Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary

Coral Gardens, copyright JNCCMarine Protected Areas - Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Marine Protected Area?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) uses the following description:

Any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment.

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area, or more simply MPA, is the term used to refer to MPAs which will be established in Scotland’s seas for biodiversity and geodiversity.

Why do we need MPAs and a network of sites?

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, as well as the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, requires that Scottish Ministers designate Nature Conservation MPAs as a contribution to a UK-wide network. Our contribution must be representative of the features found in our seas.

We also have international commitments to deliver a network of MPAs under:

  • the OSPAR convention
  • the World Summit on Sustainable Development
  • the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Which sites will make up the Scottish MPA network?

  • The new Nature Conservation MPAs
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) as required by the EU Habitats Directive
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs), as required by the EU Wild Birds Directive
  • Marine components of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
  • Area-based measures which are designed for purposes other than marine nature conservation may also contribute to the network

Where can I get more information on the network?

In addition to information already contained on the Marine Scotland, SNH, JNCC, SEPA, and Historic Scotland websites, the 'Advice to the Scottish Government on the Selection of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Development of the Scottish MPA Network' is available on the Scottish Natural Heritage and Joint Nature Conservation Committee websites.

What is the difference between Nature Conservation MPAs and European Marine Sites,  such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)?

Nature Conservation MPAs can be established under the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. SACs and SPAs are established and managed under the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. MPAs can protect species and habitats not protected by EU Directives.

What is a feature or search feature?

'Feature' is the collective term for species, habitats and geology we are looking to protect in the MPA network. Before we knew where the MPA proposals would most likely be, these same features were known as ‘search features’ as these are what were being searched for.

Which seas are covered by the Scottish MPA Project?

The Scottish MPA Project covers Scottish territorial waters and  the Scottish offshore region from the coast out to median lines or the UK Continental Shelf limit where applicable.

Selection Process

Are the MPA selection guidelines the same as the guidelines for the UK’s Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)?

No. However, all the guidance documents have all been developed from the same OSPAR principles relating to an ecologically coherent network.

Is the selection process in Scotland the same as the processes being used in England and Wales?

No. The selection process in Scotland is being undertaken at a national level. Nature Conservation MPAs will be based primarily on scientific evidence using the MPA selection guidelines.

Has a target been set for the percentage of sea that should be included within MPAs?

The Scottish Government has no such targets.

What is the difference between the Marine (Scotland) Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Act?

The Marine (Scotland) Act provides powers to designate MPAs out to 12nm, and the Marine and Coastal Access Act provides powers to designate out to the rest of Scottish waters. The acts were respectively put in place in 2010 and 2009.

Have targets been set for how much of each feature should be included within the MPA network?

Individual targets have not been set for MPA species or habitats within the network. The assessment will take account of the geographic range and variation of a feature, threatened and/or declining status, and the need for replication. For some features it will also consider connectivity or linkages between MPAs within the network.

How is information being gathered to support the selection of MPAs?

We have gathered data on biodiversity from a wide range of sources, and data mined existing data gathered for other purposes to extract biodiversity information. During 2010 and 2011 we also carried out surveys of a variety of locations in our seas.

Stakeholder Engagement

Can people put forward their own proposals for Nature Conservation MPAs?

Third parties had the opportunity to propose Nature Conservation MPAs and these were considered alongside those proposed by SNH and JNCC as part of the national selection process.

How many of these Third Party Proposals have been submitted and how have they been considered?

A total of 27 proposals for third party Nature Conservation MPAs were received. Many of the third party Nature Conservation MPA proposals overlap with existing search locations and others are being taken forward as part of the overall process and have been put through the same guidelines. 12 proposals met all the relevant guidelines and have been recommended for further consideration, and have contributed to the development of eight Nature Conservation MPA proposals. A further three have contributed to the development of three of the remaining MPA search locations.

What opportunities have there been for people to have a say in the selection of MPAs?

Five national stakeholder workshops between March 2011 and June 2012;
The Marine Strategy Forum has provided strategic views on progress;
Bi-laterals with stakeholder representatives

What opportunities will there be for people to have a say in the selection of MPAs?

We are still having meetings with stakeholders and the MPA Consultation will allow them to comment further.

Seabirds in the Network

What is being done to protect seabirds in the network?

There are currently 47 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EU Wild Birds Directive, and a further 17 SSSIs already providing protection of seabirds in the MPA network. These protect every one of the 24 nationally important species of breeding seabird. Work is also progressing to identify further locations in the marine environment that meet the criteria for consideration as Special Protection Areas for seabirds and waterfowl for critical activities such as foraging.

What seabirds will be protected in the network?

The aim is to protect all seabird species in the network through SPAs, SSSIs or MPAs.

The only species of seabird in Scotland not covered by SPA provisions of the EU Wild Birds Directive is the Black Guillemot. Consequently, Nature Conservation MPA proposals are being identified for this species.

There will be proposals for protection of sandeels, a key prey species for seabirds.

It is envisaged that completion of all of these designations will provide a resilient MPA network for seabirds. The periodic reviews of the network as required by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 will provide an opportunity to ensure that this is the case.

Cetacean and Basking Sharks in the Network

What is a cetacean?

The collective term for any marine mammal in the family of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

What work is being done to support the inclusion of cetaceans in the network?

Work to identify key habitats for the cetacean species of minke whale and white-beaked and Risso’s dolphin, as well as for basking shark, is ongoing and the habitat modelling work for both basking sharks and the cetacean species to support their inclusion is under way with a view to completing by the end of 2013.

What work is being done to support the inclusion of basking sharks in the network?

In July 2012 SNH and the University of Exeter launched a basking shark tagging project, focused on the Skye to Mull MPA search location. The aim of the project is to understand more about the fine-scale use of the search location by these animals. Some results will be available in early 2013, with the rest by the end of 2013.

What will happen once these pieces of work are complete?

Following completion of this work, SNH will provide advice to Scottish Ministers on whether the current search locations for cetaceans and basking shark should be taken forward as Nature Conservation MPA proposals.

Other Questions

Is an MPA the same thing as a no take zone (NTZ) or ‘no go’ area for fishing and other activities?

No. MPAs will be managed using the principle of sustainable use. 

Can MPAs be used to manage fisheries?

MPA measures are not a fisheries management tool. Mechanisms already exist for that purpose. However, fisheries restrictions may be required at some MPAs.

Could some MPAs be designated for fish?

Yes, fish being used to underpin the selection of MPAs include orange roughy, blue ling, common skate and sandeels.

Will fishing activity be restricted within MPAs?

There will be a presumption of use within an MPA so long as the conservation objectives of a site can be met. However, specific activities which pose a significant risk to a protected feature may have to be managed.

How will the effects on fishing of designating an MPA be considered?

Throughout the Scottish MPA Project, discussions will be held with fishing interests to ensure there is good understanding of the features (habitats, wildlife, geology and undersea landforms) and fishing activities associated with specific search locations or potential MPAs. Alongside any advice that is given to Scottish Ministers on the natural heritage interest of a potential area will be an Impact Assessment which considers the potential effects (whether beneficial or adverse) on existing activities. Marine Scotland is responsible for the production of Impact Assessments.

Is the aim of an MPA to restrict fishing activity?

No. The aim of an MPA is to ensure that its conservation objectives are being met and that it continues to make its contribution to the wider MPA network.

Can information from fishermen be considered during the selection of MPAs?

Yes. Marine Scotland is currently developing a standard method for gathering information on inshore fishing activity in Scotland’s seas. This will mean we can work with the industry to ensure there is a good understanding of fishing activity, particularly by those vessels not covered by VMS (i.e. those under 15m). JNCC is currently working to improve information on the activities undertaken by both UK and non-UK fishing fleets.

Where new MPA designations restrict fishing activity, will these rules apply to non-UK fleets too?

Under current arrangements in waters where EU fleets have access, we would have to apply for non-discriminatory fisheries restrictions via the Common Fisheries Policy if new fisheries management was needed to protect an MPA.

Can MPAs and renewable energy developments co-exist?

Yes. As with fishing or indeed any current activity, there is no presumption against use and co-location so long as the conservation objectives of a site can be met. Management may be required on a case-by-case basis depending on species or habitat sensitivity.

What are the main management principles with regard to renewables?

The current policy approach is that if developments have an insignificant effect on MPAs, developers will not be required to consider effects on Nature Conservation MPAs any further, and there would be no retrospective review of existing consents once MPAs are designated.

Since March 2012 Marine Scotland has requested that all EIAs from developers consider proposed MPAs and search locations.