October 13, 2008

Emphasis on Exploitation is a Slow Death

By Jenny Haworth

SCOTLAND's seas are at risk of "a death of a thousands cuts" unless crucial new laws put protection of our fragile marine ecosystems firmly at their heart, environment groups have warned.

There are fears the Scottish Marine Bill is set to focus too strongly on using the seas to boost economic growth, through activities such as offshore renewables, fishing and shipping, rather than on protecting precious underwater habitats.

A year after The Scotsman launched its Save Our Seas campaign, there have been calls for the Scottish Government to make sure it gets the priorities of the new legislation right. Marine charities argue that, in the short term, a bill that favours development of marine industries may create economic wealth and jobs, but in the long term it could put the entire future of the seas at risk.

Calum Duncan, convener of Scottish Environment Link, which represents the views of a group of environment charities, said: "The bill must be about protecting the underlying ecosystem. This must be the foundation of it all. Otherwise we are looking at a death by 1,000 cuts as more and more development and activities happen at sea."

Fears have been raised by the language used in the marine bill consultation document, which environment charities think sets the wrong tone and priorities. There are 19 mentions of the phrase "economic growth" in the document, which is repeatedly set out as a key target of the new laws.

Mr Duncan said: "We are concerned by some of the language and the tone which talks about economic growth. The tone is that we can do a lot to sustain activities at sea but protect the marine environment at the same time. It should be the other way round."

He is similarly worried about mentions in the consultation document that sites designated as marine protected areas could be "flexible".

"That suggests a site can be set up to protect important species but then if you decide that a big port or something else needs to be built there, the power is flexible and it can just be redesignated, which makes it meaningless," he said.

Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, is similarly worried by mentions of the need for the legislation to encourage economic growth.

In one section the consultation document reads that the "overall role" of Marine Scotland, a new body to be set up to oversee the legislation, will be "to deliver the Scottish Government purpose of sustainable economic growth."

Dr Barlow said this is the wrong focus, and instead the overall role should be to protect the seas.

"It should be about marine conservation and the principles of sustainable development. There's a risk that when it comes to making appropriate planning decisions they are skewed in favour of economic growth interests rather than towards protecting the seas," he said.

He warned that an approach that favoured short-term economic growth would backfire.

"The seas are key to the future of our economy. If we look after our seas they will be there to support communities in the long run. It's about taking a long-term approach which is fundamentally about improving the marine environment, rather than about short-term economic aims."

Sarah Dolman, head of Scottish policy at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said it was crucial for the Scottish Government to get the balance of its marine bill right.

She said: "We are in real danger, otherwise, of losing some of our most precious and special places and some really important species. I think the future of Scotland is incredibly dependent on tourism and if we don't get this right then we are jeopardising our future."

However, a spokesman for Scottish Renewables had different priorities.

"Any changes to marine management must actively encourage offshore renewables development as far as possible," he said. "This is on the basis of urgent needs to address climate change and energy security, as well as forthcoming legally binding targets for UK renewables development by 2020."

Environment secretary Richard Lochhead said he thought the consultation had "struck the right balance".

"Scotland's seas are among the most biologically productive in the world, containing over 40,000 species and internationally important populations of marine mammals and sea birds.

"The seas are also a major asset and generate more than GBP 2.2 billion for the Scottish economy. We have huge potential to increase economic growth from our seas but need to do so in a sustainable way. We feel the marine bill consultation has struck the right balance."

Thousands of people responded to The Scotsman's Save Our Seas campaign calling for protection of marine life, and almost 4,500 more responded to a similar campaign by Environment LINK.

Another 275 people or organisations wrote to the Scottish Government to respond to its consultation into the Scottish Marine Bill, which has now closed. A draft bill is due to be published for public consultation in the first half of 2009.

Hopes and fears for seas

A YEAR ago The Scotsman launched the Save Our Seas campaign to protect our precious marine life. We made four key demands:

* A network of marine reserves and protected areas to be created to safeguard sites properly.

* A system of marine planning, zoning areas for appropriate use, to safeguard fishing grounds from offshore wind farms and other projects.

* A single organisation to administer this system.

* Scotland to be given control of conservation to the 200-mile boundary with international waters.

Here is an update on progress:

* A network of marine protected areas is planned under the Scottish Marine Bill, to make sure areas with vulnerable species are safeguarded. However, there are fears these designations will be "flexible", meaning the designation could be removed if there is pressure to use the site for development.

* A new statutory marine planning system is proposed in the Scottish Marine Bill consultation. It will aim to balance the various uses of the sea.

* A new marine management organisation called Marine Scotland will be established. However, there are fears its remit could be focused on boosting the economy, rather than protecting the seas.

* The Scottish Government says it will fight for control of all the seas around its coast, including outside the 12-mile boundary beyond which it now has no powers. The UK government is unlikely to agree, and many environment groups also think it is unwise.



Species dependent on Scotland's seas

10 per cent

Of Europe's coastline that lies in Scotland

GBP 2.2 billion

For the Scottish economy delivered by the seas annually


Jobs supported by the oil and gas industries in Scotland's seas


Large ports in Scotland

100 million

Tonnes of cargoes handled each year by Scottish ports

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