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Managing Our Seas: Community v Government

On April 11th 2023 Orkney Islands Council announced a deal made with Crown Estate Scotland over managing the seabed in the seas around our islands. The agreement is supposed to give islanders a greater say in how our seas are managed.

Stromness harbour with the norhtlink ferry and a variety of small fishing boats

Leader of OIC, Councillor James Stockan said:

“As islanders, the seas around our communities carry a substantial impact on us and our daily lives. It is therefore important that we have an opportunity to have our say on what happens to that seabed.

“Our communities are best placed to understand how developments will impact our islands and this new process is a positive step in facilitating the input of local people to decision-making, whilst continuing our constructive relationship with Crown Estate Scotland.”

Crown Estate Scotland is run by a Board appointed by Scottish Government Ministers. It is separate from the Crown Estate, which operates in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

It manages the assets (which technically belong to the reigning monarch) of:

  • Virtually all seabed out to 12 nautical miles 
  • Just under half the foreshore 
  • Four rural estates comprising 37,000 hectares of rural land 
  • Rights to fish wild salmon and sea trout in in river and coastal areas 
  • Rights to naturally occurring gold and silver across most of Scotland 
  • A commercial retail and office property in central Edinburgh 
  • The Zero-Four innovation park near Montrose 

In managing the above assets it accrues money through rent and granting licenses. This is then sent back to benefit local communities, and communities in Orkney have benefited from this.

Commenting on the deal announced with OIC Amanda Bryan, Chair of Crown Estate Scotland, said:

“We understand that those who live and work within a community are uniquely connected to it, and that is why Crown Estate Scotland is determined to support people across the country in having a greater say in local decision making.

“Responsible management of our Blue Economy is vital to our future prosperity, and we hope this new arrangement will encourage appropriate developments to support economic growth, assist tourism and leisure, and protect marine ecosystems. Our work with colleagues in Orkney Islands Council has been extensive, and we believe this new partnership will help all those who call Orkney home.” 

So you might be wondering where in this the Scottish Government’s plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas fits in ?

At this moment in time The Scottish Government does not have the powers devolved to it from the UK Government to actually designate HPMAs in Scotland’s Offshore waters 12 – 200 nautical miles. It does have the powers to designate HPMAs for up to 12 nautical miles from the coast.

OIC Policy and Resources Committee have woken up and discovered that this consultation on HPMAs might actually be quite important and affect many livelihoods in Orkney. Livelihoods which are crucial to the sustainability of many island economies and populations. It is on the agenda for their meeting on Tuesday 18th of April – that’s the day after the consultation closes (today 17th of April).

The report by the Corporate Director for Neighbourhood Services and Infrastructure to the councillors is asking for the use of emergency powers to approve a response from the council which may now still be considered by the Scottish Government.

The Policy and Resources Committee includes:

  • Councillor Graham A Bevan.
  • Councillor Stephen G Clackson.
  • Councillor Alexander G Cowie.
  • Councillor David Dawson.
  • Councillor P Lindsay Hall.
  • Councillor Steven B Heddle.
  • Councillor Rachael A King.
  • Councillor Kristopher D Leask.
  • Councillor W Leslie Manson.
  • Councillor James R Moar.
  • Councillor Raymond S Peace.
  • Councillor John A R Scott.
  • Councillor Gwenda M Shearer.
  • Councillor Gillian Skuse.
  • Councillor Jean E Stevenson.
  • Councillor James W Stockan (Chair).
  • Councillor Ivan A Taylor.
  • Councillor Mellissa-Louise Thomson.
  • Councillor Owen Tierney.
  • Councillor Duncan A Tullock.
  • Councillor Heather N Woodbridge (Vice Chair)

Councillors are being asked to approve the following:

Councillors are also being asked to approve a response as a late entry to the Highly Protected Marine Areas Consultation. It can be found at the end of the article.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on HPMAs has been open for months (since 12th December 2022) and it included a number of online sessions. It came about as a result of the agreement the SNP made with the Scottish Greens to share policy making – known as The Bute House Agreement – which is a sort of ‘coalition’ form of government.

The consultation process was keen to involve as many as would be affected as possible. Why Orkney Islands Council chose not to do so (until too late) is a mystery as strange as The Nordic Sea.

Despite it being a consultation to openly engage with as many people as possible, Scottish Ministers are already committed to designating  ‘at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026’ because of their power sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.

The sites have not yet been chosen but what they will do, if this all comes to pass, is to put strict limits on fishing and aquaculture.

The Bute House Agreement states that HPMAs aim to: “provide protection from all extractive, destructive and depositional activities, including all fisheries, aquaculture and other infrastructure developments, while allowing other activities, such as tourism or recreational water activities, at non-damaging levels.”


Key documents: Policy Framework, Site Selection Guidelines,  Initial Sustainability Appraisal , . Partial Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) Screening Report , and . Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) .

Now Scotland already has an existing Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network which covers 37% of our seas and includes sites of various designations: Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Marine Protected Areas (including MPAs for Nature Conservation as well as Historic MPAs and Demonstration and Research MPAs).

In the MPAs activities can continue so long as they do not adversely affect the marine eco system. HPMAs are different in that they will “strictly protect and leave undisturbed, all natural processes of the marine ecosystem within HPMA site boundaries, including the seabed, water column habitats and everything that lives in the protected area.” So that is quite a substantial difference, especially for those in our fishing sector. Cruise ship operators and those with luxury yachts will be fine.

What happens next?

Once the consultation is closed (17th of April 2023) responses – usually partially – will be published on this site:  Citizen Space. Reminder that the Scottish Government already has the power to impose HPMAs up to 12 nautical miles from the shore and is seeking powers from the UK Government to do so for the Offshore regions 12 – 200 nautical miles. HPMAs sites will require Islands Impact Assessments as per The Islands Act but the jury is still out on the effectiveness at all of those when a political agenda, powerful lobbying or commercial interests are being pursued .

The islands and coastal communities of Scotland accepted Marine Protected Areas because traditional activities which were sustainable could take place within them. Highly Protected Marine Areas would not allow this. That is why many communities fear that this will result in the end of a way of life which has worked in tandem with its marine environment for thousands of years and we’ll be left with cute little villages of holiday homes kitted out as tartan clad visitor centres. The Clearances Again


European Parliament resolution of 3 July 2018 on violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in the world, including land grabbing 

The European Parliament called upon the European Union and Member States to: adopt all necessary measures for the full recognition, protection and promotion of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including to their lands, territories and resources (see also DOCIP)

UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES and this link: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

cruise liner and a small ferry coming into Kirkwall harbour
Image credit Bell

Orkney Islands Council Proposed Response to The Scottish Government’s Highly Protected Marine Areas

Fiona Grahame

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