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High time for smart offshore energy plan

Tuesday 1 May 2018

MOVES to build some of the world's largest wind farms around the UK coast highlight the need for more integrated marine spatial planning, scientists say.

Two huge energy farms in the North Sea provoked clashes over the impact on tourism and the health of bird species as the‘carve-up’ of our seas leads to increasing conflict between economic, social and environmental interests.

“The offshore energy sector is growing rapidly, making our already crowded oceans a highly competitive space,” explains Dr Katherine Yates, a lecturer in global ecology and conservation.

“The big issue for marine planning is how to organise the trade-off between local, national and international interests –that’s to say – who wins and why?”


For instance, she argues that objections to wind farms, be them from local council, tourist organisations, or in the case of the Horsea Two project, the RSPCA, have to compete with higher level planning objectives, namely national priorities for renewable energy.

In her new book, co-edited with Professor Corey Bradshaw, of Flinders University, Australia, she posits that transparent marine spatial planning that incorporates meaningful stakeholder participation “should be the mechanism” for dealing with the inevitable trade-offs between competing interests.

Offshore Energy and Marine Spatial Planning(Routledge) examines the combined ecological, economic, legal and social implications of the conflicts over space.

Katherine, who teaches on a Masters course in wildlife conservation, says: “As many countries, including the UK, endeavour to meet international obligations to cut carbon emissions, offshore wind, wave and tidal energy – referred to as ‘ocean energy’ is expected to expand significantly, with as much as 7% of global electricity generated in the oceans by 2050.

Competing needs

“Effective marine management needs to balance the often competing needs of existing and emerging users with the capacity of the marine environment to support them.

“This is made all the more difficult by traditional modes of governance and management, which was, and is in many cases, still sector-based.”

“There is a long history of these types of dispute on land, but the issue is now even more intense at sea, where no-one truly knows who owns what, or how there can be co-operation and co-location within the same waters," adds Professor Corey.

The book brings together leading academics and practitioners from around the world to both address the issues and highlight the opportunities presented by the expanding offshore energy industry.

No silver bullet

The book’s 16 chapters focus on the direct and indirect impacts of all energy-generation types (wind, wave, tidal, oil, and gas) on marine environments, and how to do effective spatial planning of the ocean for energy generation, or extraction. Beyond discussing biology, it also examines a hotbed of divergent values, views and aspirations at the core of marine-planning issues.

Dr Yates adds: “There is no silver bullet, marine spatial planning will always be challenging and filled with conflict,especially with the power differentials associated with planning with offshore energy. There is no right way to do, but there are better ways.”

For more about research in Geography, Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Management at The University of Salford, see our research pages.

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Gareth Hollyman, Senior Press & PR Officer (Science)

0161 295 6895