Commercial port and harbour operations


The safe and sheltered anchorage provided by the numerous estuaries, inlets and bays located around the UK coastline make them ideal locations for ports and harbours. These same estuaries, inlets and bays contain a host of diverse habitats, including subtidal sandbanks, intertidal flats and wetlands which are rich in diverse marine life, reflecting the designation of a selection of such sites as SACs.

There are over seventy ports and harbours situated in and around marine SACs in the UK which range from large multi-facetted ports, to small, specialised cargo, fishing and recreational harbours. Out of the top ten cargo ports identified in the UK (HMSO Port Statistics 1992), two are located within or near marine SACs, namely Milford Haven and Southampton. Other major ports operating near marine SACs include, Ramsgate, which is among the top five UK passenger ports, Bristol, and Portland. The majority of ports and harbours located within or near marine SACs are smaller. Whilst, individually these small ports are of lesser economic importance, they are of great local importance and together form an important contribution to the UK’s economy.

The marine sector in general contributes 27.8 billion to the UK's Gross Domestic Product (Pugh & Skinner 1996). Although ports directly contribute only 3% of that total, port and harbour infrastructure underpins many of the other marine sectors, including leisure (which contributes 21%), shipping (7%) and ship building (6%).

At its simplest, a port is simply a location where traffic changes between land and sea modes of transport. The breadth of this definition embodies the fact that ports are not all the same. They range from simple wharves to major complexes. A port may only be responsible for the conservancy of the waterway (that is controlling safety and navigation), such as the Port of London. Alternatively it may manage the entire operation, from ship arrival at the seaward limit, through to movement of the cargo on to the land based transport system. Within the UK, the latter is rare and it is more common for the port owner to provide an infrastructure, which is then used and operated by a variety of independent concerns. In consequence it is not straightforward to define the functions of a port. SAC management schemes need to recognise this variety and complexity of interests if they are to be effective.

The high profile of tanker accidents and the resulting oil pollution has resulted in shipping being viewed by the public as of cause for concern. Whilst, these incidents are regrettable and highlight the need for vigilant operation and effective response plans, shipping remains the least environmentally damaging form of transport and is recognised as such in the Eighteenth Report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1994). The main environmental benefits of shipping in comparison to other forms of transport include efficient and low consumption of energy, lower noise and most atmospheric pollutant levels, lower incidence of major accidents and pollution events, and relatively compact infrastructure and therefore reduced loss of natural habitat in environmentally sensitive sites.

Commercial shipping operations within ports and harbours can be divided into two broad categories, vessel movements and cargo operations, which are discussed in this section. Maintenance of commercial vessels is an important operation which takes place in the many commercial ship yards and dry docks located within or near candidate SACs. The issues arising from the maintenance of vessels and harbour structures are discussed in Section 4. Although similar issues are encountered when undertaking these maintenance activities in commercial shipyards or in recreational harbours, it is important to note that the scale and situation are somewhat different (M. Pearce, Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association personal communication 1998).

Recreational activities within the confines of ports and harbours are dealt with in Section 4. However, the overall management of vessel movements, commercial and recreational, in ports and harbour areas are discussed in this section.

Existing regulations

Environmental impacts of port and harbour operations

Means of avoiding, minimising and addressing the potential impacts of port and harbour operations