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Professor James Harrison publishes new report on Ensuring the Effectiveness of Scotland’s Marine Protected Area Network

Tue 13 February 2024

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Edinburgh Law School’s Professor James Harrison has recently published an independent report, commissioned by Scottish Environment LINK, which examines the legal protection offered to Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) established under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and related legislative instruments. The report highlights gaps and weaknesses in current levels of protection across existing MPAs and it makes recommendations about what steps can be taken to improve protection, drawing upon international law and policy to guide future action. 

The report comes at a critical time for marine management, with pressures on marine ecosystems increasing due to an expanse of human activity at sea, as well as the effects of climate change on the oceans.  In response, the international community has recently agreed on new global targets for biodiversity conservation, including a commitment to protect at least 30% of marine areas by 2030 through ‘effectively conserved and managed’ and ‘equitably governed’ systems of MPAs and other area-based management measures. 

The report prepared by Professor Harrison recognises that the Scottish Government has made good progress on designating MPAs in Scottish waters, but it identifies that more work is needed to ensure that appropriate management measures are in place in order to ensure the maintenance or recovery of protected species and habitats.  This may require the stricter regulation of marine activities in some areas in order to enhance protection of fragile ecosystems. The report also emphasises the importance of effective enforcement and it recommends reforms to strengthen penalties when violations of MPA management measures are detected. 

Professor Harrison commented in relation to the release of the report: “The next formal statutory review of the Scottish MPA Network is due in December 2024, which makes it an opportune moment to reflect upon what has been achieved since the adoption of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and what further steps might be taken to ensure the effective conservation of Scotland’s coasts and marine environment.” He stressed the need for inclusive and transparent conversations on marine protection to ensure that any reform has as widespread support as possible, but acknowledged that ultimately difficult decisions will need to be made in order to halt trends in biodiversity loss.

Professor Harrison is Chair of Environmental Law at Edinburgh Law School and his research particularly focuses on the legal framework for the protection of the marine environment. 

Professor James Harrison - Profile 

Read Professor Harrison’s report [PDF]