Appendix 17 Marine Protected Area (MPA) Screening
- The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 introduced provisions to support the management of Nature Conservation (NC) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Under section 126 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (“the 2009 Act”) and section 83 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, the Marine Scotland Licensing and Operations Team (MS-LOT), as the public authority, is required to consider whether a licensable activity is capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) a protected feature in a NC MPA or any ecological or geomorphological process on which the conservation of any protected feature in a NC MPA is dependant.
- MS-LOT must not grant authorisation for the activity unless the person applying for the authorisation satisfies MS-LOT that there is no significant risk of the activity hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives for the NC MPA. If MS-LOT believe that there is or may be a significant risk of the proposal hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives then they must notify the appropriate statutory conservation bodies (NatureScot for MPAs within 12 nautical miles (“nm”) or the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for MPAs out with 12 nm) of that fact.
- If the person seeking the authorisation is not able to satisfy MS-LOT that there is no significant risk of the licensable activity hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives then a licence will only be granted if:
- MS-LOT is satisfied that there is no other means of proceeding with the licensable activity which would create a substantially lower risk of hindering the achievement of those objectives (to include proceeding in another manner or at another location);
- MS-LOT is satisfied that the benefit to the public of proceeding with the licensable activity clearly outweighs the risk of damage to the environment that will be created by proceeding with it; and
- MS-LOT is satisfied that the person seeking the authorisation will undertake, or make arrangements for the undertaking of, measures of equivalent environmental benefit to the damage which the activity will or is likely to have in or on the MPA concerned.
- It was highlighted by MS-LOT and NatureScot in their Scoping Response for the initial Berwick Bank Wind Farm Proposal, that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) must make a full and clear assessment of the potential impacts on all the designated features of the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA. The Applicant confirmed during a Benthic Ecology, Fish and Shellfish Ecology and Physical Processes Road Map meeting on 3 September 2021 that they anticipate that this would be presented as a separate standalone document within the Berwick Bank Wind Farm EIA.
- This appendix therefore provides a summary of the approach to the MPA assessment that is proposed for the Berwick Bank Wind Farm (the Proposed Development) and which will be presented, in full, in the EIAR. This report also presents the results of a preliminary initial screening of designated MPAs which it is proposed are carried forward for consideration in the MPA Main Assessment in the EIAR.
- The following sections describe the approach to the initial screening and main assessment stages of the process, as outlined in Marine Scotland’s Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas: Draft Management Handbook (Marine Scotland, 2013).
- In the first instance, the draft MPA Management Handbook outlines that an initial screening stage should be undertaken to focus on what can reasonably be predicted as a consequence of the proposal and whether it is ‘capable of affecting (other than insignificantly)’ a protected feature of a NC MPA. This screening should use information that is currently available on the licensable activities and consider aspects such as the scale, timing and duration of Proposed Development. These considerations should include proposals for developments or activities out with the boundary of a NC MPA.
- Firstly, consideration of ‘capable of affecting’ should result in removing from further consideration all proposals / functions which are not in any way connected to the protected feature(s). A capability that is both remote (in terms of likelihood of occurrence) and hypothetical should not be the basis of a conclusion that further assessment is required. This can be determined by considering whether the activity will exert pressures which the protected feature(s) are sensitive to (Marine Scotland, 2013).
- Secondly, if the conclusion is that there is ‘capability of affecting’, the focus should then be on considering whether the proposed development or activity will affect the protected features of a NC MPA, other than insignificantly. Consideration of the degree of pressure that could be exerted by the activity on a spatial basis should help to establish what level of effect might occur. Where it is concluded that the act or function is capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a NC MPA then a main assessment must be carried out considering the conservation objectives (see section 17.1.2).
- The Applicant proposes that, in order to determine the 'nearness' of the activities associated with the Proposed Development, the same screening criteria is used for the MPA assessment as is proposed for the Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) screening. These are as follows for the different protected features of MPAs:
- Benthic habitats/species and geodiversity features - there is the potential for indirect effects to sites designated for benthic features, as well as geodiversity features, as a result of impacts associated with increased suspended sediment concentrations (SSC) arising from construction activities or from changes to the hydrodynamic regime as a result of the presence of offshore infrastructure associated with the Proposed Development. The extent of these impacts is considered likely to extend beyond the boundaries of the Proposed Development. The zone of influence (ZOI) for such indirect effects is typically defined from the outputs of physical processes modelling to determine, for example, the fate of sediments resuspended during the construction process. Physical processes modelling will be undertaken for the Proposed Development to inform the EIA, however this has not been carried out at the Scoping stage. Therefore, a buffer of one mean tidal excursion has been used to inform this area, with a reasonable level of precaution applied. One mean tidal excursion in the vicinity of the Proposed Development equates to approximately 6.5 km, as derived from the Atlas of UK Marine Renewable Energy Resources (ABPmer, 2008). For the purposes of MPA screening, a precautionary approach has been adopted and this buffer has been increased to 20 km. This buffer is considered to be sufficiently precautionary to capture all sites likely to be in the ZOI from direct and indirect effects associated with construction activities. This buffer has also been applied for geodiversity features of MPAs;
- Fish species – the HRA screening doesn’t propose a screening distance for fish, as all European sites with migratory species with the potential to be affected have been considered. Therefore, for the purposes of this MPA assessment (which does not consider migratory fish) a precautionary buffer of 100 km has been adopted to screen in MPA sites, on the basis that this is sufficiently precautionary to capture the ZOI from the project from key impacts such as underwater noise. This will however be refined in the EIA on the basis of the outputs of the subsea noise assessment and physical processes modelling; and
- Marine mammals – the HRA screening considers sites with cetaceans as qualifying interest features within a buffer that equates to the regional marine mammal study area, as defined in section 6.3 of the EIA Scoping Report. For seals, all sites within the East Scotland Management Unit (MU) have been considered. These buffers are considered to be sufficiently precautionary to capture all sites likely to be in the ZOI from indirect effects associated with construction activities but they will however be refined in the EIA on the basis of the outputs of the subsea noise assessment and physical processes modelling.
Ornithology - Ornithology – the HRA screening considers sites with breeding seabirds as qualifying interest features within a buffer that equates to the offshore ornithological regional study area, as defined in section 6.4 of the EIA Scoping Report. For seabirds in the non-breeding season, the ZOI is based on Furness (2015) which presents Biologically Defined Minimum Population Scales (BDMPS). These buffers are considered to be sufficiently precautionary to capture all sites likely to be in the ZOI from indirect effects associated with construction and operational activities but they will however be refined in the EIA on the basis of the outputs of the collision risk, displacement and Population Viability Analysis assessments.
- It is proposed that determining the ‘insignificance’ will be determined for the Proposed Development through the assessments made in the EIAR sections
- The main assessment which will be presented as a standalone report in the EIAR, will consider the extent of the potential impact of the Proposed Development, on the MPAs screened in to the assessment in more detail. The main assessment stage focuses on determining whether there is, or may be, a significant risk of the Proposed Development hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives.
- Marine Scotland’s Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas: Draft Management Handbook states that the consideration of whether there may be a 'significant risk of hindering' the achievement of the conservation objectives of the protected features of a NC MPA must be carried out on a case-by-case basis.
- As with the initial screening process described in section 17.1.1, aspects such as scale, timing and duration of the proposed activities or developments will all need to be considered. However, whilst the initial screening focuses on the protected features, this main assessment will focus on the potential impact on the achievement the conservation objectives of the protected features. Therefore, this stage will also include consideration of the scale of the potential impact. Consideration of cumulative effects with other activities and functions should also be undertaken.
- The conservation objectives for MPA features are high level criteria describing the desired condition of the MPA feature. There are two objectives for features within an MPA which are that the protected features:
- so far as already in favourable condition, remain in such condition; and
so far as not already in favourable condition, be brought into such condition, and remain in such condition.
- The MPA Main Assessment for the Proposed Development will therefore consider whether the Proposed development could potentially affect these objectives for each of the MPAs screened into the assessment. An assessment will be made of whether the Proposed Development could potentially impact the site so that the features are no longer in favourable condition, or prevent the features from recovering to a favourable condition.
Preliminary Screening for Berwick Bank
- On the basis of the methodology and screening buffers described above in section 17.1.1, the Applicant has undertaken a preliminary MPA screening exercise. Noting that this is a preliminary exercise which will be revisited once the results of the EIA assessments are available (e.g. physical processes modelling, subsea noise modelling), the following MPAs have been identified for initial inclusion on the basis that the Proposed Development is deemed to be potentially capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) a protected feature of the site:
- Firth of Forth Banks Complex Nature Conservation MPA (ncMPA) – which partially overlaps with the Proposed Development (Apx. Figure 17. 1 Open ▸ );
- Turbot Bank ncMPA – which is located approximately 96 km to the north east of the Proposed Development Array Area (Apx. Figure 17. 1 Open ▸ ); and
Southern Trench ncMPA (minke whale only) – which is located approximately 99 km to the north of the Proposed Development Array Area (Apx. Figure 17. 1
Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA
- The Firth of Forth Banks Complex ncMPA is located off the east coast of Scotland, and partially overlaps with the Proposed Development (see Apx. Figure 17. 1 Open ▸ ). The ncMPA is a composite site and the boundaries of each of the three areas were determined by the presence and extent of the important features contained within them: the Berwick, Scalp and Montrose Banks, and the Wee Bankie shelf banks and mounds. The site covers an area of 2,130 km2 and was designated by Marine Scotland as a Nature Conservaion MPA in 2014. The designated features of the Firth of Forth Banks Complex ncMPA and their overarching conservation objectives are outlined in Apx. Table 17. 1 Open ▸ .
- This site has been designated to protect Offshore subtidal sands and gravels and Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) aggregations. The site is also designated for the protection of Shelf banks and mounds as a large-scale feature, which is considered to be significant to the health and biodiversity of wider Scottish seas, and Wee Bankie Key Geodiversity Area, a series of prominent submarine ridges marking an ice limit during the retreat of the British-Irish ice sheet. Both Berwick Bank and Wee Bankie support habitats suitable for sandeels. As such, the Firth of Forth shelf banks and mounds have been identified as critical foraging habitat for seabirds and grey seals.
- Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA
Apx. Table 17. 1: Sites Proposed to be Screened into the MPA Assessment for the Proposed Development on the basis of the Preliminary Screening, their designated features and conservation objectives.
17.2.2 Turbot Bank MPA
- Turbot Bank MPA is located off the east coast of Scotland, approximately 96 km to the north east of the Proposed Development Array Area (see Apx. Figure 17. 1 Open ▸ ). The site lies within an area of sandy sediment, including part of the shelf bank and mound feature known as 'Turbot Bank'. The site covers an area of 251 km2 and was designated by Marine Scotland as a Nature Conservation MPA in 2014. The designated features of the Turbot Bank ncMPA and their overarching conservation objectives are outlined in Apx. Table 17. 1 Open ▸ .
- Turbot Bank is important for, and designated for, sandeels which are closely associated with sand habitats, living buried in the sand for months at a time. The Turbot Bank ncMPA encompasses areas where high numbers of sandeels have been found. Sandeels play an important role in the wider North Sea ecosystem, providing a vital source of food for larger fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Turbot Bank has the potential to act as a source of young sandeels for maintaining and restocking surrounding areas (JNCC, 2014).
8.6.2. Southern Trench MPA
- The Southern Trench ncMPA is located off the Aberdeenshire coast of Scotland, stretching from Buckie in the west to Peterhead in the east, and is approximately 99 km to the north of the Proposed Development Array Area (see Apx. Figure 17. 1 Open ▸ ). The site covers an area of 2,536 km2 and was designated by Marine Scotland as a Nature Conservation MPA in 2020. The ncMPA features a dynamic front that attracts shoals of fish including herring, mackerel and cod to the area. The soft sands covering much of the seabed also provide abundant habitat for sandeels. The presence of these key prey species in turn attracts minke whale. The Southern Trench ncMPA has been selected to protect four biodiversity features: burrowed mud, fronts, minke whale and shelf deeps; as well as two geodiversity features (NatureScot, 2020). However, on the basis of the screening methodology outlined in section 17.1.1, only minke whale are proposed to be carried through to the MPA assessment. The relevant designated features of the Southern Trench ncMPA and their overarching conservation objectives are outlined in Apx. Table 17. 1 Open ▸ .
Apx. Figure 17. 1: Sites Proposed to be Screened into the MPA Assessment for the Proposed Development on the basis of the Preliminary Screening.