Highlands & Islands

Scotland 'falling behind' in protection for porpoise

Harbour porpoise Image copyright PA
Image caption The Scottish government has defended its efforts to protect porpoise and other marine life

Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK on efforts to protect the harbour porpoise, according to environmental campaigners.

The UK government has announced a public consultation on the creation of five new marine protected areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

These areas are designed to protect harbour porpoise populations.

Scientists say numbers are falling due to threats which affect their ability to catch food, breed and communicate.

But campaigners have accused the Scottish government of delaying efforts to protect the species.

Catherine Weller, of environmental law group ClientEarth, said: "These new protected areas are a step in the right direction for the harbour porpoise.

"We need to ensure the areas designated are those that will offer the highest benefit to the harbour porpoise and that when designated, these sites are managed effectively.

"It's disappointing the Scottish government has stalled its consultation regarding at least three further areas, reducing the potential for comprehensive protection for the harbour porpoise in UK waters."

'Fully committed'

The Scottish government has defended its record.

A spokeswoman told BBC Scotland: "The Scottish government remains fully committed to having harbour porpoise special areas of conservation in Scottish waters, where they are fully justified and supported by the evidence.

"However, the four proposals received for Scottish waters did not fully meet the scientific requirements, which is why Marine Scotland has begun a new selection process which will progress as quickly and methodically as possible."

The Scottish government has responsibility for the conservation, protection and management of seals and cetaceans.

Sixteen special areas of conservation for marine mammals have already been designated in Scottish waters.