Highlands & Islands

Scottish marine protection plan 'unambitious'

puffins Image copyright PA

Plans to protect fragile marine habitats off the west coast of Scotland have been described as "unambitious" by Highland Council.

The Scottish government wants to designate about 13% of Scotland's territorial waters as Marine Protected Areas or Special Areas of Conservation.

The plans are intended to protect the huge diversity of marine life and habitats in Scottish waters.

But the council said the proposals did not go far enough.

In its response to the government's consultation, it said ministers had watered down their proposals on how to manage fishing activity in the protected areas.

And the council said it was disappointed "protected ecosystems seem to have been limited to small isolated outposts... rather than a continuous network as originally proposed".

There should be tougher restrictions on the most environmentally damaging types of fishing activity, such as scallop dredging, the council argued.

'Prized assets'

It also said it would like to see more areas completely closed to commercial fishing, and urged the government to consider the economic benefits that would come from increased recreational tourism based on the attraction of fully diverse and functioning ecosystems.

Speaking as he unveiled the plans last year, Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said it would "enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations."

He added: "Our waters support a huge diversity of marine life and habitats, with around 6,500 species of plants and animals and are among the richest in Europe for marine mammals.

"Many of these sites will provide protections for our seabirds like the black guillemot and sandeels which provide a vital food source."

Last month, a cross-party committee of MSPs claimed that the Scottish government's plans to protect the nation's seas were not fit for purpose and could even make the current situation worse.

At the time, a Scottish government spokesman said its marine plan had won "widespread support" during its consultation phase, adding: "The plan provides clarity to developers and decision makers ensuring the protection of our precious marine environment."

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