Identifying Scotland's 'Priority Marine Features'


Cold water coral reefs © JNCCA number of conventions and items of legislation for which the UK is a signatory call for the appropriate conservation of marine life. This includes  the OSPAR Convention for the protection of the marine environment in the north-east Atlantic, and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which calls for ‘Good Environment Status’ to be achieved by 2020 across European seas.


It is estimated that Scotland’s seas support at least 8,000 different species. On behalf of Scottish Government, JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have been working to produce a list of habitats and species in Scotland’s seas considered to be of high conservation importance. These features are referred to as ‘Priority Marine Features’ (PMFs). As a first step, habitat and species listings from existing conservation schedules such as the UK Biodiversity Action Plan species and habitats and OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining features were assessed against criteria that considered whether a significant proportion of their population occurred in Scotland’s seas; whether they were considered to be under threat or subject to decline; and whether they have an important functional role to play in supporting wider biodiversity. Further detail on the processes followed to identify Priority Marine Features in Scottish territorial and offshore waters is now available from the JNCC and SNH websites. There will also be a Priority Marine Features description catalogue published, which will include a distribution map, image and description of each Feature, as well as information on their conservation status.


The work resulted in a list of 80 Priority Marine Features. They include whales and dolphins, such as minke whale and bottlenose dolphin, as well as long-lived deep-water fish such as orange roughy. The list also includes unusual habitats such as cold-water coral reefs once thought typical of only tropical waters, and species for which Scotland is considered a stronghold such as grey seal where 90% of the UK breeding population is found in Scotland.Orange roughy © JNCC


The Priority Marine Features will now be used to underpin conservation action across Scottish Government’s ‘three-pillar approach’ to effect marine nature conservation as presented in their Marine Nature Conservation Strategy – the three pillars being species measures such as gear restrictions, wider seas policies such as marine spatial planning and site protection measures such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The Priority Marine Features list will be used to support the advice SNH and JNCC provide on marine biodiversity, playing a role in the delivery of the new marine planning and licensing systems set out in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The list will also be used to guide future research. A subset of the PMFs, including basking shark, horse mussel beds, seamount communities and fan mussels, are being used to support the selection of Nature Conservation MPAs in Scotland’s seas.


The list of Priority Marine Features reflects our knowledge and understanding at the time of publication and will be subject to periodic review to take account of the best available evidence.


Contact File


Tom Blasdale

Senior Fisheries Adviser

Tel: +44 (0) 1224 266577


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