The Scottish Government has submitted proposals to the EU that include plans for Europe’s largest marine area of nature conservation in waters west of Scotland.
The designation of Hatton Bank as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), located approximately 500 km west of Lewis, would cover an area of 15,694 square kilometres – more than 10 times the size of Fife.
Hatton Bank would form part of a package of five new SACs in offshore waters to the west and north of Scotland. The new sites would collectively cover an area larger than the entire Highlands region and contribute to the Marine Protected Areas network, an EU requirement under the Habitats Directive.
The five SACs proposed for designation are:
* Hatton Bank in the North East Atlantic: a volcanic bank that stretches almost 500 km and up to 1,000 m in depth and is home to a wide variety of soft and hard corals
* Anton Dohrn Seamount, 200 km West of Scotland: a former volcano with steep cliffs descending 2,400m, which includes cold-water coral reefs and is a hotbed for marine biodiversity
* East Rockall Bank, 320 km west of Scotland: a stony reef with steep canyons descending more than 1,000 metres, which supports rare sea slug, sponges and lace corals
* Pobie Bank Reef, 20 km east of Shetland: a stony and bedrock reef that supports many species, including cup corals and a unique sponge only found on the reef
* Solan Bank Reef, 50 km north of Cape Wrath: an ecosystem supporting many corals, sponges and brittlestars
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “Scotland’s seas provide rich and diverse ecosystems that are home to a wide array of plants and animals, including internationally important species. It’s our duty to protect this precious environment and these five SAC designations are a big step towards our commitments under the international Marine Protected Area networks.
“The Scottish Government and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has carried out extensive and productive engagement with stakeholders – including the fishing industry – before these proposals were submitted.
“We are fully committed to getting the balance right between marine conservation and use of the seas to support economic growth. We will continue dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that any future management measures are well designed and appropriate.
“Underwater landscapes such as Hatton Bank and Anton Dohrn are stunning and unique places, with dramatic crevasses and reefs that are home to thousands of species. We need to ensure these sites are protected for the benefit of both the marine environment and future generations.”
Marcus Yeo, Chief Executive of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the UK’s statutory nature conservation body, said: “This landmark submission of marine SACs means that over a twelfth of UK seas are now within Marine Protected Areas and is a major step forwards in the conservation of our precious sea life.
“These sites will protect substantial areas of colourful bedrock, stony and cold water coral reefs. People think that coral reefs are only found in exotic, tropical locations and don’t realise that we have these fragile habitats right here on our doorstep as well.”