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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Cockle fishing ban to protect birds
The Firth of Forth around Burntisland
Birds feed in the area around Burntisland
An environmental watchdog has welcomed moves to protect the food source of important bird populations on the Firth of Forth.

The Scottish Executive has granted a Special Nature Conservation Order (SNCO) covering the sands east of the Forth Rail Bridge, including the area around Burntisland.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had become concerned over the impact of a rise in cockle fishing.

SNH requested an SNCO be granted to prevent cockle collecting, other than for personal or scientific use.

In 2002 several groups of people started commercial cockle fishing at Burntisland and this soon escalated into a major cockle fishing operation.

Damage fears

The Firth of Forth is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a European Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.

SNH advised the executive that an unregulated commercial cockle fishery, on the scale that was seen at Burntisland, could damage bird populations for which the SPA is classified.

Many species of birds, such as oystercatcher, feed on cockles.

Uncertainty over the stocks of cockles meant it was not possible to clearly define what would constitute a sustainable fishery.

The SNCO now prohibits commercial cockling while not restricting local people's rights to small scale cockling, a low level of which is unlikely to affect the internationally important bird populations.

It stretches east from the bridge as far as Dunbar on the south side and to Elie on the Fife side.

While the SNCO is in place SNH hopes to gain more information about cockle stocks in the area and will look at the possibility for a sustainable fishery management scheme to be put in place.

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