Ninety years after a government report first discussed national parks in Scotland, and almost twenty since the first two were established, coastal and marine experts are calling on the country to celebrate the full range of its environmental riches and to create a new generation of national parks embracing the sea as well as the land.
As people flock to open spaces and beaches to recover from a year of lockdowns, leading charities are asking why an incomparably beautiful country such as Scotland has so few national parks and no marine parks – when they could bring in substantial tourist income.
A new report, ‘Vision for National Marine Parks’ commissioned by Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), reveals the extent that leaders in coastal communities are beginning to explore how community-led national marine parks could boost economic growth, public health and economic recovery and revolutionise how the public views the ocean in a future Scotland.
They say that local agreement on up to three national parks along the Scottish coast is possible in the next five years, led by communities not by government. Among those areas where community interest has been demonstrated are Argyll Coast and Islands, where a coastal and marine park was suggested by the local authority as recently as 2017. On the south coast, Galloway is an area where both past studies and recent consultation by a local campaign group have revealed local support for a national park which could extend into the sea. Further north and east the idea has been mooted in places as diverse as Fair Isle, Shetland and the Western Isles and BLUE’s main vision report includes Berwickshire and the Northumberland coast. However, the locations and boundaries of any national coastal and marine park would be for communities to decide.
As a country almost surrounded by the sea, marine experts believe it is time Scotland made the most of the blue planet on its doorstep. The pandemic has shown us how much we value our outdoor spaces and National Parks. Now, many key experts believe, is the perfect moment to look beyond the green and towards the blue and appreciate the marine habitat and cultural heritage that surrounds our country when we visit the beach. Protecting open spaces to support the nation’s mental and physical health and well-being should include the seascape as well as the landscape.
Scotland’s two national parks bring in £720 million a year to the economy. Wales’s three national parks generate over £500 million. England’s ten national parks contribute £4 billion. The Jurassic Coast brings £111 million per year into the Dorset and Devon economy.
The NGOs are calling for local leaders to explore the value of creating bottom-up, National Marine Park status for their coast and sea. Plymouth Sound National Marine Park in Devon was self-declared by 70 stakeholders including Blue Marine Foundation in 2019. Other locations where a marine park is being discussed include Jersey in the Channel Isles, the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall and extending the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park in Wales out to sea.
John Mayhew, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) said: “We believe that in the year Glasgow is hosting COP 26, with the theme of nature, and when the UK is committed to protecting 30 per cent of the land and 30 per cent of the sea by 2030, it is time to discuss the creation of national marine parks in Scotland to engage the public in the stewardship of marine resources and to be a signal to international visitors where the country’s marine crown jewels lie.”
John Thomson, Chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP), said: “Scotland’s seas are every bit as fascinating and rich in wildlife as its land. What is more, the intricate interplay of the two elements is arguably the country’s most distinctive feature – nowhere on better display than in the Argyll Coast and Islands, as described in this Blue Marine Foundation report. Now is surely the time to debate just how best to look after this precious marine and coastal resource for the benefit of all those with a stake in its future.”
Charles Clover, Executive Director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “Scotland could well be missing out by failing to protect one of the very things it is famous for – its exquisite coastline and seascapes. We look forward to beginning a debate on how this model of national marine parks might work economically and ecologically for communities and how it could help to meet Scotland’s net zero target.”
Hugh Raven, from Ardtornish and the Highlands and Islands Environment Foundation said: “Marine Parks have great potential in Scotland. A review of possible sites for Scotland’s first Coastal/Marine National Park in 2006-07 which I chaired for SNH, identified front-runners in western Scotland. Political will is necessary, as is having vocal support from communities in the areas chosen”.
Robert Lucas, Chairman of the Galloway National Park Association said: “The coastline and inshore waters of Galloway are an integral part of the experience of anyone living in or visiting the area. This vision could help us to explore with the local communities how their value could be recognised and conserved.”
Annabel Lawrence, from the Community Association of Lochs and Sounds and an Argyll Hope Spot champion said: “One of our challenges is disconnect between land and sea – most people don’t know what’s going on under the surface of the sea. A Marine Park could really tell the story about our marine life – it could mimic something that people recognise from National Parks on land”
The seas surrounding Scotland contain iconic wildlife including skates, rays, porpoises and basking sharks, sea horses and beautiful corals. But few people know what’s under the sea or have a chance to see it. National Marine Parks would promote access and enjoyment while protecting life in the sea and healthy seas for our future. The NGOs promoting this vision will explore how and where it could work for Scotland and hope to translate it into reality over the next five to ten years.