Scottish Government
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Sound of Barra outcome

ocal community to have a key role in SAC management.

The pristine marine environment at Sound of Barra is to be given international recognition following a decision to make the Western Isles site a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse visited the Western Isles earlier this year to listen to the local community and hear their concerns. As a result of these meetings the new SAC will be managed using an innovative majority community-led approach utilising local knowledge.

Mr Wheelhouse has accepted the recommendation for designation with boundary changes to remove non-qualifying habitat. This means the world famous Traigh Mhor beach airport is no longer within the site boundary. Sound of Barra will now be put forward to the European Commission for inclusion in plans for an EU-wide network of SACs.

Following recommendation for designation put forward by Scottish Natural Heritage in November last year, Mr Wheelhouse asked for an independent review of the scientific case to be completed. The reviewers concluded they are satisfied that the scientific data was robust.

Mr Wheelhouse said:

“Thanks to generations of careful stewardship by the local community, Sound of Barra is a diverse and precious environment, home to important seal populations with reefs and sandbanks that support many species.

“The concerns of the local community have been taken into consideration and we will be implementing a new bottom up approach to the management structure to ensure as much local involvement as possible. I want all those with an interest to have the opportunity to work constructively together on securing a bright future for Sound of Barra and the wider region. I look forward to visiting again shortly to discuss the next steps with the local community.

“The scientific case for designation as a Special Area of Conservation has been found to be robust and that’s why, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to accept the proposal. The outstanding beauty of Barra and its growing reputation as an important nature location can only be enhanced by SAC status, increasing tourism to the island.

“There have been a wide variety of views on designation – some for, some opposed – during an extensive period of consultation and consideration. And I understand that there are some concerns from local interests about economic impact.

“I hope that they will be reassured by my decision to focus the SAC on only relevant habitats and reduce down the overall size. I also believe that a viable local fishing industry can be fully compatible with SAC designation.”

Notes to editors


Sound of Barra has now been put forward as a Special Area of Conservation to the European Commission. Find out more about the case for designation at:

The independent review of the scientific case for the Sound of Barra designation was carried out by two academics that had no previous connection to the process. Dr Matthew Frost is Deputy Director of Policy and Knowledge Exchange at the Marine Biological Association of the UK. Dr Stephen Widdicombe is Head of Science at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Their report can be viewed at:

The advice on Sound of Barra from Scottish Natural Heritage and the consultation responses were published in November.

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