By Charlie Main, Project Officer

Like so many island-born folk, my life and work has always felt very connected to the sea. I moved to the Isle of Lewis and Harris for work just over four years ago. At the time, I was working on seabird conservation at the Shiant Isles. It was a privilege to be able to devote my time to wildlife in such a unique and special place, and I was hooked on the Outer Hebrides from then on. I am now working on a fresh marine project, but the benefits are not just for the wildlife, they’re also for you.

The project I will be coordinating over the next three years – called the “Seas of the Outer Hebrides” (SEASOH) – recognises the importance of communities to enable successful marine conservation, allowing us to continue to benefit from a productive and healthy ocean. We hope to engage with as many interested people as we can, developing shared visions for the sea and its management with a focus on Marine Protected Areas of the Outer Hebrides

What we hope to do:

  • Build a shared vision for Marine Protected Area (MPA) management at the regional scale in the Outer Hebrides drawing on the knowledge, ability and resources of all.
  • Pilot a shared approach to the development of better management of Marine Protected Areas for the Outer Hebrides. This means developing strategies for effective MPA management through engagement with communities of the Outer Hebrides, key stakeholders and MPA managers.
  • Develop and demonstrate solutions for effective regional MPA management in the Outer Hebrides Marine Region.
  • Develop a greater understanding of ecological, social and economic impacts associated with MPA management in the region.
  • Seek to inform the development of other future Regional Marine Plans.

Marine Protected Areas are intended to protect features of the sea that provide benefits to the environment and so to all of us. To date, management of these areas has tended to focus on individual sites. However, issues to do with management of MPAs affect communities across different scales and over both land and sea, because so many opportunities and risks are linked up. This affects the whole community both now, and in the future.  A more collaborative approach to management will enable transparency, information sharing and discussion in a respectful and inclusive situation. It is hoped that this will help build consensus for marine management within MPAs of the Outer Hebrides.

The SEASOH project will bring together relevant organisations, communities and marine users to develop a shared vision for the management of all of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Outer Hebrides. Cross boundary MPAs will be considered in partnership with neighbouring regions (i.e. West Highlands and Argyll). There will be clear guidance for communities and for decision makers on the implementation and review of management measures relating to MPAs.

I am based at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Lews Castle College in Stornoway. This feels like a great hub from which to be doing my day to day work, but our project team will also be travelling around the whole of the Outer Hebrides to meet people. We will be appearing at events around the islands from Spring 2019 onwards, and would welcome contact and feedback at any stage.

I’m so fortunate to be doing what I love in a largely bilingual part of Scotland. But I’m now gradually learning how to use Gaelic, and I hope that will also help me to connect with the landscapes and seascapes of these amazing islands.

Chì mi a-rithist sibh!

Fact file

  • The Seas of the Outer Hebrides projects partnership includes Scottish Natural Heritage, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, University of Highlands and Islands Lews Castle College, Marine Scotland, and the World Wildlife Fund.
  • This project is being delivered in partnership with WWF as part of their UK SEAS Project, which is funded through a partnership with Sky Ocean Rescue.
  • The Seas of the Outer Hebrides project forms part of the Marine Protected Area Management and Monitoring (MarPAMM) project funded through the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme.