Background to ports and harbours in marine SACs

Ports and harbours in European marine sites

Responsibilities of ports and harbours

Ports and harbours in European marine sites

There are over 80 ports and harbours located in or adjacent to possible and candidate marine SACs in the UK (Figure and Appendix). When also considering those ports and harbours located in or near classified and potential SPAs with an intertidal element (Appendix E), there are altogether over 110 ports and harbours which operate within and around European marine sites. The terminology used related to ports, harbours and harbour authorities is available here.

On closer examination many estuaries, inlets and bays contain smaller ports, harbours and piers, which are not indicated in the figure. There are a large number of ports which are not regarded by DETR ports division as commercial trading ports, but which report fishing statistics via the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) or the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department (SOAEFD). For example, in addition to the eight principle ports located along the shores of the Solway Firth, there are a further 14 small piers, harbours, ports and slipways found within or near the marine site which straddles the border between England and Scotland (Solway Firth Partnership 1996). Therefore the total number of ports and harbours actually within or near European marine sites will be higher.

The ports and harbours found within or near European marine sites are highly varied in terms of their location, size, and function, and as a result undertake a wide range of different operations and activities which vary greatly in terms of their frequency of occurrence and extent. For example, in marine SACs there are:

  • the major commercial ports of Southampton, Milford Haven and Bristol,
  • the important recreational harbours of the Solent and the South West, including the harbours of Plymouth Sound and Falmouth Bay and Estuary; and
  • the fishing harbours of the North West, such as Loch Maddy and those found in the Solway Firth and Morecambe Bay.

In addition, there are a number of important commercial ports located in or near marine SPAs, including the ports of Felixstowe, Immingham, Grimsby, Mersey, Tees and London.

The purpose for designation of a marine SAC in which a port or harbour is located also varies greatly. For example, Cardigan Bay is recommended for a single species, the Bottlenose dolphin, whereas many sites are recommended for a range of both marine and coastal habitats, such as the Wash, Solway Firth and the Pembrokeshire Islands. The potential impacts of port and harbour operations within these different sites are therefore highly variable and must be considered and managed on a site-by-site and port-by-port basis.

Responsibilities of ports and harbours

The rights and responsibilities of port and harbour authorities derive from the legislation that creates them and gives them powers. The authority can only operate within its powers. Most harbour authorities are governed by their own local legislation, which is specific to each authority and tailored to meet the needs of each port/harbour. Under these local acts and regulations, the port and harbour authority is responsible for administering the ports and coastal waters within its jurisdiction, for the main purposes of ensuring the navigation and safety of vessels using them. Ports and harbours have a legal responsibility over the marine environment as local lighthouse authorities under the Merchant Shipping 1894 Act.

The concept of environmental management in ports and harbours is not new. They have a statutory duty to balance nature conservation with their other duties, under the Transport and Works Act 1992. However, before this duty to the environment was introduced, ports and harbours had been managing the marine environment for decades, but the process has been largely informal. Each major function of the port requires consideration of the environment within its normal management operation. The task of formalising the environmental management process, without duplicating or dislocating tried and tested systems, in each department is formidable. Yet, the absence of a formal identifiable environmental management system has made it difficult to explain to those outside the port and harbour industry the sheer extent of environmental activity that takes place. It should be noted that the conduct of ports is governed by their financial vulnerabilities which need to be balanced with the Transport and Works Act's general injunction that they should discharge all their responsibilities with environmental considerations in mind.

Many ports and harbours located in or near European marine sites already conduct their every day activities and operations according to environmental codes of conduct or good practice guidelines. Some ports have developed their own guidelines, others follow existing guidelines, such as those produced by the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) and British Marine Industries Federation (BMIF), or abide by environmental guidelines provided by local estuary management plans and strategies.

The Habitats Regulations require port and harbour authorities to have regard to the requirements of the Habitats Directive in the exercise of any of their functions, and enables relevant authorities, including port and harbour authorities, to develop a single scheme of management for a European marine site. Whilst this places new duties on port and harbour authorities, it also empowers them to play an active and equal part in the development and implementation of a management scheme.

The implementation of the Habitats Directive in the UK has raised a number of concerns for ports and harbours with regard to the potential impacts of marine SACs on their operations. Their key concern is the need to provide assurance of continued shipping and boat access to ports and harbours and the necessity of allowing ports and harbours to evolve with the needs of their customers within the context of the Habitats Directive. The overwhelming message from representatives of the port industry, country conservation agencies and other interested bodies at the ports and SACs workshops was the need to adopt a pragmatic approach to SAC management. The production of these guidelines is a first step in this process.

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