Assessment of progress towards the achievement of Good Environmental Status for hydrographical conditions.
The extent to which Good Environmental Status has been achieved
The UK continues to achieve its aim of Good Environmental Status for hydrographical conditions.
How progress has been assessed
Step 1: We agreed characteristics of Good Environmental Status for Hydrographical Conditions
In the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012), the UK set out the following “Characteristics of Good Environmental Status” for Hydrographical Conditions:
“The nature and scale of any permanent changes to the prevailing hydrographical conditions (including but not limited to salinity, temperature, pH and hydrodynamics) resulting from anthropogenic activities (individual and cumulative), having taken into account climatic or long-term cyclical processes in the marine environment, do not lead to significant long-term impacts on those biological components considered under Descriptors 1, 4, and 6.” (Descriptors 1 4 and 6 refer to biodiversity, food webs, and sea floor integrity, respectively).
Step 2: We set targets
The existing marine licensing regime (Marine and Coastal Access Act (HM Government, 2009) and National derivatives) in the UK requires developers and regulators to consider any potential impacts of proposed developments on hydrographic conditions, including cumulative effects, and that potential impacts be appropriately mitigated and monitored. If existing regulatory requirements are followed, no additional management measures are deemed necessary. In the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012) the following target was therefore adopted:
“All developments must comply with the existing regulatory regime and guidance should be followed to ensure that regulatory assessments are undertaken in a way that ensures the full consideration of any potential impacts, including cumulative effects at the most appropriate spatial scales to ensure that Good Environmental Status is not compromised.”
Step 3: We set criteria and indicators to assess the extent targets were achieved.
In the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012) the following criteria and indicators were adopted under “Spatial Characteristics of Permanent Alterations/Impact of Permanent Hydrographical Changes”:
- extent of area affected by permanent alterations
- spatial extent of habitat affected by the permanent alteration
However, in practice these elements are not currently monitored directly, but through means of monitoring programmes to assess biodiversity. This is consistent with the Revised European Commission Decision specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment of marine Good Environmental Status (European Commission, 2017).
Step 4: We monitored the licensing system to ensure the continuing effective implementation of existing processes
The UK regulatory licensing regime is largely implemented by the Marine Management Organisation in English waters and offshore Welsh waters, Natural Resource Wales in inshore Welsh waters, Marine Scotland in Scottish waters and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Irish waters. Additional licensing requirements for certain activities are undertaken by other regulators including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ministry of Defense, Crown Estate and Harbour Authorities. The responsibilities of the regulators are summarised the Marine and Coastal Access Act (HM Government, 2009, part 4) the Marine (Scotland) Act (HM Government, 2010, part 4). Each regulator is aware of, and is implementing, their obligations.
By ensuring the licensing system continues to be applied, impact assessments are carried out on all proposals that have the potential to result in significant long-term adverse impacts on hydrographical conditions and appropriate management measures are taken where necessary. To date there have been no significant developments of relevance to Hydrographical Conditions.
Step 5: We monitored prevailing conditions
Assessments of a number of ocean processes have been undertaken to keep a check on how the general prevailing conditions in UK seas are changing in order to develop a general baseline. These included tidal elevations and waves (using automatic systems), and salinity, temperature and pH profiling (through monitoring/research programmes). Oceanographic currents are not directly monitored.
Step 6: We monitored research and worked across OSPAR
Work has been carried out with the research community and neighbouring countries in OSPAR to develop a coordinated approach to addressing hydrographical conditions, that is in line with best practice and is based on the best available evidence. The UK is also engaged with European and international initiatives, for example the Copernicus programme MyOcean, to develop and improve understanding of prevailing conditions. The UK is engaged in initiatives to develop techniques for identifying, assessing and addressing cumulative and in-combination effects of human activities on hydrographical conditions.
Progress since 2012
No specific monitoring programme for Hydrographical Conditions has been developed. Hydrographical conditions in UK waters are relatively well monitored. Considerable advances have been made in our ability to assess ocean processes and our evidence-base and modelling capabilities are now fairly well developed, particularly for tides, currents, salinity, temperature and pH profiling. There is a need for clear reference points against which we can assess the prevailing conditions in the physical environment and seek to determine the broader impacts of large-scale developments on ecosystems. These can include the development of monitoring and assessment tools, including models.
The UK Marine Strategy Part Two (HM Government, 2014), stated that no specific monitoring programme would be developed for Hydrographical Conditions. The existing planning and licensing system, which applies the requirements of the environmental impact assessment (HM Government, 2017), Strategic Environmental Assessment (European Commission, 2001), Habitats Directive (European Commission, 1992) and Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000), will allow the detection of any potential large-scale hydrographical changes arising from offshore developments.
The monitoring and modelling of hydrographic conditions will continue alongside engagement with wider European and worldwide initiatives.
Programme of measures
The Marine Strategy Part Three (HM Government, 2015), set out details of a programme of measures designed to record and manage human activities that might have adverse effects on marine ecosystems and animals at population level. For Hydrographical Conditions, the systems in place ensure that proposals for developments with the potential to cause significant long-term impacts on hydrographical conditions are adequately assessed and mitigation measures applied where appropriate. Any proposed large-scale developments that have the potential to affect hydrographical conditions are recorded. This confirms whether there is a need for any additional licensing, monitoring, or assessment requirements for Government, marine licensing authorities or developers. These systems are well-established and robust.
The key measures are:
- marine licensing, as introduced by part 4 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and part 4 of the Marine (Scotland) Act (HM Government, 2009, 2010)
- Planning Act 2008, Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006, national policy statements and the National Planning Framework (HM Government, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2018)
- marine planning, as provided for in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 (HM Government, 2009, 2010, 2013)
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive (85/337/EEC; European Commission, 1985), Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 (as amended) and Harbour Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations Northern Ireland 2003 (as amended) and terrestrial planning (HM Government, 2003, 2007)
- Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC, Annex I; European Commission, 1992), Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 and Offshore Habitats Regulations 2007 (as amended) (HM Government, 1995, 2007, 2010
- River Basin Management Plans developed under the Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000) and shoreline management plans
Information regarding prevailing conditions will continue to be required to develop a baseline. However, hydrographical conditions in UK waters are relatively well monitored and modelled with regular assessments being undertaken. It is important that the impacts of human developments at local or sub-regional scales are set against increasing evidence of wider regional scale shifts in hydrographic conditions, as a result of changing climate and increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. By using this evidence, the licensing and consent processes may be appropriately adapted. The UK has a number of monitoring programmes and projects (for example: Marine Scotland Sciences’ offshore and inshore Long-Term Monitoring Programme, the European Union Global Monitoring for Environment and Security project, now known as Copernicus and its programme MyOcean project) which support the development of this baseline. As new technologies become available (for example autonomous underwater vehicles) they will be trialled alongside existing tools that measure hydrographic variables.
The UK will continue to engage with European and international initiatives to develop and improve its understanding of prevailing conditions.
In addition, Marine Plans, when in place, will provide the framework for the licensing and consents process and will be subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (European Commission, 2001).
The Revised European Commission Decision 2017/848 (European Commission, 2017) requires that Member States shall establish threshold values for the adverse effects of permanent alterations of hydrographical conditions, through regional or sub-regional cooperation.
Achievement of targets
The target proposed in 2012 (HM Government, 2012) has been fully achieved and continues to be considered fit for purpose. The existing planning and licensing system is well-established and robust. The results of Environmental Statements related to major planning applications are available online.
Indicators used to assess targets
The Ocean Processes Evidence Group monitors a number of indicators of prevailing conditions including sea surface temperature however, no additional indicators were developed to assess anthropogenic changes to hydrographical conditions.
We will continue to assess significant infrastructure developments and their potential impacts on hydrographical conditions. Marine Plans, when in place, will enhance the regulatory framework for the licensing and consents process.
We will continue to work with OSPAR in relation to cumulative effects, and to identify future potential developments likely to be of relevance to this Descriptor. This is particularly important in light of the anticipated increased pressure on the marine environment resulting from larger developments such as large-scale wind farms and tidal lagoons.
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European Council (1992) ‘Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora’ Official Journal of the European Union L 206, 22.7.1992, pages 7-50 (viewed 1 October 2018)
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