Sectoral marine plan: appropriate assessment

Assessment of the implications of the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy for designated special areas of conservation special protection areas, candidate special areas of conservation and proposed special protection areas in view of the sites' conservation objectives.

5. Consultation responses

5.1.1 Detailed comments were received from SNH, RSPB Scotland and JNCC. The main points by each of the respondents that included HRA specific comments are summarised below. It should be noted that SNH rebranded to NatureScot during August 2020.

5.2 SNH (now NatureScot)

5.2.1 SNH provided a response to the scoping phase on 17 July 2018.[8] SNH indicated it was content with the scope and level of detail proposed for the environmental report and provided comments on the scoping in/out of topics. SNH considered that Invasive Non-Native Species and impacts on prey species should be scoped into the assessment. SNH also advised that an additional objective, "to avoid significant adverse physical damage to coastal geodiversity sites from coastal infrastructure".

5.2.2 SNH provided a consultation response to the draft Plan and HRA Report on 25 March 2020,[9] which was accompanied by Landscape and Visual Impact Appraisal and Design Guidance. SNH also provided the same response via the Scottish Government Strategic Environmental Assessment ("SEA") Gateway. Following further discussion with Marine Scotland regarding the implications of the removal of NE4 and NE5 on the status of NE6, and wider discussions regarding NE6, SNH provided additional advice on 11 May 2020.

5.2.3 In its response dated 25 March 2020, SNH advised that, broadly speaking, it agreed with and endorsed the conclusions of the HRA Report and the recommendations made. In particular, it endorsed the finding that 'appropriate and meaningful mitigation measures' are required to ensure no AEOSI arises from Plan related activity, and the range of measures that are set out in the draft Plan and Sustainability Appraisal to secure this. SNH considered that the Plan level mitigation measures, relating to the temporary restriction on windfarm development in DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6, the additional survey work required for DPOs E1-2 and the establishment of the IPR process and Technical Advisory Group are critical measures to avoid AEOSI.


DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6

5.2.4 SNH advised that it strongly supports the need for temporary restriction on windfarm development in DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6, "until such time as enough evidence on the environmental capacity for seabirds exists to reduce the risk to an acceptable level." SNH advised that, due to concerns regarding the predicted in-combination impacts of existing and consented offshore windfarms ("OWF") on specific east coast SPAs and seabird species, "no development should be permitted until and unless research and post consent monitoring of existing OWF in eastern Scotland demonstrate that capacity for further development, with respect to SPA interests, exists." SNH further advised that the same criteria regarding mitigation measures should not be applied to all six DPOs. SNH advised that, in its opinion, the research and monitoring should be completed to inform future ornithological impact assessments and understanding regarding ornithological impacts, "rather than bypassing this through derogation."

DPOs E1 and E2

5.2.5 SNH advised that it strongly supports the specific Plan level mitigation identified for DPOs E1 and E2, "in recognition that kittiwakes, gannets and razorbills, with potential connectivity to East Coast SPAs, may be foraging in these areas." SNH advised that, at this stage, it would be unable to advise that there would no AEOSI arising from development in these DPOs in-combination with existing consented OWF development in this region. SNH advised that it considers it necessary for "regional surveys on seabird density and SPA connectivity to be undertaken in these DPOs to establish whether these species are present in sufficient numbers for some or all of the sea area within E1 and E2 to be subject to the same temporary restriction on development as applied at E3 and NE2-NE6 or whether and where they are sufficiently low as to enable leasing and consenting to proceed with no further Plan mitigation measures required." SNH advised that the recently published updated foraging ranges[10] further supported the application of this mitigation measure and the increased mean-max foraging ranges for both kittiwakes and razorbills (as well as gannets). SNH advised that these updated foraging ranges should be used to support future iterations of the Plan and in any project-level assessment for development arising from the current Plan.

Technical Advisory Group and addressing knowledge gaps

5.2.6 SNH highlighted that it had concerns regarding inconsistencies in the documentation presented for consultation regarding the plan-level mitigation measures for ornithology and the role and function of the (as named) Advisory Group and Stakeholder Project Steering Group(s) referred to in the documentation. SNH highlighted the establishment of the Advisory Group should not be delayed until plan adoption and that it wished to be represented on this grouping. SNH are represented on both the Technical Advisory Group and Ornithology Working Group to be established upon adoption of the Plan (see further, Post Adoption Statement (2020)).

5.2.7 SNH highlighted that more data and detailed analyses around flight heights over water would be particularly valuable in assessment of (cumulative) risk and noted that migratory pathways of Whooper swans from Iceland could also potentially transect POs (in particular, N2, N3 and N4), further supporting the need for a wider updated review of migratory pathways. This knowledge gap has been highlighted within the Post Adoption Statement and will be addressed via existing research fora (e.g. the ScotMER Ornithology Sub-Group) as well as the Ornithology Working Group (to be formed upon adoption of the Plan).

5.2.8 SNH advised that existing plans for post-consent monitoring are likely to include proposals for bird tracking and collision/behaviour monitoring. SNH advised that it considers that, whilst extra resources to support/expand this work would be welcomed, it would need to be planned and co-ordinated with other developer(s) and the relevant Regional Advisory Group(s) to ensure best-value.

5.2.9 SNH advised that the reference to the further collection of oceanographic and ecological data is sensible, but that the scale at which such data is collected must be appropriate, to enable understanding of seabird movement (i.e. relate to the foraging or migratory range of the species being considered). SNH advised that there may be a significant amount of such information which is already being routinely recorded, particularly in relation to fisheries science, which could be used to consider seabird distribution.

Migratory bird species (all regions)

5.2.10 SNH stated that the recommendation included at section 10.7.11 of the HRA Report, "to consider possible in-combination effects arising from development within DPO SW1, with respect to Whooper swan feature of the classified Upper Solway Flats and Marshes SPA and the proposed marine extension, as further detail of the Round 4 leasing emerges" should be included as a mitigation measure. As SW1 has now been removed from further consideration, this has not been recommended as a mitigation measure as a result of this AA.

Ornithology - general

5.2.11 SNH advised that it considers that the assessment of sensitivity for collision impacts for species such as kittiwake and gannet has been underestimated. SNH consider that the assessment of sensitivity included at Section 6 and Table 9 of the HRA Report should be 'High' and not 'Medium', given that collision impacts are the driver for the conclusion of AEOSI for a number of developments located in the Forth and Tay and Moray Firth regions. SNH consider the statement provided in the HRA Report that, "sensitivities at a population level are also likely to be inherently lower than for individuals" is misleading, as it is both individual risk of mortality from collision and status of impacted, including SPA, populations which determines overall sensitivities.

5.2.12 SNH further consider that the categorisation of seabirds provided at Table 8 of the HRA Report (categorising seabirds by foraging mode, nocturnal flight/diving activity and nesting location) may present an over-simplification of the impacts and may be potentially misleading. SNH advised that there is a growing recognition of the importance of understanding the extent of nocturnal and twilight activity when assessing collision risk to seabirds and that this may vary between season, age class and breeding status.[11] SNH further advised that it is unclear what basis has been used for scoring within Table 8 as no supporting references are provided. SNH advised that the scoring for Arctic skua, great skua and Arctic tern ('No' for Nocturnal Activity) contradicts Furness and Wade (2012). SNH advised that the information presented in the Table is too simplistic and the conclusions are not sufficiently evidenced or supported by the latest available information. SNH advised that this is an increasingly important area of impact assessment and therefore, this should be given further consideration in any future or revised HRA Report, including more nuanced categorisations. ABPmer have advised that the divergence from the figures provided in Furness and Wade (2012) is due to the use of different references. ABPmer agree that Table 8 could be amended to present a more nuanced characterisation and updated references, but consider that this does not alter the conclusions of the assessment presented. ABPmer consider that the information above Table 9 provides sufficient detail regarding references/sources.

5.2.13 SNH consider it is unclear why some impact pathways have been given a lower sensitivity score, particularly;

  • Presence of structures resulting in an exclusion/displacement of species from the area; and
  • Visual disturbance and exclusion from areas, as a result of surveying, cable and device installation/operation and decommissioning activities and movements of vessels.

5.2.14 SNH consider that the score of 'medium low' during the operational phase does not reflect evidence presented in the HRA Report regarding large scale displacement from operational OWF and the high sensitivity to visual disturbance for certain species (e.g. divers).

5.2.15 SNH further stated that it considers that the HRA Report does not acknowledge the terrestrial aspect which will be required to fully cover large gull activity within assessment.

Marine Mammals

5.2.16 SNH advised that it considers that the delivery of OWF developments under the Plan would be greatly facilitated by the completion of regional 'strategic' marine mammal surveys, to inform licensing and consenting decisions, rather than relying on site-specific surveys (linked to individual projects). These surveys would be used to characterise and quantify marine mammal usage and cover broader areas (e.g. around clusters of POs) and incorporate sound recorders. The need for further strategic-level survey work has been highlighted within the Post Adoption Statement and will be discussed and considered via the existing research mechanisms, such as the ScotMER Marine Mammal specialist receptor group.

5.2.17 SNH commented that the information presented in Tables 14 and 15 of the HRA Report is not clear whether it is displaying sensitivity or risk.

5.2.18 SNH advised that the greatest level of impacts will arise during the construction phase of the Plan. SNH welcomed the commitment to require plan-level HRA to identify necessary mitigation mitigations and consent/licence conditions.

5.2.19 SNH advised that there would be no adverse effect on the integrity of any SAC or cSAC with marine mammal qualifying interests from the Plan alone or in-combination with other projects.

5.3 Joint Nature Conservation Committee ("JNCC")

5.3.1 In its response, dated 25 March 2020, JNCC[12] advised that it supported the systemic and iterative planning process undertaken to date. JNCC consider that the consistent application of plan-level mitigation measures will be critical to the success of the Plan.

5.3.2 JNCC stated it is fully supportive of the iterative plan process (as outlined in the HRA Report at section 11.4-11.5) and requested further clarity regarding the 'ownership' of the various parts of the iterative plan review process. JNCC indicated that further clarity was sought regarding what would trigger (adequate justification) earlier review of the Plan. JNCC provided further comments on the Advisory Group (as named), including its membership and the need for Terms of Reference and the potential need for further receptor-specific groups (i.e. marine mammals). Further detail regarding the iterative plan review process and Technical Advisory Group is provided in the final Plan and Post Adoption Statement.

5.3.3 JNCC further stated that it considers that Marine Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland should consider the recent work undertaken by The Crown Estate in relation to a Cable Route Protocol. The Plan and HRA Report do not consider cable routes to shore in detail and these matters will be addressed at a project-level, via project-level assessment and licence/consent conditions (as appropriate).

Ornithology responses

5.3.4 JNCC stated that it strongly supports the plan-level mitigation proposed for DPOs NE2-NE6 and E3, although it considered that this would effectively "delay consent in these DPOs until the scientific evidence from research and post consent monitoring suggests further capacity… may be feasible." JNCC sought further clarity on how this process would be undertaken by the Advisory Group (as named). JNCC also stated that there were discrepancies in the terminology around plan-level mitigation measures for these DPOs between the various documents presented for consultation.

5.3.5 JNCC stated that it considers DPOs E1 and E2 should be subject to the same mitigation measure as DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6 but did acknowledge that the evidence required in order to facilitate opening up these DPOs, or parts of these DPOs, to developers may be less onerous than the other DPOs. JNCC stated that it considers a first step would be to establish the presence, and numbers of, birds within and across these DPOs and potential connectivity to relevant SPAs. This might highlight whether ongoing restriction was necessary across whole of, or only parts of, these DPOs. Such evidence could be available within a few years, as opposed to the likely longer timeframes that would be required to collect strategic evidence of impacts that would be required to re-evaluate the other DPOs within the temporal moratorium. JNCC stated that it would be keen to work with Marine Scotland and other relevant parties to help define the regional- level survey work required in this region.

5.3.6 JNCC queried why the following pSPAs (for which it has responsibility) had not been screened into the assessment, which it considers meet the outlined criteria:

Table 6 JNCC comments - pSPA not screened in



Seas off Kilda pSPA
Seas off Foula pSPA (Fulmar (breeding))



Seas off Kilda pSPA
Seas off Foula pSPA (Fulmar (breeding))



Seas off Kilda pSPA
Seas off Foula pSPA (Fulmar (breeding))



Seas off Kilda pSPA
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex pSPA
Seas off Foula pSPA (Fulmar (breeding))



Seas off Kilda pSPA
Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex pSPA
Seas off Foula pSPA (Fulmar (breeding))

5.3.7 JNCC, however, noted that that the inclusion of these pSPAs would not alter the conclusions of the Plan regarding AEOSI, given the conservation objectives of the pSPAs impacted.

5.3.8 JNCC further queried the statement provided at section 6.3.4 regarding the potential impacts of loss of habitat (also raised by RSPB Scotland) and how the avoidance of key feeding sites would be ensured. JNCC stated, given the conservation objectives of the marine pSPAs, it is important to ensure that development (inside or outside of the pSPAs) does not affect prey availability within the pSPAs such that AEOSI occurs. JNCC therefore, suggest that sites should not damage key sources of prey which then might become available within pSPAs (e.g. breeding or nursing grounds for key forage species that are known to be linked to prey availability within pSPAs).

5.3.9 JNCC provided suggested amendments to the text for additional clarity. JNCC further queried to what extent previous research has considered marine birds and underwater noise (sections 6.7.7 to 6.7.11 of the HRA Report) and how this understanding relates to the type of noise disturbance generating by windfarm construction, operation and decommissioning.

5.3.10 JNCC advised that Table 9 of the HRA Report should indicate a degree of variability of sensitivity to pressures between species (e.g. physical damage to species or exclusion/displacement from non-physical disturbance may be higher for certain species than others).

5.3.11 JNCC further highlighted that concerns regarding in-combination assessment relate to "existing and therefore any further" offshore wind development (i.e. not just existing development). JNCC further stated that it considers section 11.6.4 of the HRA Report is an inaccurate portrayal of JNCC advice and that DPOs E1 and E2 should be subject to the same 'temporal mitigation' measure as DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6. JNCC consider that surveys are required to establish numbers and distributions of key species within E1 and E2 and connectivity with SPAs, in order to determine if/or which parts of the DPOs warrant ongoing moratorium with E3 and NE2-NE6.

5.3.12 JNCC consider that additional knowledge gaps exist in relation to accurate and robust estimates of flight height and speeds for key species affected by collision (e.g. from a combination of tracking or LiDAR or other appropriate methods). JNCC further highlighted that it may be helpful to document evidence needs at a project-level for proposals within certain DPOs (e.g. impacts on certain migratory species), particularly where these needs have not been apparent from previous/existing developments.

Marine mammals responses

5.3.13 JNCC stated that it considers that the North and North East regions are already subject to consider offshore activity and further development in these regions could result in prolonged disturbance from the construction of consecutive projects. JNCC stated that the potential impacts of such prolonged disturbance on marine mammal populations are unknown. JNCC highlighted the need for strategic-level research into the impacts of multiple projects to marine mammal populations.

5.3.14 JNCC provided comments only for the SACs for which it has responsibility, e.g. harbour porpoise. JNCC stated that it defers to comments from SNH on the inshore sites (see above).

5.3.15 JNCC stated that it has no concerns regarding impact pathways resulting from potential development, given the distance between the DPOs and the harbour porpoise SACs and lack of overlap between the area of disturbance and SACs. JNCC advised that there would be no LSE on the harbour porpoise SACs as a result of development within the DPOs.

5.3.16 JNCC provided advice regarding DPO SW1 and the North Channel SAC, which is located adjacent to the DPO, however, this DPO has not been progressed as a final Plan Option and this advice has not been considered within this AA.

5.3.17 JNCC provided comments regarding potential impacts from the clearance of unexploded ordnance associated with development. JNCC agree that this impacts should be assessed and mitigated at a project-level but stated that, currently, potential injury from large devices cannot be mitigated to negligible levels, without the use of noise abatement measures or deflagration. If those alternatives/mitigation measures are not feasible, devices should be cleared in conjunction with a European Protected Species ("EPS") licence for injury. JNCC provided detailed comments on how these issues should be considered and assessed at a project-level.

5.4 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Scotland) ("RSPB Scotland")

5.4.1 In its response,[13] RSPB Scotland highlighted that it considers project-level assessment will be essential for all DPOs. RSPB Scotland welcomed the fact that several proposed DPOs are located further from shore, in deeper waters, which is it considers "is likely to reduce the impacts to seabirds, particularly during the breeding season."

5.4.2 RSPB Scotland provided general comments on the planning process, as well as specific comments on the DPOs and Sustainability Appraisal reports. RSPB Scotland stated that it considers that, in addition to a strong plan-led approach, further investment and effort is required in relation to environmental monitoring and research to support decision-making processes and protect the marine environment. RSPB Scotland reiterated that it considers the cumulative impacts from approved offshore wind projects in UK waters already pose a risk to the long-term conservation status of several seabird populations.

5.4.3 RSPB Scotland reiterated that its previously submitted comment that nearshore areas are used more intensely by a range of seabird species, especially during the breeding season, thus indicating that these areas are of greater ecological sensitivity (particularly during this season). RSPB Scotland highlighted that some DPOs overlap with these higher-utilised areas, presenting a clear additional risk to some seabird populations (e.g. those DPOs located in the Moray Firth). RSPB highlighted that the cumulative impacts of the DPOs, with the existing Scottish and rest of UK offshore wind farm projects (including those consented, operational and in planning), often located closer to shore and/or in shallow sites, will be a major and necessary consideration in future assessment(s).

5.4.4 RSPB Scotland provided comments on DPOs and NE5 and SW1 which have not been included in the final Plan and, therefore, these comments have not been included in this AA. Detailed comments on each of the DPOs were provided, as summarised below:

Table 7 RSPB Scotland - Consultation Responses - Individual DPOs


RSPB Scotland comments:

The site is a migratory flyway - significant numbers of geese, ducks and waders and other key species (e.g. corncrake) transit this area, with some being nocturnal migrants.

Area is subject to breeding and passage seabird movements, passage events can be high in numbers and birds are weather driven, so it is difficult to predict/model a storm-blown seabird interaction. In-combination barrier effects are likely to occur.

The area overlaps with areas known to be utilised by species sensitive to offshore wind development, including kittiwake, razorbill and guillemot.

DPO: North

RSPB Scotland comments:

Development across multiple DPOs in this region will require careful consideration of cumulative impacts on bird species, particularly focussing on migratory species and flyways, with increased turbine heights, as well as the consideration of collision risk, displacement and barrier effects to seabird populations.

Migration pathways for migratory bird species transiting from the UK towards the Faroe Islands and Iceland intersect DPOs in this region and development within multiple DPOs could result in cumulative barrier effects, increased collision risk and increased energetic requirements for these birds.


RSPB Scotland comments:

This area overlaps with areas known to be utilised by species sensitive to offshore wind development including kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill. Potential connectivity to several SPAs as outlined in the SEA. Scandinavian-Russia migratory species (passerines, geese, waders etc) pass through these areas and potential impacts are difficult to predict but will require specific consideration in any project level assessments. Consideration of turbine height, as outlined in the SEA, will be necessary.


RSPB Scotland comments:

This DPO is in a major migratory flyway - significant numbers of ducks, geese and waders transit this area with some being nocturnal migrants. Areas subject to breeding and passage seabird movements, passage events can be in high numbers and birds are weather driven so difficult to predict/model a storm blown seabird interaction. N2 considered to be poorly located in the context of these migratory flyways. In combination barrier effects are also likely to be a key concern requiring specific assessment. N2 and N3 are close to the North Rona and Sula Sgeir Seabird SPA. Most of the qualifying seabird features are in unfavourable declining condition with the exception of gannet and storm petrel.

This DPO also overlaps with areas known to be utilised by species sensitive to offshore wind development including kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill.


RSPB Scotland comments:

Comments as per N2 above. Further research and specific mitigation will be necessary, as set out in the SEA


RSPB Scotland comments:

There is a possibility that there could be impacts on red-throated diver breeding on the Lewis Peatlands SPA and commuting between feeding grounds in or around N4 and breeding grounds on the peatlands. N4 is also quite close to the Flannan Isle seabird SPA.

This DPO is located close to migratory pathways especially for species breeding in Iceland and wintering in the UK, including wildfowl and whooper swans. N4 is also an area used heavily by foraging and migrating gannets.

DPO: North East

RSPB Scotland comments:

We agree that within the North East region, development across multiple DPOs could result in significant cumulative collision risk and displacement impacts on key seabird species. We also consider there may be potential impacts to birds on migratory pathways. These concerns are detailed in full in the HRA Report and DPOs NE2, NE3, NE4, NE5 and NE6 are therefore classed as being 'DPOs subject to higher levels of ornithological constraint' and require that sufficient scientific evidence, which reduces the level of risk to an acceptable level, is made available. We also agree that this should therefore delay the progression of licence and consent applications within these DPOs, until such time that further evidence, research and knowledge around mitigation is available to support decision-making in this region.

It is proposed, therefore, that development will only be able to progress at DPOs NE2-6 where sufficient scientific evidence can be provided to enable a further assessment of the environmental risks. RSPB Scotland understand this further assessment will be in the form of a renewed Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) of the plan and for these sites to proceed then the Appropriate Assessment is required to reach a conclusion of no adverse effects on site integrity to the Natura 2000 network. Need bird monitoring.


RSPB Scotland comments:

The Plan acknowledges that inshore waters east of Shetland are of high importance and used by high numbers of seabirds. The SEA states that bird usage of NE1 is generally low but does also acknowledge there are hotspots of high bird activity overlapping with SE extent of NE1.

In view of the above, we recommend an adjustment is made to the extent of DPO NE1 to remove the section with high seabird records, thereby reducing potential for impacts on these species.

There is mention of migratory bird species in transit through NE1 but no detail is given. Scandinavian-Russia migratory species (passerines, geese, waders etc) pass through these areas. This activity and the risks posed to these species is a specific issue requiring further consideration for this DPO.


RSPB Scotland comments:

These span a vast area of sea with the easternmost sites located further from shore.

Seabird distribution estimates indicate that this region is used during the breeding season, particularly for species transiting north south. Scandinavian-Russia migratory species (passerines, geese, waders etc.) pass through these areas and potential impacts are difficult to predict. NE4 & NE5 are highly sensitive due to potential in-combination impacts with existing Moray Firth offshore wind projects that are either being constructed, consented but not yet built and in planning, all impacting the same receptor colonies.

DPO: East

RSPB Scotland comments:

These DPOs pose risks to bird species, including collision risk and displacement, as well as potential impacts to birds on migratory pathways. There is a need to take into account existing and planned offshore wind farms, specifically the potential for increased in-combination impacts to seabirds.

The HRA report identifies these concerns regarding the scale of the potential in-combination impacts on key seabird species from development at DPOs E1 and E2. We agree therefore that further regional survey effort and discussion will be required (as outlined in section 5.2.2) before development can progress in these DPOs.

DPO: E1-E3

RSPB Scotland comments:

DPOs E1, E2 and E3 present a particularly high risk of additional seabird population impacts to the cumulative pressures posed by the consented and planned offshore wind development in the Firth of Forth and Tay (and other east coast demonstration projects).

Furthermore, Scandinavian-Russia migratory species (passerines, geese, waders etc.) are likely to pass through these DPO areas. Potential impacts on these species are likely to require further assessment at the project level and should be considered further via the plan level mitigation process. We support the need for further regional-level survey effort and consultation would be required.

5.4.5 Further, RSPB Scotland provided detailed comments on the mitigation measures proposed in relation to DPOs E1 and E2, and E3 and NE2-NE6. RSPB Scotland stated that the DPOs E3 and NE2-NE6 are subject to high levels of ornithological constraint due to the predicted in-combination impacts associated with consented and existing operational offshore wind farm projects. Other DPOs, including but not limited to NE7-8 and E1-2 will present additional risks to the same receptor seabird colonies where cumulative impacts are currently significant. This additional risk may be less pronounced during the breeding season as seabirds are constrained to the vicinity of their colony. However, the non-breeding season impacts may occur at these DPOs as individual birds disperse from their colonies. The whole lifecycle effects must be considered in the cumulative impact assessment. RSPB Scotland consider that the cumulative impacts, for some species, from existing operational and consented offshore wind farms in Scotland and wider UK waters presents risks of UK population level effects. RSPB Scotland consider that this issue must remain a key consideration as the Plan progresses and stated that it supports the need for further spatial planning with the regions.

5.4.6 RSPB Scotland consider that impacts from non-marine (terrestrial) development should have been included within the scope of the HRA assessment, given the potential for onshore development and offshore development to have cumulative impacts on certain species, such as divers. Divers may be impacted at their terrestrial breeding grounds and/or their offshore feeding grounds.

5.4.7 RSPB Scotland consider that the caveat included at section 6.3.4 of the HRA Report is unfounded and not consistent with the statements made at section 6.3.1. Section 6.3.4 states, "However, while all species are considered to be of high sensitivity to this risk [direct loss of seabed habitat during construction and operation], sites would only occupy a small proportion of the foraging ranges and avoid key feeding areas, therefore the residual significance of such effects would likely be at most medium." RSPB Scotland consider that there is the potential for habitat loss to cause significant risks, particularly if the extent and distribution of supporting habitats is limited.

5.4.8 Further, RSPB Scotland consider that the summary provided at sections 6.6.5 and 6.6.8 of the HRA Report do not acknowledge issues associated with comparability, or lack of outputs from empirical data sets and models. These sections provide a summary of recent research/monitoring examining collision rates. RSPB Scotland further consider that the statements at section 6.6.11 are unsupported. Section 6.6.11 states, "At this time, the sensitivity of seabirds to collision risk during the operational phase is considered to be medium: however, it is acknowledged that this is a developing area of research with several recent studies indicating a much greater avoidance behaviour… Sensitivities at a population-level are also likely to be inherently lower than for individuals."

5.4.9 RSPB Scotland stated that the proposed mitigation measures required clarification and that any review of the Plan must include an updated environmental assessment, including updated HRA, to take account of new data, evidence and research outputs. Any amendments to the Plan must be supported by the updated HRA. The Plan will be reviewed at Year 2 after adoption and further assessment will take place at this juncture, if amendments are required. Scottish Ministers may choose to undertake the review process at an earlier juncture, if sufficient evidence is produced to justify this change in timescale.



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