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.


North West Highlands Snorkel Trail

As part of our Living Seas community engagement work, the Trust has launched Scotland's first ever snorkel trail. The self-led trail features nine beaches and bays on the coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland, where beginner and advanced snorkellers can dive down to see the incredible marine life that lives in Scotland's seas.


Fins out more about the snorkel trail

What is marine planning?

The marine environment plays an essential role in human society, from valuable economic benefits such as food and jobs to important social benefits such as sport and recreation. Our high demands on natural resources, such as fish and oil, and our ever increasing range of activities at sea have placed huge pressure on the marine environment. The result has been a notable decline in marine ecosystem health and the poor status of Scotland’s seas (as identified in Scotland’s Marine Atlas) highlights an urgent need for effective, environmentally-focused management of human activities.   

Marine planning is a valuable tool that enables managers to assess the many different uses and values of the marine environment and appropriately guide the distribution of future human activities and developments. Done correctly, marine planning can provide a clear and easily accessible method of sustainable management that encourages stakeholder involvement, allowing representatives from large industries, conservation groups and local community groups to be included in the decision-making process.

A valuable advancement in marine planning is the ability to simultaneously map and analyse data on human activities (e.g. shipping), the physical environment (e.g. temperature), and marine species and communities (e.g. seal population distribution). The integration of spatial data into the planning process, through the use of Geographical Information Systems, allows managers to visualise more accurately the uses of the marine environment, identify potentially conflicting activities, identify areas in poor health, and monitor animal and environmental data trends over long periods of time. Moreover, the availability of spatial data has allowed marine planners to make better-informed, evidence-based decisions on how to manage marine activities.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust acts as a consultant for marine planning applications in Scotland, either individually or as part of Scottish Environment LINK, with the ultimate aim of influencing planning decisions and promoting the following principles:

  • An ecosystems approach to marine planning that aims to improve the health of Scotland’s seas;
  • A transparent and fully inclusive process for developing marine plans, including conservation interests;
  • Cross-border collaboration (e.g. between Scottish regions and across the UK);
  • Established partnerships that ensure integration of terrestrial and marine planning systems;
  • Sustained financial support for the development, monitoring, and reviewing of marine plans;
  • Coordinated long-term monitoring of the marine environment and improved access to marine data to support marine planning decisions.

Click on the links below to find out more about certain aspects of marine planning:

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 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.

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