The Scottish Government today ordered an independent review into controversial plans to make the Sound of Barra a key marine conservation area, despite its own advisors recommending the move.
A new report by Scottish Natural Heritage advised ministers that the waters in the Outer Hebrides should be designated a Special Area of Conservation because of the important marine species and habitats found there, including common seals, reefs and sandbanks.
However Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said that “given the wide range of objections” from the public he was setting up an independent expert review assessing the scientific reasons for the proposal.
Islanders fear that protected status will restrict access to fisheries and damage the Western Isles’ economy.
Announcing the new investigation, Mr Wheelhouse said: “The proposed SAC has resulted in a wide range of views, some of which take issue with the scientific assessments carried out. So that I have a complete picture on which to base my decision, I’ve asked for an independent review of the scientific case to be completed.”
Thanking SNH for its “comprehensive” report, he added: “I’m confident that the final decision will be fully informed and based on sound science. I can assure the communities involved that if I choose to designate we will ensure the right balance will be reached between environmental conservation and their social, economic and cultural requirements.”
The additional review is due to be completed by the end of the year.