The gathering brought together RYA Scotland volunteers from across the country to meet directly with the marine planning authorities including Marine Scotland, Crown Estate Scotland, sportscotland, Clyde Marine Planning Partnership and the Scottish Coastal Forum.

Fergus Duncanson, Chair, Cruising & General Purposes Committee set the stage for the day asking how we can best represent the views of recreational boaters in Scottish waters and noted. “Coastwatchers are really an essential part of the whole team, they are the eyes and ears and the local experts who provide the detailed knowledge that we need to work with. It’s good to meet them all and put characters and faces to the names.”

“Throughout the year hundreds of Marine License Applications are sent to RYA Scotland, with Pauline McGrow in the office being the hub that then sends these onwards to the appropriate Coastwatchers and to Graham Russell the Planning and Environment Officer. These referrals are then scrutinised and examined before the responses are collated and returned to Marine Scotland.”

“It’s great to have so many official bodies and authorities here together because we regularly work together and communicate with them around applications. It helps indicate the respect that the volunteers and staff of RYA Scotland are held in by them. The fact we are a very valuable body with a lot of expertise to contributes to their purposes, and it’s great to have so many representative speakers here today.”

Graham Russell, Planning and Environment Officer commented, “It was great to have the Coastwatchers and members of the Cruising and General Purposes Committee in the same room as they are both key parts of the RYA Scotland representation team. Coastwatchers could see that their work was valued and in turn were able to contribute, share their experience and question the contributors. We all learned something new.”

Louise Wilcox from the Marine Scotland operation team was one such speaker and commented. “We license everything from the Marine Scotland Act, from Mean High Water Springs out to 12 nautical miles, so it covers a real wide range from moorings to big harbour projects. We rely heavily on our consultees, which one is RYA Scotland, to give us advice when it comes to marine licence applications. We haven’t had too many multi agency conferences like this before to meet the people that give us that information and to say thank you for their help basically.”

 Louise continued. “The more information we can give in what we’re looking for in our referrals, the better the responses we get, so it of great benefit to all of us.”

Among the attendees was Clive Reeves who acts as a Coastwatcher on the Clyde as well as his role as commodore of the Clyde Cruising Club. “I have been dovetailing the role with the Clyde Moorings committee for the past two years and I’d like to think we give a perspective from recreational boating on marine licence application, anything that would affect sailing and leisure craft in different areas. I enjoy it and it’s good to use our experience to double check aspects which may affect navigation for all water users.”

Another Clyde based Coastwatcher, Phil Lonsdale, describes how the local knowledge of an area help to provide the statutory requirements for effective planning permissions. “As a commercial diver for twenty five years and forty years as a coastguard in the area and a good amount of time in small boats I know the place pretty well. Most of my diving has been for research so I have a pretty unique view of the impact underneath of developments or dredging.”

John McArthur keeps an eye on a significant area from Skye to Ardnamurchan and the islands and seas following the Argyll and Bute coastline and has been a Coastwatcher for over five years.

He noted. “Fish farms make up around half the applications while the rest are infrastructures associated with timber, ferries and leisure developments. It’s quite a busy patch as there is a lot of ship movements, whether ferries or general commercial marine transport as well the leisure market.”

The afternoon took a detailed look at Regional Marine Planning, including insights from Isabel Glasgow, Chair of the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership who has worked closely with RYA Scotland through Graham Russell and was pleased to meet many of the volunteer Coastwatchers at the conference. The session was followed by a practical simulation exercise on Regional Marine Planning led by Rhona Fairgrieve of the Scottish Coastal Forum. It turned out to be a great team building exercise for the representation group as the simulation marine planning board game was good fun while having the serious purpose of exploring interactions between the various marine sectors that brought the whole day together.

Coastwatchers got to grips with marine planning when they played the MSP Challenge board game as part of their annual meeting. This role-playing game is intended to introduce stakeholders to the complexities of balancing the uses made of our marine and coastal resources in a fun and engaging manner. If the amount of laughter generated was anything to go by, it certainly succeeded. The participants had to cope with a scenario in which offshore wind farms had to be fitted in to an already-busy sea basin, the fictitious Rica Sea. In defending their own established economic and environmental interests against the new industry, they had to negotiate across borders to secure the most appropriate areas for all activities. Although acknowledging the game as “a gross simplification!”, they heartily entered into the spirit of things, managing to accommodate the wind farms whilst also supporting the protection of the environment and allowing the development of new areas for tourism and water-based recreation.

The Scottish Government published a National Marine Plan in 2015 and the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership has been charged with working locally to produce a Regional Marine Plan for the Clyde area. The MSP Challenge game is supported by the EU-funded SIMCelt project, which is addressing the challenges of planning for cross-border and transboundary marine areas.

Rhona Fairgrieve, Manager of the Scottish Coastal Forum, introduced the game to the Coastwatchers and welcomed their enthusiastic participation. "It’s been terrific to see everyone entering into a positive spirit of marine planning and working to deliver a sustainable future for the fictional Rica Sea. Now they’ve done in within a ‘serious game’ context, we’ll expect the same approach to the development of Regional Marine Plans as these are rolled-out around Scotland in due course!”

James Allan, CEO of RYA Scotland said afterwards. “It has been a real education to spend the day with the Coastwatchers. We can never understate how important these people are to the entire boating community. These are the people on the ground who are absolutely key to understanding local issues and the protection of our rights as recreational boaters. I cannot begin to imagine how we would all be affected without them.”

RYA Scotland’s Cruising and General Purpose Committee supports the network of volunteers, dubbed Coastwatchers, around Scotland that help identify potential threats to the rights of the boating community and to help inform consultations. These Coastwatchers provide advice on Marine License Applications, Renewables consultations, Legislation and other relevant consultations that impact the interests of our members. If you are interested in becoming part of this group please contact admin@ryascotland.org.uk