A series of conversations around marine management are being held during the Hebrides International Film Festival at six locations throughout the islands.

The Seas of the Outer Hebrides project team, made up of representatives from Creative Carbon Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of the Highlands and Islands, will be present to introduce the project and hear your views on how we should best look after our marine environment.

The focus of the events will be: why are the seas important to you and what should our seas look like in 30 years’ time? The aim is to explore how communities can live sustainably with the sea both now and in the future by setting out a vision and later becoming involved in decision making.  

Over the next three years the Seas of the Outer Hebrides project aims to find a way to best manage Marine Protected Areas for the benefit of people and nature, and ensure everyone can continue to benefit from a healthy and productive ocean.

One short film being shown at three of the events is Muir An-Athraichean (Our Father’s Sea) which explores the cultural importance of fishing and some of the tensions between marine conservation and livelihood. 

The film festival takes place at venues throughout the Outer Hebrides next week, from Thursday through to Saturday (September 12 to 14).

The SEASOH project will be at films shown at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Bernera Community Centre, Talla Na Mara community centre in South Harris, Carinish Village Hall in North Uist, Stoneybridge Village Hall in South Uist and in Castlebay Hall in Barra.

See the online programme at www.hebfilmfestival.org for more information. 

In addition to the conversations, drop-in animation workshops are being held during the festival, aimed at exploring the future of our seas through art.

By working with the artists such as Steve Todd, participants will get the chance to produce an animation of their own by using drawings, paintings, collages, sculptures and sound.

Materials and help will be provided and the workshops are suitable for people of all ages. Images produced over the course of the festival will then be gathered and produced into a short film by Rural Nations filmmakers.

In Stornoway, the drop-in animation workshops will be in the pop-up cinema in the library from 12.30pm to 5pm on the Thursday and 10am to 5pm on the Friday and Saturday. In North Uist, the workshops are in the pop-up cinema being run by Uistfilm at Taigh Chearsabhagh, between 11am and 5pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Muriel Ann Macleod, creative director and programmer of the Hebrides International Film Festival, said the conversations and the animation workshops were “a very hands-on way” of trying to get people to think about the issues.

She said: “It might be that 10 per cent of the Uists are under water in 30 years’ time. We don’t know if that will happen but it might.

“It's about getting people to think about how changes in the environment will affect us in the future. The Film Festival is specifically screening documentaries and dramas that connect with the sea. Dramas like Manta Ray, Bait and Fisherman’s Friends reflect on our relationship with the sea. Documentaries like Sharkwater Extinction and Sea of Shadows touch on exploitation of the oceans and Queen Without Land looks at the effect melting ice has on polar bears and wildlife in the sea.”

The role of Creative Carbon Scotland in the conversations is to bring a “creative and cultural angle to the engagement process”.

Gemma Lawrence, Culture/SHIFT Producer with Creative Carbon Scotland said: “The ultimate aim of the project is to come up with a Marine Protected Area management plan for the Outer Hebrides – and to do that in a way that puts communities at its heart.

“Understanding what’s important to people, how they live with the sea now and how they would like to live with the sea in the future is vital to that process. We’d like to hear about all kinds of different activities but also about how people relate to the sea on a cultural, creative or spiritual level.”

She added: “From Creative Carbon Scotland’s perspective, we work to help connect the worlds of culture and climate change and one of the ways we do that is helping to introduce creative approaches into environmental projects.

“Our rationale is that environmental issues and climate change are often approached from a scientific and economic perspective but that misses out the social and cultural angle and we believe that culture and art is a really effective way of thinking about these issues and that climate change is as much an issue of our culture and the way we live.”

Taking a creative approach, she said, “helps to synthesise issues in a different way and present them back to us through a different medium”. It is also particularly relevant to areas such as the Outer Hebrides which have such a strong cultural heritage.

The Seas of the Outer Hebrides project is running for three and a half years and is part funded by the European Union’s Interreg fund through the wider MarPAMM (Marine Protected Area Management and Monitoring) project.

Project Officer Charlie Main, who is based at Lews Castle College UHI, said they aim to deliver effective management for Marine Protected Areas. She stressed they were “trying to do a lot of listening”, particularly with fishermen and other people who make their livelihood from the sea. 

Charlie said: “The seas around the Outer Hebrides are so important for both people and nature. If  we’re going to be able to hand on this fantastic environment and the benefits we all derive from it to future generations, then we need to get together to build consensus on conservation and management. Marine Protected Areas have been controversial in the Outer Hebrides and we recognise that.

“With these events and others over the next three years, we’re trying to find a way in which people and agencies can work together towards a shared vision for the future of our seas.”

She added that the film festival and its “fantastic programme of thought-provoking films” had given the project “a really exciting opportunity” to begin that conversation.