COALITION OF environmental groups push for special protection for large swathes of Scotland's coast and seas in the same way as the Great Barrier Reef.

They say National Marine Park status should be conferred to protect Scotland's coastal "crown jewels".

They say that the Argyll Coast and Islands could be a starting point for the 'blue belt' in a move that it is claimed could boost economic growth, public health and economic recovery and "revolutionise" how the public views the ocean in a future Scotland.

The campaign supporters which includes the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), the Community Association of Lochs and Sounds and the Blue Marine Foundation believe that is important to protect the seas surrounding Scotland which contain iconic wildlife including skates, rays, porpoises and basking sharks, sea horses and beautiful corals.

They say National Marine Parks would promote access and enjoyment while protecting life in the sea and healthy seas for our future.

Charles Clover, executive director ofthe Blue Marine Foundation, said: "Scotland could well be missing out by failing to protect one of the very things it is famous for – its exquisite coastline and seascapes. We look forward to beginning a debate on how this model of national marine parks might work economically and ecologically for communities and how it could help to meet Scotland’s net zero target.”

But Scotland has been slow with actual national park designations and is currently home to just two - Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, which was created in 2002, and the Cairngorms, established in 2003.

The nation ranks near the bottom of the world league in terms of its number of national parks.

The area in question has been at the centre of a legal row over with ministers over plans for a no-trawl scheme to protect Scotland's marine environment.

The largest marine park used to be the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia, at over 135,000 square miles until 2010, when the United Kingdom announced the opening of the Chagos Marine Park in the central Indian Ocean.

Established by the UK government on April 1, 2010, as a massive, contiguous, no-take marine reserve - where there is no fishing, mining or drilling it encompasses 250,000 square miles of ocean waters, including roughly 70 small islands and seven atolls of the Chagos Archipelago.

HeraldScotland:

St Andrews

The National Parks (Scotland) Act 20001 includes provision to apply the National Park designation into the sea providing there is satisfactory consultation with those who ‘live, work or carry on business in the area’.

One of the supporters of the plan, the ocean protection charity Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), which has published a new report on the vision for a marine park say interest has been shown to provide the designation in coastal and marine areas, particularly on the west coast of Scotland.

They say the region off the Argyll coast has the second highest marine biodiversity in Scotland, after St Kilda, with isolated protected areas for marine wildlife, landscape and heritage.

But they do not want to stop there.

They say on the south coast, Galloway is an area where both past studies and recent consultation by a local campaign group have revealed local support for a national park which could extend into the sea.

Further north and east the idea has been mooted in places as diverse as Fair Isle, Shetland and the Western Isles and BLUE’s main vision analysis includes Berwickshire and the Northumberland coast.

They accept that how Scottish national marine parks would be governed would need to be subject to more discussion and debate between local communities, local councils, key stakeholders and the Scottish Government, which has to reconcile fisheries and conservation interests.

But it believes that a local agreement on up to three national parks along the Scottish coast is possible in the next five years, led by communities in the first instance, which would then put pressure on government.

"As a country almost surrounded by the sea, marine experts believe it is time Scotland made the most of the blue planet on its doorstep," the charity said. "The pandemic has shown us how much we value our outdoor spaces and National Parks.

HeraldScotland:

Port Appin, Argyll

Now, many key experts believe, is the perfect moment to look beyond the green and towards the blue and appreciate the marine habitat and cultural heritage that surrounds our country when we visit the beach. Protecting open spaces to support the nation’s mental and physical health and well-being should include the seascape as well as the landscape."

Both Scotland's national parks are quite large but together cover only 7.2 per cent of the Scotland’s land area, compared with 9.3 per cent of England which has 10 parks and 19.9 per cent of of Wales which has three parks.

The nation's national parks are estimated to bring in £720 million a year to the economy.

Wales’s three national parks generate over £500 million. England’s ten national parks contribute £4 billion.

John Mayhew, Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) said: “We believe that in the year Glasgow is hosting COP 26, with the theme of nature, and when the UK is committed to protecting 30 per cent of the land and 30 per cent of the sea by 2030, it is time to discuss the creation of national marine parks in Scotland to engage the public in the stewardship of marine resources and to be a signal to international visitors where the country’s marine crown jewels lie.”

The Jurassic Coast - a World Heritage Site on the English Channel coast of southern England which stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset brings in an estimated £111 million per year into the Dorset and Devon economy.

And Plymouth Sound's National Marine Park in Devon was self-declared by 70 stakeholders including Blue Marine Foundation in 2019.

Hugh Raven, from Ardtornish and the Highlands and Islands Environment Foundation said: “Marine Parks have great potential in Scotland. A review of possible sites for Scotland’s first Coastal/Marine National Park in 2006-07 which I chaired for SNH, identified front-runners in western Scotland. Political will is necessary, as is having vocal support from communities in the areas chosen”.

Robert Lucas, chairman of the Galloway National Park Association added: “The coastline and inshore waters of Galloway are an integral part of the experience of anyone living in or visiting the area. This vision could help us to explore with the local communities how their value could be recognised and conserved."

And Annabel Lawrence, from the Community Association of Lochs and Sounds and an Argyll Hope Spot champion added: “One of our challenges is disconnect between land and sea – most people don’t know what’s going on under the surface of the sea. A Marine Park could really tell the story about our marine life - it could mimic something that people recognise from National Parks on land."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are continuing to develop Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network, which now includes over 37% of Scotland’s seas.

"This takes Scotland past the proposed new global target for 2030 currently being negotiated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Each site has managed to achieve its conservation objectives by restricting activity which will hinder this, while allowing sustainable use to continue.”