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Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas

The Scottish Government has committed to identify and designate a world-leading suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), covering at least 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026. Marine Scotland, a directorate of the Scottish Government, JNCC, and NatureScot will work together, with stakeholders, to identify potential sites.


The Scottish Government believe that the marine environment ‘should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people’. The Bute House Agreement sets out several commitments to help achieve this vision, including by designating at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026.

HPMAs will be designated in Scotland’s seas as ‘designated areas of the sea that are strictly protected from damaging levels of human activities, allowing marine ecosystems to recover and thrive. These areas safeguard all of their marine life for the benefit of the planet and current and future generations; providing opportunities for carefully managed enjoyment and appreciation.’

The designation and management of these HPMAs will take a whole-site approach. All marine biodiversity, the supporting environment and associated ecosystem services within the boundaries of an HPMA will be protected from damaging levels of human activities.


Aims of Scottish HPMAs

Scottish HPMAs will aim to:

  • Facilitate ecosystem recovery and enhancement via the removal of pressures and/or active restoration;
  • Enhance some of the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas;
  • Contribute to the mitigation of climate change impacts;
  • Support ecosystem adaptation and improve resilience, including to climate change; and
  • Allow for carefully managed enjoyment and appreciation.


How we will identify HPMAs

To determine how and where HPMAs will be identified and implemented, Marine Scotland has developed a HPMA Policy Framework, and NatureScot and JNCC have drafted complementary HPMA Site Selection Guidelines.

Stakeholders will play a key role in identifying HPMAs, from being given the opportunity to shape the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines to proposing areas for consideration as HPMAs.


Draft site selection guidelines

HPMA proposals will be developed using best available evidence and involving stakeholders. Ecological and socio-economic factors will be taken into account. The draft Site Selection Guidelines set out a series of general principles that will be applied through all stages of the selection process:

  • Use of a robust evidence base,
  • HPMA scale and the use of functional ecosystem units,
  • Ensuring added value, and
  • Delivering ecosystem recovery.

The guidelines set out a site selection process, based in all cases around the conservation of marine ecosystems as the priority, and driven by the presence of the following functions and resources of significance to Scotland’s seas:

  • Blue carbon,
  • Essential fish habitats (including prey species),
  • Strengthening the Scottish MPA network,
  • Protection from storms and sea level rise,
  • Research and education,
  • Enjoyment and appreciation, and
  • Other important ecosystem services.

The proposed process is as follows:

Figure shows a flow diagram showing Stage 1 to 5, followed by the Network stage, of the site selection process. These stages are shown in boxes, connected by a downwards facing arrow. An upwards facing arrow to the left of the boxes, and connected to each box, shows a feedback loop to show that the process is not linear, and previous stages may be repeated if required. Each box has a wide arrow to the right of it, detailing the aspects that will be considered during each stage.


Stakeholder engagement

The Stakeholder Engagement Plan sets out engagement opportunities such as on-line sessions, cross-sectoral workshops and statutory consultations. Marine Scotland, NatureScot and JNCC are committed to engaging with stakeholders at all key stages of policy development, site selection, assessment, and designation. Please visit the  Stakeholder Engagement Plan for specific event(s) information, including how to sign-up.


Public consultation

To inform our overall approach before we start work to identify possible sites, Marine Scotland have launched a public consultation on the HPMA Policy Framework, Site Selection Guidelines and supporting impact assessments. For further details, and to see the full draft documents, or to respond to the consultation please visit the Consultation website.


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