Highly Protected Marine Areas - policy framework and site selection guidelines: strategic environmental asessment
This initial strategic environmental report assesses the environmental impacts of the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) policy.
3 Approach to the Assessment
3.1 Purpose of the assessment
3.1.1 The purpose of this SEA is to assess the potential for likely significant environmental effects associated with the adoption of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs. This will allow corresponding mitigation measures to be identified where necessary and highlight opportunities for enhancement in cases where beneficial effects are likely.
3.2 Scope of the proposals to be assessed
3.2.1 The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines will lead to the identification and designation of HPMAs which will remove/avoid certain activities and reduce/limit other activities to non-damaging levels (Section 2.3). There may be some damaging activities which will still need to take place within HPMAs (e.g. activities relating to defence, national security and lifeline services). Based on the previous and ongoing SEA work that has been undertaken (Section 3.6), it is considered that the scope of potentially significant environment effects resulting from the implementation of HPMAs is largely limited to beneficial effects to the marine environment within the HPMAs, spillover benefits beyond the boundaries of HPMAs and potential adverse effects as a result of the displacement of any activities that are excluded or restricted, as well as from the extension of any new cable or pipeline routes that need to avoid transecting HPMAs. Displacement is likely to be assessed in terms of activities moving to new areas or the intensification of activities in areas where they already occur. Should there be a situation in future where a new cable or pipeline installation need to be re-routed to avoid an HPMA, the extension of the route will have potential adverse effects associated with installation, operation and maintenance of a greater length of cable or pipeline.
3.2.2 The location of HPMAs have not yet been identified and, therefore, it is only possible to undertake an initial SEA at this stage involving a preliminary consideration of the type of impacts that could arise from the future designation of HPMAs and restriction/limitation placed on activities within HPMAs. Once sites have been selected and are proposed to be taken forward for designation, it will be possible to undertake an updated SEA involving a more detailed site specific assessment of the potential environmental effects.
3.2.3 It is not considered within the scope of this SEA to evaluate the effectiveness of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines in identifying HPMAs that meet the commitments made in the Bute House Agreement. The HPMAs will have their own reporting and monitoring requirements, in line with the legislation from which they arise.
3.2.4 The potential economic and social impacts that may result from the implementation of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines does not form part of the scope of this SEA. The SEIA and overarching SA, the latter of which this SEA is a part, will address any potential economic and social impacts.
3.3 Scope of the assessment
3.3.1 An initial review of the environmental topics set out in Schedule 3 of the 2005 Act suggests that potentially significant environmental effects as a result of the implementation of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs would be focused on the SEA topics of Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna; Water; Soil; and Climatic factors. The Screening and Scoping Report proposed that the SEA should consider all these topics under the overarching topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' given their strong linkages. The rationale for scoping in and out each of the SEA topics is provided in Box 1.
3.3.2 This approach to defining the scope of the assessment reflects the approach taken during the previous and ongoing SEAs (see Section 3.6).
Box 1 - Proposed scoping in/out of SEA topics
Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna – scoped in
The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs will enable the identification and designation of HPMAs which are considered to be inherently beneficial to marine biodiversity through their strict protection and exclusion/restriction of activities. There may also be spillover benefits to marine species and habitats outwith the boundaries of the HPMAs. It is not, however, within the scope of this SEA to assess the potential effectiveness of the HPMAs at conserving or recovering the marine ecosystem. It is recognised that the displacement of activities from areas that are selected as HPMAs as a result of the implementation of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines could adversely affect marine biodiversity. This could be as a result of activities moving to new areas or due to the intensification of activities in areas where they already occur. Overall, the potential impacts on the SEA topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' have the potential to be significant and, therefore, this topic has been scoped into the assessment.
Geodiversity is proposed to be scoped into the assessment under the SEA topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' as the viability and health of both flora and fauna populations are highly dependent upon the availability of good quality habitats, which in turn is influenced by the condition of underlying geodiversity features.
The potential impacts on the SEA topic of 'Soil' are intrinsically linked to the SEA topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' as any improvements to or decline in the condition of the seafloor will inevitably alter its suitability as a habitat. In recognition of these cross-cutting impacts, it is proposed that the 'Soil' topic be scoped in under the 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' topic (see below).
Biodiversity is a key consideration underlying the environmental quality objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the UK Marine Strategy Regulations. As such, it is proposed that impacts on the SEA topics of 'Soil' and 'Water' as they relate to meeting these objectives are also scoped in under the 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' topic (see below).
In addition, it is proposed that the potential impacts of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines on the capacity of the marine environment to mitigate and adapt to climate change under the SEA topic of 'Climatic Factors' also receive consideration under the 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' topic, as such impacts are likely to focus on marine flora and fauna to serve as long term carbon stores (see below).
Population and Human Health – scoped out
The SEA topic of 'Population and Human Health' is proposed to be scoped out of the assessment as the adoption of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs is unlikely to lead to any significant environmental impacts on this topic. The SEIA and overarching SA of which this SEA is a part of will address any potential socio-economic impacts.
Soil – scoped in
The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs will allow for the identification and designation of HPMAs which could contribute towards Scotland's marine waters achieving and maintaining Good Status under the WFD in inshore waters (in terms of hydromorphological elements) and Good Environmental Status (GES) under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations in offshore waters (in terms of the indicator relating to protecting and improving the condition of the seafloor in order to support the health of the wider marine environment). Given the close links between geodiversity features and the condition of the overall ecosystem, we propose to cover issues such as seafloor condition under the 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna' topic.
Water – scoped in
The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs could benefit WFD objectives, particularly in terms of improving the ecological status of River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) water bodies. Given this link, the potential impacts on ecological status are proposed to be addressed under 'Biodiversity, Flora, and Fauna'.
Scotland has a commitment under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations to achieve GES within its marine environment. This involves satisfying several qualitative descriptors relating to biodiversity. Given this link, it is proposed that the role that the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs have in working towards GES be covered under the topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna'.
Air – scoped out
Displacement of some activities (e.g. fisheries) as a result of the eventual designation of HPMAs that result from the adoption of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines may result in longer journey times/lengths and thus lead to increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, relative to current marine vessel emissions within Scottish waters, these increases are not considered to be significant. The SEA topic 'Air' is, therefore, proposed to be scoped out.
Climatic Factors – scoped in
Marine habitats may play a role in climate change regulation by acting as long-term carbon stores . The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs could result in a potential change in marine carbon sequestration/blue carbon processes and in turn climate change mitigation and adaptation. The SEA topic 'Climatic Factors' has, therefore, been scoped into the assessment. Given the close link between marine carbon sequestration/blue carbon and marine habitats, the potential impact of the proposals on 'Climatic Factors' will be addressed within the topic of 'Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna'. This will include, as far as possible, a consideration of generic impacts on carbon stocks outwith the boundaries of the HPMAs due to the displacement of certain activities that result in the potential re-suspension of stored carbon in the water where it can more easily break down.
Material assets – scoped out
No environmental impacts on the 'Material Assets' SEA topic are likely to result from the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs. This topic has, therefore, been scoped out of the assessment. The socio-economic effects of the proposals on other users of the marine environment, both adverse and beneficial, will be assessed by the SEIA and overarching SA of which this SEA is a component.
Cultural heritage – scoped out
The regulation of certain marine activities and forms of development as a result of the designation of HPMAs could mean that environmentally damaging activities move out of the HPMAs or else are never introduced, thereby indirectly benefiting any submerged cultural heritage. However, this benefit is contingent upon the HPMA overlapping cultural heritage resources, the true extent of which can be difficult to determine as some of these features remain undiscovered, particularly in the offshore marine area. Further, conservation and cultural heritage objectives would need to be compatible (e.g. some historic features may require excavation in order to ensure their preservation, which may be at odds with conservation interests). At this time, the impacts of the adoption of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and eventual designation of HPMAs are not predicted to be significant and so it is proposed that Cultural Heritage be scoped out of the assessment.
Landscape/seascape – scoped out
It is possible that the seascape may benefit from the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and resultant designation of HPMAs as they will result in the removal/restriction of certain activities (e.g. aquaculture sites). However, at this time, such impacts are not predicted to be significant and so it is proposed that the 'Landscape/Seascape' SEA topic be scoped out of the assessment.
3.4 Reasonable alternatives
3.4.1 In accordance with the 2005 Act, there is a requirement to consider reasonable alternatives that fulfil the objective of the plan as part of the SEA. The reasonable alternatives that have been identified as part of the development of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs have been assessed.
3.4.2 In advance of identifying any potential HPMAs, reasonable alternatives are considered to be high level considerations of alternative management options that meet the aims of HPMAs, for example, options for different activities that are not considered compatible with HPMAs and activities that are allowed at non-damaging levels. As part of the process for selecting HPMAs, the options considered for where sites are located could be considered reasonable alternatives. It is expected that the suitability of alternative management scenarios and alternative decisions on where sites are located will be explored and informed by the SEA as the assessment progresses.
3.5 Assessment methodology
Assessment of potential effects
3.5.1 Based on the available data and strategic nature of SEAs, a generic high-level and qualitative assessment of potential effects arising from the proposed Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and reasonable alternatives has been undertaken.
3.5.2 The Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines will be used to identify and propose HPMAs in the next phase of the process. It will, therefore, not be possible for this initial SEA to undertake a spatial analysis of specific potential sites or quantify the likely scale/magnitude of environmental effects. This preliminary assessment will be updated once site boundary proposals are available. This will form part of a separate future updated SEA on the proposed designation of HPMAs.
3.5.3 The key potential environmental effects or impact pathways that are likely to arise from the implementation of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs are as follows:
- Potential benefits to marine biodiversity and the marine ecosystem;
- Potential spillover benefits beyond site boundaries;
- Potential adverse effects resulting from the displacement of activities from site boundaries into new areas and the intensification of activities in areas where these activities already occur; and
- Potential adverse effects as a result of the extension of any new cable or pipeline routes that need to avoid transecting HPMAs.
3.5.4 The assessment of potential benefits to marine habitats and species has considered in generic terms how the pressures on the marine environment might reduce as a result of the adoption of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and designation of HPMAs and reasonable alternatives.
3.5.5 The assessment of potential for spillover benefits beyond site boundaries has considered how the change in pressures within HPMAs might result in spillover benefits taking account of the latest available evidence.
3.5.6 For the assessment of adverse environmental effects, a high level qualitative review of activities that might be displaced and future cable or pipeline routes that might be extended due to the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs and the potential implications of that displacement on the marine environment has been undertaken
3.5.7 The assessment has included consideration of the potential for transboundary effects on EU Member States as a result of the displacement of activities outwith Scottish jurisdiction.
3.5.8 For the purposes of this preliminary assessment, only indicative criteria to define the nature or type of potential effects that may result from the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and reasonable alternatives have been used (i.e. beneficial, adverse or neutral). It is not possible to determine the potential scale/magnitude of these effects in advance of identifying the proposed site boundaries for HPMAs and undertaking a spatial analysis of site specific information. This will be undertaken as part of a separate future updated SEA on the proposed designation of HPMAs.
3.5.9 The potential implications of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines and reasonable alternatives have also been assessed against SEA objectives. The SEA objectives that have been applied in this assessment are presented in Box 2. These have built on those used to inform recent related marine assessments (see Section 3.6). Those objectives reflected the scope of their respective assessments as well as environmental protection objectives found across relevant legislation (see Appendix A) and remain applicable to the present assessment.
Box 2 - Proposed SEA Objectives
Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna; Soil; Water; and Climatic Factors
- To protect and recover marine ecosystems, including species, habitats, and their interactions
- To maintain and protect the character and integrity of the seabed
- To avoid the pollution of seabed strata and/or bottom sediments
- To avoid pollution of the marine water environment
- To maintain or work towards achieving 'Good Environmental Status' of the marine environment
- To preserve and enhance existing marine carbon stocks and carbon sequestration potential.
3.6 Building on previous assessments
3.6.1 This SEA builds on previous and ongoing SEAs that have been undertaken on proposed fisheries management measures in inshore waters and marine conservation work undertaken by the Scottish Government. This includes the following:
- The designation of Nature Conservation MPAs (assessed in 2013);
- Phase one (assessed in 2014), and proposals for phase two (currently under assessment) of the implementation of management measures for inshore MPAs;
- The designation of an additional suite of marine SPAs (assessed in 2018) ;
- The designation of four additional MPAs (assessed in 2019);
- The designation of a deep sea marine reserve as an offshore MPA (assessed in 2019);
- Proposals for management measures applying to Priority Marine Features (PMFs) (currently under assessment); and
- Proposals for management measures in offshore MPAs (currently under assessment).
3.6.2 As some of this SEA work is ongoing, it is likely these concurrent assessments will be used to inform the current assessment as far as possible, providing a more complete understanding of cumulative effects in particular.
3.6.3 Other relevant sources of information include the SEAs undertaken on the Sectoral Marine Plans for Offshore Renewable Energy in Scottish Waters, the more recent Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind Energy, Management Proposals of Inshore Fisheries Groups, and the Seaweed Policy Statement. In addition, the ongoing SEA that is being undertaken for the Sectoral Marine Plan for INTOG will also be considered.
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