Sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy: strategic environmental assessment screening and scoping report

Sets out the proposed scope and level of detail for the assessment, as well as a description of the methodology.

5 Policy context and environmental baseline

5.1 Purpose of this section

5.1.1 The 2005 Act and 2004 Regulations require Responsible Authorities to identify the broader policy context and environmental protection objectives relevant to the plan, programme, or strategy ( PPS) that is being assessed. The immediate policy context for the development of the Draft Plan was set out in Section 2. The following paragraphs set out the broader policy environment in terms of relationships and interactions that could emerge between the Draft Plan and other PPS.

5.1.2 It is also a requirement of the 2005 Act and 2004 Regulations that Responsible Authorities provide details of the character of the environment which may be affected, including any existing pressures and the likely evolution of the environment in the absence of the PPS. The baseline information is intended to help demonstrate how the receiving environment may be impacted by the implementation of the Draft Plan.

5.2 Policy context for marine planning and offshore wind energy in Scotland

5.2.1 The following paragraphs set out the broader policy context relevant to the development of the Draft Plan. This policy context is reiterated within Figure 3.

Marine policy

5.2.2 At an international level, the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic integrated and updated the 1972 Oslo and 1974 Paris Conventions on land-generated sources of marine pollution [100] . Specifically, it added an annex covering the protection and conservation of marine ecosystems and biodiversity [101] .

5.2.3 The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive obligates Member States to develop adaptive management strategies to bring their marine environments to Good Environmental Status by 2020 as well as to safeguard the marine resources that underlie key economic and social activities [102] . It allocates responsibility for the marine environment via a regional approach that in the case of the UK, makes use of the existing cooperative framework of the OSPAR Convention [103] . The Directive is implemented within the UK via a three-part Marine Strategy [104] .

5.2.4 European Directive 2014/89/ EU serves as a common framework for maritime spatial planning across Europe [105] . It recognises that a comprehensive and consistent approach to maritime planning can prevent conflicts between sectors, increase cross-border cooperation, and protect the environment by identifying potential impacts early and pursuing opportunities for multiple uses of space [106] . Within Scotland, the principles of the Directive are enacted through the National Marine Plan.

5.2.5 The UK Marine Policy Statement provides a vision of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive, and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ that is shared by all UK countries and used to guide their respective marine management strategies [107] .

5.2.6 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 strives to help balance competing demands on Scotland’s inshore seas [108] . It introduced a duty to protect and enhance the marine natural and historic environment while at the same time streamlining the marine planning and licensing system [109] . It also contains measures intended to boost growth in areas such as marine renewables [110] .

5.2.7 The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 devolved new marine planning and conservation powers to Scottish Ministers in the offshore region (12-200 nm), in addition to providing a framework for cooperative management of the marine environment between Scottish Ministers and UK Government [111] .

5.2.8 Scotland’s National Marine Plan fulfils joint requirements under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to prepare marine plans, providing a cohesive approach to the management of both inshore and offshore waters [112] in accordance with EU Directive 2014/89/ EU [113] on maritime spatial planning. It seeks to promote development in a way that is compatible with the protection and enhancement of the marine environment [114] .

5.2.9 In the context of offshore wind and marine renewable energy, the National Marine Plan lists several objectives and policies to serve as considerations in marine planning and decision making [115] . Among these are the sustainable development of offshore wind in the most suitable locations and the sustainable development and expansion of test and demonstration facilities for offshore wind and marine renewable devices [116] .

Offshore wind and renewables policy

5.2.10 The EU Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/ EC states that 20% of Europe’s energy usage must derive from renewable sources by 2020. The 20% figure is an aggregate total made up of individual Member State targets that differ according to each State’s starting point and capacity to pursue additional renewable energy generation [117] . Mechanisms and timelines for meeting these targets are detailed in each country’s national renewable energy action plan. In November 2016, proposals for a framework of new targets including a 2030 target of at least 27% of energy supplied by renewables, was introduced [118] .

5.2.11 Scotland initially committed to obtaining 20% of its energy needs from renewables by 2020 [119] , surpassing the 15% target set for the UK as a whole. This target was later increased from 20% to at least 30% by the 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy [120] in light of a complementary increase in the 2020 target for renewable electricity [121] .

5.2.12 The Scottish Energy Strategy [122] , published in December 2017, set a target of securing 50% of total energy usage [123] from renewable sources as well as a 30% increase in the productivity of energy use across the Scottish economy by 2030. The Strategy lists renewables and low carbon solutions as a strategic priority, including exploring new opportunities for floating offshore wind.

5.2.13 Licenses for offshore wind energy developments are covered by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 for those components located within territorial sea limits (i.e. to 12 nm from shore) [124] and by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for those lying outside the territorial boundary (i.e. beyond 12 nm from shore) [125] . Onshore aspects such as cable connections are regulated by the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, with applications administered by the relevant planning authority [126] .

5.2.14 Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 mandates that the construction, extension, and operation of any offshore wind and water driven developments with a generating capacity of at least 1 MW in UK territorial waters must receive Ministerial approval [127] .

5.3 Environmental protection objectives

5.3.1 The following paragraphs present an overview of existing environmental protection objectives of relevance to the Draft Plan.

Biodiversity, Flora, and Fauna policy

5.3.2 At the European level, the Natura 2000 [128] network is the primary vehicle for meeting the collective aims of the Habitats (92/43/ EEC) [129] and Birds (2009/147/ EC) [130] Directives. These focus on the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity, with an emphasis on protecting rare and endangered wild species and natural habitats of European significance. The Natura 2000 network comprises terrestrial and marine Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. Many of the terrestrial sites are also underpinned by Sites of Special Scientific Interest [131] .

5.3.3 International policies provide a framework for the conservation, protection, and sustainable use of biodiversity, flora, and fauna. In relation to the marine and coastal environment, this includes planning for sustainable fisheries and mariculture, the protection of migratory species including birds and fish stocks as well as marine and coastal habitats, and the management of non-native invasive species. These are often set out within the context of taking an ecosystem approach to the management and restoration of marine and coastal environments. European and Scottish policy reflect the objectives of an ecosystem approach and action for priority species and habitats, with particular reference to the protection of seals and sustainable management of fish stocks. Building resilience to climate change is also a cross-cutting theme.

5.3.4 The 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity [132] is Scotland’s response to the UN Aichi Targets for 2020 [133] and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 [134] . The 2020 Challenge supplements the 2004 Scottish Biodiversity Strategy [135] and lends further support to the development of a Scottish Marine Plan and a network of Marine Protected Areas. It also seeks to preserve and restore the health of Scotland’s ecosystems at a catchment-scale and promote climate change resilience.

Population and Human Health policy

5.3.5 Directive 2012/18/ EU (the Seveso III Directive) strengthens preceding legislation aimed at reducing the incidence of major industrial accidents as well as preemptively mitigating their environmental effects, with an emphasis on limiting consequences to human health [136] . The Directive is implemented in the UK through the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 [137] .

5.3.6 The Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/ EC safeguards public health by imposing minimum water quality standards on both terrestrial and maritime bathing waters [138] . Member States have a responsibility to monitor concentrations of certain bacteria and to inform the public about water quality and beach management.

5.3.7 The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced a new right of responsible access covering Scottish onshore, inland water, and coastal environments [139] . The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 received royal assent on 22 April 2016, making minor amendments to the previous Act.

5.3.8 There are also measures in place to protect against human exposure to noise pollution and disturbance from vibration. These are entrenched in both the Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/ EC) [140] at the European level and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 [141] and Environmental Noise (Scotland) Regulations 2006 [142] at the UK and national levels, respectively.

Soil (Marine Geology and Coastal Processes) policy

5.3.9 EU Directive 2014/89/ EU (the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive) consolidated and expanded upon the fundamental aspects of the Council Recommendation on Integrated Coastal Zone Management of 2002 and the Protocol to the Barcelona Convention on Integrated Coastal Zone Management of 2010 [143] , obligating Member States to develop coastal management strategies. It aims to coordinate the development and delivery of policies across a wide spectrum of both marine and terrestrial activities, including offshore wind energy, in a way that is mindful of the natural limits of the coastal environment [144] .

5.3.10 In Scotland, Integrated Coastal Zone Management is achieved via the work of seven Local Coastal Partnerships [145] . In addition, Marine Scotland Science is responsible for monitoring, research, and regulation of certain coastal activities.

5.3.11 At present, there is no legislative or policy tool developed specifically for the protection of soil [146] . However, designations and their associated management agreements and operations often extend protection to soil as a means of enhancing the biodiversity, geodiversity, landform value, and cultural resources of the site [147] . For example, marine geology forms part of the basis for the designation of MPAs within Scottish waters [148] . Specifically, MPAs strive to protect rare and representative marine species, habitats, and geodiversity, the latter defined as the variety of landforms and natural processes that underpin the marine landscape.

5.3.12 The Scottish Soil Framework places the sustainable management of soils within the context of the economic, social, and environmental needs of Scotland [149] . The Framework identifies 13 key soil outcomes such as protecting soil biodiversity, reducing and remediating soil erosion, and tackling GHG emissions. The Framework also notes the impacts that rising sea levels and associated seasonal incursion by seawater could have on coastal soils.

Water Quality policy

5.3.13 The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships ( MARPOL) regulates accidental and operational releases of pollutants into the marine environment by the shipping industry, including oil and other chemicals [150] .

5.3.14 The EU’s Water Framework Directive (2000/60/ EC) ( WFD) was introduced as a more comprehensive approach to managing and protecting Europe’s water bodies including rivers, lochs, transitional waters, coastal waters, and groundwater resources [151] . The WFD sets out a requirement for an assessment of both chemical and ecological status and has a goal of bringing all European waters to ‘Good’ status. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive extends the requirements of the WFD into seas beyond 1 nm.

5.3.15 Scotland fulfils its water protection obligations under the WFD primarily through the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 [152] , which defines the establishment of River Basin Management Plans [153] , and the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 [154] . Other relevant legislation includes the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which applies specifically to pollution originating from industry discharges [155] .

5.3.16 The EU Floods Directive (2007/60/ EC) [156] is implemented at the national level through the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 [157] . The Directive mandates the creation of flood risk management plans for all inland and coastal areas at risk of flooding, integrating their development and deployment with existing River Basin Management Plans. Flood risk management plans are designed to minimise negative impacts due to flooding on a range of receptors, including human health, the environment, and cultural heritage.

Climatic Factors policy

5.3.17 In November 2016, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) Paris Agreement came into force [158] . The Paris Agreement is the first legally binding global climate deal and sets out aims to limit global warming to well below 2 oC as well as pursue further efforts to limit it to 1.5 oC [159] . A further long term goal is to achieve net-zero levels of global greenhouse gas ( GHG) emissions by the second half of this century. The Agreement also covers a range of other issues such as mitigation through reducing emissions, adaptation, and loss and damage [160] .

5.3.18 The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 creates the statutory framework for GHG emissions reductions in Scotland. It sets a target for a reduction in emissions of the basket of Kyoto Protocol GHGs [161] of 80% by 2050 as compared to the 1990/1995 baseline levels, alongside an interim target of a 42% reduction by 2020. These targets are currently being revisited through proposals for a new Climate Change Bill which recently underwent both SEA and public consultation [162] . Proposals include increasing the ambition of the 2050 target to a 90% GHG emissions reduction from baseline and an interim 2040 target of at least a 78% reduction in GHG emissions from baseline levels.

5.3.19 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 specifies a duty for Ministers and the public sector to manage and progress actions within the marine environment in a way ‘best calculated to mitigate, and adapt to, climate change so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of that function’ [163] . Scotland’s National Marine Plan [164] considers climate change in terms of how actions undertaken within the Plan can help to mitigate GHG emissions, in addition to how these actions also need to be adapted to take into account the effects of climate change. The Plan also stipulates that the development and use of the marine environment should not have a significant impact on the national status of Priority Marine Features, several of which are known for their role in carbon sequestration.

5.3.20 Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework, alongside the 12 Sector Action Plans, set out the potential impacts of climate change on individual sectors and the ways in which these sectors will need to respond to address these impacts. In the case of the marine sector, this includes the need to safeguard critical marine carbon sinks such as tidal salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and kelp forests [165] . Additionally, Scotland’s Climate Change Adaption Programme [166] lists actions such as conserving marine carbon stores in addition to highlighting the need to better understand the role of blue carbon ecosystems in carbon sequestration [167] . The role of marine planning and Marine Protected Areas in protecting these ecosystems is also noted [168] .

Cultural Heritage policy

5.3.21 The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage obligates signatories to take steps to preserve their underwater heritage both within territorial waters and as well as throughout their Exclusive Economic Zone [169] . Article 5 refers to activities that could incidentally affect underwater cultural heritage, such as offshore wind energy generation.

5.3.22 The Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee Code of Practice for Seabed Developers is a voluntary code of practice [170] . It provides a framework that seabed developers can follow to ensure their activities are sympathetic to archaeological resources. Further sources of guidance include those that set out protocols to deal with the marine historic environment developed specifically for the offshore renewable energy sector [171] .

5.3.23 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 included an article on the establishment of historic Marine Protected Areas to safeguard a wide range of heritage assets at the coast edge, on the foreshore, and out to sea, including the remains of ships and aircraft lost at sea; harbours, lighthouses, and other structures relating to transport and trade by sea; and the remains of human settlements at the coastal fringe. They extend and replace the protection previously afforded to underwater heritage by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 [172] .

5.3.24 The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 provides for the protection of archaeological heritage, including the scheduling of ‘monuments’ [173] . The Act is primarily intended for terrestrial locations but includes provision to designate submarine sites. The 1979 Act was modified by the Historic Environment (Amendment) Scotland Act 2011 [174] .

5.3.25 Our Place in Time – The Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland, published in 2014, lays out a 10 year vision for Scotland’s historic environment [175] . The vision is founded upon the fundamental aims of understanding, protecting, and valuing our historic environment, ensuring it continues to benefit Scotland’s wellbeing through its cultural, social, environmental, and economic contributions.

5.3.26 The Strategy and the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement [176] set out an overarching framework for historic environment policy in Scotland. Other relevant policies include the National Planning Framework [177] and Scottish Planning Policy [178] .

Landscape, Seascape, and Visual Amenity policy

5.3.27 The European Landscape Convention strives to promote landscape protection, management, and planning as well as achieve a more concerted approach to addressing landscape issues at the European scale [179] . The Convention presents a highly inclusive definition of landscape, specifying that protection and enhancement activities should apply equally to both ‘outstanding’ as well as less remarkable or degraded landscapes. This definition encompasses natural, rural, urban, and peri-urban landscapes across land, marine, and inland water environments.

5.3.28 At a national level, the role of Scotland’s natural heritage and landscapes in informing land use planning is set out in Scottish Planning Policy [180] . Additionally, National Planning Framework 3 acknowledges the multiple benefits we derive from landscapes, such as improved human health and wellbeing as well as contributions to our quality of life [181] . The vulnerability of landscapes to climate change is also noted.

5.3.29 SNH’s Landscape Policy Framework strives to ‘safeguard and enhance the distinct identity, the diverse character, and the special qualities of Scotland’s landscapes as a whole’ [182] . Both Scottish Planning Policy and National Planning Framework 3 give significant protection to wild land areas [183] . The National Marine Plan also sets out the consideration of wild land in addition to largely undeveloped coasts, noting that development should be considered in line with Scottish Planning Policy when planning for and taking decisions which may impact on such areas.

5.3.30 SNH has also produced guidance on ‘Siting and Designing Wind Farms in the Landscape’ that includes a section on coastal landscapes and the potential impact offshore wind farms may have on inland and offshore land and

seascape character and views, including views from boats and ferries [184] . It also states that existing landmarks like historical or navigational features (such as lighthouses), distinctive coastal landforms, coastal settlements, and areas valued for recreation should be avoided when selecting locations for wind energy development. Additional advice is provided by their ‘Offshore Renewables – guidance on assessing the impact on coastal landscape and seascape’ publication [185] .

Figure 3 Broader policy context of the development of the Draft Plan

Figure 3 Broader policy context of the development of the Draft Plan

5.4 Initial environmental baseline

5.4.1 The following paragraphs provide an indication of the content and level of detail likely to be included in the environmental baseline that will inform the assessment of the Draft Plan. The topics covered by the baseline information will reflect the proposed scope of the assessment, as previously discussed.

5.4.2 Under each SEA topic, current trends and pressures will be explored, alongside an indication of how the baseline may evolve in the absence of the Draft Plan. Information to support the baseline will be drawn from a range of sources such as:

  • Scotland’s Marine Atlas, published in March 2011 and supplemented by updated information provided by NMPi;
  • the suite of SEA studies undertaken by the Scottish Government, including on-going work;
  • environmental research studies undertaken by Marine Scotland and hosted on Marine Scotland Information; and,
  • Scotland’s Environment Web and other Scottish Government environmental sources.

5.4.3 If applicable, baseline maps are likely to be included alongside narrative summaries of the environmental baseline.

Biodiversity, Flora, and Fauna

5.4.4 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • Natura sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas) (this will include, but not be limited to, inshore and offshore designations extended in 2009 to protect their adjacent marine habitats)
  • Ramsar sites
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest with marine features
  • European Protected Species, e.g. cetaceans and other marine mammals such as seals
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan species and habitats
  • Priority Marine Features
  • habitat types
  • the ecological status of water bodies
  • the impacts of climate change on the carbon sequestration potential of Scotland’s marine environments
  • the location of key nursery and spawning grounds for commercially important fish species

5.4.5 Habitats will include marine, coastal, intertidal, benthic, and terrestrial habitats as appropriate. Links with the HRA will be developed further as the SEA progresses.

Population and Human Health

5.4.6 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • bathing water quality
  • types and levels of industrial and recreational activity in Scottish waters, including access routes

Soil (Marine Geology and Coastal Processes)

5.4.7 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • coastal Sites of Special Scientific Interest designated for their geological and/or geomorphological interest
  • areas of coastline sensitive to changes in erosion/accretion patterns (where such information is available)
  • marine sediment classifications (e.g. British Geological Survey) and seabed characteristics
  • benthic habitat type and spatial extent (e.g. as illustrated by Mapping European Seabed Habitats - MESH)


5.4.8 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • water quality indicators as determined by the WFD
  • offshore and coastal water circulation patterns and tidal ranges
  • potential pollution sources

5.4.9 The water baseline will encompass inshore, coastal, intertidal, and marine waters.

Climatic Factors

5.4.10 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • UKCP09 climate change projections and scenarios (e.g. increase in water temperatures, sea level rise, changes to the coastline, wave heights, etc.)
  • information to highlight the links between climate change and other topic areas

Cultural Heritage

5.4.11 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • World Heritage Sites
  • key historic environment features, such as Historic Marine Protected Areas, scheduled ancient monuments, and Gardens and Designed Landscapes
  • known shipwrecks
  • information on marine archaeology (where such information is available)

Landscape, Seascape, and Visual Amenity

5.4.12 Baseline information may include an overview of:

  • location and defining characteristics of designated areas, such as National Scenic Areas and Local Landscape Designations
  • an overview of existing pressures to landscape, seascape, and visual amenity in Scotland


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