Back to What We Do

Marine and coastal

Many puffins gather on a grassy clifftop, with steep cliffs running into the blue sea in the background.

Turning the tide: marine and coastal policy

The sea has always been of crucial importance to Scotland – from the earliest Mesolithic settlers who gathered shellfish around its coasts, to the oil and renewables industries of the 20th and 21st centuries and marine tourism which is now the largest marine sector employer. Some 90% of Scotland’s territory is sea, and around 70% of the UK continental shelf is Scottish. In 2016 the Scottish marine economy generated £3.8 billion GVA (gross value added), accounting for 2.9 % of the overall Scottish economy.

The National Trust for Scotland owns some of the most spectacular coastline in Scotland. In some cases, this extends down to the low tide level. Together, these are home to about 20% of all of the seabirds breeding in Scotland and nearly 10% of the seabirds in the European Union. These include St Kilda, the UK’s only marine World Heritage Site, where nests a quarter of the world’s population of gannets. In addition to the scenic and wildlife resources on the coasts, the seas beyond the tideline are outstandingly rich. Four of Scotland’s handful of marine Special Areas of Conservation, and nine of the suite of Marine Protected Areas, are immediately adjacent to Trust properties. St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve is the site of Scotland’s only Voluntary Marine Reserve, declared because of its important reef communities and its stunning underwater topography.

The position of the Trust

We believe that the marine environment, and the organisms that depend on it, are a vital component of Scotland’s natural heritage. Our coastal landscapes are outstandingly spectacular, nationally and internationally, and play a pivotal role in people’s enjoyment. We will strive to ensure that the marine and coastal habitats and landscapes, existing on and adjacent to our properties, are conserved and managed to the highest standards. We will use our influence, both as a major stakeholder in coastal communities and in national policy debates, to champion the cause of marine conservation and secure change to improve the conservation status of all of Scotland’s seas.


There are many challenges associated with the use of the marine environment. Some can be overcome by effective regulation and operating methods but others such as climate change require more holistic and global solutions.

Challenges include: climate change, fishing, fish farming, fossil fuel extraction, seaweed harvesting , pollution, and plastics litter. [For a breakdown and full details of each of these challenges, please see the report.]

Opportunities and benefits

These challenges need to be met, and through management, mitigation, or elimination can be overcome, providing opportunities for public and community benefit. Opportunity exists through:

Blue carbon – Living organisms in the sea, both attached to the seabed and in the water column, which constitute a major store of organic carbon that helps to mitigate climate change.

Pollution – Public awareness and political engagement is driving innovation and action to help map, reduce and remove marine litter. Opportunity exists to improve implementation of Scotland’s Marine Litter Strategy.

Sustainable commercial fishing – Well-managed fisheries provide both food supplies and an income for coastal communities.

Recreational angling – Can provide substantial economic input to communities, as well as enjoyment for the participants. However, it depends on the presence of a surplus of large mature fish available to catch.

Recreational access – The visitor economy is a major driver of Scotland’s rural areas, and the coastal zone attracts disproportional interest on account of its landscape value, visitor services and specialist activities. Opportunities exist to inform and engage the public in the issues and wonder of the marine environment.

Marine Protected Areas – Protected areas provide the cornerstone of any effective conservation strategy. As well as providing a magnet for tourism they are nursery areas for commercial fish species that allow the repopulation of neighbouring fisheries.

Coastal communities – People living in coastal areas benefit from marine resources, and have both a personal interest in and strong feelings for their conservation. As a major coastal landowner, the Trust is deeply involved in these communities and can help to give voice to their concerns.

[An edited excerpt from the policy]


Download the pdf to read the policy in full

Scotland’s Future Catching Policy – your chance to have your say

The UK, including Scotland, has now left the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy and will need to develop a replacement. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a draft Future Catching Policy (FCP) for Scotland which will establish a new approach to managing sea fishing activities within Scottish waters.

The main proposed elements of the FCP are:

  • To put in place new measures, both technical (eg gear selectivity) and spatial (eg area-based closures to protect spawning fish), designed to reduce unwanted fish bycatch and potentially help fishers avoid bycatch of seabirds, seals and cetaceans
  • For these additional measures to be made mandatory and not voluntary, to ensure a level playing field for all vessels operating in a particular segment of the fishing fleet
  • For the measures to be reasonable, pragmatic and developed in partnership with stakeholders; and for these measures to help the fishing industry to fish responsibly and sustainably
  • To introduce changes to the current rules around discarding, currently set out under the landing obligation brought in by the EU, and putting in place an approach based on different fleet segments, whilst ensuring the principles of reducing waste and increasing accountability are met
  • To seek views on additional management measures that might be required to address issues and tensions between some parts of the fishing fleet.

The full consultation document can be found on the Scottish Government website.

The Future Catching Policy provides a real opportunity to make a difference to Scotland’s seas – to move to more sustainable uses of our coastal waters, which would allow recovery of inshore habitats and fish stocks. That would provide sustainable jobs for sustainable fishermen and benefit coastal communities and business. However, as it stands, we do not believe the FCP will achieve this.

The Trust welcomes this opportunity to have a say on the current consultation and acknowledges this is a complex issue with no easy answers. However, our main concerns are:

  • The proposals to deregulate unsustainable practices such as discarding and the failure to better regulate unsustainable fisheries will lead to further environmental decline.
  • The removal of the discard ban on juvenile fish, across some sectors, has the potential to seriously impact future fish stocks.
  • Legalising the discarding of juvenile and adult fish, across some sectors, weakens post-Brexit environmental legislation and breaks the Government’s commitment to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards.
  • The proposals lack detail about the spatial measures being proposed. In particular, the Trust urges the Government to use this opportunity to reintroduce an inshore limit to fisheries whose current footprint of high bycatch is unsustainable and to enable a just transition to lower impact fisheries, allowing inshore fish stocks and the wider marine environment to recover.

The Trust and our coalition partners in Our Seas and also in Scottish Environment LINK will be responding to the Government’s consultation.

Have your say too

To put your voice behind the Our Seas campaign to reinstate an inshore limit and a just transition to low-impact fisheries in our inshore waters, sign the Our Seas petition.