Scottish marine conservationist Howard Wood wins prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is delighted to share the news that Howard Wood – co-founder of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), one of FFI’s partners in Scotland – has been awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize. This extremely prestigious award recognises a few truly outstanding individuals whose work has made a real difference in protecting our planet’s natural environment.

Howard’s award celebrates his work with COAST, whose community approach and tireless campaigning led to the designation of Scotland’s first no-take zone (an area closed to fishing), among many other successes.

Video courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.

Boom and bust

The Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast was once renowned for its plentiful stocks of cod, herring, haddock, and turbot. Small-scale traditional fishing provided income for generations of families on the Isle of Arran (situated within the Clyde), who were able to fish sustainably thanks to long-standing laws banning the use of fishing gear that damaged seabed habitats.

Unfortunately however, the repeal of seabed protection measures in the 1980s – coupled with technological advances – opened up the Firth of Clyde to more destructive fishing practices. The resulting devastation of seabed habitats and over-exploitation of fish stocks led to the near total collapse of the Clyde’s fisheries.

Having lived on Arran and dived its waters since he was a teenager, Howard witnessed these declines first-hand.

So when, in 1989, his friend and dive buddy Don MacNeish came back from a trip to New Zealand full of enthusiasm about the marine protected areas he had seen there, the two embarked on a mission to secure the same protection for the seas around Arran.

Howard Wood diving. Credit: COAST.

Howard witnessed first-hand the decline of the Clyde. Credit: COAST.

In 1995, the pair founded COAST – a citizen group committed to protecting their local marine environment. Together, they launched a grassroots campaign to establish Scotland’s first no-take zone in Lamlash Bay on the east coast of Arran, an area they had identified as containing key habitat needed for marine wildlife to recover.

After 13 years of hard work – during which they met with public officials, local fishers and scientists; held community rallies; and launched petitions to the Scottish parliament – Howard and his colleagues celebrated the establishment of the Lamlash Bay No-Take Zone in 2008.

An ecosystem in recovery

In the seven years since its establishment, the protection afforded by the no-take zone has allowed seaweeds, hydroids and other organisms on the seafloor to recover, in turn providing a nursery habitat for young fish and shellfish.

Juvenile cod and anemones inside the reserve. Credit: Howard Wood.

Inside the reserve, the recovery of seabed habitats has allowed young cod and other species to thrive. Credit: Howard Wood.

Building on this momentum, in 2014 COAST (with Howard as its chairperson) succeeded in securing a wider marine protected area which encompasses Lamlash Bay and should help marine life in the adjacent waters to recover, ultimately benefiting fishers.

Howard and the rest of the COAST team are now campaigning for the Scottish Government to establish appropriate management policies for the new South Arran Marine Protected Area and are continuing their campaign to increase the community’s right to have a say in how its inshore and coastal waters are managed.

This approach marks a significant departure from previous debates where the mobile commercial fishing industry (representing dredgers and bottom trawlers) has been the most vocal, and sometimes the only, stakeholder at the table.

In partnership with FFI, COAST is also working with other coastal communities in Scotland to develop similar proposals and promote sustainable marine management policies that will allow coastal communities to make sure their way of life and natural environment are safe for generations to come.

Friends and colleagues at FFI would like to congratulate Howard and everyone at COAST for this much-deserved accolade.

You can learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize and winners from other regions by visiting