Winds Of Change

The successful bidders of the Crown Estate’s tender competition for the next generation of offshore wind farms were announced this morning (8 January, 2009), and Natural England commended the Crown Estate on a robust selection process which has taken proper account of the impacts on wildlife.

Round 3 is an ambitious development Round representing the largest potential use by area of UK seas apart from fishing that could have a sizeable impact on marine wildlife and habitats. There are nine zones in which offshore windfarms will be developed. Natural England has worked closely with the Crown Estate on its proposed ‘Zonal Appraisal and Planning Process’, which will form the overall guidance for developers and will include nature conservation advice.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, said: “We are pleased to have been fully engaged in the Round 3 process so far, advising on known areas of sensitivity which are best to avoid or will require careful consideration from an environmental perspective. This zonal approach represents a clear opportunity to place windfarms where they will have the least impact on marine wildlife, sea birds and seabed habitats.”

She continued: “We want to work closely with today’s winners to get the right projects in the right places. But there is still much to do and many challenges remain. The nine zones are mainly located in areas where environmental surveys have not yet been carried out. Developers will have to answer challenging questions about the impacts that building and operating windfarms in these zones may have on seabirds and marine mammals in particular. We commend the Crown Estate on its programme of ‘Enabling Actions’, such as its aerial surveys of birds which will create a snapshot of which birds use each zone; and developers will find this information extremely useful.”

Helen Phillips concluded: “There is a lot to learn from the Round 1 and Round 2  windfarm development process, and Natural England is keen to work with today’s successful bidders to create flagship projects with strong environmental credentials in English territorial waters.”

The Crown Estate’s announcement today comes in the middle of Natural England’s 12-week formal consultation on proposed new ‘Natura 2000’ marine protected areas. Natural England ran a successful workshop in October 2009 with the offshore wind industry to ensure that it understands the interactions which might arise between offshore windfarms, the possible Special Areas of Conservation and potential Special Protection Areas and the existing designated sites within the Natura 2000 network. It will continue to work closely with the industry on all future proposals for marine protected areas.