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Stakeholder Engagement in Marine Management, October 2010, Isle of Arran
07 November 2010

Stakeholder Engagement in Marine Management, October 2010, Isle of Arran

A couple of weekends ago (22-24 October) I found myself on the Isle of Arran attending a conference of the above title organised by the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) in conjunction with the University of the West of England (Bristol). Delegates include representatives from Marine Scotland, the organisation set up to implement the new Scottish Marine Bill, and Scottish Natural Heritage officers involved in the advice process for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas. More importantly, there was a host of local coastal community representatives – largely from the west coast and islands of Scotland. I found that the conference had been centred around our issue, perhaps because of my chosen title - Community Empowerment and Other Catchy Phrases - and that I was to kick the process off with the first talk on the Friday evening. In actuality, that was postponed until the next day...because the Marine Scotland representatives did not attend until the Saturday and the organisers felt they should not miss what I had to say.
The subtitle of my presentation, Fair Isle asks: is it thumbs down to Bottom Up?, gave some clue to the approach I used; which was to get across the message that there was a yawning gap between the sound bites we hear and their actual application. The presentation took the audience through the merry-go-round of 22 years of trying by the Fair Isle community – acknowledgement, raised hopes, hopes dashed, renewed hopes, further obstacles. The main message was that safeguarding the marine environment was essential from a socio-economic point of view as much as a nature conservation one...for us and other coastal communities. A healthy marine environment is vital for the long-term well-being of the island community...and we still have much to protect and safeguard. I offered them the simple equation:
superb natural resources + a flow of visitors = socio-economic stability
This point, and many others made in my presentation, were replicated in a series of high-class presentations from members of coastal communities, researchers and NGOs. It was comforting, though in no way surprising, to learn that our issues and concerns were shared so widely and that there was a large ground swell of support for our efforts. One of the main themes which emerged from the conference was a general concern about the narrow approach being made by government; most notably the apparent complete lack of recognition of socio-economic elements as they applied to local communities and of the need to take a much more holistic approach to marine nature conservation. The proposed approach through the new Scottish Marine Bill is to set up Marine Protected Areas based largely on rarity - of habitats and benthic biota – rather than adopting the broad-scale measures required to reverse current biodiversity loss and halt further deterioration of marine ecosystems.
The Fair Isle presentation provoked positive comments from virtually everyone, opinions varying from “keep up the good fight”to “an MPA must be a shoe-in for Fair Isle after all this”. The government officials were less forthcoming, restricting their input to explaining the technical issues contained within the Scottish Marine Bill. I think I detected some sympathy for our cause, but I also felt that their hands were tied by the limitations that the Scottish Marine Bill placed on what they could do or say. Despite optimistic comments from a number of delegates, I remain cautious about the outcome. We have been down too many blind alleys over the years. Nevertheless, attendance at the conference will have done us no harm and at least brought the issue to a wider, supportive audience. It was not a one-way flow either. Folk from several coastal initiatives described our efforts as “inspirational” and it is a nice thought that other communities may draw strength from sharing our experience. There was marvel at the tenacity and perseverance of our initiative; ours is a true community effort, so a pat on the back to Fair Isle folk reading this.
One final but very important point. Two Marine Conservation Society officers attended the conference. The MCS has been running a campaign entitled Your Seas Your Voice in which they encourage the general public to “vote for the places you want to protect”. They did not include Fair Isle in their list of recommended places but, despite this, there have been quite a few votes received for the isle. The MCS guys indicated that if we could get the votes up by another 30 or so, the figure would be significant enough for government to take notice. We should not miss the opportunity. For those of you who have not voted, the mechanism is as follows. First, visit Click on “Vote for Marine Reserves” (which you will find at the bottom left hand corner of the page). Then click on “Nominate your Site”. From there, follow steps 1 to 6 to complete the vote. It can all be done in under a minute! If you do not have the internet, then send your vote by post to Marine Conservation Society, Alton Road, Ross-on-Wye HR9 5NB.  If you have voted already, thank you very much. Otherwise, please could make a difference.
Nick Riddiford, Coordinator, FIMETI

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