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Photograph Courtesy of Charlie Phillips

Marine & Coastal Eco-systems

There’s some outstanding scenery and wildlife around the shores of the Moray Firth. Stretching from high cliffs and rocky shores in Caithness to the long sandy beaches and dunes of Sutherland, Moray and Aberdeenshire, much of the coastline exposes Old Red Sandstone compressed from sediments laid down on the floor of Lake Orcadie during the Devonian period c. 400 million years ago. The rock is now transformed into high seabird cliffs, narrow castle promontories, and has revealed many fish fossilised in its layers.

The Moray Firth Coastal Partnership remit covers North Sea waters up to 12 miles from the coastline, and includes deep seas, estuaries and shallow coastal margins of sandbanks, horse mussel beds, saltmarsh, mudflats and seagrass beds. These each support their own communities of plants and animals, foraging fish and birds. It’s a richness of life that makes the Moray Firth important for many species including bottlenose dolphinsharbour seals, internationally important populations of wintering waterbirds, and summer breeding seabirds.

Eleven rivers feed into the Firth, including some of the most famous salmon river names in Scotland. The rivers connect land and sea, with salmon and trout at home in both waters.

Bounding much of the Firth are rich, well-drained soils that are farmed or are of natural woodland or plantation forestry. Ospreys breed in a number of the woods, catching fish in the Firth and lochs during the summer.

Key publications are Scotlands National Marine PlanThe Environment Strategy for ScotlandSNH’s Climate Change Commitments and the Highland Bio-diversity Action Plan (currently under review).

Within the region we have:-

20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): A national designation for areas of special interest by reason of any of their flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features.

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs): Strictly protected sites, classified for rare and vulnerable birds, and for regularly occurring migratory species.

  • Ramsar sites: Wetlands of international importance.

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs): Strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive.

  • Marine Protected Areas: Designated by Scottish government and designed to protect rare, representative and productive species and habitats on the basis of sound science.


These may seem like dry figures, but the sheer number of high nature value places along the coast and inshore waters of the Firth, covering most of the 800km coast from Duncansby Head in the north to Fraserburgh in the east, show how important the Moray Firth is for wildlife.

The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership published their Report Card for 2020, focussing on climate change and bio-diversity and provides a good overview of the legislation used to establish various type of marine protected areas.

The Scottish Blue Carbon Forum research programme will focus on measuring the ability of various marine and intertidal habitats to trap and store carbon alongside building an evidence base on the effects that human activities may have on these habitats.

Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation management scheme is currently being updated, meeting minutes are available below - 

What we will do

We will work in partnership with other organisations concerned with the conservation of the area both in terms of marine life and coastal biodiversity and sustainable management including the Marine Protected Areas in our region.

How we will know we have achieved our vision

Local management of the marine and coastal ecosystems has resulted in restoration of biodiversity with public awareness providing strong support for continued sensitive management to maintain their health.

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