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
3 Environmental Baseline

3 Environmental Baseline

3.1 Overview

3.1.1 It is a requirement of the 2005 Act to provide details of the character of the environment which may be affected by the Plan, including any existing pressures and the likely evolution of the environment in the absence of the Plan, as well as the environmental protection objectives, relevant to the plan. The Plan will be assessed against this baseline to provide an indication of the type and significance of any environmental impacts that could arise. The baseline is presented against each topic in the sections below with key environmental protection objectives included with relevance to each topic.

3.1.2 The management of SCE 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 on Scottish Crown Estate assets as well as wider terrestrial and marine assets; both natural and built.

3.1.3 Scotland's environment is rich in natural and cultural heritage and its 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 ongoing 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 further archaeological resources remain undiscovered. Scotland has many natural resources and material assets, including high quality agricultural land, and extensive areas of forestry and woodland.

3.1.4 Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) own and lease 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.

3.1.5 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.

3.1.6 The management of SCE 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 strategy on Scottish Crown Estate assets as well as wider terrestrial and marine assets; both natural and built.

3.1.7 The key environmental pressures identified are detailed in the tables below with further baseline detail provided in Appendix B.

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[25].

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[26]. 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[27].

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[28]. 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[29], particularly in coastal waters. In 2015, 18 bodies of water in Scotland were at risk of failing to meet environmental objectives due to INNS[30].

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[31], [32], [33].

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[34] due to herbivores/ grazing, pests and diseases[35] 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[36].

Climate change is a powerful stressor to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems[37]. 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[38]. 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[39]. 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[40].

Soil erosion and other structural degradation can have a significant effect on soil functions with erosion having the potential to irreversibly alter soils' characteristics[41].

Changes in rainfall and extreme weather events as a result of climate change can contribute to soil erosion and compaction[42].

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[43]. Erosion rates are also expected to rise with climate change which will result in changes to the physical environment[44].

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[45].

Manmade barriers to fish migration and physical changes to the beds and banks and diffuse pollution are also key pressures[46].

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[47] 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 under all of UKCP18's scenarios with milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers expected[48]. 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[49]. The installation of manmade flood defences (as a mitigation measure against climate change) can significantly impact biodiversity through habitat fragmentation and limiting distribution range[50]. Coastal processes can also be altered, leading to increased risks of erosion or displacement of flood risk[51].

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[52].

Historic sites are exposed to high or very high risk from natural hazards as a result of climate change[53]. 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[54].

Key Pressures - Landscape and Visual

Competing land uses remain a principal threat to managing landscape change. Key drivers behind land-use 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[55].

3.2 Likely evolution of the environment without implementation of the Plan

3.2.1 The SEA process requires an assessment of the likely evolution of the environment without the implementation of the Plan. The Plan's proposals which are the focus of the assessment involve the management of and investment in assets for national or community benefit.

3.2.2 Through the bespoke management of assets that the Plan promotes there is an opportunity to minimise any potential impacts of new infrastructure requirements on environmental receptors. 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 - and may represent a missed opportunity for the (indirect) benefit to environmental objectives. Adopting a 'one size fits all approach' to the management of the assets would not allow opportunities to tailor the approach to the aspirations of communities.

3.2.3 The flexibility provided by the high level outcome 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 Plan, such an opportunity would not exist.

3.2.4 The draft Plan also includes provisions for the alignment of management practices to support the outcomes of Scotland's Climate Change Plan. In this way, there is an opportunity to tackle, mitigate and adapt (the use/management of) assets to climate change at the local level - an opportunity which would not exist in the absence of the Plan.

3.2.5 It is likely that the balance between activity in the management of coastal and marine areas will increase compared to land assets. The Plan provides an opportunity to mitigate/positively impact coastal environmental processes and work for the mitigation of any negative effects.

3.2.6 However, as the draft Plan includes high level objectives, priorities and policies, and no detailed provisions for the management of assets in direct relation to specific environmental receptors have been developed at this stage, it is expected that the evolution of the environment will not significantly differ in the absence of the Plan in the short term for example with respect to coastal erosion and the evolution of climatic factors.

3.2.7 In the absence of the Plan the management of these assets would continue within the requirement of 'good management' but may provide less opportunity for consideration of other benefits such as for the community and environment over and above increased profit.

3.2.8 The high level vision for the sustainable management of assets provides an opportunity to ensure the realisation of benefits not only for Scotland's communities but also for the natural environment.