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by Rebecca Crawford, Marine Policy Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust
17 January 2024
Associate Feature: Putting communities at the heart of marine planning

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Associate Feature: Putting communities at the heart of marine planning

In the face of a joint nature and climate emergency, the need to protect and restore Scotland’s marine environment has never been more critical. Significant policy changes are needed. But so too is a change of approach: one that sees community buy-in as the bedrock upon which new policies are founded. 

In coastal communities especially, we must better understand what people value about Scotland’s coasts and seas and how they want to see them managed. Experience tells us, however, that it can be difficult to reach the public when consulting on marine policy or to find consensus in what can be a polarising debate between conflicting interests.

It was with these challenges in mind that the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s recent Oceans of Value project set out to compare two different approaches to understanding how people value the marine environment. Its focus was on the seas around Orkney where the local council is currently in the process of developing the first Regional Marine Plan for Orkney waters. 

As Scotland’s marine environment provides a range of ecosystem services that benefit individuals and communities in many ways, people place different values on our coasts and seas. Often, they relate to direct benefits such as food, employment and recreation, but healthy coastal waters also offer hidden, indirect benefits: carbon storage, coastal protection and important nursery grounds for fish, including commercial species. 

To capture these different values, the project team first undertook a natural capital assessment of Orkney’s Marine Region – the first of its kind for a marine region in Scotland – that mapped and qualified the condition of the area’s natural assets. The resulting report indicates what ecosystem services are provided and which natural assets are of most importance to local communities – with the health of these assets providing key information for marine planners. 

The second approach was to use the Community Voice Method (CVM). Originally developed in the US as a means to encourage community dialogue around land use conflict, CVM combines a range of social science research techniques, including video interviews, to generate an inclusive and deeper understanding of people’s values and opinions. The first CVM application to be based solely in Scotland, this element saw the development of a short film based on the analysis results. 

The Oceans of Value project revealed several key findings. First, the natural capital assessment uncovered a lack of information on cultural values compared with ecosystem services that produce a definable economic commodity, such as commercial fishing. 

When combined with the natural capital approach, social science methods helped reveal the significant historic and cultural value of Orkney’s kelp forests, while wildlife held importance for its inherent value and its impact on nature tourism. CVM results also highlighted the sea’s positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

Following the launch of the Trust’s Oceans of Value film in January 2023, our Living Seas Team conducted 15 workshops within seven of the Scottish Marine Regions, with screenings of the film used as a springboard for further discussion. 

As part of the filmed interviews, participants were asked whether they would wish to be involved in the development of a marine plan. Many responded that they did not feel confident enough to participate or simply did not have the expertise to be involved. A related topic raised later at the workshops was the need to improve awareness of marine issues in schools and for the wider public.

In addition, workshop responses highlighted how CVM can be a powerful means of overcoming the ‘consultation fatigue’ that can discourage people from attending traditional planning workshops. Participants also expressed how good it felt to have an opportunity to voice their opinions – a recurring theme of having a voice and being genuinely listened to that was equally apparent in the interviews conducted during the CVM itself. 

Time and again, in both the filmed interviews and the later workshops, it was made clear that early consultation with communities was key to ensuring that local people are able to play a fundamental role in decision making, rather than seeing consultations as simply a ‘tick-box exercise’ with a decision having already been made. 

Community feedback from these workshops – now compiled and passed onto the Marine Directorate to help progress National Marine Plan 2 – mirrored responses to the recent Highly Protected Marine Areas consultation, not least in that the apparent polarisation of respondents masked a great deal of common ground, with the need for incorporating the values of local people emphasised by those with both opposing and supporting views. 

Looking forward, the Trust welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to working with coastal and island communities and other sectors to ensure that future marine planning is community led. Achieving this is no easy task but we can look to the experience of others (see Learning lessons) to understand what successful collaboration looks like. 

Though individuals may attribute different values to the sea, our project discussions demonstrated a common desire to safeguard Scotland’s marine environment. We believe that strengthening involvement of marine users in developing proposals for any spatial protections will foster greater community support and help streamline processes. 

Our shared aim is to achieve a sustainable equilibrium between human activities and environmental preservation, putting the nature and climate crisis at the centre of decision making. Collaboration towards this goal is crucial for the future of our seas and our very existence on this planet.

Learning lessons
The Isle of Man offers an example of collaborative efforts between government, science and industry to protect the marine environment, with benefits for nature and the local economy. 

Closure of areas to fishing in the late 1980s initially met with scepticism from the fishing industry. In the ensuing decade, however, it became clear that catch was improving elsewhere due to an overspill effect, and attitudes towards protected areas began to change. 

Over time, a greater level of trust and improved dialogue between government and industry was cultivated by involving the industry in co-management decisions and continued demonstration of fishery benefits.

As the conversation began to focus on the spatial specifics of protected areas rather than the actual principle of closures or restricted access, the fishing industry took a more active role in monitoring of stocks to provide evidence for greater marine protections and improved fisheries management. 

Today, the industry works closely with Bangor University to provide the scientific data that has resulted in improved management, scallop stocks and catches in recent years.

In time, the concept of closed areas became integrated into fisheries management, with different measures in place for each area. Currently 51.8% of Manx waters within the 0-3nm boundary are under statutory protection, with fisheries management in place within them.

As one DEFA Marine Officer commented, the Isle of Man example demonstrates how “the use of data, evidence, agreed management and demonstrable benefits have all evolved to the point where it’s genuinely a co-management situation”. 

Parliamentary event
At the Trust’s Amplifying Community Voices in Marine Policy parliamentary event on 7 February, sponsored by Ariane Burgess MSP, we will showcase more findings from the Oceans of Value project as part of our 60th anniversary celebrations.

This article is sponsored by Scottish Wildlife Trust


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