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SNH Appoint MacArthur Green to Carry Out Population Viability Analysis of Sula Sgeir Gannet

Every year there is a harvest of pre-fledged northern gannets, known as gugas, from the island of Sula Sgeir. Questions have been asked about the sustainability of the Sula Sgeir gannet population given the current level of harvesting permitted.

SNH has concluded that the current level of harvest is not likely to affect the long term sustainability of the Sula Sgeir gannet population. 

To read the report in full, please see here:

Effects of Marine Renewable Energy Developments on Seabirds

A new paper has been published in Marine Policy by Helen Wade, EA Masden, AC Jackson and Prof. Robert Furness, considering the uncertainty in data regarding effects of marine renewable energy developments (MREDs), and those of vessels and helicopters, on seabirds.

The indices considered in this publication present important information for the application of vulnerability indices ranking seabird vulnerability to MREDs. Uncertainty measures can inform MRED impact assessment processes by identifying species of potential concern that lack data, and contribute to identifying post-consent monitoring and strategic research priorities. The combined uncertainty and vulnerability indices could be employed to complement MRED site characterisation and inform sectoral plans by identifying areas supporting species that may be sensitive to MREDs. Given the evolving understanding of species’ responses to MREDs, these indices should be viewed as a work in progress and would benefit from regular consolidation with new information.




CalMac appoint MacArthur Green and UWS to looking at next 25 Years' Argyll and Clyde Marine Economy

The UK's largest ferry network operator, Caledonian MacBrayne, has commissioned a report by MacArthur Green and University of West of Scotland on the likely changes within the Scottish marine environment over the next 25 years.

The hope is that the report will feed into the development of Scotland’s first ever National Marine Plan and into the Regional Marine Plans for the Argyll and Clyde sea areas. 

Marine plans

Until recently each different marine industry, such as fishing, or transport, or aquaculture, developed separately. Each one faced challenges and took advantage of opportunities on its own. The National Marine Plan (NMP), launched in March last year, is designed to change all that. 

The NMP basically creates a planning framework for all marine activity in Scottish waters. It brings the full range of marine industries together, so that the requirements of all sectors can be considered and supported under one plan. It also ensures that environmental protection – including climate change issues - is taken into account in all marine decision making.

Locally focused Regional Marine Plans are also in the pipeline, one for each of the eleven Scottish Marine Regions. They will be created by local Marine Planning Partnerships made up of key local stakeholders, but so far only one has been set up – in Shetland. The second Partnership, for the Clyde region, is in the process of being established.

The new framework is, however, dependent on everyone working together. Key stakeholders from a wide range of marine industries will have to work in partnership to identify common goals and areas of conflict – and resolve them.

As part of this, Caledonian MacBrayne has published a report looking at the opportunities and challenges that the marine economy is likely to face now that the NMP is in place.

The Caledonian MacBrayne report

The report focuses on the two marine regions of Argyll and Clyde, which together make up the bulk of the west coast of Scotland. This is an extensive area: Argyll alone has a coastline longer than that of France.  The report also concentrates on three specific marine industries: aquaculture, tourism & recreation and marine traffic.

It looks at the framework of laws and policies that applies to these sectors and asks ‘where are we now?’ in terms of marine economic development. It examines current research and projections and sets out the forecasts for each sector. It then considers the opportunities and challenges revealed by these forecasts and recommends actions that will support future sustainable development.


In the aquaculture sector, for example, researchers from environmental consultancy MacArthur Green found a number of serious challenges. These include the industry’s reliance on only two major products (salmon and blue mussel) and planning constraints in getting new developments approved.

But the report also identifies a number of key opportunities, which could help to overcome the challenges and make Scottish aquaculture more sustainable.

It suggests that better marketing would be beneficial, raising awareness of the cleanliness of Scottish marine environment, while diversification into new products such as sea snails, sea urchins or sea weeds would make the industry more secure. Research and development into aquafeeds could help too, by reducing costs and improving nutritional value, while proper monitoring would provide early warning of dangerous algal and jellyfish blooms.

The report even suggests that this monitoring could be carried out by other marine users, such as ferry operators, in partnership with the aquaculture sector.

Tourism & recreation

Researchers from the University of the West Coast of Scotland (UWS) assessed the issues relating to tourism & recreation and marine traffic for the report.

They found that tourism & recreation offers many opportunities for future growth, particularly in relation to sailing tourism, wildlife tourism, cruise ship tourism and adventure tourism.

However, this is likely to result in greater competition for resources, such as access to shore front or to fish stocks, says the report. It is also likely to result in more damage to the environment, and will be hampered by a lack of provision of services, such as access to the internet, and a lack of affordable housing for local residents. There are also likely to be difficulties in developing the necessary infrastructure.

The report suggests that these problems could be mitigated or overcome by improved planning in this area. A comprehensive marketing strategy would also help, raising awareness not only of visitor attractions, but also of the environmental impact of tourism and what visitors can do to help.

Marine Traffic

Turning to marine traffic, the report finds that this is likely to increase in the Clyde and Argyll region over the next 25 years. Much of the growth is likely to be caused by the development of the cruise ship and sailing tourism sectors, but could also be a possible consequence of climate change. The report suggests that new international shipping routes may open up if the arctic ice mass reduces much further – and Clyde and Argyll are ideally placed to exploit them.

This growth will inevitably cause problems. According to the UWS researchers, an increase in marine traffic could result in congestion and an increase in marine noise pollution and emissions, not to mention the need for substantial infrastructural port development to meet growing demand.

The report warns that proper planning will be essential in order to manage these risks and phase in the necessary developments. Research into greener technologies will also help to reduce noise and emissions.

Working together

The report concludes by recognising the difficulties ahead: it will not be easy to create regional plans in an industry with such a diverse range of sectors, each with their own interests and needs. It suggests the use of mental modelling as way forward, helping to understand and resolve any conflicts, and to identify areas of common mutual interest.

At stake, after all, is the Scottish Government’s Vision for the marine environment: “Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.”

Caledonian MacBrayne, along with many other stakeholders, is working towards that goal.

Read the report here

A Theoretical Approach to Estimating Bird Risk of Collision with Wind Turbines Where Empirical Flight Activity Data Are Lacking

There are standard procedures for collecting data on numbers of birds at sites being proposed for wind farm development and evaluating collision risk for each key species. However, methods do not work well for all species.

Where a local bird population is depleted, empirical data cannot provide estimates of likely collision mortality numbers if that population returns to satisfactory conservation status. Field survey methods are also inadequate for cryptic bird species. Both these problems can be important for evaluation of impacts of proposed wind farms on bird populations protected by the EU Birds Directive.

This paper presents an alternative method, based on energy constrained activity budgets and natural history, which permits assessment of likely collision numbers where empirical data are inadequate. Two case studies are presented where this approach has been successfully used to resolve disputed planning applications:

(1) for a hen harrier population where numbers present are much below the population size at designation; and

(2) for a cryptic species (greenshank).

The report, written by Robert Furness, Mark Trinder, David MacArthur and Andrew Douse, sets out a novel method, which helps reduce uncertainty in assessments constrained by difficulties in collecting suitable empirical data. 

Read the full report here.






The Elusive Great Crested Newt: Tracking It Down With eDNA Surveys

As Great Crested Newts (GCN) return to waterbodies each spring to breed, this is the ideal time to check for their presence within a site. One of the ways in which we can do this is using environmental DNA (eDNA).

Following a study undertaken by DEFRA, the use of eDNA has been accepted by Natural England as an appropriate method of determining presence or absence of GCN within a water body. Scottish Natural Heritage also accepts this method.

MacArthur Green offers a licensed surveyor who has been trained in Natural England’s approved survey protocol to undertake the eDNA surveys. The technique can reduce survey requirements to only one visit to a waterbody in order to determine presence of GCN. By offering this service in line with current industry guidelines, we provide our clients with accurate results in shorter time period than that associated with conventional survey methods.

Where no presence of GCN is detected, this means a reduced cost to the client as no further survey is necessary. It also means a reduction in the disturbance to the water body and species present within it.

Water samples to inform the eDNA surveys must be collected between mid-April and 30th June, in order to confirm presence or absence in line with accepted protocol. Surveys conducted outwith this survey window cannot be used to confirm absence of GCN. The kits used to collect the samples must be ordered from an approved lab in advance of the surveys taking place, so this should be kept in mind for project planning.

Where the presence of GCN is confirmed and there remains a requirement to determine the population size; surveys using conventional methods are necessary. These include bottle trapping, netting, torching and egg searches. MacArthur Green staff are experienced in undertaking such surveys and estimating population size. In terms of project planning, it is important for clients to note that surveys may have to be conducted the following year depending on when the eDNA surveys were carried out, and when survey results are received back from the labs.

MacArthur Green provides the following services:

  • Initial site assessment of water bodies and terrestrial habitat and calculation of Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) to determine the habitat suitability for GCN.
  • eDNA surveys conducted by a licensed surveyor who has been trained in Natural England’s approved survey protocol.
  • Conventional survey methods, such as bottle trapping, netting, torching and egg searches, and estimations of population size where presence of GCN is confirmed.
  • Habitat enhancement and design of new habitat, e.g. new breeding ponds, hibernacula, etc.
  • Translocation of GCN, including pitfall trapping.

Please call on 0141 342 5404 to discuss any GCN questions you may have.