Still waiting for Lamlash Bay to become Scotland's first marine conservation site

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IT WAS hailed as a victory for determined community campaigners, and for the environmental health of an over-fished area of Scotland's seas.

However, more than a year after the Scottish Government announced plans for the first marine conservation area in Scottish waters, campaigners say work to bring it to fruition has ground to a halt.

The Community of Arran Marine Conservation Area in Lamlash Bay was supposed to help replenish stocks of fish and scallops after some species all but disappeared.

But Howard Wood, chairman of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (Coast), which lobbied for the reserve for more than ten years, has called the government's commitment to the project into question.

In January last year, the government announced plans to create the marine conservation area. It was to be made up of a "no-take zone", where fishing was banned, and a "fisheries management area" where scientists would monitor the return of species, particularly scallops.

However, the fisheries management area does not yet exist – and although the 267-hectare no-take zone (about the size of 240 football pitches) was created last September, no signs have been put up to spell out its location or boundaries.

Mr Wood is furious about the lack of progress. He said: "I want to call into question the government's commitment to the overall project. I think the civil servants are only interested in fisheries management and I also have to question the commitment of the minister, Richard Lochhead. Last autumn, the no-take zone was put in place. Since then, we have got nowhere. The meetings have been going around in circles.

"Nothing has happened at all. There's just a complete lack of action. What really annoys us is that there is not even one interpretation board up."

He said meetings had been cancelled at the last minute and rescheduled for three months later. Apart from some leaflets made by Coast, there was nothing explaining the boundary of the no-take zone.

"I saw a man sea angling close to the no-take zone and I bet he had no idea he could be fined 5,000 if he was just slightly further along," said Mr Wood.

He questioned how the government would be able to implement a whole network of marine conservation areas, as promised in the new Scottish Marine Bill.

"If they can't implement a very simple community marine protection area, what chance have they got of managing to fulfil their commitments? They have got absolutely no chance."

Environment secretary Richard Lochhead, who visited Arran to announce the plans 16 months ago, said at the time that it was a "fantastic example of what can be achieved by working together".

It was the second ever no-take zone to be created in the UK. The first was established in 2003 at Lundy Island off the north Devon coast after pressure by English Nature and the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee.

Within 18 months, conservationists were reporting that sea life was recovering, with three times as many lobsters in the no-take area compared to areas where fishing was allowed.

Arran was once renowned for its fishing, with hundreds of sea anglers flocking to the island for its annual fish festival. That was decades ago when cod, haddock, hake, dab, plaice and turbot were plentiful in the waters of the Firth of Clyde.

Today, the white fish have gone, leaving only prawns, langoustines and a dwindling stock of scallops.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We remain committed to marine management and consider Marine Protected Areas a key nature conservation tool. The fishing industry has been made aware of the Lamlash Bay designation and is adhering with the no-take restrictions."

She added that the government was in continuing discussions with Coast about the proposed signposting.