The Scottish Government has announced the future designation of a new protected area for the vulnerable harbour porpoise.
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth welcome this important move but urge the UK and Welsh Governments to comply with their legal obligations to designate protected areas.
Scotland’s first Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for the harbour porpoise will be created on the West of Scotland, and will be Europe’s largest for this species.
ClientEarth senior lawyer Catherine Weller said: “Harbour porpoise populations are under great pressure. The law requires the Government to protect the areas where harbour porpoises feed and breed. These areas will be essential for their survival.
“However, six more sites have been identified as requiring designation as protected areas under the Habitats Directive. Hopefully, today’s announcement will put the pressure on the English and Welsh to up their game and follow this through.”
The UK Government is legally obliged to designate protected areas for the harbour porpoise.
Earlier this year, England and Wales began consultation processes on potential new sites. The news that Scotland intend to designate a large area for the harbour porpoise now leaves the UK and Welsh Governments falling behind.
Harbour porpoise numbers are falling because their ability to catch food, breed and communicate is under threat. The new area will help provide protection to harbour porpoise and the habitats that support them in Scottish waters.
The UK is legally obliged under the Habitats Directive to create Special Areas of Conservation in places of crucial importance for harbour porpoise populations.
The European Commission should be quick to approve the designation. In 2014, the Commission warned the UK Government that they would face legal action if they failed to comply with their obligations to protect the most common, and smallest, cetacean species found in UK waters.
There remains an outstanding question about why the Scottish Government have not progressed the site of Scotland’s east coast which was also identified. However, in parallel with the SAC designation process, ClientEarth looks forward to working with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to help develop an effective species conservation strategy.