Moves are afoot to give Fair Isle’s precious marine environment special recognition in a move never taken before in other areas.
Plans are under way to give the island status as a marine protected area, or MPA, with consultation on the move already started.
Other areas have previously been designated as MPAs but Fair Isle’s differs from previous nature conservation steps. Instead of being built around specific biodiversity features, it is hoped Fair Isle’s MPA will demonstrate, or carry out, research on sustainable methods of marine management.
Aimed at having a dual focus, the Fair Isle MPA hopes to establish robust research focused on migratory sea bird population decline, while also demonstrating the social and economic value of a healthy marine environment to the Fair Isle community.
If designated, the Fair Isle demonstration and research MPA would be the first of its kind in Scotland.
It follows work by the Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative (Fimeti) on behalf of the isle’s residents.
Established in 1995, Fimeti works as a partnership between the Fair Isle community, the National Trust for Scotland and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust.
The initiative was established to work towards the long-term protection and sustainable management of the seas around the isle.
Fimeti first submitted the MPA proposal to Marine Scotland in December 2011. So the launch of public consultation marks a major milestone for the organisation, and the isle.
Group coordinator Nick Riddiford said: “I am delighted that 25 years of community effort to safeguard our seas has reached this milestone.
“Its goal as the first demonstration and research MPA in Scotland is to pilot a partnership approach towards sustainable marine management to benefit all.
“The sea plays a huge role in the economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the isle. The designation could make a big difference to Fair Isle.”
A partnership approach is said to be built into the fabric of the proposal, with the aim of recognising the importance of the fishing industry, which remains vital to the isles and to Scotland as a whole. As well as the ecological and socio-economic values the MPA is anticipated to bring, it may also have the potential to show collaborative management within the seas – with the community, commercial fishermen, research institutes and others on board.
Chairman of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Leslie Tait, said it was important to hear different points of view.
“We’re quite happy to be part of the steering committee to investigate and come forward with ideas and proposals, but also to listen to others.”
Fair Isle community councillor, Fiona Mitchell, added: “The Fair Isle community has long advocated an MPA and we are delighted to see it move into the next stage of public consultation.
“Thanks to islanders, supporters and new alliances with fishermen, this is an aspiration that has become a reality.”
Adding his support to the unusual measures behind the MPA was senior nature conservation adviser for the National Trust for Scotland – which owns Fair Isle – Richard Luxmoore.
“The designation would provide an opportunity for Scotland to demonstrate the value of this novel and innovative form of marine protection to the wider world,” he said.