Our Area

Moray Firth Partnership Area

From the northern seabird filled cliffs and stacks of Duncansby Head to the busy fishing port of Fraserburgh at its eastern limits, the 800km of Moray Firth coastline embraces a rich marine life that stretches from ocean depths to the shallows of muddy, sandy and rocky shore, where geese, ducks and waders thrive.

Around the waters of the Moray Firth are the many communities where lives remain closely connected to the sea through fishing, tourism and recreation. Many of the settlements have a rich cultural heritage, with a history that is linked to the changing fortunes of fishing and overseas trade. On shore, the fertile lowland farms are world famous for their malting barley, and seed potatoes.

The harbours page gives details of the 32 ports and harbours around the Firth. They are the focus for much of the area’s industry and commercial activity, and operate to support oil production, renewable energy, commercial shipping, cruise liners and recreational boats.

Recreation on both sea and land makes an important contribution to the area, with dolphin watching alone worth £4 million to the Moray Firth economy.

The importance of the Firth for cetaceans, birds and marine habitats is recognised in national and international designations for protecting nature, such as the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The Moray Firth SAC was initially proposed for designation in 1996 to help protect the resident population of bottlenose dolphins, which is considered to be rare in a European context. Because the dolphins live a long time and reproduce slowly, and because the Moray Firth population is relatively small and isolated, it is extremely vulnerable.

In 2001 ‘Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water at all times’ (subsequently referred to as ‘sandbanks’) were added to the designation. The sandbanks encompass a range of fine grained sediment types typically, but not exclusively, down to the 20m depth contour. Submerged sandbanks are ecologically and economically important; for example, they often support important nursery areas for fish, the animals associated with them provide a vital food source for birds, and the sandbanks can provide protection from coastal erosion.

Responsibility for managing the Moray Firth SAC is shared by the ‘relevant authorities’. These are organisations that have statutory responsibilities through licencing or consenting the various activities or developments that take place in the Firth. These Authorities are required to make sure that the well-being of the dolphins, the condition of their habitat and the condition of the sandbanks are protected when they carry out their everyday work.