3.2 Nature Conservation Issues and Legislation

Scotland’s coastline is exceptionally important for nature conservation, supporting a wide variety of landforms, rock sequences, habitats and wildlife. The nature conservation interest and landscape of the coastline are safeguarded through a range of natural heritage designations, described in full in Natural Heritage Designations in Scotland: A Guide (Scottish Office, December 1998). The most important of these, in terms of beach and dune management, are outlined below.

Around 400 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) lie wholly or in part along the coastline. Beach-dune systems form a major and integral part of this network. They may be designated as SSSIs because of the plant communities that exist there, the wildlife they support or simply the landforms and geomorphological processes that they exhibit (Plate 19). Coastal erosion and accretion may be integral to these interests; indeed at some sites the erosive processes taking place may actually form part of the designated interest. Conversely, inappropriate coast protection may be damaging to the site’s conservation interests.

Plate 19

Plate 19 There are around 400 coastal SSSIs in Scotland, many, like here at Barry Buddon, designated on account of the valuable habitat they provide or dramatic landforms which they exhibit.

Certain of these SSSIs may, in addition, be designated as Special Areas for Conservation (SAC). This designation was introduced under the EC Habitats Regulations 1994 and is conferred upon sites considered to be of international importance because of the habitats that exist there. Because of their importance, SACs, along with Special Protection Areas (sites of international importance because of the bird populations which they support) are afforded high levels of statutory protection, so as to maintain the nature conservation interests which exist there.

Where planning permission is sought for coast protection works within an SSSI then, under the TCPSA, SNH must be consulted regarding these. Coast protection works are, moreover, listed as a Schedule 2 category development, under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Regulations 1988 (as amended), through which the EC1985 Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment is implemented. This means that, in reviewing proposed coast protection works, planning departments are obliged to consider whether or not the works are likely to cause significant environmental effects upon a “sensitive location”, such as a SSSI, National Scenic Area (NSA), SAC or SPA (or indeed sites proposed as SACs or SPAs but not yet designated as such). If so, then the planning authority may require the proponents of the scheme to prepare an environmental assessment of the impact of the works. Such an assessment must also include an outline of the main alternatives considered and the reasons for choosing the preferred option.

In addition to this, should a proposed coast protection scheme be deemed likely to have a significant impact upon a SAC then the EC Habitats Regulations require that an “appropriate assessment” be undertaken by “competent authorities” (typically relevant Government Departments and the Local Authority). Guidance on the nature of the assessment is provided in the relevant legislation. Similar procedures apply to SPAs.