Assessing and addressing impacts in the good practice guidelines

Assessing environmental effects

Addressing environmental effects

Assessing environmental effects

These guidelines seek to identify a range of activities where the potential for adverse effects on marine interest exists as a result of port and harbour operations. The process followed in the guidelines for assessing the potential environmental impacts from port and harbour operations and identifying possible beneficial, minimal and adverse effects is based on the following assumptions and considerations:

The reasons for which individual SAC sites have been proposed for designation are varied and there is a range of different conservation interests at each site.

The differing location, size, and function of UK ports and the wide range of different operations and activities that take place within them means that environmental issues arising from port and harbour operations in marine SACs also vary greatly from site to site.

The extent to which port and harbour operations might affect marine features within an SAC depends upon a number of variables, which might include one or more of the following:

  • magnitude and frequency of operation or activity,
  • presence of sensitive habitats and species and their proximity to operation,
  • hydrodynamic conditions (tidal range, depth, tides, currents, rate of mixing),
  • sediment characteristics (size, density and quality),
  • background environmental quality (sediments, water, air),
  • existing habitat status (a habitat under stress is more likely to prove sensitive to an operation, than it would be if it were in good health at the time of the operation), and
  • seasonal variability and meteorological conditions.

The large number of variables that need to be considered in determining whether an operation or activity is likely to have an adverse effect on marine SACs and the conservation features within them, means that this judgement will have to be made on a site by site basis, and will often be specific to individual habitats or areas within a site.

Therefore, specific guidance on what operations will effect marine SACs cannot be provided within the limitations of this report. Instead the report provides generic guidance on the range of potential impacts that may occur as a result of port and harbour operations, and a summary of the factors that should be considered when determining whether an impact (beneficial, minimal and/or adverse) is likely to occur.

It should be stressed that the impacts discussed in these guidelines cover the range that might occur in the UK marine environment. The guidelines do not suggest that any or all of the ‘worst case’ impacts will be realised at any individual site.

In assessing potential environmental impacts the guidelines attempt to do two main things:

  1. relate any identified impacts back to the marine features or attributes for which the site is proposed for designation, and
  2. identify how ports and harbours should approach issues where, without effective management, their operations will cause adverse impacts on marine features.

This task has been limited to some extent by a lack of information on the impacts of port and harbour operations on specific marine features. In comparison with terrestrial conservation, information and understanding of marine conservation is more limited and dispersed, and information gaps exist on the potential impacts of port and harbour operations in European marine sites. This lack of information is at least in part due to the highly complex, dynamic and largely unobserved nature of the marine environment. It is because of this that it is extremely difficult to predict the effects of man-made changes with certainty.

Addressing environmental effects

These guidelines reflect the guiding principles of sustainable development and continued human use, alongside the conservation of biodiversity set out in the Directive and the joint DETR/Welsh Office guidance on European marine sites in England and Wales. However, these three principles may not be mutually compatible all of the time. The guidelines build on existing good practice and also provide useful guidance to all ports and harbours in fulfilling their general duty to care for the environment. When using these good practice guidelines the following general principles should be considered:

Joint DETR/Welsh Office guidance on the application of the precautionary approach should be followed (DETR & WO 1998). Whether the precautionary approach should be invoked over specific issues will need to be agreed as part of each SAC management scheme.

Additional management measures will only be required under the SAC management regime if:

  • an activity will cause the deterioration or significant disturbance to the habitats or species for which the site has been designated and the associated biological and physical processes which support them, either directly or indirectly,
  • the scale of the impact is such that it will reduce the favourable condition of the habitat or species for which the site has been designated, and
  • existing management measures are shown to be insufficient to prevent the impact and existing mechanisms cannot be adapted to deliver the conservation objectives.

A very important task of the SAC management scheme is to make a reasoned judgement about the impacts which are a genuine cause for concern, to identify the authority that has the power to address them and then to help that authority develop pragmatic solutions.

Shipping and boating operations require consideration of a number of issues, including the potential effects of ship wash, noise pollution, emissions and other discharges. In many cases the potential problems identified are difficult to avoid, but sensitive design and operation can minimise any effects on the marine features for which an SAC is designated.

It is often not within the power of a Port and Harbour Authority to take actions to control, in any meaningful manner, some of the potential impacts that may occur as a result of operations within ports and harbours, but is the responsibility of other regulatory bodies. These potential impacts may be minimised or addressed by compliance with existing relevant regulations and by providing support for programmes and initiatives led by other relevant authorities or organisations.

Where action to minimise impacts requires ports and harbours to encourage good practice in vessel operators, consideration needs to be given as to how, and by whom, motivation and incentive can be given to achieve this. In the absence of external guidance or regulation, it can be asked, ‘what action is the ship captain or boat operator likely to take which may avoid or minimise the alleged effect?’ Factors such as professional pride, the potential damage of adverse publicity and pressure from insurers may lead the ships’ master to act in a way which will minimise potential impacts.

It is always desirable to seek ways of addressing the environmental impacts of port and harbour operations that do not impact adversely on the commercial activities of existing ports, placing them at a disadvantage to other ports. There are benefits of seeking win-win outcomes that meet both the environmental and commercial goals simultaneously, rather than resorting to ‘compromise’ and ‘balance’, which means that both ports and the environment lose out.

When considering how to address impacts on European Sites it is always desirable to consider voluntary measures and partnerships first. However, relevant authorities may need to use their statutory powers, including those to introduce and enforce byelaws. This course of action should only be used where it is clear that voluntary measures would be ineffective and insufficient to achieve the conservation objectives in European marine sites.

A review of bye-law making powers for the coast has been made by DETR which has looked at the scope and purpose of the powers held by regulators, their general effectiveness and the relationship between regulation and voluntary initiatives (DETR 1998). The review stresses that authorities should pursue voluntary measures before using byelaws. Among the recommendations made in this review, it was suggested that there should be no wider enabling power for harbour authorities to make byelaws for environmental purposes or recreational management.

Byelaws provide the main means of enabling detailed management of a port. Harbour authorities have the powers to make byelaws under various legislation, sometimes dating back to Harbours, Docks & Piers Clauses Act 1847 or by the more recent powers which have since replaced this Act. However, Harbour Authorities might need to apply for new powers to create byelaws by means of a Harbour Revision Order under the Harbours Act 1964. New byelaws require confirmation from DETR Ports Division. The present process of making byelaws is slow.

Respect for the marine environment and the wildlife that lives there is an important aspect of maritime tradition and is based largely on the principle of self-management. For example, it is the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) policy that education and training are better than regulation. There is very strong motivation for them to support such initiatives through local clubs and watersport organisations, and voluntary estuary strategy mechanisms. In the spirit of self-management and education, numerous associations representing vessel owners and operators, boat users, maritime industry and ports and harbours have developed good practice guidelines for their members. These include good practice guidelines and codes of conduct produced by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), RYA, BMIF and ESPO. In addition many ports and harbours prepare their own environmental guidelines promoting good practice amongst users.

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