A NETWORK to help protect Scotland's seas could provide economic benefits worth about £10 billion, according to a report published today.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) would safeguard areas currently under threat, by mitigating against extreme weather impacts, boosting fisheries and securing Scotland's tourism appeal, the report said.

Commissioned by the marine taskforce of Scottish Environment Link, the forum for environmental groups, it comes as the Scottish Government is due to publish plans for a network of nature conservation MPAs.

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The report found the greatest economic benefits would come from a network protecting a high proportion of habitats and species currently threatened or in decline.

Protection of spawning and nursery grounds for fish is also identified by the researchers as important.

Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: "The [£10bn] figure does not take into account the huge value in simply having a resource available in the future, what is known as an 'option-use value' by economists, nor the economic value of potential overspill from MPAs.

"What is clear, however, is that for the benefits to flow, marine protected areas must be well-managed and must properly protect ecosystem function."

Scottish Environment Link's Marine Taskforce is made up of eight organisations: the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, WWF Scotland, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.