation should use science to guide and inform. It is only with the use of science that the integrity of the MPA process can be upheld and allow Scotland to reach its potential as a world leader in marine conservation. After all, Scotland, despite its small size, is one of the most important places in the world for marine wildlife - we have 80% of the world’s great skua population, around one third of the EU’s seabirds, we are home to basking sharks, common skate, whales, dolphins, cold water corals and a whole host of other amazing wildlife.

As pressures on the marine environment grow, so too does our knowledge of species and habitats, and what is required to ensure that the measures of protection we employ today provide a lasting legacy of a healthy marine environment to the next generation.

Despite this, management of protected areas proposed by the Scottish Government sometimes fails to follow scientific advice, or adequately protect species and habitats within MPAs. In the next week and a half, a consultation on how MPAs should be managed will come to a close. As there are various examples of how the proposed management does not go far enough to protect species within an MPA, RSPB Scotland will be responding to this consultation asking that management be improved to ensure that, at the very least, the species and habitats which have been afforded protection through MPAs are adequately protected in these areas.

Scotland’s marine life needs adequate management within MPAs and measures that ensure the environment is used sustainably across the rest of our sea area. Like the species and habitats it aims to protect, conservation is a living thing. Protecting important areas and introducing management that will protect species and habitats is not a conclusion of any kind, it is part of a cycle of measures needed to maintain and, in some cases, enhance our natural environment. We will continue to work hard to make sure this happens.

Scotland has a fantastic opportunity to do something great by properly protecting its marine environment; we mustn’t allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers.

Scottish Environment LINK has organised a campaign to draw attention to these issues. More details can be found here: www.savescottishseas.org