Living Seas

Safeguarding Scotland's marine treasures

Scotland’s marine area is vast, making up approximately 60% of UK seas and covering an area six times that of Scotland’s land area. Our coasts and waters support a rich and diverse array of spectacular wildlife and natural habitats that provide a wealth of benefits to society, from food and jobs to education and inspiration.

Unfortunately, the constant pressure and demands from modern society has led to a decline in the health of Scotland’s seas. To maintain a healthy and productive marine environment we must recognise and rectify the impact human activity has had by implementing effective and sustainable management of our seas. To make real and lasting improvement to the health of the seas it is essential to improve our collective knowledge of the current state of the environment and develop open and constructive dialogue between stakeholders.

The Trust recognises that effective management involves working at both national and local levels. Therefore, the Living Seas project focuses on marine planning and community engagement. Our Marine Planning Officer is responsible for engaging with various stakeholders involved with marine development, conservation and exploitation, and promoting best practice that ensures environmental damage is minimised. Our Communities Officer is responsible for raising awareness of good stewardship and conservation with local communities and increasing public knowledge on the sustainable uses of our seas.


Managing fishing inside MPAs

The latest decisions on how fishing will be controlled within Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were made public by Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead on Friday 18 December.

Legislation to protect marine wildlife including the cold water coral reefs of East Mingulay and the seagrass and maerl beds of South Arran has been laid in Parliament where it will undergo scrutiny before taking effect on 8 February 2016.

A further period of public consultation was also launched as a result of proposed changes in three MPAs: Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura, Wester Ross, and Small Isles. Representations have been invited by 18 January 2016. The Scottish Wildlife Trust will closely consider the effect of the new plans on the conservation of the species and habitats the MPAs were designed to protect. At first glance, much of what is being proposed appears to be a pragmatic response to some of the issues raised in the last round of consultation. However, there are still concerns around some of areas of seabed inside MPAs left open to potential damage from bottom-towed fishing gear. 

Wester Ross MPA surveys

Using specialist underwater camera equipment, we have captured video evidence of maerl beds, kelp forests and other seabed habitats within the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area (MPA). Click on the image below to see a map of what we found.

Click here to view the maerl survey map

The map presents the drop-down video data collected within the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area on 8 & 9 November 2014 and 26 & 27 August 2015. The surveys were carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (with the support of Fauna & Flora International and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation) using Marine Scotland funded equipment and expertise provided by Scottish Natural Heritage staff. Click here to view an example survey video.

Sealife - the scallop diver

As part of our Marine Protected Areas campaign, journalist and photographer Jamie Grant has been to meet a variety of people who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

Andy Holbrow has been diving for scallops for 22 years. He would like to see MPAs that keep damaging bottom trawling and dredging away from special habitats, easing pressure on ecosystems and allowing them to thrive once again.


Sealife - the tour guide

Noel Hawkins is from Ullapool and works aboard the cruise boat, the 'Summer Queen'. A former fisherman, he believes that MPAs can work for wildlife and people but communication with those affected will be key to their success.


Sealife - the islander

Richard Williams lives and works on Tanera Mòr, an island off the coast of Wester Ross. He believes we must take the opportunity to regenerate the seas or future generations will ask why we didn't act while we had the chance. 


Sealife - the sea angler

Neil McIntosh runs sea angling trips in Sutherland on his boat Rachael Clare. He believes that Marine Protected Areas can protect vital habitats for fish and help to restore Scotland's seas to what they once were.


Sealife - the hoteliers

Tanja and Sonia run the Kylescu Hotel in Sutherland, north west Scotland. They believe Marine Protected Areas and sustainable use of the seas is vital to help businesses like theirs thrive in the long-term.


Sealife - the creel fisherman

Ian McWhinney lives on Dry Island on Gairloch in Wester Ross. He has been a fisherman for 31 years, continuing an activity that has been in the family for centuries. Respect for the marine environment is important to him to ensure a future for fishing in this area.


What are MPAs?

Healthy marine ecosystems can bring enormous benefits to Scotland’s society and economy, yet much of our seas are degraded and under threat from human activity. While all of the sea should be treated with respect, site-based protection through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is the cornerstone of international efforts to conserve marine biodiversity and ensure we continue to enjoy the benefits our seas provide.

MPAs are sites at sea in which human activity is restricted to varying degrees. Up until now they have been established in Scotland to safeguard marine habitats and species of international significance, from the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth to the world’s largest area of serpulid reef, in Loch Creran.

Recent UK and Scottish marine legislation requires the designation of a new type of MPA to protect and enhance nationally important marine habitats and species, such as horse mussels, kelp forests, seagrass and basking sharks. Scottish ‘Nature Conservation MPAs’ will build upon existing designated sites and other measures to help us meet our international commitments to establish an ecologically coherent network of MPAs.

In July 2014 the Scottish Government announced the designation of 30 new MPAs. The addition of these news sites means that around 20% of Scottish seas are now, on paper at least, managed specifically for the conservation of nature. The creation of additional MPAs is likely to follow in 2016 to protect important areas for basking sharks, whales, dolphins and seabirds. 

Importantly, the MPAs are not automatically be ‘no go areas’ or ‘no take zones’; however, human activities must be carefully managed to ensure the conservation or recovery of the species and habitats that make the site so important.

The success of MPAs relies on good management and the cooperation and stewardship of marine industries and coastal communities.

What are Living Seas?

Living Seas are The Wildlife Trusts’ vision for the future of the UK’s seas. Within Living Seas, marine wildlife thrives, from the depths of the ocean to the coastal shallows.

In Living Seas:

  • Wildlife and habitats are recovering from past decline as our use of the seas’ resources becomes environmentally sustainable.

  • The natural environment is adapting well to a changing climate, and ocean processes are helping to slow down climate change.

  • People are inspired by marine wildlife and value the sea for the many ways in which it supports our quality of life.

Policy documents

Marine planning

Marine renewable energy

Finfish aquaculture

Conservation and management of seals


Marine Protected Areas

Marine planning



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