Emergency protection for environmentally important seabed reef

Emergency action has been taken to protect an environmentally important seabed habitat damaged by fishermen dredging for scallops.

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Photograph by: SNH/Jo BeatonDamaged shells on seabed of Loch Carron

The endangered flame shell beds off the north west coast of Scotland have been designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

The protection for Loch Carron’s shell beds follows an investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Government into destruction of part of the vulnerable habitat. The inquiry confirmed damage to the flame shell beds was consistent with the impact of scallop dredging.

However, the investigation also found there was a viable prospect of recovery because part of the bed had survived and another nearby bed had remained intact.

Flame shells are orange coloured molluscs which hide in nests they build on the seabed, providing a rich and diverse habitat for other creatures.

Photograph by: SNH / Ben JamesSNH diver filiming damage on the seabed of Loch Carron

The MPA means any proposed development or use of the sea will have to take the need for recovery into account. To manage fishing activity, an urgent Marine Conservation Order will be put in place to prevent mobile gear fisheries, such as dredging, in the area – initially for one year.

“We take our duty to protect Scotland’s rich marine environment extremely seriously and recognise the importance of safeguarding vulnerable habitats like flame shell beds,” said Ms Cunningham.

“By introducing a Marine Protected Area and putting in place a ban on dredging we hope to ensure the recovery of the flame shell beds in Loch Carron.

“While we recognise there are concerns around scallop dredging in coastal waters, we must balance environmental concerns with the need for legitimate and sustainable fishing.

“The Scottish Government will now begin work immediately to identify if there are other areas which should be protected.”

Katie Gillham, Head of SNH’s Coastal and Martine Unit, said: “The evidence collected by recreational divers, and by Marine Scotland Science and SNH, clearly shows the damage that was done to the flame shell bed.

“Alongside protecting the flame shell bed, this new MPA will help us learn more about the recovery of this Priority Marine Feature as it happens.”