SEABIRDS, whales and dolphins have been left out of new plans to protect marine species in Scotland, The Scotsman has learned.
A new network of protected areas at sea is to be created by the Scottish Government following a commitment made in the landmark Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.
However, RSPB Scotland and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) are furious because they claim seabirds and cetaceans have been neglected in the process.
Although more than 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been proposed, none focus on whales and dolphins, and only one species of seabird is included – the black guillemot.
Rory Crawford, seabird policy officer at RSPB Scotland, said after spending a decade campaigning for the Marine (Scotland) Act, he was disappointed and angry.
Six MPAs were proposed by RSPB Scotland to protect seabirds, but all have been rejected.
“It was a huge success story for us after a decade of campaigning to get the Marine (Scotland) Act, but now seabirds, whales and dolphins have been marginalised,” said Mr Crawford.
“We are massively disappointed. We invested a lot of time in this and it’s important that seabirds are included. I’m really angry about it. It is a fundamental omission because these are surely some of Scotland’s most characteristic species.”
RSPB Scotland believes seabirds have been neglected because the Scottish Government argues they can be protected by existing European legislation, known as “Natura 2000”.
However, the bird charity says this is not the case, as the European legislation only protects internationally important colonies of seabirds, not those that are just important to Scotland and local areas.
Among colonies that they have been fighting to see protected under an MPA are those on the Mull of Galloway, which is a haven for razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes. The seabirds there have been calculated by RSPB Scotland to attract more than £100,000 a year to the local economy through tourism.
Seabirds in Scotland have been declining over recent years, with kittiwake numbers dropping by 30 per cent in the past decade, and RSPB Scotland believes MPAs are a crucial tool for protecting them from further decline.
A list of MPAs is being drawn up and will be presented to the Scottish Parliament by the end of the year, and will be open for public consultation in 2013.
Sarah Dolman, head of policy for Scotland at WDCS, was furious to discover none of the MPAs on the list included any whale or dolphin species.
“We are very angry and very disappointed because ultimately we want a network that Scotland can be proud of. We want people to come and visit and enjoy these species. These are milestone species for Scotland and not including them just seems ridiculous.”
Ms Dolman said they provided plenty of evidence to the Scottish Government to support inclusion of the five MPAs, but they were told not enough research had been done and decisions on those sites was being postponed indefinitely.
“So there’s no certainty that these sites will go forward at all,” she said.