During January, the Government approved Hornsea Three Offshore Wind Farm – a vast development in the North Sea off the Norfolk coast which could end up covering an area of 696 sq km with wind turbines. This will have a huge impact on marine habitats and sea life.
The Wildlife Trusts support actions to tackle climate change. We welcomed the Government’s commitment to implement the Paris agreement (2015), the commitment to achieve net-zero 2050 and the declaration of a climate emergency. However, it must be recognised that as a society, we also face an ecological emergency; this and the climate emergency are inextricably linked. Healthy ecosystems play an essential role in carbon storage. Climate change cannot be stopped unless we stop destroying important natural habitats and take action to restore ecosystems. In short, we cannot tackle climate change unless we halt the biodiversity crisis.
That is why we are pleased that the government has followed the rules and approved Hornsea Three offshore wind farm with the essential proviso – that compensation will be made for harmful impacts of the development to two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and one Special Protection Area (SPA). However, The Wildlife Trusts have serious concerns regarding the compensation currently being offered and we are looking forward to working with both BEIS and Orsted to develop compensation which will allow the marine environment to recover.
Brent Geese, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries
Joan Edwards, Director of Marine Conservation and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts said “The government has made the right decision in opting to compensate for damage to internationally-important areas at sea. But the challenge now is for all involved, including BEIS, Defra, The Crown Estate, industry and ourselves, to have a rational conversation on what we do next to ensure that the ambitious target of 75-100GW of offshore wind farm energy can be delivered whilst also securing recovery in the marine environment too. If we don’t succeed in securing serious compensation for the damage to nature we will be taking our concerns to the newly formed Office of Environmental Protection.”
The huge scale of offshore wind farm development combined with poor spatial planning of infrastructure – such as the vast number of cables and associated trench-digging across the fragile sea-bed – leads to loss and damage to sensitive and rare underwater wildlife habitats. This situation is worsening as offshore development increases with real implications for wildlife. Subtidal sandbanks for example, are home to a wealth of small sea creatures which live near or are buried in the sand and mud, but in turn support food chains upon which many fish, sea birds and marine mammals such as harbour porpoise and minke whales rely. Therefore, compensation for this loss and damage is vital.
2021 marks the year when the UK will not only host COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, but also holds the presidency. President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, stated in his closing remarks at the Climate Ambition Summit in December that “Over the next ten years we must halve our emissions and restore nature”. The Wildlife Trusts challenges the UK Government to be a world leader by making the right decisions to achieve this goal. A new approach must be developed to deliver the amount of offshore wind farm energy required to meet this target which will result in the restoration of nature rather than the environmental damage we are currently seeing.
Joan Edwards continues:
“The offshore wind sector is the fastest growing of all marine industries but it is not benign – it damages the marine environment. And while we welcome ambitions to take a more strategic approach, the Government must ensure that impacts of individual projects and both the cumulative and in-combination effects are appropriately assessed and managed. We believe that there is space for the right technology, in the right place, but our efforts to produce green energy must be modernised and should not be at the expense of our wildlife.”