Is Scotland’s National Marine Plan fit for purpose?

Marine Plan Sea Loch

This blog article by Esther Brooker, WWF Marine Policy Officer (Scotland), looks at the recent National Marine Plan review in more detail…

Since the introduction of the Scottish Marine Act in 2010, WWF have been closely following the progress of Scotland’s National Marine Plan (NMP). In recent months the NMP’s been under-going a statutory review process, with the outcome announced recently.  So how has it has evolved over the last few years, what has it achieved and where do we go from here?

The basic idea behind the National Marine Plan is to provide a single, over-arching framework for managing activities within our seas for the protection of the environment and is a requirement of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.  WWF Scotland campaigned hard for this so Scotland could ensure more sustainable management and conservation of our seas.

We all know the demands on our precious marine resources are getting greater so the NMP represents the opportunity to take a progressive, universal approach to ensuring human activities don’t adversely affect the environment or undermine existing conservation measures. It’s founded in the practice of marine spatial planning, a process that’s been developed over the last 20 years or so that looks to strategically regulate and manage activities at sea in an inclusive way.

Scotland’s National Marine Plan acts as a guide to authorities (e.g. government), developers and industry, and other interested parties to inform decision-making for any project or development in the marine environment. This could include anything, from a port expansion to seaweed culture. The Plan also relates all its policies and objectives to UK and EU high-level commitments, so it contributes to marine conservation nationally and internationally.

WWF Scotland has always maintained that the National Marine Plan is a crucially important document, not only as a framework for ensuring human activities are carried out sustainably in our seas, but as a basis for Regional Marine Plans (area-specific marine plans that will do the same job but in more detail at a local level).

Limitations

If we get marine spatial planning right for Scotland, it will ensure effective protection for the marine environment, greater certainty for developers and industry, and reduce conflict for space and resources.

On the whole the NMP has been set up well to do this through its policies and objectives, and its ambition to integrate with wider planning legislation and policy is laudable. It is not without its limitations though, and this is what we had hoped the current review process would consider – unfortunately the scope of the review has been too narrow.

So while the Plan has enabled, for example, the emergency designation of Loch Carron marine protected area, it also integrates industry targets for economic growth within its objectives – targets which have no guarantee of supporting environmental sustainability. There are also certain sectors which aren’t fully integrated into the Plan, such as commercial fishing, which means it can’t be completely ecosystem-based.

So despite a promising start, we believe the National Marine Plan could and should be revised, and soon, not just to ensure that the protection of the environment is appropriately prioritised, but to set a leading example to other maritime nations.

We want to see a Plan that is up-to-date and relevant for Scotland’s seas after Brexit, and all the changes that will bring; that encourages developers to support environmental recovery; and that better supports the Scottish Government’s goal to transition to a low carbon economy.

Going forwards we hope the Scottish Government can build on the outcome of the National Marine Plan’s review and look to maximise its potential to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits across Scotland.

This blog was originally posted as Is Scotland’s National Marine Plan fit for purpose? at WWF on 16/04/18.

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