World’s biggest flame shell bed to be protected at Loch Carron

Date posted: 20 March 2018

A site that is home to around 250 million flameshells - brightly coloured molluscs that form an intricate habitat for other marine life - is up for designation as a permanent marine protected area (or MPA).

Flame shell
© Calum Duncan

We welcome proposals to make permanent the Loch Carron Marine Protected Area, enabling recovery of the flame shell beds and protection for the newly discovered maerl beds.

Calum Duncan

The Scottish Government is consulting on the creation of a permanent marine protected area for Loch Carron, in Wester Ross. It was first designated as an “emergency marine protected area” in May 2017, following confirmation of damage to the flame shell beds by a scallop dredging incident. A Marine Conservation Order was put in place at the same time to protect the flameshell beds from further damage by fishing.

The consultation will seek views on creating a permanent MPA covering 23 kilometres square of outer Loch Carron, stretching from eastward of Strome narrows into the outer loch and southward to the boundary of the Lochs Duich, Long and Alsh MPA. The existing protection remains in place throughout this process.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world and the flame shells at Loch Carron are of international importance. That is why we are taking new measures to protect these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy the benefits of them, which are often taken for granted. This consultation is a key step to ensuring Loch Carron is given permanent marine protection to ensure the recovery of the flame shell beds in Loch Carron.”

Loch Carron survey work by Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland Science in 2017 also identified maerl beds, another vulnerable habitat, which will also be protected. These habitats play an important role in the health of the sea – flameshell and maerl beds provide important nursery habitat for juvenile scallops and whitefish like cod and also act as blue carbon stores, among other benefits.

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society and Convener of Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine Group said: “Local divers have long known how special this sea loch is and the recent findings firmly underline Loch Carron’s world-class credentials, meriting its place within Scotland’s developing marine protected area network. We welcome proposals to make permanent the Loch Carron Marine Protected Area, enabling recovery of the flame shell beds and protection for the newly discovered maerl beds. The swift action by Scottish Government and SNH scientists to survey the area, discovering the largest flame shell beds in the world in the process, is to be commended, as was the rapid original response by local divers. This is the second time Scotland has claimed this global title, emphasising both how amazing the marine life in our seas is and how much we still have to learn.”

Local recreational divers, some Seasearch-trained, had recorded the original damage following co-ordination by locally-resident independent marine biologist Sue Scott, without whom there would have been no subsequent action. Sue Scott said: “I am delighted that the proposals launched today would make the Loch Carron MPA permanent. It is great to have the richness and diversity of our local marine life recognised and protected. However, we were lucky to get photographic evidence this time – divers have known for years the damage scallop dredging does to the seabed and to sensitive marine life, including commercial species.”

The extent of the flameshell beds in Loch Carron has only recently been realised. Read Save Scottish Seas’ Blog View and respond to the consultation
Read Scottish Environment Link’s initial responses to the consultation

Actions you can take

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Did you know?…

Scotland has 10% of Europe’s coastline

MCS established its Scotland office and programme in 2000 in Edinburgh

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’