When important archaeological sites are discovered, they are often designated by the government as protected sites. Different countries have different ways of doing this, and often times there are numerous ways to protect, or “designate”, a site. This applies to shipwrecks, as well, and Scotland has several ways of legally protecting its historic shipwreck sites. In some cases it is possible to visit the site as a diver, in other cases it is not.
Designated shipwrecks of Scotland are protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which are UK-wide Acts that apply also in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There are eight designated historic wreck sites in Scotland under the 1973 Act, all of which are from the 17th century with the exception the last, which is early 20th century: Kennemerland, Wrangels Palais, Duart Point Wreck, Dartmouth, Burntisland Wreck, Mingary Castle Wreck, Kinlochbervie Wreck, and HMS Campania. Permits are required to dive on these sites. There are seven wrecks protected as scheduled monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979. These are all part of the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in 1919 in Scapa Flow, Orkney.
The Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sties (ACHWS) was established to provide advice and recommendations to Historic Scotland when an application is submitted to designate a wreck in Scottish waters. They also advise in situations where divers wish to conduct certain activities on Designated Wreck Sites (Historic Scotland).
“The Marine Scotland Act 2010 provides a framework which will help balance competing demands on Scotland’s seas.” The Act is not limited to cultural resources, though it does address them. The Act repeals Section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Under the Act, it is possible to create a Historic Marine Protected Area (MPA) through a designation order if it is determined to be a marine historic asset of national importance (Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 Part 5 Section 73(1)). Part 5 Section 73(5) of the Act states that a marine historic asset could be
(a) a vessel, vehicle or aircraft (or part of a vessel, vehicle or aircraft),
(b) the remains of a vessel, vehicle or aircraft (or a part of such remains,
(c) an object contained in, or formerly contained in, a vessel, vehicle or aircraft,
(d) a building or other structure (or apart of a building or structure,
(e) a cave or excavation,
(f) a deposit or artifact (whether or not formerly part of a cargo of a ship) or any other thing which evidences, or groups of things which evidence, previous human activity (Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 Part 5 Section 73(5)).