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.

6. Publication of updated seabird foraging ranges (December 2019)

6.1.1 During the preparation of the HRA Report, stakeholders highlighted that updated foraging ranges for key seabird species were due to be published by The Crown Estate, as part of its enabling actions to support the Round 4 Leasing Programme. The updated foraging ranges were published in December 2019 (Woodward et al 2019),[14] after the publication of the HRA Report and were therefore not used in the assessment presented for consultation. The HRA Report highlighted the imminent publication of these foraging ranges and stated that "consideration of any updates will be incorporated into the iterative plan review cycle".[15]

6.2 HRA Update Note & Technical Appendix

6.2.1 Following consideration of the consultation responses received, a HRA Update Note has been drafted by ABPmer, outlining the changes made to the DPOs and the implications of the publication of the updated foraging ranges (as outlined above). The HRA Update Note has been included at Appendix Six for further information. The HRA Update Note states that 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. The HRA Update Note concludes that no further mitigation measures are considered to be necessary and that the conclusions of the plan level HRA remain valid.

6.2.2 The HRA Report was been completed using the historic data (a synthesis of available tracking studies published by Thaxter et al in 2012).[16] These data, principally focussed on mean max. foraging ranges, have been referred to across multiple plan and project-level HRAs to support the screening process.

6.2.3 A 100 km buffer was used in the screening process (as agreed with the Steering Groups), which captured all sites within the buffer, irrespective of the foraging ranges of the designated species. Where Thaxter et al identified species with mean max. foraging ranges larger than the 100 km buffer, the mean max. foraging ranges were used to screen in additional SPA and Ramsar sites, including;

  • Atlantic puffin (105 km);
  • Lesser black-backed gull (141 km);
  • Manx Shearwater (330 km);
  • Northern Fulmar (400 km); and
  • Northern Gannet (229 km).

6.2.4 These foraging ranges were referred within the HRA Report to support the assessment of LSE on seabird species, in addition to species or location specific spatial evidence such as the RSPB seabird utilisation study.[17]

6.2.5 The Woodward et al (2019) study has resulted in a number of changes to the foraging ranges of seabirds, including the provision of foraging ranges for species where none had previously been presented. ABPmer carried out a comparison of the mean max. foraging ranges presented by Woodward et al (2019) (see further, Technical Note at Appendix 5) and identified that mean max. foraging ranges for the following species had significantly increased;

Table 8 Comparison of Thaxter et al 2012 and Woodward et al 2019 mean max. foraging ranges (± one standard deviation) for seabirds
Species Thaxter et al (2012) - as used in the HRA Report Woodward et al (2019)
Black-legged kittiwake 60 ± 23.3 156.1 ± 144.5 km
Razorbill 48.5 ± 35.0 km 88.7 ± 75.9 km
Great skua 86.4 km 443.3 ± 487.9 km
Great black backed gull N/A 73 km

6.2.6 The Technical Note considers the potential implications of these increased foraging ranges for the conclusions presented in the HRA Report, in addition to the spatial data utilised in the HRA Report (e.g. Cleasby et al 2020).

6.2.7 The Technical Note concludes that, whilst the increased foraging ranges presented have the potential to impact on sections of the HRA Report methodology utilised (e.g. increasing the number of DPOs which fall within the buffered SPA foraging ranges), the conclusions of the HRA Report are considered to remain valid. It is anticipated that the increased foraging ranges will be used to inform future project-level assessment.

Black-legged kittiwake

6.2.8 The increased foraging range for black-legged kittiwake would have resulted in four additional DPOs being included in the screening buffer (NE7, NE8, E1 and E2). The Technical Report does not consider that the application of plan-level ornithological mitigation measures (see later discussion re: mitigation measures) is required, however, consideration of additional spatial data provided by Cleasby demonstrates that, whilst there is potential for usage by black-legged kittiwake within these DPOs, this usage is less dense than other DPOs and therefore, application of the same level of mitigation would not be proportionate.


6.2.9 For razorbill, the increase in foraging range would lead to greater overlap with DPO areas, however, the increased foraging range still falls within the 100 km buffer utilised. Spatial distribution data demonstrates that for razorbill the areas of greater concern are generally restricted to coastal areas of shallower water.

Great skua

6.2.10 The single Scottish pSPA for which great skua is a designated feature, was already screened into the HRA Report due to its proximity to NE1. The increased foraging range will lead to an overlap with all DPOs (with the exception of SW1 and W1). Great skua are generally considered to be at lower risk from offshore wind development and, whilst the extended foraging range covers a greater area with more overlap with DPOs areas, the increase in risk is uncertain and spatial distribution of great skua is uncertain.

Great black-backed gull

6.2.11 Woodward et al (2019) provides the first published foraging range, based on tracking studies, for great black-backed gull. The new foraging range presented, however, falls within the 100 km buffer used within the HRA Report. The North East DPOs which overlap with the great black-backed gull foraging range (NE2, NE3, NE4, NE5 and NE6) are already included in the plan-level mitigation measures proposed as a result of impacts on kittiwake, which require the provision of additional information of bird distribution in this region. The Technical Note identifies that for DPOs in the North region located in close proximity to the North Rona and Sula Sgeir SPA (N2 and N3) and Hoy SPA (N1), further consideration and assessment will be required at a project-level.

6.3 SNCB response to updated seabird foraging ranges

6.3.1 In its response, dated 25 March 2020, SNH advised that the updated foraging ranges "should be applied in future revisions to the Plan as well as in all OWF consenting arising from the Plan". SNH further advised that the publication of updated foraging ranges further justifies the need for further regional-level survey work of seabirds within DPOs E1 and E2 (as proposed in the draft Plan) to establish if and where kittiwake, gannet and razorbills exist in sufficient numbers to contribute to the cumulative impact on East Coast SPAs.

6.3.2 In response to the publication of the updated seabird foraging ranges, and other developments in relation to impact assessment, key stakeholders met on 20 February 2020 to discuss current bird guidance and tools for impact assessment.[18] The outputs from this workshop will be used to produce guidance for developers in connection with development within the Plan Options identified, including the development of guidance relating to the use of updated foraging ranges presented by Woodward et al (2019). The Workshop Report notes that SNH recommends the use of Woodward et al (2019) for impact assessments.

6.4 Further consultation (post March 2020)

6.4.1 Following receipt and consideration of the formal consultation responses, further discussions took place with SNH, RSPB and JNCC (on 23, 24 and 29 April 2020 respectively) to discuss options to amend DPOs NE4 and NE5 and the potential implications of any changes to these DPOs for NE6. In particular, whether the removal of either or both of these DPOs would provide sufficient capacity for NE6 to proceed without the application of plan-level mitigation measures.

6.4.2 JNCC, SNH and RSPB confirmed that, due to the publication of updated foraging ranges since the publication of the HRA report, NE6 should be subject to plan-level mitigation - regardless of the status of DPOs NE4 and NE5.

6.4.3 SNH indicated that it may be beneficial to have targeted aerial breeding season survey data for NE6 and/or kittiwake tracking data from the Troup, Pennan and Lion's Heads SPA to inform future decision-making processes.

6.4.4 Following further consideration of consultation feedback on the draft Plan, Scottish Ministers have taken the decision to remove NE5 from the Plan. The removal of NE5 has not resulted in any amendments to the application of mitigation measures to NE6.



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