The Government has set ambitious targets for offshore wind and the recent British Energy Security Strategy is clear that offshore wind has a key role to play in tackling climate change and the UK’s move towards Net Zero, setting a target to deliver up to 50GW by 2030, including up to 5GW of floating wind.
In order to meet these ambitious energy targets, it is essential that developers, regulators and examiners have clear advice and expectations regarding the use of data and evidence to support offshore wind development in English waters. Over the last 16 months, Natural England has produced a series of best practice advice documents to do just this, through the ‘Offshore Wind Marine Environmental Assessments: Best Practice Advice for Evidence and Data Standards’ project – produced in collaboration with Defra’s Offshore Wind Enabling Actions Programme (OWEAP).
The project has now concluded the first publication cycle, consisting of four documents, which provide best practice advice ranging from requirements for baseline characterisation surveys and principles for pre-application engagement, through to data and evidence expectations at the application stage and post-consent monitoring. The advice focusses on the key ecological receptors which pose a consenting risk for offshore wind projects, namely seabirds, marine mammals, seafloor (‘benthic’) habitats and species, designated landscapes and fish.
Natural England undertook extensive stakeholder and industry engagement throughout the project via a stakeholder focus group, with representatives from industry, regulators, examiners and landowners, to obtain input, feedback and advice on each phase. JNCC and Cefas have also provided technical advice.
The advice documents are considered ‘live’ and will be periodically updated to reflect evolving best practice in environmental assessments, new evidence, planning reforms or other relevant changes coming out of the Environment Act and in response to Government policy and initiatives, such as Project Speed and the recent British Energy Security Strategy.
The advice documents are helping to increase clarity for industry, regulators and other stakeholders over data and evidence requirements at each stage of offshore wind development, from pre-application through to post-consent. By front-loading Natural England advice, we hope to improve the standards of data collection, applications, assessments and monitoring, thereby leading to faster consenting decisions with greater clarity over evidence requirements and environmental impacts. This project is in line with Natural England’s Approach to Offshore Wind, which sets out how Natural England will facilitate the sustainable development of low-impact offshore wind to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies.
The project has already made waves nationally and internationally and has been shared with colleagues in Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Poland.
How to access the advice
The advice documents are currently stored on a SharePoint Online site, which will also host best practice advice for cable projects: Environmental considerations for offshore wind and cable projects - Home (sharepoint.com)
Access to the SharePoint site needs to be requested from the following mailbox: email@example.com. Please allow up to three working days for requests to access the site to be granted. Natural England is currently reviewing ways of making the advice more accessible and open access.
For any questions relating to the project, or Natural England’s other work facilitating sustainable offshore wind, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Parker, Natural England Senior Adviser for Offshore Wind