Districts, December 11 2020

Scotland has several hotspots for basking shark sightings. Photograph: Oceanographic Systems Lab, WHOI.
Scotland has several hotspots for basking shark sightings. Photograph: Oceanographic Systems Lab, WHOI.

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Gigha’s waters to offer additional protection to marine species

Scotland’s nature agency has welcomed the designation of 12 Special Protection Areas (SPAs), including the Sound of Gigha, and four Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland’s seas.

NatureScot, formerly Scottish Natural Heritage, says the announcement, made by Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon, gives additional protection to much-loved marine species, as well as 31 species of marine birds – such as great northern diver, Slavonian grebe, long-tailed duck, Arctic tern and kittiwake – bringing the coverage of the Scottish MPA network to 37 per cent.

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s interim director of nature and climate change, said: ‘The designation of these new sites sees some of our most iconic marine species – such as basking shark, minke whale and Risso’s dolphin – included in the MPA network as well as foraging areas for internationally important populations of seabirds, divers and sea ducks.

‘The Scottish MPA network now covers 37 per cent of our seas, marking significant progress towards meeting global ambitions for marine conservation and ensuring a nature-rich future for Scotland, as well as offering locations where people can engage with and experience world-class wildlife.

‘We are committed to working with others to ensure the MPA network and our wider seas are well-managed and monitored so that they can contribute to addressing the decline in nature, and help build resilience in the face of climate change.’

In addition to the Sound of Gigha, the other new SPAs are: Solway Firth; Seas off St Kilda; Seas off Foula; Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex; Moray Firth; Ythan Estuary, Sands of Forvie and Meikle Loch; Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds; Coll and Tiree; East Mainland Coast, Shetland; West Coast of the Outer Hebrides; Rum SPA (additional feature to existing marine extension).

The four nature conservation MPAs are: North-east Lewis, Shiant East Bank, Sea of the Hebrides and Southern Trench.

NatureScot undertook the site selection process based on the scientific evidence for the features in these MPAs and SPAs, presented this to stakeholders and provided formal advice to Marine Scotland.

The nature agency provided guidance and advice to Marine Scotland and stakeholders on the conservation objectives and management advice for the MPAs and SPAs as part of its role, and supported Marine Scotland in the public consultation for these sites, including public events, stakeholder meetings.

The majority of UK sightings of Risso’s dolphin occur along Scotland's west coast. Photograph: Nicola Hodgins/WDC.
The majority of UK sightings of Risso’s dolphin occur along Scotland’s west coast. Photograph: Nicola Hodgins/WDC.