From July to November 2013, MarineScotland (the arm of the Scottish Government responsible for the integrated management of Scotland's seas) carried out a mammoth consultation process (PlanningScotland’s Seas) to take forward integrated marine planning for Scotland’s seas. As part of this process, they sought the views of the public on a National Marine Plan, offshore renewable energy and a proposed network of marine protected areas.
At one of the many consultation meetings delivered around Scotland during this 16 week period, a colleague of mine advised Marine Scotland to ‘sex up’ their consultation process in order to get the public more engaged in this important debate on the management of their seas. I’m not entirely sure if this suggestion is now floating its way along the corridors of Victoria Quay in Edinburgh, where Marine Scotland is currently analysing the results of this consultation process. I do know, however, that some of the 14,000 responses to the consultation on a proposed network of 33 marine protected areas for Scotland's seas arrived in the form of poetry, drawings and paintings. Fortunately, one of the members of Marine Scotland’s Marine Analytic Unit is an anthropology graduate.
It is heartening to hear about these imaginative responses to the consultation. It was also encouraging to be invited, as a social ecologist, to deliver a lunchtime seminar at Marine Scotland last week about my understanding, from a cultural perspective, of a conflict around the creation of two marine special areas of conservation off the coast of Barra, a small island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. My co-speaker was Ruth Little (Associate Director of Cape Farewell), an Australian dramaturg, teacher, writer and former academic who has developed ‘a philosophy and methodology of ‘metabolic’ dramaturgy: the dramaturgy of non-linear living systems, which considers the biological, cognitive and social realms in the creation and interpretation of performance works, and attends to patterns, processes and emergent moments in dramatic structure and human experience.’ Ruth spoke from an artistic perspective about the islands of
Fair Isle, Shetland and Orkney (in Scotland's northern waters) in relation to marine spatial planning issues and relationships between local communities and fisheries/energy.
Ruth Little and I share a common belief in the importance of acknowledging and embracing culture as an aspect of local ecologies, and extending the ecosystem approach to encompass the specific kinds of relationship that people have with their marine environment, and the ways in which they perceive and express those relationships. We offered the Marine Scotland audience visually illustrated cultural and artistic perspectives on many of the issues within the Planning Scotland’s Seas consultation process. From the lively discussion which followed, it was evident that Marine Scotland (at least the 25 people who attended the seminar) are open to engaging with these different ways of knowing and relating to the seas around Scotland – and indeed many of them hail from the coastal and island communities we were talking about.
It is important for artistic and cultural perspectives to weave their way through the ‘integrated’ marine planning process for Scotland’s seas. Beyond the realm of marine planning, and in a broader sense, some of these perspectives currently find expression in publications such as The Island Review, an imaginative and beautifully illustrated online magazine which describes itself as ‘a haven in the vast and stormy online ocean…bringing together great writing and visual arts from islands all over the world.’
Without local cultural and artistic perspectives, the marine planning process for Scotland's seas, quite simply, won’t be integrated. The specific kinds of relationship that people have with their marine environment, and the ways in which they perceive and express those relationships, form the glue that does the integrating.