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Minister to officials: Tell me about true state of our seas


A MASSIVE audit of Scotland's seas, to discover the health of fish, animal and plant stocks, has been ordered by the Scottish Government. The first State of Scotland's Seas report will play a central role in the development of a marine bill to protect sea life.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, said he had "been made to realise the responsibility on my shoulders ..." by The Scotsman's Save Our Seas campaign "... to look after what is one of the planet's most precious resources right on our own doorstep".

This paper is calling for the creation of a network of marine reserves and protected areas around the coast, along with a system of marine planning to organise human activity, and for control of conservation of the sea to be devolved to Scotland.

Less than three weeks into the campaign, almost 800 people have e-mailed their support or sent in a coupon published in the paper.

Mr Lochhead said: "Full marks to The Scotsman for so spectacularly illustrating the importance of the marine environment to Scotland. Not only has it been educational, but it's been extremely balanced and it's certainly given me a lot of food for thought."

He revealed: "We have commissioned a report from government agencies. To support work on a Scottish marine bill, we require good, up-to-date environmental information to use as a baseline upon which we can measure progress towards delivering a greener Scotland for the marine area."

Three major government agencies involved in the sea - Fisheries Research Services, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency - have been asked to produce an initial summary of the latest findings by the spring.

The report will bring together the results of "ongoing scientific monitoring programmes ... on the condition of our seas", Mr Lochhead said, and includes such details as "the seasonal patterns of water temperature, nutrients and phytoplankton".

It will be concerned primarily with the health and environmental aspects of the sea, he added, but may also contain details on the economic value of the sea to Scotland, estimated at 14 billion in previous studies.

In addition, a new organisation - a successor to the Advisory Group on Marine and Coastal Strategy, which reported in March - is to be set up to provide further advice on marine issues.

Mr Lochhead said the current assessment was that the marine environment was "generally good", but he stressed the need for an effective marine bill amid the growing use of the sea.

"There's virtual unanimity in Scotland that we need a marine act for Scotland and we want that bill to be meaningful and appropriate," he said.

On the first day of The Scotsman's campaign, we highlighted the lack of protection for waters around St Kilda, despite it being one of only 30 world heritage sites.

Mr Lochhead admitted: "I think that's a real cause for concern and that is something I'm looking at. If there is a weakness in existing legislation, perhaps St Kilda is one example of that. We do have to seriously consider those areas of our seas that deserve the utmost protection - and that may include marine reserves or similar regimes."

He stressed that this was the start of the consultation process and that he did not want to "pre-empt Scotland's views on these matters".

Mr Lochhead said the Scottish Government was "arguing vigorously" for devolution of the seas.

He said the bill should give Scotland control of the sea out to 200 miles, adding: "It's the best way to protect the marine environment."

He continued: "It allows us to have a joined-up approach to Scottish waters."

However, he expressed concern that "turf wars" between Whitehall departments might undermine the forthcoming UK marine bill, with a "hugely detrimental" knock-on effect on Scottish legislation.

He warned: "If departments within the UK government prevent a UK marine bill addressing certain issues in English and Welsh waters, then it is highly unlikely that these same departments are going to allow our bill in Scotland to have certain powers."

Environmentalists broadly welcomed Mr Lochhead's comments and the announcement of the State of Scotland's Seas report.

Calum Duncan, the convener of umbrella group Scottish Environmental Link's marine task force, said: "We welcome this announcement. Such a report can set a benchmark from which we can look at putting in place the appropriate management measures through a Scottish marine bill that can protect and enhance Scotland's marine environment."

Helen McLachlan, WWF Scotland's marine policy officer, said: "It's good to hear the minister is thinking seriously about what really needs to be done to deliver sustainable management for the sea's species, its habitats and its people.

"Let's hope we can see the realisation of a marine bill. The devil will be in the detail, but we hope our recommendations - those outlined in The Scotsman - are secured in that."

Artists lead way on environment

SCOTLAND should learn from artists inspired by this country's "wonderful environmental inheritance", a cabinet minister told the Holyrood parliament yesterday.

MSPs were debating the country's natural and "built" environment and the achievements over the years of artists who had been inspired by it.

Mike Russell, minister for environment, listed a number of leading figures from the world of art and literature such as Sorley MacLean, James Hogg and the Scottish colourists who painted Iona, who had been moved by the natural world.

"We live in a world where we face the biggest challenge that I think any generation has ever faced," he said.

"If we do not care for, love, nurture and change the way we work with the landscape, we will destroy our planet ... unless we take action to sustain rural and urban communities in a way that are truly sustainable."

Mr Russell said the links between biodiversity, language and culture were well understood throughout the world.

"Now they need to be well understood in this country," he said. "We in Scotland have a wonderful environmental inheritance and it is our responsibility to keep it that way.

"If we can learn from those who have celebrated it, who have made it and will go on making it, then we will do well."

Labour's Des McNulty agreed that Scotland had much to celebrate.

"We have, of course, all been proud of the natural and cultural heritage we have inherited," he said.

"Our spectacular scenery, our iconic species, our literary and artistic heritage and our regional and local differences are all part of our identities.

"The natural environment and its resources are fundamental to our social wellbeing and our economic success, with landscape being crucial to the success of our tourist industry.

"Scotland's scenery is a splendid legacy left by previous generations. It's vital, too, that we exercise good stewardship."

He called for continued support for Scottish Natural Heritage to protect sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves. But he said that too many Scots lived in a degraded environment, particularly in industrial areas.

Seas campaign has made waves in Scotland

JUST three weeks into The Scotsman's Save Our Seas campaign, nearly 800 people have expressed their support.

So far, 590 of the coupons published in the paper have been returned, in some cases signed by more than one person.

In addition, more than 200 e-mails have been sent to, which was set up for those wishing to add their voices to the campaign. Our campaign coverage will continue until the end of next week, when we plan to deliver the coupons to the Scottish Government. Our intention is to continue highlighting the need for an effective Marine Bill throughout 2008, expected to be a crucial year for legislation at Westminster and Holyrood.


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