The offshore wind industry is set to play a crucial part in Scotland's economy in coming decades as part of efforts to generate 50% of Scotland's energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to reach Net Zero by 2045. At present, there are five operational offshore wind farms in Scottish waters, with a further six under construction, or having received planning consent. As part of the Sectoral Marine Plan (SMP), the ScotWind Leasing rounds seeks to add further offshore wind capacity. However, several of the areas identified for development are subject to the highest levels of ornithological constraint, as defined by the SMP. The Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) process concluded that further empirical evidence was required before it could be concluded that the risk to seabird populations within Plan Options (POs) E3, NE2, NE3, NE4 and NE6 could be reduced to an acceptable level.
The overarching aim of this work is to develop a roadmap of research required for addressing the evidence gaps identified in the SMP and its HRA in order to provide the evidence base to re-assess impacts to seabird populations within sites under the highest levels of ornithological constraint as part of the iterative plan review process. A Theory of Change approach was used in order to identify the outcomes, outputs and actions that were required in order to achieve the goal of unlocking offshore wind potential in Scottish waters by addressing the ornithological evidence gaps identified in the SMP. Theory of Change is a top-down approach, and over a series of workshops, stakeholders were invited to identify the sequence of events and actions that were required to deliver the overall goal. Key outcomes included:
- Reduced uncertainty over connectivity between plan options & designated features of SPAs in the breeding and non-breeding seasons
- Reduced uncertainty over collision, displacement, and barrier effects in each PO
- Understanding of population-level impacts on the populations concerned
- Understanding the contribution of marine spatial planning and mitigation to reducing impacts and unlocking plan option potential for Offshore Wind Farms
Stakeholders were then invited to identify the key outputs required to deliver these outcomes (e.g., improved spatial models of seabird distribution), and the actions required to deliver these outputs (e.g., regional aerial surveys). Finally, these actions were prioritized and used to identify a series of projects that could be used to provide the empirical evidence required to determine whether or not it could be concluded that the risk to seabird populations in the areas subject to the highest ornithological constraints could be reduced to an acceptable level.
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