In autumn 2021, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) advisory, as the Statutory Nature Conservation Body, was tasked by Welsh Government to progress a programme of Mapping of Environmental Considerations to support the spatial approach to marine planning.
The aim of the work is to compile and present environmental evidence to support Welsh Government and others who are interested in exploring potential future opportunities for sustainable use and management of the Welsh marine area. The objective of this initial phase of work was to produce maps of environmental considerations for a range of sectors in relation to ecological features.
The purpose of this report is to:
- describe the methodology used to produce the maps and the datasets that underpin them;
- introduce the maps, highlighting key drivers of the differences across feature groups, and both the potential uses of the maps and their limitations; and
- summarise options for consideration in future phases of this mapping work, recognising the commitment to the long-term programme of environmental mapping work to support Welsh Government’s spatial approach to Marine Plan implementation and other spatial planning related processes.
Four broad feature groups are included, namely:
- birds, including seabirds, and coastal wildfowl and waders;
- fish, including marine fish and diadromous fish species;
- marine habitats and species including coastal habitats; and - marine mammals, including cetaceans and seals.
The potential degree of interaction of seven sectors of relevance to marine planning for Wales are considered:
- tidal stream energy;
- wave energy;
- tidal range energy;
- power cabling; and
- floating offshore wind.
The data, analysis and outputs are restricted to the Welsh National Marine Plan area. However, it should be noted that developments within and outside the plan area may have impacts beyond their footprint and on mobile species.
We have applied a scoring methodology including three main stages: occurrence score, conservation importance score, and potential impact score.
To date, this work has brought together evidence on the distribution of around 170 habitats, species, and protected sites in Welsh waters.
The evidence is intended to help users understand some of the ecological considerations relating to a particular sector when operating in Welsh seas. The current outputs are intended as a strategic marine planning tool to be used alongside other evidence and guidance, which together improve understanding of the implications of marine development and opportunities to support the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) in Welsh seas.
It is important to note that the work described in this report does not and cannot constitute an assessment of the suitability of any specific project development plans or proposals. Such considerations require specific details of the likely nature and scale of a particular activity e.g. to inform the likely zone of influence of the proposal(s) and allow more detailed examination of potential impact pathways and specific consideration of mitigation or compensation requirements.