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Making waves

Making waves

In the decades to come, the marine environment will be, unsurprisingly, in great demand. It is the base for everything, from generating millions of GW of green energy to the growing aquaculture industry.

But alongside these money spinners - that generate more than £3.6bn for the Scottish economy - there is also a race to protect the life that exists within it.

Two years ago the Marine Scotland Act was passed, aiming to give more security for the 40,000 plus species that live in or around it.

Species like seabirds, mammals like porpoise and dolphins and fish - including the odd Basking Shark.

One of the key parts of that Act was the production of the National Marine Plan that would ensure that all development that takes place in the sea, be it building a wind turbine, to laying a power cable or setting up a fish farm, was done with due respect for maintaining the marine environment.

However, although that plan was initially due to be published by the end of this year it has been delayed and will now not be published until the end of 2014 - leading to concerns from environmentalists of a lack of clarity in planning and development decisions before then.

This month, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead will update parliament on plans to create a network of Marine Protected Areas across Scottish waters, which will limit development and aim to protect the sea life within. There are already more than 30 draft locations which have been discussed at meetings at workshops including government officials and organisations such as Scottish Environment Link this year.

Those Marine Protected Areas will be put out to consultation at the same time as the National Marine Plan next summer.

A report earlier this year from Scottish Natural Heritage, for example, showed that seabird populations had declined over the last 25 years, with the number of seabirds breeding falling 53 per cent. Of 11 species studied, only two - the black guillemot and the northern fulmar - had remained stable, while the number of Arctic skua fell 74 per cent, Arctic tern by 72 per cent and black-legged kittiwake 66 per cent.

In 2011 the Scottish Government launched its own marine atlas, which mapped the diversity of the sea surrounding the country.

Calum Duncan, Scotland Programme Manager for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “From our perspective, the Government’s own marine atlas demonstrates that our seas are in a denuded state. There are either some or many concerns about most seabed types and there are also declines in the seabed types across the entire extent of the Scottish continental shelf to beyond 200 nautical miles.

“There are concerns about Harbour Seal populations, seabird numbers, the position of most intertidal habitats.

“After centuries of overuse our seas are denuded and it’s imperative we get in place a planning and management framework in order to manage all the competing impacts of the marine environment in a sustainable way, that helps to recover it in areas that’s necessary - and it’s important that we do that to continue to enjoy the goods and services that our sea provides so future generations can enjoy food, recreation and the role the seas play.” Richard Lochhead has faced several parliamentary questions from two Labour MSPs - Claudia Beamish – the party’s environment and climate change spokeswoman and Sarah Boyack – its spokeswoman on planning issues.

Beamish told Holyrood she wanted the Government to make clear how it was going to avoid problems with developments in marine areas as a result of the delayed plan.

She said: “What the National Marine Plan should achieve is a strategic overview of all the marine issues around our coasts and it will take into account all the different aspects of any developments. It’s very important that it’s in place as quickly as possible in view of all the different developments that are likely to be occurring.

“That’s the reason for the serious concern I have and our party has about the delay until 2014.

“It really is worrying if issues such as marine renewables, which I’m completely in support of but in the right place, are going to go ahead and then we find there should have been a Marine Protected Area in that place.

We need the guidance for all these different developments and environmental protection issues to be able to be judged against.” She added: “Otherwise we’re going to look back at the year developments happened and it’s possible - I stress possible - that they shouldn’t have happened. Once they are agreed there isn’t any going back. So I’d like to hear from the Scottish Government how they’re going to be sure that, with hindsight, there isn’t regret.” In October when the delay was announced, environmental organisations complained of being left in a ‘planning limbo’ and Calum Duncan said decisions made before the National Marine Plan or MPAs are set, decisions will have to be made with the potential impact that draft proposals could have.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As set out in the revised Statement of Public Participation, it’s expected that the National Marine Plan will be adopted towards the end of 2014. We will formally consult on a draft plan next summer - this timing allows for an integrated consultation with marine renewable sectoral plans and proposals for Marine Protected Areas.

“Whilst the draft plan is being developed, decisions regarding marine activities and developments will continue to be made under existing frameworks and the marine licensing regime. These take account of social and environmental impacts and the views of consultees, promoting a sustainable approach to development and activities.”

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