Robust ecological evidence base needed to inform siting of offshore wind farms, says cross-sector report

Transformative action in the planning and environmental regime is required to expand offshore wind without further degrading marine ecosystems, according to a joint report from a group of NGOs and the offshore wind sector.

A razor bill. Image: RSPB A razor bill. Image: RSPB

A report, Powering Healthy Seas, published by a collection of environmental NGOs - led by the RSPB - and the offshore wind sector, has laid out a potential pathway which would allow the government to meet its offshore wind development targets without allowing marine ecosystems to fall further into decline.

“The scale of wind farm expansion from under 15GW today to reach the government’s British Energy Security Strategy (BESS) targets of 50GW by 2030, and potentially the need to double this by 2050, will require a substantial footprint around our coasts.

“To do this safely, and in harmony with nature, we must learn from the mistakes of previous generations that have left our marine ecosystems depleted and degraded by unplanned or badly managed practices that have left marine wildlife as an afterthought,” according to the RSPB.

MORE: Big knowledge gaps in offshore wind impact on seabirds need addressing, warn government advisers

The report states that a particular handful of new elements are required in England’s planning and environmental regimes to make the expansion of offshore wind work with the natural world.  

Firstly, it says that a robust and strategic ecological evidence base is needed to inform where new wind farms should be built, to provide all parties with “a degree of certainty that developments are sited to cause as little harm as possible and enabling effective mitigation”. 

Country-level marine plans would also provide clarity to marine users according to the report - and are already in place in Scotland. 

The report also calls for impact assessments “that fully identify the cumulative impacts of multiple offshore developments” and “innovative industry standards and policy that prevent harm and better protect and restore nature”.

It adds that a “clear understanding, and application, of strategic compensation, that addresses the ecological needs of impacted species, habitats and protects site integrity” is required, alongside the development of “an equitable marine net gain system”. 

DEFRA is currently seeking views of a marine net gain system which could see developers asked for contributions towards ocean conservation projects.

Commenting, Juliette Webb, an environmental policy analyst at RenewableUK - the trade association for wind power - said: "It's vitally important that we build well-sited clean energy projects to reach net zero as fast as possible.

"We're working with the RSPB to ensure that we develop offshore wind farms in an environmentally sensitive way which protects birds and support marine ecosystems. This includes adapting the location of our wind farms and providing specially-designed safe places for birds to nest at sea."

According to the RSPB, almost all of the UK’s 25 breeding seabirds are listed with a red or amber conservation status - and this is without accounting for the impact of this year's outbreak of bird flu in wild bird colony populations