In May 2010, a Draft Plan for Offshore Wind Energy (OWE) in Scottish Territorial Waters was published by Marine Scotland. To inform this plan, Marine Scotland is carrying out a Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) and producing an Appropriate Assessment (AA) in fulfilment of obligations under the Habitats Regulations and the Offshore Habitats Regulations. These Regulations implement the EC Habitats and Birds Directives in UK waters and require that an AA should be undertaken where a plan or project is not directly connected with or necessary for management of designated European sites or offshore European sites, including Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), and where the possibility of a likely significant effect (LSE) on these sites cannot be excluded, either alone or in combination with other plans or projects. In the UK, these requirements are also extended to the consideration of effects on Ramsar sites and to sites that are proposed for designation such as potential SPAs (pSPAs).
A pre-screening study has already been undertaken to identify the possible impacts of the short-term options on sites of international nature conservation interest (Halcrow, 2010). ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd (ABPmer) has been commissioned by the Scottish Government to complete the remaining ‘screening’ and ‘AA information production’ stages of this HRA. The findings from the Halcrow (2010) study will be taken into account within the subsequent stages of the HRA for the Draft OWE Plan to ensure that the effects of both short and medium term sites are considered. ABPmer are carrying this out in an iterative, auditable and transparent manner following practices adopted for previous Plan-level HRAs and using new guidance for assessing plans that has been produced by Scottish Natural Heritage (David Tyldesley and Associates, 2010). This HRA process is being overseen by a Project Steering Group (PSG) which includes representatives of key stakeholders and consultees.
The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) guidance for Plan-level HRAs (David Tyldesley and Associates, 2010), divides the whole process into 13 distinct stages. This report covers Stages 1 to 3 and 5 of the HRA process for the 25 medium term options (which should be viewed essentially as ‘areas of search’) and acts as an initial ‘sifting’ exercise for which the aim is to identify the relevant European/Ramsar sites and their qualifying interest features for which there is a potential for a LSE, or where such a LSE cannot be excluded. These selected sites and qualifying interest features will then be taken forward into the assessment process. The results of the pre-screening process are set out within three tables which summarise the findings of this analysis by showing:
- The environmental impact pathways that are relevant to the plan (i.e the mechanisms by which an activity arising from the offshore windfarm developments (that are proposed within Plan) could affect a relevant habitat or species);
- The designated European/Ramsar sites that are present within the OWE option areas and within 100km of these areas; and
- The designated European/Ramsar sites and their key qualifying interest features that have initially been screened into the assessment process (and those that have been screened out).
The 100km boundary that has been used here, has been applied because it defines a quantifiable and objective area that is likely to encompass many of the mobile species interest features (fish, seabirds and mammals) within designated sites which could be indirectly affected by the medium term OWE options. However, it has not been used to limit further review of more distant locations or to presume that all relevant features within this area for which impact pathway exists are necessarily affected. In particular, it is recognised that impacts (especially to migratory bird species) may extend to sites beyond this 100km boundary and this aspect will need to be considered throughout the whole HRA process.
At this stage, only sites and interest features where no impact pathway exists have been excluded. This includes only non-coastal terrestrial habitats and species interest features within the 100km area. Following the initial pre-screening, a total of 355 sites were identified (from a total of 566 sites that were identified within the 100km boundary) as having a LSE and requiring further consideration in the HRA. Of these sites, 11 are located within the boundary of one of the 25 medium term options and could be subject to both direct and indirect effects while 344 lie outside of these options (but within 100km of them) and could be indirectly affected.
For each of the relevant European and Ramsar site designations, the following numbers of sites were identified and then screened in:
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs): 173 sites within 100km of which 148 were screened in;
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs): 308 sites within 100km of which 135 were screened in;
- Ramsar Sites: 73 sites within 100km of which 62 were screened in;
- Sites of Community Importance (SCIs): 3 sites within 100km of which all 3 were screened in;
- Candidate SACs: 5 sites within 100km of which 4 were screened in;
- Potential SAC: 3 sites within 100km of which all 3 were screened in; and
- Potential SPA: 1 site within 100km of which none were screened in.
Other Parts of this report can be found at: