Land reform needs to look seaward.

pressed from  the Scottish Community Alliance , 24 Feb 2016 briefing

Anyone following the recent twists and turns of the Land Reform Bill’s passage through Scottish Parliament will have noticed a distinct stiffening in the resolve to produce a Bill that has real bite. Much of this effort to date has focused on achieving greater transparency as to who actually owns land. It now seems that this Bill is effectively laying the groundwork for a much wider programme of reform to follow. Glen Smith, researching for his PhD at Tromso University in Norway, argues that the marine environment needs to figure much more prominently in the debates to come.

By Glen Smith, University of Tromso

For the past three years I have been engaged in research into how marine spatial planning will affect the management of Scotland’s coastal, foreshore and inshore areas (up to 12 nautical miles from the coast). The new planning system will be guided by the National Marine Plan (2015), and regional plans will be formulated within the 11 new Scottish Marine Regions. Marine planning partnerships – comprised of local experts, practitioners and stakeholders – will work within each of these regions to tailor the plans to local needs. The system is designed to allow more local ownership and decision making about specific issues within their area.

In the course of my work I have become less interested in the technicalities of planning at sea, and more interested in what this new infrastructure means for local democracy and the voice of coastal and island communities. For several reasons it appears that the democratic foundation of marine spatial planning in Scotland might not be as strong as is claimed.

Firstly, the consultation system supporting decision making in the marine environment is far from perfect, and often exclusive. The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), for example, has faced this problem. COAST is one of the UK’s leading community marine conservation organisations. Their achievements are quite remarkable, including the establishment of Scotland’s first no-take zone in Lamlash Bay in 2008. However, despite the high level of local support, the organisation has been denied input into consultation on the management options for marine protected areas and is unlikely to be represented in the new local planning partnership. It appears that COAST will be overlooked in the latest governance infrastructure for marine resource management.

Secondly, marine spatial planning immediately raises questions over the role of the Crown Estate (Commission). This organisation owns and manages over half of Scotland’s foreshore and almost the entire inshore seabed. It negotiates leases on this space with any new actor wishing to develop a project, as they will require anchorage or some point of contact to the seabed. Although stringent environmental regulations and impact assessments are followed, the democratic input by local communities into these lucrative business deals is often limited. For many, marine management is an exclusive realm dominated by those bodies who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise in the field: Marine Scotland; the Crown Estate; Scottish Natural Heritage; the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

For planning in Scotland’s seas the starting point is typically ‘blue growth’, project development, nature conservation, and conflict resolution. These are challenging issues that do indeed require careful planning. However, the starting point is rarely local democracy, subsidiarity, or strengthened communities, even though the government is committed to improving these aspects of Scottish life.

The key to raising the profile of coastal and island communities may lie in introducing a new concept into land reform debates. I propose we call it ‘marine land’. The 2014 report by the Land Reform Review Group clearly states, “the land of Scotland in this context is the territorial land area of Scotland, including Scotland’s seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial boundary” (p16). And yet this area is rarely more than name-dropped in debates over land reform (and, indeed, in the rest of that report). Seen from a governance and decision-making perspective, the Crown Estate is a private landowner. So why do we not consider more radical ways to increase input by communities in marine resource management, such as community buyout of marine land?

Critics will cite the lack of expertise and funds in communities, the need for a unified vision for Scotland’s seas, and concerns over the true intentions of communities owning the seabed. My research is focused on imagining what a new governance system might look like that addresses such concerns. Following through with the planned two-stage reform of the Crown Estate is an important element, as is continued strong guidance from the National Marine Plan. The potential roles of local councils, development trusts, and Community Land Scotland all need to be considered. Communities will also need to be able to count on localised scientific support. The devil is in the detail, and the details are complex.

Terrestrial examples have proven that land buyout by communities can be risky. They need to be financially stable. Local governance structures need to be flexible, yet robust. And what happens if they fail? Who takes responsibility?

But successful projects have brought measurable community benefits such as job creation, population retention (and growth), increased investments and improved facilities, as well as less quantifiable benefits such as social trust, belonging, a sense of place and identity, and new local democratic institutions.

I do not advocate the immediate sale of all ‘marine land’ to communities. But I do propose that we address the worrying absence of the seabed in land reform debates. And I propose that we address the worrying absence of community development in marine spatial planning. 


Islanders celebrate South of Arran MPA

South Of Arran MPA finally comes into effect along with 13 other MPAs.

Following 5 years of campaigning,  islanders celebrate the birth of the long awaited South Arran MPA.

Representatives from coastal communities, scallop divers, sea anglers and conservation organisations showed their passion and support for MPAs at Holyrood last month, coinciding with a Rural Affairs Committee debate on the future of MPAs. To the delight of thousands of MPA supporters on Arran and throughout Scotland, the committee voted against a motion to annul MPAs by Jamie McGrigor (cons) MSP by seven votes to two.

COAST‘s Andrew Binnie said: ‘The Scottish Government’s refusal to buckle to scaremongering from the mobile prawn lobby (also debunked in Scottish Environment LINK paper) means the South Arran MPA came into effect on 8th February 2016 along with legislation for a further 13 MPAs including the St Kilda World Heritage Site MPA. We are celebrating on Arran this week and looking forward to healthier and more productive seas around Arran and Scotland. This will benefit all marine stakeholders and future generations‘.

New Arran MPA Marine Discovery Centre scheduled

The South Arran MPA prohibits scallop dredging but still allows bottom trawling in outer areas of the MPA. Apart from in the existing small No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay, sea angling is permitted within the entire area as well as all other recreational activities.
As community and visitor surveys have shown a real demand for a Marine Discovery Centre on Arran, COAST is now fundraising to make this project come true.

Delay for the Small Isles MPA.

Mr Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs also announced that the Wester Ross and Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Conservation Orders went before parliament on 5th of February, meaning they will come into effect in late March.

Disappointingly, the Small Isles MPA will go back out to consultation and will now be delayed until at least the summer.

Dave Thompson SNP MSP for Skye and Lochalsh has written to Marine Scotland’s Marine Protection Area (MPA) Consultation strongly supporting the submission on the Small Isles MPA from the Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association.

Mr Thompson said, ‘I strongly support the modest changes to the Small Isles MPA that the MNWFA are requesting. These changes will mitigate the economic impact on the west’s fishermen of the MPA fishing restriction, but will not endanger any marine features.’

The Small Isles Community Council will in the meantime continue to support the proposals as they stand: ‘The Sound of Canna Fan Mussel colony is probably the most important wildlife asset in the Small Isles, at least on a par with the Manx Shearwater colony on Rum. It is a community asset and the feelings of the local community that support it should be respected. There is a national and an international responsibility to protect it and it will bring pride as well as economic benefits to the local area including the Small Isles by attracting a new strand of wildlife tourism.’



New Island resolution voted on in EU parliament

New Island resolution voted on in EU parliament on 4 February 2016

MEPs urge the European Commission to take concrete steps to address the permanent handicaps that EU islands face and make full use of their potential,  in a resolution voted on Thursday. The text also stresses the unique difficulties that southern insular regions face due to the increased migration flows and asks that special tax regimes should continue.

MEPs list the actions that they want the Commission to take to address the unique and vulnerable situation of EU islands. The resolution calls on the Commission to:

  • set up “a homogenous group made up of all island territories”, based on EU Treaty Article 174, which recognises the permanent handicaps of insular regions,
  • take account of other statistical indicators, besides GDP, which will reflect the economic and social vulnerability of these regions,
  • launch an in-depth study/analysis in the extra costs incurred as a result of being an island (e.g. transport system, energy supply and access to markets),
  • establish an “EU Strategic Framework for Islands” which would link up instruments that could have a major territorial impact, and
  • submit a communication on an “Agenda for EU Islands” and subsequently a White Paper to monitor the development of islands.

Islands exposed to migration flows

Parliament stresses that EU islands are also peripheral regions on the EU’s external borders. The southern areas and the many Mediterranean islands are particularly exposed to increased migration flows. MEPs ask for an EU-wide approach, “which should include EU support and a joint effort by all member states”, to help them.

Special tax regimes should continue

MEPs approved an amendment stressing “the importance of special tax arrangements for local communities and economies”- some EU islands have been granted special tax arrangements to counterbalance their permanent natural and demographic handicaps – and “calling for their continuation, especially in those member states that are under economic adjustment programmes”.

Resolution on the role of regional authorities

In a separate resolution voted on Thursday, MEPs ask that regional and local authorities be given a bigger role in managing EU structural and investment funds in 2014-2020, to help boost their impact.

Innovative EV programme for Mull and Iona


Mull and Iona Sustainable Transport wins Rural Innovators Award 2015-16 for Transport

MIST’s aims to reduce CO2 emissions and dependance on fossil fuel  on Mull and Iona, have been recognised by this award from the Rural parliament.

As travel and transport choices account for up to half or more of many households’ total CO2 emission, Electric Vehicle trials, liftsharing coordination , efficient driving tips and information about switching to EVs are all part of this innovative project.

Funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund, a team of 3 MIST Project Officers has been appointed to promote environmentally friendly island travel options through to March 2016.

EV hot spot events

With several EVs already being driven routinely here on the islands, 5 public charging points for EVs already operational and plans for rapid chargers in Tobermory and Fionnphort,  Mull is already well ahead of most other island communities. Recognising Mull as a ‘Hot Spot’ for EVs, the Energy Savings Trust has collaborated with MIST to present some special local events to bring all interested islanders up to speed with electric cars and incentives to switch.


The Mull and Iona Lift Share page established on Facebook has attracted over 350 members to engage, supportive of its purpose: To match willing drivers with willing passengers to share journeys. This group is open to any islander over 18 who is interested in linking up to share journeys.

EV trials

A Nissan LEAF electric car  has been purchased by MIST to enable islanders to enjoy the experience of driving with zero emissions and very low running costs. MIST is also acquiring an all electric Citroen Berlingo van for islanders and especially for island businesses to try out for free and to borrow. There is now a long list of folk who have expressed interest in free test drives and borrowing the car for a few days.

Following MIST’s successful collaboration with the Energy Savings Trust to host Electric Vehicle ‘Hot spot’ events on Mull, a Mitsubishi Highlander hybrid 4WD has been offered as a free loan, available for islanders to try out at no cost for a 2 months period.

Free EV training events offered to islanders on Mull and Iona

With several EVs already being driven routinely here on the islands, 5 public charging points for EVs already operational and plans for rapid chargers in Tobermory and Fionnphort, Mull is already well ahead of most other island communities.

On Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 February, MIST – –  is offering free training events to help current and prospective EV owners to look after their EV’s, and make the case for EVs as a suitable alternative for individuals and local groups.

Check the MIST website for more details.