SECTION 2 – DEVELOPING THE SCOTTISH APPROACH TO COASTAL AND MARINE NATIONAL PARKS
This section sets out SNH’s advice on the overall approach to coastal and marine National Parks and the added value they could bring to the management of the marine and coastal environment.
1 Throughout the world, National Parks are associated with the very best of a country's natural and cultural heritage. They are about showcasing some of the most valued wildlife and landscapes a country has to offer and providing opportunities for people to enjoy these features. They are also about long-term stewardship of these resources. In Scotland, our National Parks fulfil these roles. In addition, they are a tool for focusing effort and adding value to the planning and management of an area, helping to deliver actions on the ground which would not otherwise be delivered and providing significant social and economic benefits to local communities.
The Scottish Approach to National Parks
2 The legal basis for National Parks in Scotland is set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. At the heart of this Act are the four aims of Scottish National Parks, namely to:
- conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area;
- promote the sustainable use of the natural resources of the area;
- promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area;
- promote the sustainable social and economic development of the area’s communities.
The integrated purpose of these aims distinguishes Scotland’s National Parks from the original purposes of most others throughout the world. In part this is possible because Scotland has come relatively late to National Parks and a range of mechanisms already exist to protect the best of our natural and cultural heritage. But critically, these balanced aims also reflect a modern approach to sustainable development which acknowledges that within ‘living and working landscapes’, social and economic development must be addressed alongside the care and enjoyment of the natural and cultural heritage. Such an approach is very much in keeping with the publication Choosing our Future – Scotland’s Sustainable Development Strategy (Scottish Executive, 2005).
3 The Scottish approach to National Parks enshrined in the Act contains a number of key principles.
- Park areas have to be of outstanding national importance for their natural heritage, or their combination of natural and cultural heritage. The Act provides for a long-term commitment to the conservation and enhancement of these special qualities.
- Three of the four aims of the Park are concerned with making positive things happen. Existing economic and recreational uses of the area are therefore supported; and new uses are encouraged provided that they do not impact negatively on the special qualities of the area.
- A Park Authority is established to oversee the planning and management of the Park area. Its main task is to prepare and help implement a Park Plan. Scottish Ministers approve the Plan, and the wider public sector is expected to contribute positively to its preparation and implementation.
- Through their involvement in the Park Board and in the process of preparation and implementation of the Park Plan, local communities play an enhanced role in the governance and management of the area.
- Each Park is established through a separate designation order approved by the Scottish Parliament following extensive consultation, both locally and nationally. The specific arrangements for the powers, functions and governance of each Park can be tailored to meet the needs of each Park area. Section 31 of the Act allows for further modification of its operation to meet the needs of Park areas which extend into Scotland’s marine environment.
Issues and opportunities in the coastal and marine environment
4 SNH considers that this general approach to National Parks, as it has been applied on land, is equally applicable to the coastal and marine environment. At the same time, there are a number of distinct differences that need to be considered and these reflect specific issues and opportunities in the coastal and marine environment that a National Park will need to address.
- The physical nature of the marine environment is more dynamic and less easy to draw boundaries around. Life in the sea, its patterns and movements and the processes that act upon it are inherently more difficult to map. Equally the interactions between land and sea are complex and traditionally the coastal zone has proved difficult to define, plan for and manage.
- In many places the principle activities of food production in the sea are largely based on the harvesting of natural populations rather than on systems of husbandry, though this is now changing with the decline of many fish stocks and the continued development of aquaculture.
- A very different system of common and property rights exist, some of which are the subject of international and UK law. Ownership of the seabed and much of the foreshore rests with The Crown Estate. In some parts of Scotland, coastal populations are small and dispersed in nature. More generally, many of the most significant users of the marine environment do not live close to the resources they use.
- Regulation is sectoral in nature, and split between a number of levels of Government – UK departments, Scottish Ministers, public bodies and trusts, and local government. At present, there is no equivalent to the strategic planning frameworks that operate at various scales on land.
- Site-based conservation mechanisms for natural and cultural heritage interests are much less developed, as are the data sources on which such mechanism rely. A number of species and habitats of importance at the European level are protected through the Natura 2000 series, though some characteristic Scottish features such as sea lochs are not. National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) extend only to Mean Low Water Springs (MLWS). While extending into the marine environment and offering some protection from adverse development, National Scenic Areas (NSAs) have yet to deliver their full potential in guiding and managing landscape change. Scheduling of wrecks and other historic features in the marine environment is also very incomplete.
- Informal coastal recreation – particularly walking - remains very popular, with new activities such as kite surfing being developed in recent years. Active participation in activities such as climbing, diving, sailing, sea-fishing, sea-kayaking, surfing and wind surfing is long-established in parts of Scotland and continues to grow. Of these activities, sailing is important economically to many areas of the west coast and, together with surfing, is an activity where it is recognised that we have a world class resource. For the most part, marine recreation activities tend to be quite specialised, with many parts of Scotland’s exposed coasts requiring good technical ability.
5 There is a growing number of pressures on the coastal and marine environment. The traditional use of our seas for shipping and fishing has been complemented by a number of significant new activities, including aquaculture, oil and gas development and renewable energy generation. Pressure for coastal developments and infrastructure, recreation and military use further add to this mosaic of activity. Sea-level rise and climate change are also of concern. Increasing the sustainability of our fishing practices, generating more power from marine renewable resources and raising environmental standards – notably in respect of water quality, bathing waters and biodiversity conservation through the Water Framework Directive - are key priorities.
The role of a National Park in a coastal and marine environment
6 The recognition that more effort is required to manage and enhance our coastal and marine resources lies at the heart of Seas - the Opportunity: A Strategy for Long-term Sustainability of Scotland’s Coasts and Seas (Scottish Executive, 2005). The proposal to establish one or more coastal and marine National Parks is one of a number of measures being proposed in this strategy to address this. Looking at experience of Scotland’s first two National Parks, as well as relevant experience from elsewhere, there are a number of aspects to this role that a Park could play in the coastal and marine environment.
7 At its core the National Park concept is about the long-term stewardship of the natural and cultural resources of an area. The achievement of objectives for biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage will therefore be an important measure of success. The health and productivity of these resources is also vital to the continuing prosperity of Scotland’s coastal and island communities which depend on them. Bringing together more effectively the aspirations for conservation and development within a Park area will be essential to achieving each of the four Park aims and will be the central purpose of a Park Authority.
8 Of particular importance to developing this more balanced approach within a coastal and marine National Park will be the future management of fishing activity within it. International experience suggests that a coastal and marine National Park could provide a model of how fisheries can be managed better to ensure that biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of fishermen can be sustained. A National Park should therefore be one of the first places in Scotland where a range of management mechanisms to achieve this are explored and tested in practice. Such measures could range from voluntary approaches through to technical conservation measures and the use of closed areas. How this translates into practical operations depends very much on where a Park is selected, how big it is, and how it fits in with wider planning and management of inshore fisheries. Such measures would most likely be targeted spatially or seasonally rather than implemented across the whole area of a Park.
9 At the same time, the Park provides the mechanism to co-ordinate fishing effort with other activities in the coastal and marine environment, most notably aquaculture, shipping, energy production, built development, infrastructure and recreation. The engagement of these interests in the preparation and implementation of the Park Plan will allow for greater consensus to be developed on management objectives for the area overall and help to focus effort and resources in achieving them. By ensuring that appropriate consideration is giving to all activities within the area, a Park will help to avoid conflicts, or assist conflict resolution where necessary, between them. Specific examples here include the contribution that a Park could make to the current work on the relocation of existing fish farms away from more sensitive areas, or the future planning for marine renewable energy in locations which minimise their impacts, both on other activities and also the natural and cultural heritage.
10 A Park should also play an important role in helping to support many of these activities. Key elements of this role could include the following.
- Developing best practice in resource management and building on the potential synergies between sustainable use and the maintenance of a high quality marine environment e.g. by supporting local fisheries and aquaculture management initiatives, and developing the green image of the area to actively promote its products and attractiveness to visitors.
- Enhancing economic stability through increased opportunities for training, development and diversification e.g. by providing support to encourage sustainable tourism development and the growth of other new businesses which can make good use of the existing skills and infrastructure available.
- Increasing awareness and appreciation of the cultural, social and economic importance of traditional industries to coastal communities within the Park e.g. by making interpretation of marine activities part of the visitor experience, or by using local seafood, crafts and customs as a mechanism to promote understanding and knowledge of the marine environment on which these communities depend.
11 In establishing a National Park, opportunities should also be taken to simplify some of the existing regulatory arrangements. Some form of ‘first-stop shop’ could also be developed whereby the National Park Authority adopts a positive role in co-ordinating the administration of the other consents required for any development proposal from the industry. Whichever arrangements emerge, it will be important for a Park to enhance and add value to the environmental, economic and social performance of the businesses in its area.
12 The final important role of a National Park is the opportunity it provides to increase enjoyment and understanding of Scotland’s coastal and marine environment. In many ways, this is the most important contribution a Park could make. No-one in Scotland lives more than 40 miles from the sea, and we have a long tradition as a sea faring nation whose livelihood was dependent on the richness and accessibility of the waters around our coasts. Today, these links are less strong, particularly for the majority of the population who live in our major towns and cities.
13 Through the better planning and provision for recreational activity and visitors, a Park is a powerful tool for enhancing access to, and enjoyment and understanding of, our coasts and seas. Enjoying this special environment is already very important to many people in Scotland and we should aim to make it relevant to all. Key here will be the development and promotion of visitor and recreational infrastructure, such as accommodation provision, visitor centres, networks of coastal paths and trails, boat trips and dives within and around the Park area. Better interpretation and management of access in the more popular areas of the Park will also be important, as will the provision of a range of measures to travel to and within the Park more sustainably.
Vision and outcomes
14 Against this background, our vision and aspirations should be high. Within Scotland’s first coastal and marine National Park we should aim to achieve the following outcomes.
- Local and national stakeholders support a more cohesive approach to considering economic, social and environmental issues. The Park provides a local mechanism for the resolution of conflicts between these issues and is a powerful advocate, on the national stage, when we want to see things changed.
- Our landscapes and biodiversity have been enhanced. We have learned how to develop their potential for recreation and to use them to promote the area to benefit people and businesses.
- Fishing, agriculture, crofting and forestry are managed more sustainably. They contribute more to the local economy and are benefiting from using the National Park as a marketing tool. Local inshore fisheries groups play a central role in managing this resource within the Park, and innovative management approaches have been established with the active support of local fishermen.
- More people want to come to the area as a result of its higher national and international status, directly benefiting local businesses. Increased visitor numbers have made existing local public transport links more viable and have encouraged the growth of new ones.
- Public understanding, enjoyment and commitment to the better care and management of Scotland’s marine environment has grown. A range of projects and initiatives for this have been developed in the Park and are now been adopted more widely throughout the country.
The added value of a coastal and marine National Park in Scotland
15 In conclusion, SNH considers that a coastal and marine National Park can add value in four main ways. Examples of these aspects of added value from Scotland’s existing National Parks and from relevant international experience are explored further in background paper 2.
- Opportunities to enhance understanding, enjoyment and care of the area.
Scotland’s coastal and marine environment is a world-class resource, important for its wildlife, landscapes, cultural heritage and recreational value. This resource needs better care and investment if we are to retain its diversity, health and productivity. We also need to make more of the opportunities for people from across Scotland to enjoy it first hand and to promote sustainable tourism based on its special qualities. A National Park provides opportunities to achieve these objectives for an area of particularly outstanding importance. It should also provide a focus for learning more about this environment and for increasing the profile of the area both nationally and internationally.
- Better planning and management<
A Park is a tool for delivering better planning and management of some of Scotland’s most outstanding coastal and marine heritage. Though the Park Plan, it provides for better co-ordination of existing activities and development, and for the provision for future needs. It will enhance local involvement in the planning and management of the area and will increase resources for investing in its environment, its infrastructure and its communities. A Park Authority will provide leadership on difficult issues and ensure that each of the four aims of the Park is achieved.
- Social and economic benefits
A National Park will deliver social and economic benefits for the area as well as Scotland more widely. The increased profile of the area can increase tourism and can be used to market local produce, goods and services. A Park Authority will create employment and can help support and champion existing businesses, providing tailored advice, training and funding for them to develop and diversify. As a result, the range and quality of jobs available in the area will grow and local incomes should increase. A Park Authority will also place considerable effort into building up the capacity of local communities to engage in the planning and management of their area. It will also address community aspirations for environmental improvements and future development, such as local path networks and affordable housing
- Best practice and innovation
A National Park provides the opportunity to be innovative and to trial new approaches to the planning and management of the coastal and marine environment. A Park could be one of the first areas in Scotland to develop integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) within a statutory context and to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of this in practice. It could also trial new approaches to the local management of inshore fisheries, community renewables and sustainable tourism which increase local economic benefits while protecting the natural environment which underpins them. A Park could also be the place where options for the simplification of the regulatory framework could be tested.
16 When taken together, SNH considers that these four themes make a strong case for a coastal and marine National Park for the right area or areas. Practical experience also suggests that this added value is very difficult to achieve from existing protection or designation measures. While SNH recognises that the voluntary coastal partnerships and integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) initiatives established in parts of Scotland provide scope to achieve some of them, we believe that the statutory basis of a National Park and the additional resources it should have available means that it can bring significantly enhanced benefits to the area and the nation more generally.
17 Translating the potential added value of a coastal and marine National Park into practice itself depends on a number of factors. The powers and functions of the Park Authority, the resources it has available and qualities and effort of its board members and staff are clearly crucial here. A key lesson from relevant experience elsewhere is that National Parks are most effective in achieving their aims when set within a wider strategy for managing the whole of a country’s coastal and marine environment, including one or more national and regional frameworks for specific sectors. National Parks are also clearly not appropriate for all areas. Instead, they should be seen as one of a number of area-based initiatives which translate higher level strategies into practical and beneficial outcomes on the ground.