Appendix Six: HRA Update Note
A.1 Implications of updated Plan Options / data
This HRA update note provides a review of the changes made to DPOs and the implication of scientific evidence on seabird foraging ranges that has emerged since publication of the draft Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind Energy in December 2019.
A.1.1 Updates to Plan Options
The changes that have been made in developing Plan Options (Figure 1) from the DPOs (Figure 2), following consultation of the Draft Plan for Offshore Wind Energy and summarised below. The implications of these changes on the conclusions of the plan level HRA are also discussed.
SW1 DPO has not been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, due to concerns regarding the potential scale of negative socio-economic impacts in this region (including negative impacts on seascape, landscape and coastal character).
NE5 DPO has not been chosen to progress as a final Plan Option due to the potential cumulative impacts on the fishing sector arising from development in this DPO, in-combination with existing and consented projects and other DPOs.
It can reasonably be concluded that the removal of SW1 and NE5 from the Offshore Wind Plan will reduce the potential in-combination effect with any currently operational or consented developments on mobile interest features of European/Ramsar sites. This is particularly the case for DPOs off the North East coast of Scotland where risks relating to impacts on Black-legged Kittiwake interest features of SPAs in the region were identified in the plan level HRA for the Draft Offshore Wind Plan. Whilst the risk of in-combination effects on Black-legged Kittiwake will reduce as a result of the removal of NE5, there remains uncertainty regarding whether this is sufficient to avoid an adverse effect on integrity (AEOI) and therefore there is still considered to be a need for 'temporal mitigation' for NE4 and NE6 until further evidence is available.
DPOs boundaries amended or reduced
W1 DPO has been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, but has been reduced in area across all boundaries, in order to mitigate potential negative impacts on a range of sectors, including commercial shipping and seascape, landscape and coastal character.
NE1 DPO has been chosen for progression as a final Plan Option, but the portion of the site which overlaps with the Shetland Island Council's jurisdiction has been removed to reduce potential administrative burdens.
NE2, NE3, NE7, NE8 and E1 have been chosen for inclusion as final Plan Options, but have been reduced in area in order to avoid the areas of highest existing fishing activity highlighted by the fishing sector. In the case of NE3 the fishing sector had proposed a greater reduction in the area of the DPO, however, this would render the site commercially unviable and limit opportunities to mitigate impacts on other receptors (as required) at a project-level.
The reduction in the area of DPOs has the potential to reduce the in-combination effect on mobile interest features of European/Ramsar sites, in particular bird interest features of DPOs located in proximity to each other (e.g. NE2 and NE3). Although the potential for in-combination effects will reduce as a result of the reduced area comprising these DPOs, there is still uncertainty regarding whether an AEOI will be avoided and therefore there is still considered to be a need for 'temporal mitigation' for NE2 and NE3 until further evidence is available.
DPOs no amendments made
N1, N2, N3, N4, NE4, NE6, E2 and E3 have been chosen for progression as final Plan Options without amendments. This will have no potential implications to the outcomes of the plan-level HRA.
A.1.2 Updates to foraging ranges
The draft Sectoral Marine Plan Offshore Wind Energy HRA that was published in December 2019 used the synthesis of available seabird tracking data that was available at the time of publication (Thaxter et al., 2012) to determine the mean maximum foraging ranges to support the screening of SPA/Ramsar site bird interest features. The HRA initially applied a pre-screening 100 km buffer to capture all European/Ramsar sites within the buffer irrespective of the foraging ranges of the interest features. The mean maximum foraging ranges of species from Thaxter et al. (2012) that extended beyond the 100 km pre-screening buffer were used to screen in additional SPA/Ramsar sites into the HRA, specifically:
- Atlantic Puffin (105 km);
- Lesser Black-backed Gull (141 km);
- Manx Shearwater (330 km);
- Northern Fulmar (400 km); and
- Northern Gannet (229 km).
An updated synthesis of seabird tracking studies published at the end of 2019 as part of The Crown Estate's Round 4 Enabling Actions programme incorporates the tracking studies considered by Thaxter et al. , and those undertaken from 2012 to 2019. This latest 2019 study provides updated foraging ranges for a number of seabirds, including the provision of a foraging range for Great Black-backed Gull which had not featured in the previous 2012 study. In particular, this latest study has identified significant increases in the mean maximum foraging ranges for Black-legged Kittiwake, Razorbill, Great Skua and Great Black-backed Gull. The implications of these updated foraging ranges on the conclusions of the plan level HRA are reviewed in the following sub-sections.
The extended mean maximum foraging range of Black-legged Kittiwake in the latest 2019 study means that a number of additional DPOs fall within the foraging ranges of SPA seabirds (specifically NE7, NE8, E1 and E2). Based on a review of other available spatial data, , and the considerably lower density of Black-legged Kittiwakes that utilise these additional DPOs, it is not considered proportionate to apply the same plan level mitigation measures (e.g. temporal mitigation) that have been recommended for other DPOs (NE2, NE3, NE4, NE6 and E3) to these additional DPOs. Overall, therefore, the conclusions of the plan level HRA remain valid and do not require any changes.
It should be noted that individual project-level HRAs for offshore wind farm development will need to consider the implications of the increased mean maximum foraging range from the latest study. This could result in additional SPA/Ramsar sites being screened into the project level HRA compared to the plan level HRA.
The extended mean maximum foraging range of Razorbill in the latest 2019 study is less than the 100 km pre-screening buffer that has been applied to the DPOs in the plan level HRA. This means that there is no change to the SPA/Ramsar sites that fall within this buffer. In addition, other available spatial data, , indicates that areas used by Razorbill are generally restricted to coastal areas of shallower water and are therefore unlikely to be affected by any additional DPOs to those already identified in the plan level HRA. Consequently, the conclusions of the HRA remain valid.
Great skua is generally considered of lower risk from offshore wind development compared to other species such as Black-legged Kittiwake and Razorbill. Therefore, whilst the extended foraging range of the latest 2019 study covers a greater area with more overlap with DPOs, the spatial distribution of Great skua throughout this area is uncertain and therefore the increase in risk from offshore wind development is not clear. Data collected by Pollock et al. indicates that areas of highest usage are more likely to be in areas within the smaller foraging range of the previous 2012 study with lower usage towards the extended areas of the updated range. Therefore, whilst there is potential for minor changes to the assessment process for Great Skua, the conclusions of the plan level HRA are considered to remain valid.
Great Black-backed Gull
The latest 2019 study includes a foraging range for Great Black-backed Gull which did not feature in the previous 2012 study. This foraging range is less than the 100 km pre-screening buffer that has been applied to the DPOs in the plan level HRA and therefore there are no additional SPA/Ramsar sites that need to be screened into the assessment.
The DPOs within the Moray Firth which overlap with the foraging range for Great Black-backed Gull (NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6) are already subject to the plan level mitigation proposed for Black-legged Kittiwake (i.e. temporal mitigation). Hence, concerns regarding Great black-backed gull would be managed through further work required to provide additional information on bird distribution in this area to address the mitigation requirement.
It is recognised that further consideration will be required at a project level of the foraging use by Great Black-backed Gull of sites in the north (i.e. N2 and N3). The plan level HRA concluded that that work required for the purposes of project level HRA would identify any areas of concern and support avoidance of significant adverse effects and these conclusions remain valid.
A.1.3 Further information raised during consultation
A number of stakeholder organisations (5) highlighted the requirement for HRA updates to be undertaken upon receipt of new evidence, such as the updated bird foraging ranges which have been taken into account in this HRA update note (see Section D.1.2). No further information was provided during consultation that has any implications to the conclusions of the plan level HRA.
The DPOs that have been retained and/or modified as part of the final Plan remain subject to the application of plan-level mitigation measures. The Regional Locational Guidance and final Plan will highlight the need for consideration of adequate project-level mitigation measures to address any significant negative impacts identified by further assessment.
The publication of updated foraging ranges in 2019 provides further scientific evidence regarding the scale of potential impacts arising from development within the DPOs and the need to apply plan-level mitigation measures to address concerns regarding potential impacts on key seabird species and colonies. No further mitigation measures are considered to be necessary and the conclusions of the plan level HRA remain valid.
The Scottish Government, as the Responsible Authority, is currently preparing the Appropriate Assessment for the final Plan. This Appropriate Assessment will consider the potential likely significant effects of the Plan and includes consideration of the implications of the updated foraging ranges for the assessment undertaken.
Where data gaps have been highlighted by respondents, for example regarding migratory birds, further consideration of these issues will take place via the iterative plan review process, Technical Advisory Group and Ornithology Working Group. Annex E, in the Post Adoption Statement, provides further detail regarding how the iterative plan review process will be undertaken and the governance structure for the Plan.