Today, Scottish Ministers have announced the designation of 12 inshore and offshore Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and four inshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scottish waters.
The designation of the SPAs is the result of 20 years of gathering and assessing evidence, jointly undertaken by NatureScot, Marine Scotland, JNCC, and (in the case of the Solway Firth SPA) Natural England, to identify and support the classification of marine areas critical for 31 species of marine birds.
Two of the SPAs – the Seas off St Kilda SPA and the Seas off Foula SPA – are the first Scottish SPAs to be designated which are mostly in offshore waters. The classification process for these sites has been led by JNCC in collaboration with NatureScot.
The Seas off St Kilda SPA covers the waters around the St Kilda archipelago, close to the highly productive waters of the continental shelf edge. It protects the foraging areas of the seabirds breeding on St Kilda, which has one of the largest and most spectacular seabird communities in western Europe. More than 7% of Britain’s gannet population exploits the Seas off St Kilda, capturing mackerel, herring, sandeel, and other fish for themselves and their young.
Similarly, the Seas off Foula SPA lies about 15 km west of Shetland and protects important seabird feeding grounds in the waters surrounding Foula, an island hosting over 190,000 breeding seabirds. More than 5% of the British great skua population captures its food in this area. In the past this site has been known for its high sandeel productivity and this prey species continues to be important for the smaller gull and auk species.
The other SPAs are mainly inshore and protect equally prominent seabird and waterbird areas. The new MPAs, found in the Minch, on the Scottish west coast, and in the Moray Firth, are designated to protect a fantastic range of marine life, including minke whales, basking sharks and Risso's dolphins.
Scottish Ministers have approved the new sites to highlight the important role the Scottish marine environment plays in protecting habitats and species. The new designations will complement and extend the protection provided by the existing network of protected sites in Scotland.
You can find out more about the designated sites in the Scottish Government press release.