Facilitating marine nature restoration through legislation

Closes 16 May 2024

Opened 21 Mar 2024


Why we are consulting

Over the last few years we have seen a strong groundswell of interest from local communities across Scotland who want to take part in nature restoration in the marine environment. Restoration activity comes in many shapes and sizes, but most projects currently in the water in Scotland are small, community-led initiatives that undertake some form of habitat (re)creation or species reintroduction, for example by planting seagrass and placing native oysters on the seabed.

Community groups and stakeholders interested in undertaking restoration have highlighted two key challenges to the sector developing further:

  • a difficult and complicated regulatory environment of licences, permits and consents needed for restoration activity; and
  • lack of a clear mechanism to protect the habitats and species that are being restored.

We have listened to these concerns, and recognise that promoting and enabling communities to undertake responsible restoration in their local marine environment will be absolutely vital to reversing biodiversity decline in our seas and coasts. We also recognise that restoration activity needs to happen with due consideration for other uses of the sea. To address these issues, we are consulting on two legislative proposals:

  1. To take powers to introduce a registration process for marine nature restoration projects that fall below a threshold of environmental impact, instead of having to apply for a marine licence
  2. To enable Scottish Ministers to apply Marine Conservation Orders to protect habitats or species under restoration from potentially damaging activities.

In addition to these two proposals, we are consulting on two further amendments to the existing provisions for Marine Conservation Orders (MCOs). One would address an existing shortcoming with the provisions which means that currently MCOs can be used to protect a type of protected area known as a ‘European marine site’ only if such a site overlaps or adjoins a Marine Protected Area (MPA). European marine sites covers Special Areas of Conservation for habitats and species, and Special Protection Areas for wild birds, and not all overlap/adjoin MPAs. The other would simplify a technical element of the consultation procedure for these Orders.

We have developed these proposals in response to concerns from community groups around the difficulty of navigating the regulatory environment and the lack of protection available for restored habitats and species. We believe these concerns deserve to be taken seriously, and that supporting restoration is crucial for the health of our seas. That notwithstanding, we are aware that ‘communities’ are not one group with a single voice, but are made up of complex and diverse groups of people and interests. This is why we are consulting at a crucial stage of the policy development, and the views expressed in this consultation will be fundamental in allowing us to reach a decision on whether these proposals should be taken forward.

Read the consultation paper. The consultation paper contains full background information for this consultation. You may find it useful to read or refer to while responding.

Useful information about responding to this consultation

As you complete your response, each page will provide the option to 'Save and come back later' at the bottom. This means you can save your progress and return to the consultation at any time before it closes. If you don't use this feature and leave the consultation midway through, your response will be lost.

Once you have submitted your response, you can enter your email address to get a pdf copy of your answers sent to you.

On the 'About You' page at the end of this consultation, organisations will have the opportunity to tell us more about their work and/or how their response was informed.

After the consultation has closed there will be a few months delay before any responses are published. This is because we must check any responses to be published abide by our Terms of Use.

A analysis report will usually be published some months after the consultation has closed. This report will summarise the findings based on all responses submitted. It will be published on the Scottish Government website and you may be notified about it if you choose to share your email address with us. You can also join our consulation mailing list where we regularly list newly published analysis reports (as well as new consultations).


Why your views matter

The feedback you provide in this consultation will help to decide whether these legislative proposals will be taken forward, and will influence further policy development on how the proposals can be best implemented.

There will be further opportunities to input into the development process. For the registration proposals the outcomes of this consultation, if supportive, will inform the first step of implementation, which is to introduce powers in primary legislation to enable the establishment of a registration process. We would then need to develop the secondary legislation which would set out the detail of how such a process is to be delivered. There will be another consultation in the future to inform that second step in the process.

For Marine Conservation Orders (MCOs), the changes we are proposing are also for primary legislation. There already exists a requirement to consult with users of the sea before any MCO can be put in place. In future, any MCO made using the proposed new powers would be subject to the same consultation requirement on the specifics of the proposal.

Give us your views


  • Communities and Third Sector
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Marine and Fisheries
  • Main hub