Sectoral marine plan: post adoption statement

Sets out the changes between the draft and final sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy in accordance with Section 18(3) of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”).

D Research Requirements to Support Plan Implementation

D.1 Identification of research requirements

The planning process and Sustainability Appraisal identified potential gaps in knowledge and data, which may need to be addressed at a plan and/or project level. In particular, it identifies that collaboration between governmental bodies, non-governmental organisations and industry on research issues, to determine a consistent and comprehensive evidence baseline, will support future offshore wind development.

The research requirements identified in the Sustainability Appraisal (as summarised at Table 4) span a range of receptors and may be relevant nationally, or to specific Plan region(s). Work is already ongoing to address a number of these research questions via strategic-level research programmes, or may be addressed via project-level survey and monitoring efforts over the coming years.

In particular, the Habitats Regulations Appraisal identifies the following key research requirements, in order to address uncertainties regarding cumulative impacts on key seabird species and colonies:

  • The level and type of scientific evidence which would be necessary to conclude whether or not the level of ornithological risk associated with development in Draft Plan Options ("DPOs") E2 and NE2-6 falls within acceptable limits; and
  • The scope and requirements for regional surveys and research related to DPOs E1 and E2.

These research gaps will be addressed via the research package outlined at section D.2.1.

As more offshore wind projects progress through the consenting and construction phases and technology develops, it is anticipated that further research and data gaps may be identified. These emerging research requirements will be considered on a regular basis, as part of the iterative plan review process (see further Annex E), to ensure that the Plan remains reflective of current scientific knowledge and understanding and accords with the precautionary principle.

Table 4 Research gaps identified in Sustainability Appraisal
Receptor(s) Source Research requirement(s)
Climate Change SEA 4.6.14 Understanding potential changes to blue carbon in future baselines, including the impacts of the Marine Protected Areas ("MPA") programme (to protect blue carbon habitats). Understanding the impacts of increased disturbance to seabed and dissolution of sequestered carbon (i.e. as a result of an increase storm intensity through climate change or changes in intensity of marine industry).
Commercial fishing SEA 4.2.41 The future of the fishing industry post-Brexit
Commercial shipping SEA 4.2.41 Cargo mapping to understand the value of cargo transported, to be considered in addition to transit frequency/density, in order to support assessment of potential socio-economic impacts.
Cultural Heritage SEA 3.8.2, 4.7.1 and 4.8.1 Uncertainties regarding the presence of submerged marine structures and buried assets, particularly at a regional scale.
Fish and Fisheries HRA 8.9.4 Potential impacts on electromagnetic fields from subsea cables on migratory fish and fish species.
Fish and Fisheries SEA 4.2.25 The distribution of migratory fish, at all life stages, including details of migratory routes.
Fish and Fisheries HRA 8.8.4 Assessing the potential impacts of particle motion – including measurement standards, instrumentation and sound exposure criteria.
Fish and Fisheries HRA 8.8.7 Noise exposure guidance and thresholds for fish species, including the provision specific data on exposure and received levels to enable thresholds to be provided for all fish hearing categories. Data gaps currently preclude the setting of thresholds for behavioural responses in fish. Data gathering in this area is compounded by highly individual limits of observing fish behaviour in the natural context.
Fish and Fisheries SEA 4.2.42 Further protection of prey species - linked to MPA network.
Fish and Fisheries HRA 8.10.3 Potential effects of low level contaminants bio-accumulated in tissues of certain fish prey.
Marine Mammals SEA 3.8.2 Limitations of existing baseline data for marine mammals, including recording bias and limited coverage of the SCANS III study.
Marine Mammals SEA 4.2.25 Basking shark distribution and breeding grounds.
Ornithology HRA Six draft Plan Options ("DPOs") (NE2 – NE6 and E3) were identified as being subject to high levels of ornithological constraint and the SMP considers that further empirical evidence is required before it can be determined whether sufficient environmental capacity for key seabird species exists, thereby reducing the risk to an acceptable level.
Ornithology HRA Two DPOs (E1 and E2) identified as requiring strategic regional survey and assessment to answer uncertainties about the potential scale of cumulative impacts in this region on seabird species (resulting from collision, displacement and barrier effects), and regarding seabird densities and behaviours in the offshore region during the non-breeding season
Ornithology SEA 4.2.25 Cause of redistribution of wintering birds across North East Europe.
Ornithology SEA 4.2.25 Impact and cause of reduction in prey species - East, West Shetland and North East Coast - oceanographic conditions.
Ornithology HRA 8.7.10 Species-specific flight and speeds required to support further assessment.
Ornithology HRA 10.9.4 Further evidence regarding the level of cross connectivity between kittiwake colonies in the Moray Firth.
Ornithology HRA 11.6.6 Consequences of displacement and barrier effects on survival and productivity and subsequent population level effects on Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot.
Ornithology HRA 11.6.6 and SEA 4.2.41 Drivers of observed changes in distribution and abundance of kittiwake, gannet, puffin, razorbill, guillemot in and around offshore wind farms.
Ornithology HRA 11.6.6 Further data regarding the movement of adult birds (during the non-breeding season) and immatures (during all seasons) and their level of exposure to cumulative effects.
Ornithology HRA 11.5.1 Seabird body mass survival rates and how these inform the SeaBORD tool for estimating the fate of displaced birds.
Socio-Economics SEA 4.3.29 Increase in tourism activity, resulting in an increase in vessel movements.
Socio-Economics SEA 4.2.41 Assessing impacts on Helicopter Main Routes.

D.2 Addressing research requirements

This section provides an overview of the research requirements which will be addressed via strategic research programmes over the next two years. The outcomes of any strategic research studies will be used to inform the iterative plan review process.

In order to minimise duplication and maximise use of resources, the existing strategic research programmes will be utilised, insofar as possible, to identify and address research gaps. For example, many of the research and evidence gaps identified in the Sustainability Appraisal and by stakeholders during the consultation period, have already been identified and/or being addressed via mechanisms such as the Scottish Marine Research Energy ("ScotMER") programme and the Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme for Offshore Wind ("ORJIP").

It should, therefore, be noted that this section is not exhaustive and will be subject to changes, as new issues arise and projects come forward.

D.2.1 Ornithology - Roadmap of actions & programme of works

The Habitats Regulation Appraisal identified that the currently predicted level of cumulative adverse effects on key seabird species and colonies is a primary constraint to the delivery of future offshore wind development in Scottish waters. This is particularly relevant in the East and North East regions, but is also applicable to projects located in English waters. There are, therefore, several work streams and research/monitoring delivery mechanisms currently in existence at both Scottish and UK levels, which are seeking to identify and address these issues, for example through tagging studies, updates to foraging ranges and improvements to assessment methodologies and input parameters.

In order to better understand the current research landscape, research gaps and potential delivery mechanisms, work is currently underway to produce a 'Roadmap of actions', to support future offshore wind planning in Scottish waters. The Roadmap will first identify the key uncertainties regarding cumulative ornithological impacts that provide constraints to unlocking Plan Options E1-E3 and NE2-NE4 and NE6, and the level of evidence required to address these uncertainties. The Roadmap will then establish whether additional research, beyond that currently planned and underway, is required to produce this evidence and how this could be delivered.

Thereafter, a detailed 'Programme of Works' will be produced, outlining the steps required to address the evidence gaps identified in the Roadmap, for example by defining the scope of regional level surveys and research work required to address uncertainties regarding potential impacts of development within Plan Options E1 and E2. Both the Roadmap and detailed Programme of Works to inform the iterative plan review process.

D.2.2 Relationship with existing research programmes

A number of strategic research programmes already exist, which are undertaking work relevant to the evidence gaps identified via the planning process. Outputs from these research programmes, where relevant, will be considered as part of the iterative plan review process. The following collaborative research initiatives exist, including (but not limited to):

  • The Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme for Offshore Wind;
  • The Marine Mammal Scientific Research Programme (managed by the Sea Mammal Research Unit);
  • Joint Cetacean Protocol;
  • The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult;
  • The Co-Ordinated Agenda for Marine, Environmental and Rural Affairs Science;
  • The Scottish Marine Renewables Energy Group; and

The Scottish Marine Energy Research Programme (see below).

D.2.3 Scottish Marine Energy Research ("ScotMER") Programme

The ScotMER Programme has been established to improve the understanding and assessment of the environmental and socio-economic implications of offshore renewable energy developments. Whilst our understanding of our marine ecosystem and the impacts of climate change is increasing, there are still knowledge gaps and data limitations remaining which result in uncertainty in current environmental baselines. ScotMER involves collaboration from industry, environmental non-governmental organisations, statutory nature conservation bodies and other interested stakeholders to identify and address high priority research works. ScotMER builds on previous work undertaken by the Scottish Offshore Renewables Research Framework.[34]

The following seven specialist ScotMER groups have been established to identify and prioritise gaps in the evidence, which are detailed in 'evidence maps'. These maps are then used to inform the supporting research. The seven specialist groups are:

  • Ornithology;
  • Marine mammals;
  • Fish and fisheries;
  • Diadromous fish;
  • Benthic;
  • Physical processes; and
  • Socio-economics.

The evidence maps provide a clear indication of the priorities, shared across stakeholders, for each receptor. The evidence maps drive ongoing and future research programmes and the maps are reviewed to stay current with emerging research and policy priorities. Further, the ScotMER approach facilitates a joint-working approach with other UK and international groups with an interest in renewables and seeks to develop and maintain an understanding of the research landscape at Scottish, national and international levels.

For example, the ScotMER programme has recently published the following research reports, which are relevant for project-level assessment and future offshore wind planning:

  • Improvements to modelling population consequences for disturbance of marine mammals ("iPCoD");[35]
  • Regional baselines for marine mammal knowledge across the North Sea and Atlantic areas of Scottish waters;[36]
  • Developing marine mammal dynamic energy budget models and their potential for integration into the iPCoD framework;[37]
  • Attributing seabirds at sea to appropriate breeding colonies and populations;[38]
  • Improving estimates of seabird body mass survival relationships;[39]
  • Scoping Study – Regional Population Viability Analysis for Key Bird Species; [40]
  • Improving our understanding of seabird behaviour at sea using GPS tag data; and
  • Developing a Bird Sensitivity Mapping Tool – Phase 1.

A number of the evidence gaps identified in the Sustainability Appraisal have already been ranked as priority gaps via the ScotMER process including, for example:

Table 5 Evidence gaps mapped to ScotMER priorities
Receptor(s) Evidence gaps ScotMER priority
Fish and Fisheries Potential impacts on electromagnetic fields from subsea cables on migratory fish and fish species. Benthic B.05 and Fish and Fisheries FF.07
Fish and Fisheries The distribution of migratory fish, at all life stages, including details of migratory routes. Diadromous Fish DF.1
Fish and Fisheries Noise exposure guidance and thresholds for fish species, including the provision specific data on exposure and received levels to enable thresholds to be provided for all fish hearing categories. Fish and Fisheries FF.02
Ornithology Redistribution of wintering birds across North East Europe. Ornithology OR.28

As research, which addresses the identified knowledge gaps relevant to the Plan progresses via the ScotMER programme, outputs will be used to provide evidence to inform future project-level assessments, as well as providing valuable input into the iterative plan review process (See further, Annex E).

D.2.4 ScotMER - Forthcoming research packages

Funding has been secured from Marine Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland to undertake a number of research projects via the ScotMER programme during financial year 2020-21. The delivery of these research packages will be facilitated by Marine Scotland and the outputs of these research packages will inform future planning and consenting processes.

Table 6 provides an overview of these projects.

D.2.5 Learning from project-level assessment and monitoring

In addition to strategic research programmes, project-level assessment and monitoring may provide data and evidence to address the identified evidence gaps. As this evidence becomes available, it will be used to inform the iterative plan review process.

The outputs of project-level assessments for currently consented projects have been used to inform the Sustainability Appraisal and the Plan. The outputs of future project-level assessment and decision-making processes will be used to inform the iterative plan review process and identify new sources of data and evidence, or emerging research methodologies or data gaps.

Post-consent monitoring requirements are incorporated into licence and consent conditions in order to:

  • Validate, or reduce uncertainty in, predictions of environmental impacts recorded in the supporting Environmental Impact Assessment of Habitat Regulations Appraisals;
  • Provide evidence on the effectiveness of mitigation measures, to inform future decisions through adaptive management processes;
  • Allow identification of unforeseen impacts; and
  • Ensure that appropriate and effective monitoring of the impacts of the development is undertaken.

In addition, post-consent conditions may also require participation in the relevant Regional Advisory Group and the ScotMER programme, which will provide another avenue for informing strategic-level research work and the iterative plan review process.

Monitoring data from operational developments has already been made available (such as Beatrice, Robin Rigg, Kincardine, Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine and the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre) and it is anticipated that further data will become available as further offshore wind farms become operational in the Forth and Tay and Moray Firth regions. The findings of project-level monitoring will be used to inform strategic research work and the iterative plan review process.

Table 6 ScotMER - Current and forthcoming research packages related to Plan evidence gaps
Project Description Receptor(s)
Roadmap of actions to address evidence gaps identified in the Scotland's draft Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind and development of a framework to evaluate ornithological compensatory measures Ornithology
Strategic review of the distribution, abundance and collision risk of migrating birds in Scottish Waters, and further development of the stochastic Collision Risk Modelling tool for assessments. Ornithology
Seabird behaviour at sea: Improving estimation of parameters used to estimate collision risk of seabirds with offshore windfarms (Stage 2). Ornithology
Feasibility study for the extending SeabORD to cover the full breeding season. Ornithology
Further development of the Dynamic Energy Budgets models for marine mammals to reduce uncertainty in assessments. Marine Mammals
Study aiming to establish consistent guidance on how potential impacts of displacement of fishing activity from renewable energy sites should be assessed, titled "Developing good practice guidance for assessing fisheries displacement by other licensed marine activities". The study will also look at the potential for this displaced activity to impact upon areas of conservation importance. Fish and Fisheries



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