ITPEnergised was appointed by the Applicant to undertake a Report to Inform Appropriate Assessment (RIAA) in relation to the onshore transmission works (OnTW) (the “Proposed Development”) associated with the Berwick Bank offshore wind farm. The nearest boundary of the Proposed Development is located just under 5 km southeast of the East Lothian town of Dunbar (central British National Grid Reference: NT 743 741). The RIAA, which is based on desk study data and bird surveys undertaken in 2020 - 2021, was commissioned following a Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) screening consultation undertaken in late 2021 with East Lothian Council (ELC) and NatureScot (NS) (summarised within Annex A and full report provided within Annex B).
Please note that this document relates only to the impacts of the onshore considerations associated with the onshore infrastructure located landward of Mean Low Wate Springs (MLWS), which includes the onshore cable route, onshore substation and associated infrastructure which are described in Section 1.2 below. For completeness this includes results from studies in the intertidal area (between MLWS and Mean High Water Springs (MHWS) completed as part of the offshore works, and considers effects of the onshore works on the intertidal area.
1.1.1 Purpose of this Document
Given the potential for connectivity between the Proposed Development and four Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of which one is also a Ramsar site, there is a potential for activities associated with the Proposed Development’s construction and operation to result in adverse effects on the qualifying interests and conservation objectives of specific qualifying features. Consequently, an HRA screening exercise was undertaken in September and October 2021 which, upon consultation with NS and ELC, determined that an RIAA is considered necessary to identify the nature, extent and significance of any adverse effects on a number of specific SPA qualifying and assemblage species and, if confirmed, whether these are likely to impact the integrity of the designation.
This RIAA was undertaken in relation to specific receptors due to the Site’s proximity to the following designated sites:
- the Firth of Forth SPA/Ramsar;
- Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA;
- St. Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA; and
- Forth Islands SPA.
The HRA includes consideration of the results of a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Wintering bird survey (WBS) and Intertidal Study (IS). The BBS Study Area (Site plus 500 m), WBS Study Area (Site plus 250 m) and ornithology desk study areas are shown in Onshore EIA - Volume 2, Figure 8.1 and 8.2. The IS study area is shown in Offshore EIA – Volume 2, Chapter 11, Offshore and Intertidal Ornithology and consisted of surveys completed for the two proposed landfalls considered at the time of survey. As the northern landfall location was chosen only survey results recorded in the section around the northern landfall are included in this document. The BBS Study Area (Site plus 500 m), WBS Study Area and IS Study Areas are shown Figure 1
The location of the application boundary (i.e., the “Site”) and the Proposed Development layout are shown on Figures 1 and locations of designated sites outlined in Figure 2
The planning application boundary for the Proposed Development extends to the Mean Low Water Springs (MLWS). The infrastructure to be located between the Mean High Water Springs (MHWS) and MLWS consists of cables to be installed via trenchless technology (i.e. horizontal directional drilling (HDD)). Impacts associated with this infrastructure have been assessed in the Offshore EIA Report (Volume 2, Chapter 11, Offshore and Intertidal Ornithology), although given the commitment to use trenchless technology no likely significant effects have been predicted.
ITPEnergised has been commissioned by the Applicant to undertake the RIAA, as part of the HRA process, to inform the appropriate assessment which will be undertaken by ELC as the Competent Authority (CA) in determining the Proposed Development application.
The Proposed Development comprises the onshore elements of the Berwick Bank Wind Farm Project, and consists of the following:
- a new onshore substation;
- one landfall location;
- onshore cables within a cable corridor between the landfall and the new onshore substation, and between the new onshore substation and the Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) Branxton substation; and
- associated ancillary infrastructure.
The lifetime of the Proposed Development is anticipated to be 35 years from the commencement of operation to commencement of decommissioning.
Landfall is planned to be made at Skateraw, located north-west of Torness Power Station and Skateraw harbour. The onshore cable corridor connects the new onshore substation, located north-east of Innerwick, with landfall and with the SPEN Branxton substation to the south-east (See Onshore EIA - Volume 2, Figure 8.1).
2. Legislative Background
Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (“The Habitats Directive”), as it has been given effect in UK domestic law, provides legal protection for habitats and species of European importance. Articles 3 to 9 provide the legislative means to protect habitats and species through the establishment and conservation of an EU-wide network of sites. This network, formerly known as Natura 2000 and now termed the National Site Network in the UK, and is an ecological network of special areas of importance for nature conservation, composed of sites hosting rare and vulnerable habitats and species. This network is designed to enable the natural habitat types and the species' habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.
The UK has designated a number of sites of nature conservation importance which form part of the National Site Network. National Site Network sites relating to birds as qualifying features comprise Special Protected Areas (SPAs), while other non-avian species and habitats are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). In addition, as clarified in Policy 4 of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention (Ramsar site wetlands) are also treated as designated National Site Network (referred to as Natura 2000 Sites in SPP) and are therefore also considered in HRAs (Scottish Government, 2023).
The procedures that must be followed when considering developments affecting National Site Network Sites are set out in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. In Scotland, this process is implemented through the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) (“The Habitats Regulations”).
Habitats Directive Article 6(3) sets out the decision-making tests for plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on or to adversely affect the integrity of European sites (Annex 1.1). Article 6(3) establishes the requirement for AA:
“Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the [Natura 2000] site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subjected to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”
Both EU and national guidance exists in relation to Member States fulfilling their requirements under the EU Habitats Directive, with particular reference to Article 6(3) and 6(4) of that Directive. Although the UK has left the EU, this guidance remains in force. The methodology followed in this report to inform the Article 6 assessments has had regard to the following guidance and legislation:
- SNH (2018). Natura sites and the Habitats Regulations: How to consider proposals affecting SACs and SPAs in Scotland. The essential quick guide;
- NatureScot (2022). Legislative Requirements for European Sites; and
- EU Exit: habitats regulations in Scotland (2020).
- Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (also known as the ‘Habitats Directive’) (as amended);
- Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds, codified version, (also known as the ‘Birds Directive’) (as amended); and
- Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).
3. Overview of Scoping and Screening
3.1 Scoping Opinion
The scoping and screening process for the RIAA is summarised in Table 1 below and described in detail in the following sections.
Table 1: Screening and Scoping Summary
1st October 2020
Outline the fact that the Site could impact on:
Firth of Forth SPA;
St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA; and
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA.
And the potential requirement for HRA.
10th August 2021
Undertake HRA Screening and Issue Report to ELC and NS.
The above three protected sites are screened in including the following species:-
Firth of Forth SPA: Wintering pink-footed goose.
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA: Breeding and wintering herring gull, wintering black-headed gull, wintering common gull and wintering eider.
All SACs and other SPAs were screened out.
7th October 2021
ELC, NS, ITPEnergised
Following a review of the HRA Screening Report and meeting, ELC approve the results of the HRA Screening Report but outline the requirement for the additional sites / species to be considered.
Firth of Forth SPA: Wintering Golden plover.
St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA: Breeding herring gull.
Forth Island SPA: Breeding herring gull.
1st February 2022
Completed RIAA to include following protected sites and species:
Firth of Forth:
Wintering pink-footed goose; and
Wintering Golden plover
St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA:
Breeding herring gull.
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA:
Breeding and wintering herring gull;
Wintering black-headed gull;
Wintering common gull; and
ELC issued a Scoping Opinion for the Proposed Development on 1st October 2020. In their response within the Scoping Opinion, NatureScot outlined the following:
“Information to support Habitat Regulation Appraisal has not been considered. NatureScot advise that this proposal could affect the European sites listed below. Further information about these sites, and the special features they are designated to protect, can be found on the NatureScot SiteLink website (http://gateway.snh.gov.uk/sitelink/index.jsp) 
Firth of Forth SPA
St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA
The status of these sites means that the requirements of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 as amended (the “Habitats Regulations”) or, for reserved matters the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 as amended apply. Consequently, the competent authority (East Lothian Council) is required to consider the effect of the proposal on these sites before it can be consented. See NatureScot’s guidance note Legislative Requirements for European Sites  for a summary of requirements.
The above sites may also be notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and/ or Ramsar sites. However, any issues raised in relation to these designations are fully addressed as part of the following consideration of the respective European sites.
HRA Stage 1 – is the proposal connected with conservation management of the European sites?
No – this proposal is not connected to conservation management of any European Site.
HRA Stage 2 – is the proposal ‘likely to have significant effects’ upon the European sites?
In plain English this asks whether there is any connectivity between the proposals and the European sites. The Scoping Report identifies (Table 8.1) the first two of the above list of European sites as being within the 10km Search Area, presumably to then be considered in the EIA Report. However it then goes on to scope the HRA process out of the EIA Report (Table 8.3). The Report does not make it clear whether this signifies that HRA will be considered in a separate supporting document, or if European sites are being scoped out of assessment altogether.
NatureScot advise that, having identified European sites as possible receptors, the HRA process does apply. Any forthcoming planning application should be supported by HRA or clear rationale as to why it is not required.
Firth of Forth Special Protection Area (SPA) and St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA: - Work that was previously carried out as part of the Neart na Gaoithe onshore transmission works planning application made a clear argument that Thorntonloch beach was of very limited value to birds and was not functionally linked to either Special Protection Area. That work may be applicable to the current proposal, however it did not include the Skateraw Harbour area, and so it is likely that some further assessment of that area is needed. There could potentially be impacts to St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA through sediment and pollution run-off though this should be controllable through standard mitigation measures.
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex pSPA: - This is a marine SPA and the impact of the offshore works may need more consideration. However, as there is connectivity to this site, habitat regulation appraisal will be required in order for any planning application for the onshore works to be determined.
HRA Stage 3 – will the proposal have adverse effects on the integrity of the European sites?
This stage of assessment may or may not be required depending on the conclusion of stage 2.
The Habitat Regulation Appraisal Appropriate Assessment of the East Lothian Local Plan is available here: https://www.eastlothian.gov.uk/downloads/file/27700/habitats_regulations_appraisal_-_ldp_2018 .
This document identified that “A study of existing visitor numbers and disturbance arising from these should be initiated. This information should be used to identify areas of coast where measures are required to reduce disturbance, such as through introduction of barriers, fences, ditches, or planting.” This study, which would add to understanding of recreational pressures at this site, has not yet been carried out. Both Thorntonloch and Skateraw are used by people for recreation. It is possible that development activity that restricts access to these areas, or makes them less attractive for recreational use, could displace recreational activity to the coast at the Firth of Forth SPA. In the absence of the study, or information about recreational use of these areas, whether or not this is a potential issue is unclear.
Marine mammals including seals and porpoise have been observed along this coastline, but it is not a known haul out site for the former, therefore the intention to include impacts on marine mammals in the offshore EIAR is supported.
A summary of the HRA screening report can be found in Annex A, with the full report provided in Annex B. Screening was conducted on a receptor pressure basis, where potential pressure pathways of relevance to each qualifying feature were screened. Pathways are considered using professional judgement based on the Proposed Development, including any aspects which may, in addition to their primary purpose, act to mitigate potential effects on European sites (such as standard pollution prevention controls).
Where an interaction could not be ruled out and is likely to result in Likely Significant Effect (LSE), or where LSE could not be ruled out, the site and its qualifying feature(s) were screened into Stage 2: Appropriate Assessment.
The following potential pressure pathways have been identified which may lead to adverse impacts on the SPA qualifying feature, with specific details presented in Table 2:
Introduction/spread of Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS);
Loss/change of habitat.
Table 2: Potential pressure pathways for onshore Annex I bird species
Construction, operation and maintenance and decommissioning
During all phases there is a risk of accidental pollution from construction, operation and maintenance and decommissioning activities. Pollution incidents may impact birds through contamination. This could adversely affect breeding behaviour and success, and in some rare cases be fatal. However, pollution events are likely to be rare and the associated effects would be highly localised and small scale.
As such, it is considered there is no potential LSE from this pressure.
Introduction / spread of INNS
There is potential for the introduction or spread of INNS within the proposed footprint of the works. However, any existing stands (i.e. sections or areas) of INNS will be identified during pre-construction surveys and appropriate management/ protection measures will be implemented as per National legislation.
As such, it is considered there is no potential LSE from this pressure.
Disturbance / displacement
Birds may experience disturbance as a result of the construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning phases. This may cause displacement or avoidance of the area surrounding the construction works and infrastructure.
Any habitat loss caused by the Proposed Development activities may lead to adverse impacts on ornithological populations that use the area as foraging grounds. Habitat loss may occur due to changing/recovering habitats as a result of ground disturbance following cable laying and associated infrastructure/buildings. The direct footprint of these objects/activities will be very small relative to the overall habitat available, all of which are common habitats (such as grassland or arable fields) used by species to forage and roost, and extend both north and south in the wider environs.
Given the lack of key habitat to local birds being lost it is considered that there is no potential LSE from this pressure.
3.2.1 Summary of Potential Pressure Pathways
In summary, the only pressure pathway considered with respect to qualifying features of SPA designations with potential connectivity is:
Disturbance / displacement.
In this case, the only pressure pathway is considered to be disturbance/displacement and given the nature of the Proposed Development potential pressure associated with operation and maintenance (O&M) activities is thought to be significantly less (and of a shorter duration) than that presented by the construction phase and on a scale which fits within existing patterns of disturbance pressures from farming, recreation and other human activities in the area such as the busy roads, East Coast Main Line and industrial works at Torness Power Station and the cement works. Activities already present in the intertidal areas includes dog walkers and beach goes including surfers, industrial and agricultural areas of the Site will have frequent activity of large vehicles such as tractors, combine harvesters and lorries and vans while the main roads and railways will have regular usage of fast moving vehicles and trains.
Cable decommissioning will be decided toward the end of the project lifetime. The preferred option from a technical and environmental perspective is for the cable to be left in situ as far as is possible. If sections of the cable are needing to be removed, then any LSE are considered to be of a similar nature as during construction and likely to be of a shorter duration and cover the same or smaller area.
As such, LSE are primarily considered in terms of construction effects unless otherwise stated.
3.3 Screened In Designated Sites
In their guidance to assess the bird connectivity to SPA’s, NatureScot outline a number of distances for both breeding and wintering bird species with the longest core range being for greylag and pink-footed goose at up to 20 km (SNH, 2016) and therefore this was the initial distance used to consider screening in and out SPA’s. In terms of terrestrial ecology and habitats the search area is generally considered to be the distances covering a river catchment and is set at between 2-5 km with the larger 5 km used for screening in and out SAC’s.
A total of four SPA designations are present within the search area, one of which is also designated as a Ramsar site. The names and distances to these protected sites is summarised in Table 3 and shown in Figure 2 and a detailed description of the site and the qualifying features for each protected site outlined in Sections 5 to 8 below.
Table 3: European Protected Sites Screened into the RIAA
Distance from Site boundary
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex
Firth of Forth
5.9 km northwest
St Abb’s Castle to Fast Head
6.9 km southeast
18 km northwest
No SAC is present within 5 km of the Site. Three SACs were identified between 5 km and 10 km of the Site, namely St Abb’s Castle to Fast Head (designated for sea-cliff habitats), Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast (designated for habitats and grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and River Tweed (designated otter (Lutra lutra), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis), brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri ) and sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). Given their distance from the Site there are no potential pressure pathways connecting their qualifying features with the Proposed Development. The only potential pathway would be to the mobile grey seal. However, there are no known haul sites for grey seal around the Site.
As such, and approved by ELC (Annex A), as no impacts are predicted to occur on any SAC’s, they are not considered any further within this document.
3.4 Species Screened into the Assessment
Screening has been completed with respect to the qualifying features of the SPAs within 20 km of the onshore cabling route between the landfall point, substation and the grid connection (as listed in Table 3) to determine which of the qualifying features required further consideration as part of the HRA (requiring further assessment as part of the RIAA). Following the HRA screening report being considered by ELC and NS, all the screened in species were agreed (as detailed in Annex A: Table 4).
The HRA Screening results were reviewed and discussed with ELC and NS. They responded (October 2021) as follows:
“I am largely happy with the proposed scope of the HRA. I note the comments from the NatureScot Officer and agree with NatureScot’s recommendation that Golden Plover (Firth of Forth SPA), Herring Gull (St Abb’s Head SPA) and Herring Gull (Forth Islands SPA) are scoped in.”
Therefore, golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) (Firth of Forth SPA), herring gull (Larus argentatus) (St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA) and herring gull (Forth Islands SPA) were screened in to the RIAA (this assessment).
In summary, the species, and respective designated sites, that are screened into this assessment are presented in Table 4 below.
Table 4: SPA Qualifying Species Screened into the RIAA
Species Screened in to Assessment
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex SPA
- Eider (non-breeding);
- Herring gull (breeding and non-breeding*);
- Black-headed gull (non-breeding)*; and
- Common gull (non-breeding)*.
Firth of Forth SPA
- Pink-footed goose (non-breeding); and
- Golden plover (non-breeding).
St Abb’s Head to Fast Castle SPA
- Herring gull (breeding)*
Forth Islands SPA
- Herring gull (breeding)*