Coastal Characterisation – A Year of Coasts and Waters Case Study

Submitted by NatureScot

Scotland’s coasts are an important part of its nature and landscapes. There is great variety, ranging from the long sea lochs and islands of the west coast to the firths and sweeping beaches of the east. Many towns and villages are sited on the coast, roads or railways often follow the coastline, and ferry routes are a key way of experiencing it. Our distinctive coasts are also a magnet for recreation.

Coastal character is made up of the often narrow margin of the coastal edge, its immediate hinterland and areas of sea. These three key components of coastal character comprise what is commonly known as ‘seascape’.

Coastal Character Assessment identifies, describes and maps Scotland’s coasts. This information underpins marine plans, development plans and specific development proposals. Coastal Character Assessment complements Scotland’s Landscape Character Assessments, which focus on the terrestrial landscape. Coastal characterisation considers additional aspects associated specifically with the coast, such as marine influences, the coastal edge and its immediate hinterland as well as the inter-relationship between these components. In 2017, NatureScot published a Guidance Note on Coastal Character Assessment for use in Scotland. This guidance presents the methodology on how to undertake coastal character assessment in Scotland. It clearly sets out this well-established characterisation method, emphasises its wider applicability and gives examples of its application.

It is a different approach to that taken in England and Wales where marine character areas include both the sea surface and what lies below the waterline. In Scotland the focus is on the coast and its interaction with sea and hinterland, relationships that are quite distinctive in the Scottish context.

Whilst NatureScot is not planning a national programme of coastal characterisation, stretches of the coast have been characterised through aquaculture capacity studies or proposals for marine renewable energy developments.

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