There are 119 species of bird which make significant use of the marine environment around the UK (seabirds, seaducks and diving birds). These will interact with various offshore industry activities including oil and gas, offshore wind, wave and tidal development, fisheries, shipping and other human activities.
JNCC provides advice to government, regulators, seabed licensing authorities, industry, environmental consultants and NGOs regarding impacts of offshore industry on marine birds to support their management and avoid adverse impacts on protected sites and wider bird populations from human activities.
JNCC has a specific advice function for offshore waters. We provide advice at a number of stages from national marine plans right down to individual project impact assessments. We also provide advice to support the UK's Overseas Territories regarding impact assessments for marine birds around their territories.
For example, we provide advice on how to incorporate appropriate environmental criteria during planning to allow high-risk environmental areas to be considered in leasing decisions. In addition, we provide strategic support to the other statutory nature conservation bodies and to industry to find strategic solutions to solving shared understanding and evidence needs.
Why is it a problem?
Human activities in offshore waters have the potential to impact UK and international seabird and marine bird populations in a number of ways, if not managed appropriately.
Renewable energy is crucial to help combat climate change, but if inappropriately sited and managed can lead to risks to birds. These risks can include direct mortality from collision with turbine blades as well as sub-lethal effects. Sub-lethal effects can arise via displacement from key foraging sites and/or as a consequence of the additional energy expenditure required to fly around windfarms to reach foraging grounds (barrier effects).
Oil and gas development carries a small but real risk of accidental release of large quantities of hydrocarbons, which can have significant impacts for marine birds.
Protected sites network
The UK has designated a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect birds and their important habitats throughout the UK on land and at sea. JNCC is responsible for managing SPAs which include waters occurring beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. Such management includes considering the impact of plans or projects (such as marine energy production developments) on SPAs which occur in waters beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. We also assist the other statutory nature conservation bodies across the UK in developing strategic evidence base and processes for managing SPAs in waters around the UK.
JNCC's strategic research
JNCC is in a prime position to understand the strategic research and evidence needs across the UK in order to better understand, mitigate and manage effects of offshore industries on marine birds. We are leading on a number of initiatives which involve working together with various partners to progress key research needs, for example we are leading the The Red-throated Divers Energetics Project, and providing support for the Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF).
JNCC provides advice on the risk of accidental capture of marine life in commercial fishing gears (so-called bycatch). We are helping Defra and the Devolved Administrations to produce a Plan of Action to better understand, and where necessary, reduce bycatch of marine birds in waters around the UK, in collaboration with stakeholders. This complements a similar initiative for cetaceans.
Projects such as these help to inform understanding of the impacts of multiple pressures on seabird populations, and inform future management of our seas, including the planning of large-scale renewable energy development, whilst tackling climate change and protecting our wildlife and natural heritage.