Coastal and marine environments afford a huge range of opportunities for recreational activities; but our seas are also a major economic resource, supporting an array of industries and communities nationwide. Balancing the competing demands of nature, economic development and tourism is complex, and a key function of the Marine Planning system introduced by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.
Good planning needs good data – and in 2014, no coherent national-scale information existed on who was using Scotland’s coastline for tourism and recreation; where they were going; what they were doing when they got there; or, how much their activities were worth to the economy. We were commissioned by the Scottish Government to deliver a major research project to fill this significant knowledge gap.
Using an innovative web-based survey approach, we collected spatial, social and economic data on the recreational activities people value around the Scottish coast. More than 2,100 individuals and representatives of 137 organisations told us about over 52,000 places they had visited over the previous 12 months. We then used the information to create a series of remarkable maps showing which areas of coast and sea are most important, accompanied by detailed analysis of behaviours, patterns of seasonality and expenditure. The results provide new insights into people’s use of the coast, including the suggestion that that annually, spending during recreation and tourism trips to the Scottish coastline contributes up to £3.7bn to the Scottish economy.
The Scottish Government will use our analysis to inform marine planning as well as guiding public and private investment over the coming years.