What is special about the Moray Firth?
It is special because the bottlenose dolphins found in the Moray Firth are one of only two or three groups which live in British waters throughout the year.
But the Firth is special for many other reasons. It is an area with a very rich variety of wildlife, landscapes and seascapes. Cliffs and seabird colonies, sheltered mud flats full of wintering waders, shifting sand dunes and shingle complexes - the Firth's specialness has been recognised and afforded protection in a number of ways.
The quality of the Moray Firth environment is vital to many lives. Wildlife and people depend on a healthy firth for their livelihood and pleasure. Today, happily, the firth is relatively healthy but this cannot be taken for granted. As we make more demands on the firth there is a growing awareness and concern that some activities conflict with others, and may compromise its high environmental quality. It is important for those around the firth to work together to keep it healthy, and manage its rich resources wisely so that they are still there for future generations to enjoy and use.
Who helps look after the Moray Firth
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is the government agency which works to conserve and enhance Scotland's natural heritage of wildlife, habitats and landscapes. It aims to help people enjoy this natural heritage responsibly, understand it more fully and use it wisely so that it can be sustained for the future.
Protection under British laws
SNH advises the government which areas are special enough to merit protection under British laws by being declared Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is the main nature conservation designation in Great Britain. These sites are special for their plants or animals or habitats, their rocks or landforms or a combination of these. Owners and occupiers must receive formal notification specifying why the land is of special scientific interest and listing any operations likely to damage the special interest.
Protection under European Laws
Some sites are so special that they are not only SSSIs but also have been recognised part of a network of the most important sites in Europe. This network of protected areas is known as Natura 2000. The Natura 2000 network includes two types of area. Areas which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats are known as Special Protection Areas (SPAs), while areas that support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species of plant or animals (other than birds) are known as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
SNH acts as the advisor to Government and as the Government's agent in telling the key parties about the site and their boundaries, and in negotiating the longer term management of these sites.
Moray Firth Natura 2000 sites
The whole of the Inner Moray Firth extending out to a line running from Helmsdale to Lossiemouth has been proposed as a Marine Special Area of Conservation for its Bottlenose dolphin population and also for its subtidal sandbanks.
Other sites on the Moray Firth which have been proposed as part of the Natura 2000 network are:
Culbin Bar pSAC(proposed Special Area of Conservation)
Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA
Cromarty Firth SPA
Inner Moray Firth SPA
Moray and Nairn Coast SPA
East Caithness Cliffs SPA
Troup, Pennan and Lion's Heads SPA
In addition to the Natura 2000 sites, the Moray Firth also has several Ramsar sites. Ramsar Sites are sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. The purpose of this designation is to 'stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future'. Aims include the conservation, management and wise use of migratory stocks of wildfowl and to promote the conservation of wetlands.
The areas in the Moray Firth chosen as Ramsar sites are:
Inner Moray Firth, Cromarty Firth, Loch Fleet, Moray and Nairn Coast, Dornoch Firth
The Moray Firth Partnership
Scottish Natural Heritage was instrumental in the initiation of the Moray Firth Partnership, which has brought together a wide range of individuals and organisations to exchange ideas and information. The aim is to work out ways of reducing conflict between different activities in the Moray Firth and cherishing the environment while nurturing enterprise.
Other Nature Conservation Bodies
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (www.rspb.org) has two reserves on the Moray Firth one at Udale Bay in the Cromarty Firth and the other at Culbin Sands. The main coastal sites managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust are Spey Bay and, in partnership with SNH, Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve.
Scottish Natural Heritage website www.snh.org.uk