Offshore wind energy - draft sectoral marine plan: strategic environmental assessment

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) identifies the likely significant environmental impacts of plans and policies and proposed reasonable alternatives to them.

4 Environmental Baseline

4.1 Introduction

4.1.1 This section of the report describes the character of the environment which may be affected by the implementation of the Draft Plan. It provides an overview of the national baseline environment that encompasses those topics agreed for consideration within for the SEA (see Section 3.4).

4.1.2 To provide a further understanding of the baseline at a regional level, the Regional Locational Guidance (RLG)[92] document has been developed in parallel with this SEA and is intended to support the SEA, SEIA and the HRA. Consequently, several topics covered within the RLG are not encompassed by this document (e.g. Commercial Fisheries, Tourism and Recreation etc.) but are considered within the other assessments as relevant.

4.1.3 The topics covered by the SEA are:

  • Biodiversity, Flora, and Fauna;
  • Population and Human Health;
  • Soil (namely, Marine Geology and Coastal Processes);
  • Water Quality;
  • Climatic Factors;
  • Cultural Heritage; and
  • Landscape, Seascape, and Visual Amenity.

4.1.4 In addition to providing a baseline overview of these topics, consideration is also given to the likely future evolution of these over the next 40 years in the absence of the Draft Plan.

4.1.5 The baseline indicates the current state of the environment and therefore incorporates offshore wind developments which have been constructed. the RLG contains a more detailed review of current activity within each region. In addition, where relevant to development in a DPO all current and potential future developments, including those not yet consented, are highlighted in the cumulative effects section below (Section 0) for assessment at a project level.

4.2 Biodiversity Flora and Fauna

4.2.1 Scotland's marine environment supports a diverse complex of different habitats, which in turn support a wide range of marine plants and animals. Estimates suggest that there are around 6,500 species of animals and plants (excluding microbial flora and seabirds) in Scotland's seas[93]. There are a number of pressures on biodiversity within Scottish seas, linked to the development of industry in the marine environment. The Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FEAST) provides more comprehensive information on the relevant pressures associated with a range of marine activities and the sensitivity of MPA protected features to these activities and pressures[94].

4.2.2 Key pressures to species and habitats include climate change, coastal developments, dredging, pollution, marine litter, seabed abrasion, invasive non-native species. The effect of these pressures is dependent on their intensity and the vulnerability of marine and coastal species and habitats to these pressures.

Broadscale Habitats

4.2.3 Benthic (seafloor) habitats are vital natural resources, as many marine species rely, directly or indirectly, on the seafloor to feed, hide, rest or reproduce. Generally benthic habitats are characterised by low mobility species[95]. Marine habitats within the Scottish marine environment can be characterised into three broad groups: intertidal habitats; subtidal (inshore and shelf sea); and deep-sea habitats. These broad groups can be further broken down by substrate type.

4.2.4 The latest information presented in Figure 6 on predicted seabed habitats is provided by the National Marine Plan Interactive (NMPi)[96] and EMODnet Seabed Habitats Phase 2 mapping (EUSeaMap, 2016). The layer is a predictive European Nature Information System (EUNIS) seabed habitat map for the UK continental shelf, which has been created using five pre-processed input datasets: substrate, biological zone, energy, salinity and biogeographic region.

4.2.5 Overall, mud, sand and coarse sediment are found in the North Sea and to the west of the Hebrides. The seabed in the far west and far north of Scotland is characterised by mud and fine clay, with coarser sediments in shallower water and on banks and seamounts[97]. There are areas of rock and hard substrate within Scottish waters, principally to the west and south of the outer Hebridean islands, or in inshore waters closer to the coastline.

Figure 6 EMODnet seabed habitats

Figure 6 EMODnet seabed habitats

Designated Features

Protected habitats and species

4.2.6 The importance of Scotland's marine ecosystems is reflected in the range of designations which protect them at international and national levels. All designations are included within Scotland's MPA network, covering approximately 22% of Scottish seas[98]. The conservation designations include:

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC): These include both inshore, offshore and riverine SAC (included for the purposes of migratory fish) and cover eleven different marine habitat types which occur in Scotland (sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time; estuaries; mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide; coastal lagoons; large shallow inlets and bays; reefs; submarine structures made by leaking gases; and submerged or partially submerged sea caves). Seven species that occur in Scotland's marine environment are also protected (bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise, grey seal, harbour seal, sea lamprey, Atlantic salmon and otter).
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs): These sites are of international importance for birds (e.g. seabirds, waders, ducks, geese).
  • Nature Conservation MPAs (NCMPAs): These sites protect habitats and species of national importance such as maerl beds, coral gardens, and common skate.
  • Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI): These are nationally designated sites which protect species such as seabirds and seals, and habitats such as sea caves and rocky shores.

4.2.7 In addition, Ramsar sites are designated for their internationally important wetlands. Existing and proposed Nature Conservation MPAs, SACs, SPAs and Ramsar sites are shown in Figure 7.

4.2.8 Currently there are 18 MPAs designated for nature conservation purposes under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and 37 SACs designated under the EU Habitats Directive located within territorial waters (i.e. within 12 NM of the territorial baseline) (Figure 7). A further 13 MPAs and 11 SACs are designated in the offshore environment (i.e. from 12 NM from the territorial baseline, or within non-territorial waters) There is one additional MPA designated for demonstration and research purposes, Fair Isle D&R MPA, designated in 2016. The Scottish Government is considering plans for the designation of four additional NCMPAs around the Scottish coast, for which a consultation has been undertaken, and there is potential for an additional deep sea MPA.

Figure 7 Designated sites in Scotland's marine environment

Figure 7 Designated sites in Scotland's marine environment

4.2.9 There are 47 current SPAs in Scotland with marine or coastal components, 31 of which are extensions to seabird colony SPAs designated under the EU Birds Directive to protect a range of vulnerable breeding, overwintering or migratory bird species and assemblages. The Scottish Government has consulted on a further 15 proposed SPA which are identified for designation in the marine environment (consultation closed 9 November 2018).

4.2.10 There are 66 SSSI for the further protection of species such as seabirds and seals and habitats ranging from sea caves and rocky shores. There are also 16 Ramsar sites designated as internationally important wetlands, covering a total area of about 313,000 hectares.

4.2.11 The Habitats Directive also affords protection to certain habitats (Annex I habitats), and species of plants and animals (European Protected Species). In the marine environment these include cetaceans and otters. The OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats also identifies species and habitats of concern that should be considered when assessing the impact of development on the environment.

Priority marine features

4.2.12 In July 2014, Scottish Ministers adopted a list of 81 PMFs. PMFs are species and habitats which have been identified as being of conservation importance to Scotland[99]. Most are a subset of species and habitats identified on national, UK or international lists. The National Marine Plan includes a policy (GEN 9 Natural Heritage) for safeguarding PMFs whereby "Development and use of the marine environment must not result in significant impact on the national status of PMFs"[100].

4.2.13 The list of 81 PMFs comprises 26 broad habitats (e.g. burrowed mud), seven low or limited mobility species (e.g. ocean quahog), and 48 mobile species, including fish (both marine (e.g. cod) and diadromous (e.g. Atlantic Salmon)) and marine mammals (e.g. minke whale).

4.2.14 Although many PMFs are protected within the MPA network, further management measures have been proposed for 11 of the most vulnerable PMFs and these are currently being assessed as part of a separate SEA (see Section 3.2).

Mobile Features

4.2.15 Scotland's marine environment supports a wide range of mobile species with a number of populations considered to be either of international or national importance. Many mobile species within Scottish seas are protected through designation or classification of areas within Scottish waters or around Scottish coastlines. Mobile species in Scottish seas include the following groups:

  • Seals (grey and harbour seals);
  • Cetaceans (23 species have been recorded in Scottish waters over the last 25 years; of these, 11 are regularly sighted);
  • Birds (both breeding seabirds and overwintering waterbirds);
  • Fish, incorporating marine and diadromous species, including sharks, rays and skates; and
  • European otter (inshore waters only).

Marine mammals (seals and cetaceans)

4.2.16 Marine mammals are widely distributed throughout Scottish waters. Species distributions are a function of prey availability, habitat distribution and species life cycles. Eleven species of cetacean are regularly sighted around Scottish seas. These comprise species with important resident populations, such as harbour porpoise, alongside more migratory species passing through Scottish seas, such as sperm whale. Key marine mammal species in Scottish seas include:

  • Grey seal;
  • Harbour seal;
  • Harbour porpoise;
  • Bottlenose dolphin;
  • White-beaked dolphin;
  • Fin whale;
  • Minke whale;
  • Short-beaked common dolphin;
  • Atlantic white-sided dolphin;
  • Risso's dolphin;
  • Long-finned pilot whale;
  • Killer whale; and
  • Sperm whale.

4.2.17 All of the above species are designated as PMFs.

4.2.18 Grey seals are distributed widely around Scottish coastlines with important populations in the Orkney Islands. Harbour seal populations are also distributed widely around Scotland, although they have undergone a general decline in numbers since 2001[101],[102].

4.2.19 The pattern of decline is not universal, with populations growing significantly around the Hebridean Islands[103], suggesting that these areas are important for this species. Figure 8 to Figure 10 shows the Grey and Harbour seal haul-out sites and at sea distributions around the Scottish coastline.

4.2.20 Figure 11 to Figure 15 illustrate the distribution of some of the most commonly seen cetacean species in Scottish waters, including those which are currently included or proposed for inclusion in the MPA network. The results from the SCANS III surveys also provide knowledge of the distribution and abundance of cetacean species in Scotland[104]. A consideration of marine mammal distribution at a regional level is included within the RLG[105]. It is recognised that there are some limitations in the data presented, particularly regarding recording bias, whereupon areas which are more regularly surveyed may exhibit higher numbers of records and hence abundance.

4.2.21 In addition to the species discussed above, there is potential for humpback whales to be present throughout Scottish waters, with increasing records year on year[106]. It is recognised that the majority of migrating individuals remain in deep water off the continental shelf[107] and therefore the exact distribution or number of individuals frequenting more inshore Scottish waters with potential to overlap with DPOs remains unknown, however there are records of humpback whales in more inshore waters both on the east and west coasts[108].

Figure 8 Grey and harbour seal designated haul-out sites

Figure 8 Grey and harbour seal designated haul-out sites

Figure 9 Grey Seal at sea distribution

Figure 9 Grey Seal at sea distribution

Figure 10 Harbour Seal at sea distribution

Figure 10 Harbour Seal at sea distribution

Figure 11 Harbour porpoise distribution in Scottish waters[109]

Figure 11 Harbour porpoise distribution in Scottish waters

Figure 12 Minke whale distribution in Scottish waters[110]

Figure 12 Minke whale distribution in Scottish waters

Figure 13 Risso's dolphin distribution in Scottish waters[111]

Figure 13 Risso's dolphin distribution in Scottish waters

Figure 14 Bottlenose dolphin distribution in Scottish waters[112]

Figure 14 Bottlenose dolphin distribution in Scottish waters

Figure 15 White beaked dolphin distribution in Scottish waters[113]

Figure 15 White beaked dolphin distribution in Scottish waters


4.2.22 Scotland, and its coastline, is important for marine and coastal birds, including seabirds, seaducks, divers, grebes, waders and waterfowl. Scotland provides an essential feeding station for migrating birds, a safe winter haven for ducks, geese and shorebirds, and provides nesting sites for seabird species. It sustains internationally significant numbers of 24 species of breeding seabirds, with additional migratory species of waterbird overwintering along Scotland's coasts and in estuaries (e.g. Moray Firth, Firth of Forth).

4.2.23 Scotland is also important for large numbers of terrestrial bird species, several of which are known to migrate over long distances, including over areas of sea, particularly around the Hebridean Islands.

4.2.24 In recent years White Tailed Sea Eagles have been re-introduced to Scotland, and a breeding population is now established on the west coast and in the Western Isles[114]. More recently a pair has started breeding on Hoy in Orkney. Sea Eagles, particularly juveniles, have large foraging areas and are known to fly long distances.

4.2.25 Scotland's Marine Atlas[115] reported that seabird populations are increasing in some areas (Solway Firth and the Firth of Clyde, for example) and (in some cases significantly) decreasing in others for certain species. In East and West Shetland and along the North Scotland coast, this decrease is most probably related to a shortage of prey species resulting from changes in oceanographic conditions. For example, pressures on sandeel populations have been linked to major declines in Kittiwake and Arctic Skua, discussed further below. Like seabirds, waterbirds (wildfowl and waders) are also both increasing and decreasing year on year, depending on the species and location. For example, Common Shelduck and Northern Pintail have shown increases, whereas Tufted Duck and Common Eider have undergone significant population decline. The reasons for the changes remain to be fully explained but may in part be due to redistribution of wintering birds across northwest Europe due to climate change effects[116].

4.2.26 A recent assessment of seabird trends between 1986 and 2016 found that the mean numbers of 12 species of breeding seabirds in Scotland had declined by 62% compared to the 1986 baseline level[117]. Out of the 12 species assessed for breeding numbers, Arctic Skua had experienced the largest declines (77%). The Northern Isles are their key breeding area and there have been declines in the availability of sandeels, which they obtain from other seabirds, such as Kittiwake, by chasing them to make them release their food. Similar patterns of decline have occurred for the species they parasitise, particularly Kittiwakes and terns. Increased predation from Great Skua has also been linked to their decline. Some species trends, although less prominent, appear to be stabilising possibly at a new level which differs from the 1986 baseline. Numbers of Common Terns increased in 2016, which may reflect a rapid response to favourable breeding conditions.

4.2.27 The assessment found that seabird breeding productivity between 1986 and 2016 varied for the 12 species analysed. Breeding success in 2016 was above the long-term average (1986 to 2015) for Arctic Tern; Black-legged Kittiwake; common tern; little tern; Northern Gannet and Sandwich Tern. Great Skua and Herring Gull had lower breeding success. All other species were around the long-term average.

4.2.28 The European Seabirds At Sea database (Figure 16) shows the areas of comparatively high bird sightings, which can be used as an indicator of high bird density. Areas on the east coast, particularly in the Moray Firth and Firth of Forth, are of specific importance, alongside some areas around the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Islands[118]. Whilst this data gives a good indication of the seabird distribution, there is likely to be bias in the reporting based on the effort in an area. This bias has been accounted for and additional data incorporated into maps produced for the Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP), for the 12 most common seabirds which have separately been consulted during the assessment but for which the data is not currently publicly available. For further information, the maps are available on the MERP website[119].

4.2.29 The RSPB has produced distribution maps for four key species; Black-legged Kittiwake, Guillemot, Shag and Razorbill (Figure 17). These maps show areas of high at sea usage, mostly concentrated on the east coast for Kittiwake and Guillemot, with some hotspots around breeding colonies (often designated as SPAs) on the north and west coasts. In addition, Wakefield et al (2013)[120] identify foraging areas for Gannets from breeding colonies, indicating that much of the Scottish continental shelf sea is frequented by foraging Gannet.

4.2.30 A more detailed review of bird distribution in relation to the DPOs is presented within the RLG[121].

Figure 16 ESAS records distribution

Figure 16 ESAS records distribution

Figure 17 RSPB bird distribution maps

Figure 17 RSPB bird distribution maps


4.2.31 Scotland's territorial waters support approximately 250 different species of fish, with additional species occurring in deeper waters within the Scottish Offshore Marine area. Some species are commercially important to the Scottish fishing industry, and others, such as sandeel, are key prey species for seabirds, marine mammals and larger fish species, including some shark species. There are several diadromous fish species within Scottish waters which use Scottish rivers, including Atlantic salmon, sparling, European eel, sea trout; and sea and river lamprey.

4.2.32 Of the approximately 250 species identified in Scottish waters, 40 are cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthytes), incorporating species of shark, rays and skates[122]. There are approximately 30 species of fish identified as PMFs within Scottish waters[123].

4.2.33 Within Scottish seas, there are nationally important populations of basking sharks with sightings concentrated around the Inner Hebridean islands of Coll, Tiree, Canna and Hyskeir. These areas have been highlighted as potential breeding grounds[124].

4.2.34 Scottish seas are of particular importance as spawning and nursery grounds for a number of fish species[125], some of which are of commercial importance. Figure 17 shows the distribution of herring spawning and nursery grounds. Further national and regional detail on herring and other key species spawning and nursery grounds, is contained within the RLG. There are a number of overlaps between the DPOs and either spawning or nursery grounds. This includes areas recognised by Coull et al[126] and Ellis et al[127] as high priority for herring and sandeel.

4.2.35 There is potential for migratory fish, including Atlantic Salmon, Sea and River Lamprey, Shad and Trout species to be present throughout Scottish waters and hence within any of the identified DPOs. However, there is still uncertainty about local densities. The fish present may be at different life stages, and hence of varying sensitivity to potential impacts.

Figure 18 Herring spawning and nursery grounds

Figure 18 Herring spawning and nursery grounds


4.2.36 Otters are present around the Scottish coast, with the most recent population (including both coastal and riverine populations) estimated at approximately 8,000 individuals[128]. They are protected through the designation of coastal and riverine sites throughout Scotland, as protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are designated as a PMF, with particularly significant populations on the west coast and the islands[129], generally in sheltered inshore waters. Foraging distances for otters are not well understood, however they are known to remain close to the coast and in relatively shallow water depths.

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.2.37 The future baseline for biodiversity in Scottish seas is likely to be driven, certainly in the short term, by the current trends discussed above. However, there is currently very limited evidence to inform possible future trends, therefore this is an area of significant uncertainty.

4.2.38 In the longer term, continuing pressures from development of marine industry, human activities and climate change are likely to be the key factors in driving changes from the current baseline. This includes effects from fishing practices, coastal development and other activities in the marine environment (recreation, anchoring, commercial shipping, dredging etc). These have the potential to affect biodiversity through a wide range of pathways including collision risk, bycatch, depletion of prey species, pollution events and damage to benthic habitats. Climate change is likely to lead to changes in the distribution of species, driven by changes in water temperature (see Section 4.6). This may include the spread northwards of warmer water species currently restricted to the more southern areas of the UK. The seas around the UK are projected to be 1.5–4ºC warmer, depending on location, with warming most pronounced in the Celtic, Irish and southern North Sea areas. The seas are also projected to become less saline by the end of the 21st century, particularly in the North Sea areas[130]. In addition, potential increased ocean acidification may inhibit the growth organisms with shells (containing calcium carbonate) or with carbonate exoskeletons (coral, sea fans).

4.2.39 Several habitats and species within Scottish waters are considered to be in decline, including seagrass, maerl, flame shell and horse mussel beds as well as fan mussel and fireworks anemone aggregations.

4.2.40 Changes in marine industry have the potential to affect species in several different ways. For example, some bird species have adapted to scavenge on fisheries' discarded bycatch, therefore a reduction in fishing activity can lead to a reduction in the population of these species. Conversely, where fisheries deplete prey, such as sandeel, for bird species, a reduction in fishing activity can lead to a recovery of the prey species and drive a recovery in the bird populations.

4.2.41 In addition to changes in the baseline itself, there is potential for our understanding of the baseline to continue to develop. This is particularly pertinent with regard to understanding the effect of offshore wind farms on Kittiwake populations, as the current baseline in the East and North East regions suggests that the installed offshore wind farms have the potential to affect Kittiwake populations foraging from SPA in the region. However, emerging evidence may reduce the effects of offshore wind farms in collision risk assessments[131].

4.2.42 Similarly, changes in prey species distributions could affect marine mammal populations. Therefore, Marine Scotland is currently considering further protection of prey populations, such as sandeel, which support both birds and cetaceans in Scottish seas, through the MPA network. The continued development and management of the MPA network has the potential to support the maintenance of biodiversity, and potentially allow recovery of some species where current pressures are eliminated or reduced.

4.3 Population and Human Health

4.3.1 Human health consists of a person's physical, mental and social wellbeing and the environment in which they live has an important influence on these factors. Scotland still has significant public health challenges to overcome.

4.3.2 Socio-economics are a significant influence on population and human health. Detail on socio-economics is encompassed within the SEIA[132].

4.3.3 There is an east - west split in the rural characteristics of coastal communities in Scotland. The islands and the north and west coasts typically have smaller populations and experience greater distances to services. Communities on the west coast and islands typically have a greater reliance on marine businesses and related industries as part of their local economy.

4.3.4 The marine and freshwater environments around Scotland are used for a variety of industrial and recreational activities including salmon and sea trout fisheries, recreational sea angling, sailing, cruising, bathing and recreational tourism. Coastal recreation opportunities make an important contribution to human health as well as coastal economies. Offshore energy generation could interfere with existing recreational activities.

4.3.5 A positive sense of place is important to people living in many rural and coastal areas, and the importance of the quality of the environment raises concerns that detrimental effects on amenity could lead to decreasing populations and adversely affect property values and businesses.

4.3.6 The main risks to human health in the marine environment are from accidents because of collisions of vessels with each other and with any offshore structures which could impact on the risks of accidents and related mortality rates. Additionally, the health benefits of undertaking recreational activities could be compromised if activity is displaced or discontinued.

Population Dynamics

4.3.7 Coastal communities, living within 5 km of the coast, account for an estimated 41%[133] of Scotland's total population and regional analysis shows that the characteristics of these coastal communities varies significantly between different regions.

4.3.8 Different parts of the Scottish coast experience different types of pressures. Some areas are sparsely populated and have fragmented communities, and others are more densely populated city regions.

4.3.9 The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) highlights that coastal communities have varying levels of access to employment, education and services. The views on quality of life also vary between coastal communities. Regions such as the north, north east and east show positive trends, whereas the west and north west are experiencing a decline[134].

4.3.10 The profile of key employment sectors varies between regions. There is a high dependence on the service economy, but other industries such as agriculture, forestry and fishing account for a greater portion of jobs in the more remote, rural regions than in communities closer to the urban and accessible parts of the coast.


4.3.11 Shipping is important for both coastal and general populations within Scotland, with shipping movements related to the movement of cargo, ferry lifeline services and oil and gas operations alongside ship building centres in the Clyde and Firth of Forth.

4.3.12 AIS density grid data indicates key transport routes up the west coast of Scotland through the North Channel (or Straits of Moyle) and the Minches, and east–west between the northern coast of the mainland and Orkney, from where vessels access the North Sea (Figure 19). In addition, there are routes transiting through Scottish waters, such as to the north of Shetland connecting Denmark to the Faroe Islands and onwards to Iceland and routes crossing the Atlantic to America.

4.3.13 Some of the areas showing the highest intensity of vessel movement include ferry routes (e.g. between Northern Ireland and Loch Ryan, between the Outer Hebrides and Oban via the Sound of Mull and between the Shetland Islands, Orkney and the Scottish mainland) and within the Clyde.

4.3.14 There are two International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS), designed to ensure safe shipping in areas of particularly high density, one in the North Channel between the Mull of Kintyre and Northern Ireland, and the other in the Minches between Skye and the Outer Hebrides. There is additionally one IMO recommended deep water route to encourage deep drafted vessels to the west of the Outer Hebrides to reduce traffic in the Minches.

4.3.15 Ferry services to the Scottish islands are considered lifeline services, in that they provide key connections between communities on the islands and mainland Scotland, allowing for transport of key commodities and people, including supporting the tourism trade. The key ferry routes are of high importance to the Scottish population.

4.3.16 Oil and gas related traffic is concentrated on the east coast of Scotland, with hubs around Aberdeen, Peterhead and Fraserburgh contributing to the high density of maritime traffic in that area.

4.3.17 There are Areas To Be Avoided (ATBA) within Scottish waters, with large areas around the Shetland Islands, Fair Isle, and the Orkney Islands aimed at reducing risks associated with high traffic density around the islands. ATBA are defined as areas within defined limits in which navigation is particularly hazardous and should be avoided by certain classes of ships. ATBA are voluntary measures however previous experience suggests compliance with such voluntary measures is very high.

4.3.18 Navigational safety is essential for the continued growth and economic success provided by ports and harbours and all the sectors that they support. Most of port and harbour operations are administered by statutory Harbour Authorities, who have a range of duties for improving, maintaining or managing a harbour and for ensuring safety of navigation. The Northern lighthouse board is an authority which works to deliver a reliable and efficient aid to navigation services for the benefit and safety of all mariners in Scotland. It is responsible for the management of all lights, buoys and beacons within the area.

4.3.19 Search and Rescue teams and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency both work to prevent the loss of lives at sea.

Figure 19 AIS shipping density

Figure 19 AIS shipping density


4.3.20 Aviation forms a critical component of Scotland's economy by providing both direct access to markets and lifeline services to otherwise inaccessible settlements throughout the mountainous and island terrain. Helicopter routes are also important in servicing offshore oil and gas installations.

4.3.21 Scotland's five major airports are in the west (Glasgow and Glasgow Prestwick), north east (Inverness and Aberdeen) and east (Edinburgh). Smaller airports are located on the mainland in the east (Dundee), north east (Wick) and west (Campbeltown) and on the islands in the north (Scrabster, Lerwick and Sumburgh in the Shetlands; Kirkwall in the Orkneys), north west (Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra in the Outer Hebrides) and west (Coll, Colonsay, Tiree and Islay). All Scottish airports are shown on Figure 20.

4.3.22 Primary and secondary surveillance radars are used by air traffic control at airports. Large portions of the Scottish coast are within radar surveillance areas (Figure 20). The areas with greatest coverage are around Tiree, Aberdeen and Peterhead. There are also secondary surveillance radars around Tiree, Aberdeen, Peterhead, Glasgow, Sumburgh and Stornoway.

4.3.23 Edinburgh is the busiest airport in Scotland and in 2016 contributed almost £1 billion into the Scottish economy and employed approximately 23,000 people[135].

4.3.24 Major or important airports in Scotland are safeguarded aerodromes, protecting the aerodrome operations from interference, such as from developments, wildlife strike, inappropriate lighting, radar interference. In the context of wind turbines, the Airport Operators Association recommends that any proposed wind developments within 30 km of a safeguarded airport should be assessed by the aerodrome for potential physical impacts[136]. Further, all proposed wind developments should undertake consultation with the aerodrome and NATS regarding effects on radar services.

4.3.25 The helicopter main routes (HMRs) are exclusively in the East and North East regions. The areas with the greatest coverage are out from Aberdeen airport and Sumburgh airport on Shetland. They show the possible routes that could be used by helicopter and therefore the DPOs which could be affected by helicopter safety concerns, but they are not indicative of the amount of traffic.

Figure 20 Aviation infrastructure, radar coverage and helicopter main routes

Figure 20 Aviation infrastructure, radar coverage and helicopter main routes

Bathing Waters

4.3.26 Scotland has 86 designated bathing waters which have been given special protection because they are popular bathing locations[137] (Figure 21). Of these areas, 59 are assessed as excellent or good status, 16 are assessed as being at target objective and 11 are assessed as at poor status.


4.3.27 Marine and coastal recreation forms a valuable and growing industry for Scotland. There are clear benefits of taking part in regular recreational activities, both physically and mentally, and Scotland has a range of marine and coastal activities to offer, the most popular of which include; bathing, recreational boating, surfing, scuba diving, sea kayaking and sea angling. These activities are discussed in more detail in the SEIA[138].

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.3.28 The future baseline for population and human health around the Scottish coastline is likely to be driven by the current trends and pressures as discussed above. All regions in Scotland are expected to experience an increase in the average age of the population, due to declining birth rates and rising life expectancy, over the coming years[139].

4.3.29 The volume of vessel traffic travelling in or through Scottish waters and the routes taken along shipping lanes are primarily driven by commercial factors. The largest sectors responsible for shipping movements are ferry movements, commercial shipping, fishing, recreation, and the oil and gas sectors, and these are largely independent of the plans for marine renewable energy. The future of the Scottish fishing industry is highly uncertain, particularly considering potential impacts of Brexit, however current fishing patterns are reasonably stable, with tonnages landed fluctuating year on year. The Scottish tourism industry is predicting further growth so there is a potential for an increase in vessel movement from ferries and wildlife watching trips in this sector[140].

Figure 21 Designated bathing waters

Figure 21 Designated bathing waters

4.3.30 In the absence of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, it is anticipated that further offshore renewables development would occur in the near future. Wave and tidal energy developments have the potential to increase the risk of incidents such as collisions and groundings due to an increase in infrastructure and vessel numbers in some regions of Scottish waters, although such developments will only be allowed to proceed following detailed navigational risk assessments to ensure that they can be operated safely.

4.4 Soil (Marine Geology and Coastal Processes)

4.4.1 Changes to geological and geomorphological features can occur through physical and hydrological pressures. These pressures may be the result of natural processes (e.g. storms), changing climatic conditions and marine activities, such as the development of infrastructure on coastal and subtidal habitats.

4.4.2 Offshore wind farm development has the potential to affect the seabed through direct loss of features under the footprint of the development and indirect changes to sediment transport resulting in subsequent changes to seabed morphology.

Marine Geology and Coastal Processes

4.4.3 The composition of the seabed in Scottish waters is highly varied, with areas of hard, rocky substrate, sand, gravel and mud. Data from the British Geological Society (BGS) is illustrated below (Figure 22) with further regional detail provided in the RLG document[141].

4.4.4 The Eurosion project[142], carried out in 2004, categorised Scotland's coast and summarised the nature of the coastline, whilst assessing its potential stability and behaviour. Scotland's coast was broadly classified as:

  • 70% hard coasts – i.e. composed of rocks and cliffs.
  • 29% soft coasts – i.e. composed of unconsolidated gravels, sand and silts.
  • less than 1% artificial – i.e. harbours and sea walls.

4.4.5 The offshore environment in Scottish waters ranges from shelf sea areas to deep ocean regions with depths greater than 2,000 m. The continental shelf includes the Malin and Hebrides Shelf Seas, Orkney and Shetland Shelf Seas, and the North Sea. The shelf seas are marked by notable features such as banks (e.g. Stanton Banks, Viking Bank) and deep channels.

Figure 22 Seabed sediment morphology in Scottish waters

Figure 22 Seabed sediment morphology in Scottish waters

4.4.6 In general, the marine sediments around Scotland are sandy or gravelly (Figure 22) and originate from deposits created during the Quaternary glaciation. Strong currents and wave action may also have prevented deposition of recent muddy sediment or winnowed it to leave a coarse-grained lag deposit. Muddy sediments principally occur nearshore or further offshore, in depressions on the sea floor, where currents may be relatively weak. They also occur beyond the shelf break (200 m water depth) to the west of the Western Isles. The concentration of calcareous material varies greatly in seabed sediments reflecting the amount of shell material in different areas; locally, they can be very high[143]. A description of the key habitat types in Scottish waters is provided in Section 4.2.

4.4.7 The Scottish landscape and coastline continue to change through coastal processes such as wave action, sediment movement, erosion and accretion. While natural processes, including natural disasters, have typically been the main drivers of coastal erosion, in more recent times, human activities have also played a significant role in exacerbating these natural processes.

4.4.8 Much of the Scottish coastline is considered stable (75%) although some parts are subject to either erosional or accretional processes[144], with notable areas identified along the east coast between Montrose to Dunbar, the Firth of Clyde, the inner Moray Firth, and parts of the Northern and Western Isles[145]. Recent work carried out as part of the National Coastal Change Assessment (NCCA) provides a shared evidence base which encompasses historic coastal change and highlights susceptible areas of the coastline[146].

4.4.9 In 2010-2011 it was estimated that around 12% of Scotland's coastline was erosional and 8% accretional[147] . Following on from the Dynamic Coast NCCA, further research funded by the Scottish Government is ongoing to understand the potential damage from climate change to areas of the Scottish coastline categorised as 'soft' erodible coast, and how these effects can be mitigated[148].

4.4.10 The erosional portion of the Scottish coastline largely consists of beaches, sand dunes, conglomerates/soft-rock cliffs, machair and marshes with muddy sediments[149]. Areas most vulnerable to coastal erosion include the east coast from Montrose to Dunbar, the Firth of Clyde, the Inner Moray Firth, and the Northern and Western Isles [150].

Geodiversity and Designated Sites

4.4.11 Geodiversity is defined as the natural range (diversity) of geological features (rocks, minerals, fossils, and structures), geomorphological features (landforms and processes) and soil features that make up the landscape both on land and below water. The condition of underlying geodiversity features such as sand banks and seabed influence the quality of habitats which in turn affects the viability and health of both flora and fauna populations.

4.4.12 The Marine Protected Area (MPA) network in Scotland's seas is designed to conserve a selection of marine biodiversity (species and habitats) and geodiversity (the variety of landforms and natural processes that underpin the marine landscapes).

4.4.13 There are six broad features of Scottish geodiversity that are protected by NCMPAs[151]:

  • Quaternary of Scotland;
  • Submarine Mass Movement;
  • Marine Geomorphology of the Scottish Deep Ocean Seabed;
  • Seabed Fluid and Gas Seep;
  • Cenozoic Structures of the Atlantic Margin; and
  • Marine Geomorphology of the Scottish Shelf Seabed.

4.4.14 Each feature is in turn comprised of a variety of components, such as continental slope channels, iceberg ploughmark fields, moraines, slide deposits, sand wave fields, pockmarks, seamounts, sand banks and mega-scale glacial lineation. Major physiographical features of the Scottish marine environment are shown in Figure 23.

Figure 23 Extent of Scotland's seas, showing bathymetry and locations of major physiographical features

Figure 23 Extent of Scotland's seas, showing bathymetry and locations of major physiographical features

4.4.15 The Geological Conservation Review (GCR) is the principal source of information on the conservation value and scientific interests of the geo-heritage of Great Britain. An SNH commissioned report[152] found that 46 of the 49 GCR blocks, or features, in Scotland are represented within coastal SSSIs. Of these GCR blocks, 43 have confirmed intertidal interests. The work concluded that a total of 174 SSSIs around the Scottish coastline encompass marine geological or geomorphological GCR interests which could be considered as contributing to the MPA network. All SSSIs with coastal geomorphology GCR interests may also be seen as contributing to an MPA network via a process or sediment supply role. The regional location of these coastal SSSIs are provided within the RLG[153].

4.4.16 Geological and geomorphological features of MPAs and SSSIs can be impacted upon by changes in coastal processes as a result of natural and anthropogenic influences.

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.4.17 As previously detailed, the majority of the Scotland's coastline is composed of hard geology, meaning that it is relatively stable. However, there are areas of the Scottish marine environment that are more dynamic and therefore continuously experiencing changes that are outside the direct influence of human activities.

4.4.18 The processes driving sediment transport are often complex, particularly within the coastal and nearshore zones where they can comprise a mixture of wind, wave, tidal and in some cases, fluvial forcing.

4.4.19 Future projections of coastal erosion (erosion susceptibility) have been made through the NCCA project. This has also allowed key risk areas to be identified along the Scottish coastline, with future work planned to understand the potential damage from climate change and how these effects can be mitigated.

4.4.20 As a consequence of climate change the potential for increasingly severe storm events, rises in sea level and coastal flooding may place Scotland's coastal habitats under increasing threat.

4.4.21 In the absence of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, it is anticipated that further offshore renewables development would occur soon. Wave and tidal energy developments have the potential to affect geology and geomorphological features directly within the renewable development's footprint and indirectly by altering coastal processes and sediment transport regimes.

4.5 Water Quality

4.5.1 Since the first River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) in Scotland were published in 2009, the condition of water bodies has generally improved continuing an improving trend observed since the 1980s following implementation of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. However, a wide range of pressures are continuing to affect the condition of specific water bodies and protected areas. The most widespread pressures on the marine environment in the Scotland RBMP are modifications to physical condition, rural diffuse pollution, waste water discharges and local pollution events such as oil spills[154].

4.5.2 There are various mechanisms in place for monitoring and managing the quality of Scottish waters. Each takes a different focus and approach:

  • The Water Framework Directive (WFD) establishes a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater, with the aim of ensuring that all aquatic ecosystems meet 'good status'; and
  • RBMPs have been prepared for the Scotland and Solway Tweed River Basin Districts to address the requirements of the WFD in relation to the management of Scotland's river systems. Both plans also provide an overview of the state of the water environment for their districts. The plans have been updated since the first cycle (2009 – 2015) and are currently in the second cycle (2015 – 2027).

4.5.3 Scotland's coastal waters are monitored by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to measure performance and compliance with targets for coastal water quality status under the WFD.

4.5.4 Coastal and transitional water bodies are classified in terms of their ecological and chemical quality. For those water bodies not designated as heavily modified or artificial, this ecological quality is described in terms of 'ecological status', which defines how much ecological quality deviates from natural conditions. The quality elements used to assess ecological status are:

  • Biological quality elements (water, plants and animals);
  • Chemical and physicochemical elements (e.g. oxygen and nutrient levels); and
  • Hydromorphological quality elements (water flows and levels; the condition of beds, banks and shores; and the continuity of rivers for fish migration).

4.5.5 For 'good status', the chemical, physicochemical and hydromorphological quality of the water body must achieve the standards and conditions necessary for the biological quality elements to be in good condition. The ecological status of a water body is determined by the lowest-classed quality element.

4.5.6 The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires that Member States monitor and assess surface and ground waters and develop and implement plans for improvements in water quality where standards are not met. The majority of the 505 coastal and transitional water bodies in Scottish Waters, as represented in Figure 24, are classified as either good status (342) or high status (155), however some areas have been classified as moderate (7) or poor (1), principally due to pressures on morphology and macro-invertebrates[155].

4.5.7 There are 80 designated shellfish waters in Scotland. Twenty-nine are assessed as at target objective, with the remaining 51 assessed as not at target objective (Figure 25).

4.5.8 In addition, assessment under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) against Indicator 8 (Concentrations of contaminants are at levels not giving rise to pollution effects) and 9 (Contaminants in fish and other seafood for human consumption do not exceed levels established by Community legislation or other relevant standards can be reviewed as an indicator of water quality.

Figure 24 Classification of coastal and transitional water bodies under the WFD

Figure 24 Classification of coastal and transitional water bodies under the WFD

Figure 25 Shellfish water classifications

Figure 25 Shellfish water classifications

Potential Contamination Sources

4.5.9 Potential sources of pollution of the water environment and the pollutants entering the water environment can be varied. These can include shipping and boating; oil discharges from incidents, collisions or the release of ballast water[156]; introduced non-native species from ballast or vessel hulls[157]; discrete and diffuse terrestrial sources (e.g. natural weathering, industrial discharges and agriculture[158]), atmospheric sources (e.g. chemical contaminants and dust[159]); marine and beach litter including public litter, sewage related debris, fishing and shipping litter[160]; radioactive contamination (e.g. naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), wastes[161] and accidental releases[162]); and munitions contamination and military waste[163].

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.5.10 Pressures on water quality around Scottish coastlines are generally dependent on the level of marine industry and associated effects, together with land use. The future baseline will continue to be affected by similar pressures observed in the marine environment today, but the level of these pressures going forward is unknown.

4.5.11 Higher marine traffic increases the potential for pollution events, however the modernisation of ships and more stringent inspection and maintenance regimes may reduce the occurrence of pollution events seen in a future baseline. The continued management of water quality has the potential to improve the status of coastal and transitional water bodies.

4.5.12 In the absence of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, it is anticipated that further offshore renewables development would occur in the near future. Wave and tidal energy developments have the potential to affect water quality directly within the renewable development's footprint and indirectly by altering coastal processes and sediment transport regimes.

4.6 Climatic Factors

4.6.1 The key pressures on the climate are derived from the continued global emission of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. These emissions are recognised as leading to changes in the global climate (including changes in temperatures, precipitation, storm density) in turn causing changes in the physical characteristics of the oceans, including potential changes in sea temperatures, circulation, salinity, pH and sea level rise.

Climate Change

4.6.2 Sea surface temperatures have risen globally, with current temperatures approximately 0.6°C above the 1961 to 1990 average[164]; worldwide sea pH has reduced by 0.1 in the period since the start of the industrial revolution[165]; and the sea level around the UK has risen by 15.4cm since 1900[166].

4.6.3 As discussed in Section 2 above, the UK and Scottish governments have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to support international programmes to mitigate climate change. Emissions in Scotland from the energy sector in 2016 totalled 7.2MtCO2e, approximately 19% of total Scottish emissions. This figure represents an already significant reduction (68.5% reduction since 1990) in emissions from the energy sector, driven by the development of renewable energy sources and the reduction of oil, coal and gas usage in Scotland[167].

Carbon Cycle

4.6.4 The term 'carbon cycle' refers to the circulation of carbon in the environment. In the context of this report, it focusses on the exchange of carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere. The proportion of carbon incorporated into biomass is said to be 'stored'; thus, marine ecosystems such as kelp forests, maerl beds and marine sediments are able to store carbon. The addition of solid carbon to these long-term stocks is referred to as sequestration, and the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide to solid carbon in living material is referred to as fixation. The stored carbon is removed from the environment; however, physical disturbance, bacterial decomposition of organic matter or respiratory processes within the food chain may release the stored carbon back into the environment.

4.6.5 Over half of global carbon sequestration occurs through fixation during oceanic photosynthesis and the subsequent long-term storage of the produced organic material. In addition to carbon being sequestered within the oceanic sediments, a significant portion is stored within living marine organisms. These organisms include taxa that possess calcium carbonate skeletons and shells such as coral and molluscs, with other carbon captured and stored in plant dominated habitats such as seagrass beds, kelp forests and maerl.

4.6.6 Within the marine environment, habitats and processes capable of carbon fixation and sequestration are defined as 'blue carbon sinks'. Multiple habitats across Scottish seas and coastal areas can be termed blue carbon sinks due to their fixation and sequestration ability. Their effectiveness as carbon sinks is highly dependent upon their long-term capacity to store carbon. Habitats present in Scottish waters and classed as blue carbon sinks are[168]:

  • Kelp forests;
  • Intertidal and sub-canopy macroalgae;
  • Saltmarshes;
  • Seagrass beds;
  • Maerl beds;
  • Horse mussel beds (Modiolus modiolus);
  • Flame shell beds (Limaria hians);
  • Lophelia pertusa reef;
  • Tubeworm (Serpula vermicularis) reef;
  • Blue mussel beds (Mytilus edulis);
  • Brittlestar beds;
  • Sediment; and
  • Phytoplankton.

4.6.7 The largest contribution to carbon fixation and sequestration in Scottish waters comes from phytoplankton, via photosynthesis and subsequent deposition of the produced organic matter in seabed sediments. This may occur either directly through the export of phytoplankton or indirectly through the consumption of phytoplankton by other organisms and subsequent export of this organic matter through the food chain[169].

4.6.8 Carbon stored in shallow shelf sediment is ephemeral and constantly exchanged due to the dynamic nature of this habitat. Therefore, the potential for shallow shelf sediments to provide long-term carbon storage is a function of sedimentation rates and the degree of recycling of organic carbon. The rate of recycling of organic carbon is driven by the level of oxygen available for bacterial and chemical breakdown of organic matter[170], which is primarily influenced by disturbance of seabed sediments, and the oxygen content of the seawater above the seabed.

4.6.9 Deeper sediments are less mobile and dynamic and therefore are able to store carbon to a greater extent, but the rate of uptake into the sediment is slower as sedimentation rates in deeper waters are reduced.

4.6.10 Kelp forests, ubiquitous along the rocky shore common around Scotland, are identified as a significant carbon store. However, the fate of carbon within kelp (i.e. whether it is eventually sequestered permanently) is not quantified, and the majority of stored carbon in kelp is understood to be recycled rather than sequestered[171].

4.6.11 Several of the other habitats listed, including maerl and brittlestar beds, are more efficient at carbon fixation and sequester a larger proportion of carbon relative to their physical extent, but as their total extent across Scotland is low, they do not contribute as much to total Scottish sequestration.

Future Evolution of the Baseline

4.6.12 Predictions of the effects of climate change under all emissions scenarios suggest that several changes will occur within the marine environment. Key changes include increasing sea surface temperatures, sea level rise, increases in ocean acidity and potential changes in storm intensity (and hence wind and wave energy).

4.6.13 However, further reduction in emissions, through the continuing development of a de-carbonised energy sector, can support the Scottish, UK and International policy goals to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hence mitigate the progression and effects of climate change.

4.6.14 Changes to blue carbon in a future baseline have considerable uncertainty. In some cases, it has been proposed that additional carbon dioxide availability may increase primary production, and therefore may potentially increase the fixation and sequestration of carbon dioxide in the marine environment. However, certain species, particularly those with calcium carbonate shells or exoskeletons, may be negatively affected by ocean acidification, and therefore the potential for sequestration by these organisms may be reduced.

4.6.15 A number of blue carbon habitats are currently thought to be declining, including maerl and flame shell beds. However, the current MPA programme is expected to contribute to halting or even reversing the decline of habitats within the MPAs.

4.6.16 In addition, increased disturbance of the seabed, either through increased storm intensity suggested as part of the effect of climate change or through changes in the intensity of marine industry, has the potential to increase the dissolution of carbon sequestered in the marine sediments.

4.7 Cultural Heritage

4.7.1 Key pressures on historic marine environment and archaeological features are from climatic conditions, including storm events, coastal processes (e.g. leading to coastal erosion) and human activities such as coastal and offshore infrastructure developments.

4.7.2 Many cultural heritage features are designated and thus afforded some degree of protection; however, there is considerable uncertainty on the location, extent and status of many subtidal marine historical assets.

4.7.3 Loss, damage and modification of historic assets and their settings can occur through a range of marine activities and infrastructure developments. Where the construction or operation of offshore marine developments, including their associated infrastructure (e.g. subsea cables, coastal substations etc.), overlaps with historical features then there is the potential for direct effects to arise on the feature and its setting. Indirect effects on historical features may also occur from changes in coastal processes and sediment transport regimes resulting from offshore infrastructure.

Designated Historical Sites and Shipwrecks

4.7.4 There are numerous scheduled monuments and listed buildings along the Scottish coastline, with designated wrecks and military remains sites identified both inshore and offshore. Three of Scotland's six designated World Heritage Sites (WHS) are on the coast (St. Kilda; The Heart of Neolithic Orkney; The Forth Bridge), with other non-Scottish sites (including Hadrian's Wall in England and the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland) on adjacent coastlines (see Figure 26). The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland is also on the Tentative List for a future WHS[172].

4.7.5 Other key coastal features include a number of Category A listed lighthouses, ecclesiastical remains, coastal heritage museums, military defences, harbours, forts and castles.

4.7.6 Historic Marine Protected Areas (Historic MPAs) are designated under Section 67 of the Marine Scotland Act 2010 to protect marine historic assets (e.g. historic shipwrecks) of national importance within Scottish Territorial Waters (up to 12nm from the coast). There are currently 9 Historic MPAs designated within Scottish waters[173] (see Figure 26).

4.7.7 In addition to the historic MPAs, there are a number of other designated sites that overlap with the coastal and marine environment including 8 designated wrecks, 9 scheduled monuments, 4 listed buildings and 20 sites and vessels designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

4.7.8 There are also numerous shipwrecks around Scotland, an estimate by Historic Scotland puts this in the region of 20,000[174] (see Figure 27).

4.7.9 The sea is an integral part of the setting for many terrestrial sites. For example, the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes recognises 390 nationally important sites, a number of which are in coastal locations[175].

4.7.10 The locations of designated historic sites in relation to plan option areas at a regional scale are provided in the RLG.

Figure 26 World heritage sites and historic MPAs in Scotland

Figure 26 World heritage sites and historic MPAs in Scotland

Figure 27 Shipwrecks around the Scottish coast

Figure 27 Shipwrecks around the Scottish coast

4.8 Palaeolandscapes

4.8.1 Sea level rise, on historic timescales has changed the position of the coastline of the United Kingdom considerably in the time since hominid occupation of the United Kingdom is first known to have occurred. As areas of land became submerged any artefacts in this area were submerged with it, and therefore there is potential for culturally significant artefacts to be in the subtidal areas around Scotland. The largest areas of land which have been submerged are in the southern North Sea and the English Channel[176]. although there are areas around the coast of Scotland, including in the Firth of Forth and Aberdeenshire coastlines, which were previously above sea level (Figure 28). There is therefore potential for submerged archaeological remains in these areas. Except for some areas in the North East and East regions, and an area around the Shetland Islands, these potential areas are inshore of the AoS, and therefore the effects of development on these areas are limited to infrastructure associated with cable landfalls. The likelihood of archaeological remains is, however, difficult to quantify on a regional scale, due to the small areas of archaeological interest (potentially in the scale of metres) associated with hominid occupation[177] and therefore it is expected that consideration would have to be made at a project level to manage the effects of cable landfalls and offshore wind farm development.

Figure 28 Historical land area

Figure 28 Historical land area

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.8.2 Pressures from coastal erosion and climatic conditions will continue to affect the historic environment with climate change potentially exacerbating the erosive and destructive effects from physical processes. Pressures from human development will also affect the setting of historic assets.

4.8.3 The Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion Trust (SCAPE) provides an indication of coastal heritage sites around Scotland which are threatened by erosion[178]. The works highlights those coastal sites seen most at risk from erosion.

4.8.4 There has been a general increase in visitors to historic sites in Scotland[179] which may continue and increase pressure on the sites. However, sites such as Skara-Brae in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney WHS will continue to be actively managed through the adoption of individual site management plans and government and agency commitments, to minimise the risk of effects from visitor disturbance and erosion.

4.8.5 In the absence of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, it is anticipated that further offshore renewables development would occur in the near future. Wave and tidal energy developments have the potential to affect historical features directly within the renewable development's footprint and indirectly by altering coastal processes and sediment transport regimes and through effects on the setting of these features.

4.9 Landscape, Seascape and Visual Amenity

4.9.1 Scotland's landscapes and seascapes are a shared resource for everyone and bring many social and health benefits to people. They are an irreplaceable resource which supports the economy, inspires national culture and provides history. Landscapes and seascapes are appreciated for their natural aesthetic qualities, can be used as an escape from modern life and encourage physical activities. There are many pressures on the landscapes and seascapes around the Scottish coastline including; coastal and marine development, changing coastal processes and the projected effects of climate change.

4.9.2 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has undertaken an assessment of the landscape and seascape of Scotland, developing the Landscapes of Scotland map[180], dividing Scotland into 79 areas, each of which has a description of the landscape and seascape within that area.

4.9.3 Approximately 13% of Scotland has been classified as a National Scenic Area (NSA) (Figure 29)[181] and national parks have been established in the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. There are 40 NSA's, defined as areas of outstanding scenic value in a national context, which are protected for their value in aesthetic and landscape terms. Of these, 27 are located within or adjacent to coastal areas. These areas are predominantly located on the west coast and amongst the Northern and Western Isles. The NSA designations are integrated into Scottish Planning Policy, so any development with the potential to affect an NSA should only be permitted where:

  • The objectives of the designation and the overall integrity of the NSA won't be compromised; or
  • Any significant adverse effects on its special qualities are outweighed by social, environmental or economic benefits of national importance.

4.9.4 The coast also provides the landscape setting for three of Scotland's World Heritage Sites: St Kilda, Heart of Neolithic Orkney and the Forth Bridge[182]. World Heritage Status covers both landscape and historic environment attributes, and many of these sites also have coastal elements.

4.9.5 Many local authorities have identified local landscape areas (LLA)[183]. Many of these local designations lie in coastal locations in the Northern and Western Isles, and along the south-western, western, north-western and northern coastlines of the Scottish mainland. These local landscape designations;

  • Help to protect a landscape from inappropriate development;
  • Encourage landscape management;
  • Promote a community's sense of pride in their environment; and
  • Create awareness of the distinctive landscape qualities.

4.9.6 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has identified areas of 'relative wildness' in Scotland through a process involving the consideration of the perceived naturalness of the land, the ruggedness of the terrain, remoteness from public roads or ferries, and the visible lack of roads, buildings, pylons and other modern objects. While the maps do not include offshore areas, they illustrate the core areas of wild land and provide an overview of the high level of wildness attributed to coastal areas on Scotland's north-west coast and in the Western Isles.

4.9.7 Scotland has three sites which are members of the European Geoparks Network and the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network: The North West Highlands Geopark, Geopark Shetland and Lochaber Geopark[184]. They are not specifically a landscape designation, but these sites have been recognised for their internationally significant geodiversity.

4.9.8 Scott et al, (2005)[185], developed a methodology to characterise seascapes, and define their sensitivity. The sensitivity of the seascapes are increased where there is greater intricacy, stillness, low lighting and where the seascape is currently unmodified and experienced from a secluded coastline. The distance to which offshore windfarms can be seen is also discussed, identifying maximum visual ranges of 40 to 50 km, although assessments were based on a visual range of 35 km.

4.9.9 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has developed a coastal character assessment which informs and guides coastal and marine planning and supplements Scotland's landscape character assessment.

Future Evolution of Baseline

4.9.10 The future baseline for landscapes and seascapes around the Scottish coastline is likely to be driven, certainly in the short term, by the current trends and pressures as discussed above.

4.9.11 In the long term, it is likely that the coastal landscapes and seascapes of Scotland will be altered by coastal process and climate change. Changes to coastal processes, specifically changes to coastal erosion and accretion processes, have the potential to alter these coastal landscapes and seascapes. While currently identified as an issue along sections of Scotland's coastline, the potential for erosion is expected to increase in the future with additional pressures resulting from rising sea levels and storms associated with climate change. These factors are considered likely to exacerbate existing processes.

4.9.12 In the absence of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, it is anticipated that further offshore and onshore renewables development would occur in the near future. Additional wind developments are likely to affect Scotland's landscapes and seascapes, both directly through the physical presence of the turbines and indirectly by changing coastal processes. Wave and tidal energy developments also have the potential to affect Scotland's landscapes and seascapes.

Figure 29 National scenic areas

Figure 29 National scenic areas



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