Publication - Impact assessment

Scottish Crown Estate strategic management plan: environmental report

Published: 10 Sep 2019
Marine Scotland Directorate
Part of:
Marine and fisheries

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the consultation draft of the Scottish Crown Estate strategic management plan.

Scottish Crown Estate strategic management plan: environmental report
Non-Technical Summary

Non-Technical Summary

What is Strategic Environmental Assessment?

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a means of systematically assessing the likely impact of a public plan on the environment and to seek ways to avoid, or minimise, where possible, any likely significant adverse effects. It also gives members of the public and other interested organisations an opportunity to consider this information and to use it to inform their views on the emerging proposals. Monitoring proposals are also developed to identify any unexpected adverse environmental effects, should these arise.

This Non-Technical Summary concerns the findings of the Strategic Environmental Assessment of Scottish Ministers' draft Strategic Management Plan for the Scottish Crown Estate (SCE) and has been prepared in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 ('the 2005 Act'). Views are invited on both the Environmental Report and the Draft Strategic Management Plan.

An Introduction to the Draft Strategic Management Plan

The Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 (the Act) received Royal Assent on 15 January 2019. It reforms management of the Scottish Crown Estate and establishes a framework to deliver wider benefits and new opportunities for local control of the management of individual Scottish Crown Estate assets.

The Act places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to prepare a plan for the management of the Scottish Crown Estate and makes provision for what must be included in the Plan and how it must be prepared, consulted on and reviewed. These requirements include setting out the Scottish Ministers' objectives, priorities and policies with respect to:

1. the management of the Estate (including the acquisition of new assets);

2. and an assessment of how those objectives, priorities and policies align with the Scottish Ministers' other objectives, priorities and policies.

The draft Strategic Management Plan's vision states that: "The Scottish Crown Estate is managed sustainably, responsibly and fairly, and in a transparent and inclusive manner, to deliver financial benefits and wider and long term social, economic and environment benefits for Scotland and it's communities".

Scottish Crown Estate assets extend across a wide range of sectors, including forestry, agriculture, most of the seabed and nearly half of the foreshore. These include aquaculture, energy infrastructure and moorings. In addition the Scottish Crown Estate includes commercial properties and rural estates.

The draft Plan considers the long-term management of Scottish Crown Estate assets, covering the period up to 2025. It includes a draft vision and 22 draft objectives, priorities and policies delivering the vision. These broadly cover the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets (including manager's duties and guidance), investment activity, community benefits, implementation of the Plan and proposals on finance and administration. It is expected that the Plan will be reviewed every 5 years.

Environmental characteristics and key pressures relevant to Scottish Crown Estate assets

It is a requirement of the 2005 Act to provide details of the character of the environment which may be affected by the Plan.

Scotland's environment is rich in natural and cultural heritage and it's seas are among the most biologically diverse and productive in the world. On land, the network of European protected sites supports many important and rare plants, birds and animals. Many biodiversity features are in good condition, but continuing efforts are needed to avoid the further decline of some species and habitats. Scotland's air, soil and water are generally in good condition, but there are concentrations of pollution in some parts of the country. Some of this is historic, but there are also on-going challenges, including diffuse pollution from urban and rural areas.

Scotland has high quality landscapes, with many iconic views and scenic areas supporting recreation and tourism. The historic environment includes World Heritage Sites, listed buildings, conservation areas, gardens and designed landscapes and archaeology including scheduled monuments. Many archaeological resources remain undiscovered. Scotland also has many natural resources and material assets, including high quality agricultural land, and extensive areas of forestry and woodland.

The Scottish Crown Estate assets are held 'in right of The Crown' and the Monarch remains the legal owner. The estate includes both marine and land based assets including four rural estates (forestry and agriculture), as well as aquaculture and other coastal and marine assets (including energy infrastructure). Scotland's transport infrastructure is also a key asset, supporting future growth. Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) is currently the manager of all the assets and responsibilities include leasing and management of the assets.

It is widely held that climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. Climate change is predicted to lead to more extreme weather events, increasing water temperature and acidity, a rise in sea levels, changes in wave heights and changes to coastlines; all of which have the potential to affect other aspects of the environment.

The management of Scottish Crown Estate assets can have a wider impact on the national portfolio of material assets as a result of activities related to offshore energy infrastructure interacting with ports and harbours, and requiring a land-based distribution network. In the context of this report, the SEA topic of material assets refers to the potential impacts of the draft Strategic Management Plan for Scottish Crown Estate assets as well as wider terrestrial and marine assets; both natural and built.

The key existing environmental pressures which form part of the baseline, are detailed below.

Key Pressures - Material Assets

Marine Assets

Specific to aquaculture, invasive non-native species (INNS), primarily crayfish affect Atlantic salmon.

Illegal exploitation of fish, particularly of salmon, continues to threaten the aquaculture industry despite regulations which ban gill netting and the retention of salmon in coastal waters.

Projected changes to water temperature, acidity and primary productivity as a result of climate change threaten marine fisheries and aquaculture. Changes in storm frequency and severity, and the associated increased wave height also pose a risk to existing and planned offshore renewable energy infrastructure.

Terrestrial Assets

Climate change (such as changes in rainfall and water temperatures) may impact upon aquaculture, agriculture and forestry through for example, fluctuations in yields and risk of new diseases and pests. Wave exposure may also impact upon aquaculture success.

Land management practices and development put pressure on forestry and agriculture. Increasing development, land use change and lack of management may impact forestry and agriculture.

Fragmentation and gradual loss of native and ancient woods is a serious issue in unenclosed uplands. The causes are most likely to be a combination of excessive herbivores and poor regeneration capacity on sites with old trees.

Key Pressures - Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna:

Marine biodiversity

Key pressures include commercial fishing, aquaculture and diffuse pollution. The modification of coastline through the construction of supporting infrastructure, such as sea defences, ports and harbours, can have a significant impact on biodiversity as well as physical damage to the seabed. Changes in water quality and composition can impact biodiversity through availability of nutrients and oxygen consequently leading to habitat fragmentation.

INNS can cause harm to native species and have been identified as a key biodiversity pressure, particularly in coastal waters. In 2015, 18 bodies of water in Scotland were at risk of failing to meet environmental objectives due to INNS.

Climate change is affecting sea level rise, as well as sea surface temperatures which can have a significant impact on the availability of nutrients and oxygen, in turn affecting seabed habitats and the wider ecosystem.

Terrestrial biodiversity

Ancient, native and semi-natural woodland are a designated priority habitat and have been identified as having a significant risk of habitat fragmentation due to herbivores/grazing, pests and diseases and agricultural developments. Upland habitat has been modified through human activities, such as cattle farming, drainage and afforestation.

INNS can impact terrestrial environments such as Himalayan balsam which outgrows native grasses alongside riverbanks.

Climate change is a powerful stressor to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. This is due to increasing freshwater temperatures leading to a reduced dissolved oxygen, as well as changes in high river flows due to precipitation. Both of these can significantly impact biodiversity.

Key Pressures - Population and Human Health

Low standards of water bodies affect drinking water quality resulting in bacteria that can in turn result in risks to public health.

Pressures on water and air quality which affect human health are primarily caused by increases in environmental pollutants arising from human activities including new development and industrial activities as well as aquaculture, intensive agriculture and urbanisation.

Key Pressures - Soil and Geodiversity

Loss of organic matter threatens soil functions and can result from a wide range of pressures, such as land use change, development and climate change. The loss of organic matter from carbon rich soils can prompt the release of GHG, contributing to climate change, and also affecting biodiversity.

Soil sealing is the replacement of soil with impermeable surfaces or soil's compaction, and can result from activities such as mining and quarrying. Soil sealing also interferes with the soils' ability to perform key functions, including water absorption.

Soil contamination through atmospheric deposition, agriculture and forestry, and other industry, such as mining, waste management, and disposal of chemicals, can also significantly impact on soil function and biodiversity.

Soil erosion and other structural degradation can have a significant effect on soil functions with erosion having the potential to irreversibly alter soils' characteristics.

Changes in rainfall and extreme weather events as a result of climate change can contribute to soil erosion and compaction.

Key Pressures - Water

Diffuse and point source pollution can significantly affect water quality and the health of water ecosystems. These can result from nutrient contamination, leading to eutrophication, polluting drinking water sources and affecting availability of oxygen and consequent suffocation of fish and other biodiversity.

Water abstraction for activities such as hydropower generation and agriculture, can lead to a reduction in groundwater baseflow and surface water flow, potentially resulting in damage to ecosystems (including wetlands).

Water quality can also be impacted by development and land use change in coastal areas, leading to the loss of floodplain and associated habitats, and disrupting or significantly altering the range of fish and other organisms. The loss of floodplain to agriculture and other land use changes also has the potential to increase flood risk. The physical condition of water bodies can also be affected by suspended sediment due to erosion. Erosion rates are also expected to rise with climate change which will result in changes to the physical environment.

Climate change and the rise of impermeable surfaces (such as in urban areas) can lead to an increased likelihood of flooding. This can lead to the damage to material assets and pose risks to population and human health through the spread of infectious diseases through watercourses. Changes in, for example, sea surface temperature can also lead to a loss of habitats through changes in nutrient availability and accelerate the spread of INNS.

Manmade barriers to fish migration and physical changes to the beds and banks and diffuse pollution are also key pressures.

Key Pressures - Air

Point source pollution significantly impacts air quality. These include pollutants such as NOx, CO2 and PM2.5, PM10 as a result of, for example, energy production and agricultural ammonia emissions.

Key Pressures - Climatic Factors

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the Paris Agreement found that Emissions of CO2 need to reach net-zero levels globally by around 2050 - with a fall of around half (45%) from 2010 to 2030 -requiring rapid, profound and unprecedented cross-sectoral transformation of global energy, land, urban and industrial systems. Climate change is closely linked to other environmental topics. For example, rising temperatures, can lead to changes in nutrient availability and therefore impact the range of certain species; both on land and in sea.

Changes in temperature, rainfall, frequency of extreme weather events and sea level rise are predicted with milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers expected. This trend has been consistent over the last decade with infrastructure already affected. The effects of these changes such as coastal flooding can pose a risk to SCE assets.

Possible negative consequences could also arise as a result of climate change adaptation measures. The installation of manmade flood defences (as a mitigation measure against climate change) can significantly impact biodiversity through habitat fragmentation and limiting distribution range. Coastal processes can also be altered, leading to increased risks of erosion or displacement of flood risk.

Key Pressures - Cultural Heritage and Historic Environment

Lack of maintenance and investment of the historic environment as well as confusion and tension around roles and responsibilities in relation to shared ownership and caring for the historic environment can result in disrepair, such as damage and decay in roof and wall structures.

Historic sites are exposed to high or very high risk from natural hazards as a result of climate change. Climate change-related impacts include damage to masonry, risk of dampness, condensation and fungal growth, vegetation growth, and accelerated decay. Historic landscapes and sites located within the coastal zones are particularly vulnerable.

Land management and development can impact on the historic environment and cultural heritage.

Key Pressures - Landscape and Visual

Competing land uses remain a principal threat to managing landscape change. Key drivers behind landuse change include climate change and climate change adaptation, a changing economic base and economic efficiency.

With climate change it is likely that some land will be lost to the sea, that flooding will increase, and that the distribution patterns of natural and semi-natural habitats will change. Higher temperatures may also allow new crops to be grown and extend existing growing seasons.

Indirect effects from climate change, such as the spread of destructive pests and pathogens, could lead to more subtle landscape change through the loss of plant species.

Relevant related policies and environmental objectives

The Strategic Management Plan will contribute to the delivery of the National Performance Framework and the Scottish Government's purpose:

"To focus on creating a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increased wellbeing, and sustainable and inclusive economic growth."

The property, rights and interests of the Scottish Crown Estate means that decisions on the sale or use of the assets can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits for Scotland and local communities. However, decisions on property, land and other assets sit within a wider regulatory and policy framework which includes relevant aspects of property law, environmental legislation, the marine and terrestrial planning and consenting systems.

The evolution of the environment without the Strategic Management Plan

The SEA process requires an assessment of the likely evolution of the environment in the absence of the Plan. The Plan's proposals involve the management of and investment in assets for national or community benefit. This provides an opportunity to minimise any potential impacts of new infrastructure requirements on environmental receptors through giving preference to investment in existing infrastructure. In addition, the flexibility provided to locally own or manage assets represents an opportunity for more agile management practices and local decision-making, which can take account of localised environmental key pressures and issues. This could provide the opportunity for management which is more responsive to change at this level.

In the absence of the proposed Plan, the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets would continue to be managed as at present under the existing 'good management' requirements in the Crown Estate Act 1961, until such time as the relevant sections of the Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 come into force. However, less opportunity would be available to extend benefits from asset management to the local community or more widely in Scotland and to contribute to wider environmental objectives.

What reasonable alternatives have been considered?

The 2005 Act requires that the Scottish Government also identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of any reasonable alternatives to the draft Plan, taking into account its objectives and geographical scope. For the purposes of the assessment the Strategic Management Plan objectives, priorities and policies were organised into themes. Some of these were scoped out of the assessment as they were considered unlikely to have significant environmental effects, for example, because they relate to administrative or procedural matters or concern the future provision of advice which will be non-binding in nature. The two scoped in themes are:

  • Theme 1: Delivering Benefits And Realising Opportunities, and
  • Theme 2: How Scottish Crown Estate Assets Are Managed.

Following consideration of various alternatives, it was concluded that there were no reasonable alternatives to the plan.

What are the findings of the SEA?

The SEA has concluded that the draft Plan, with its core purpose of promoting and supporting the implementation of tailored management for the benefit of Scotland and communities will have overall positive effects for the SEA topics of population and human health, material assets and climatic factors, with the potential for some short term local negative effects for the latter arising from development on the ground. Mixed effects are anticipated for biodiversity, soil, water, air, cultural heritage and landscape and visual topics. Investment and management changes related to Scottish Crown Estate assets have the potential to alter the balance of ecosystem services provided by an asset, with some increasing and some reducing.

The draft Plan has the potential to positively and cumulatively contribute across a wide range of Scottish Government policy areas. However, there is an inherent uncertainty in the actions that will be taken and therefore in the resultant assessment findings.

Where appropriate, the requirements of existing statutory consenting and licensing regimes and environmental assessment requirements are taken into account as 'assumed mitigation' and factored into the assessment of the significance of effects. Finally, the report makes a number of recommendations for mitigation and / or enhancement measures, where appropriate. These are:

  • Where the management of an asset is transferred, the draft management plan allows for assets to be brought back under Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) management/alternate management if the asset was deemed to be managed poorly or if maintenance became an issue. It is recommended that the Scottish Government or Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) monitor on a regular basis those assets subject to local control. (material assets)
  • In terms of provisions for the sale of assets for less than market value, it is recognised that realisation of financial benefits or wider environmental or social benefits may not be immediate. It is therefore recommended that the length of time that any wider benefits will take to develop is considered, but does not prejudice the assessment of whether there is potential to sell assets for less than market value. (material assets)
  • Consideration should be given to exploring opportunities through lower tier Plans, Programmes and Strategies as well as in the consenting and licensing of individual projects at local level where appropriate, to mitigating the environmental effects of increased tourism. (population and human health, air and water)
  • Consideration should be given to opportunities to maximise provision of public access to recreation facilities, green infrastructure and green spaces. (population and human health)
  • It is recommended that consideration is given to opportunities for building capacity and understanding on all aspects of environmental management and protection in community organisations when taking on asset management responsibilities through the provision of guidance and advice. (all SEA topics including biodiversity, flora and fauna and cultural heritage)
  • Asset Managers should give consideration at the earliest stages to appropriate siting and design of new infrastructure in collaboration with community bodies where appropriate. (soil and geodiversity)
  • The assessment findings support the draft plan's focus on increased investment activity for community or national benefit and which contributes to Scotland's Climate Change Plan. (climatic factors)
  • Investment decisions at asset level should consider opportunities for enhancing the environment for the wider community benefit. (landscape and visual)

What monitoring is proposed?

The 2005 Act requires that the Responsible Authority monitors the significant environmental effects of the implementation of the Strategic Management Plan in order to identify any unforeseen adverse effects at an early stage and undertake appropriate remedial action where relevant.

The Scottish Crown Estate Act provides for a national framework to govern management of the assets at the national and local level. This framework includes national reporting and accounting arrangements.

The Scottish Government will monitor implementation of the plan, delivery of the objectives, priorities and policies and alignment with wider objectives, priorities and policies. The Scottish Government will work with Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) and prospective managers of Scottish Crown Estate assets to ensure that appropriate monitoring is undertaken alongside wider monitoring under the National Performance Framework.

The monitoring and review of the plan will be informed by the delivery of targets and indicators in Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) corporate plans and any management plans prepared by other managers. Corporate plans and management plans should set out how the manager plans to manage the asset over the next 3 years. Annual reports will also provide an assessment of how a manager has performed against the objectives.

Monitoring of significant environmental effects will be aligned with the monitoring for the Value Project which is a tool being developed by Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) to better understand, measure and monitor the (social, economic, environmental) benefits generated from the Scottish Crown Estate. It is recommended that the monitoring could also include gathering data on the location and extent of activities associated with the Strategic Management Plan objectives, priorities and policies and potential environmental effects.

How to comment on the Environmental Report

Comments on the Environmental Report are welcome by 22nd November 2019. Details of how to comment can be found at:

Responses can also be submitted with the Respondent Information Form (Appendix A) to or by mail to:

Crown Estate Strategy Unit
Marine Scotland
Scottish Government
Area 1-B North
Victoria Quay