(1) what research her Department is undertaking to establish the potential impact of offshore wind farms on common scoters; and if she will make a statement;
(2) what action her Department is taking to ensure that common scoters are protected from adverse impacts of proposed offshore wind farm developments; and if she will make a statement.
The DTI itself has not commissioned any research on the potential impact of wind farms on common scoter specifically. A DTI report published in 2001 assessed the effects of offshore wind farms on birds. The report reviewed all contemporary published data from both UK and overseas studies and looked at the effects, if any, that wind farms have on birds including common scoter.
More recently, a Strategic Environmental Assessment has been completed in advance of the second round of offshore wind farm development. The Environmental Report resulting from the Assessment considers the full range of impacts that might arise from wind farm activity including those affecting birds. The Report also identifies additional studies that need to be carried out. These include further work on the distribution and main flight paths of seabirds including migratory, feeding and roosting patterns and their behavioural response to wind farms.
The University of Wales at Bangor is close to completing a project on the potential displacement of birds (especially common scoter) from benthic feeding areas because of the impact of wind turbines. The Bangor study is being carried out on behalf of COWRIE (Collaborative Offshore Wind Farm Research in the Environment), a body which includes members drawn from the Crown Estate, Government, offshore wind farm developers and environmental groups.
Before any offshore wind farm can be developed, a number of statutory consents are required—especially under either the Electricity Act, the Food and Environment Protection Act (FEPA) and the Coast Protection Act or under the Transport and Works Act and FEPA. As part of the application process for Electricity Act and Transport and Works Act consents, the applicant has to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment, the product of which is an Environmental Statement. This document addresses the potential environmental impacts (including those affecting bird populations) of the projects under application. In determining the application, the Secretary of State will consider any likely impacts on the environment including on any European sites in line with the requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Any decisions about granting consents for offshore wind farms will consider advice provided by the statutory nature conservation bodies and other interested parties about their impact on the marine environment.
Any consent granted in response to an application may include conditions that will minimise and monitor impacts. Since the Food and Environment Protection Act specifically addresses the protection of the marine environment, it is likely that conditions relating to seabirds would be incorporated into any licence issued under this Act.