Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by English Nature


  1.1  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We work for wildlife in partnership with others by:

    —  advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities and individuals on nature conservation in England;

    —  regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;

    —  enabling—others to manage land for nature conservation through grants, projects and information;

    —  enthusing—and advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  1.2  We have statutory responsibilities for nationally important nature conservation sites—Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the most important of which are managed as National Nature Reserves.

  1.3  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.


  2.1  English Nature's interest in the electricity sector derives from the impacts of emissions from electricity generation, and from the location of generating plant and associated infrastructure (including transmission), on biodiversity and natural features. Gaseous emissions, especially carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, have made major contributions to climate change, acidification and eutrophication. Land take can also be significant, as can water demands for cooling purposes and temperature effects from cooling water outflow.

  2.2  The severity of these impacts is clearly linked to the prevailing policy context under which electricity is generated. In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus was on large coal-fired power stations, supplemented by nuclear, but subsequent privatisation has led to important changes. Contemporary energy policy is becoming increasingly gas-based, with moves towards more local energy production, greater use of renewables and less reliance on nuclear.

  2.3  The policy shift from centralised coal-based electricity generation towards distributed generation based on gas and renewables is, on the whole, beneficial to biodiversity, as the environmental burdens of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen from the industry continue to decline. However, the potential environmental impacts of schemes which could be proposed under the renewables umbrella should not be overlooked, as some may pose threats to the nature conservation resource.


  3.1  English Nature believes that investment in renewable energy, coupled with standards that include environmental protection, will support Government's environmental objectives and energy policy aims. Renewables can make a considerable contribution to sustainability and the achievement of targets for the reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases (Kyoto and domestic) and acidifying gases, both of which have damaging impacts on wildlife.

  3.2  English Nature recognises that all sources of energy will have some form of environmental impact. There will be critical limiting factors relevant to renewables, and these must be considered in relation to environmental protection and management, including the conservation of wildlife and natural features.

  3.3  The potential impacts of establishing, operating and decommissioning renewable energy schemes is, therefore, of concern to English Nature, and environmental assessment of project proposals in relation to sensitive and protected sites is clearly necessary (see Annex 1). The renewables industry must ensure that the special interest features of SSSIs, particularly those of international importance, are not threatened by their operations, and that appropriate management is delivered to maintain these features in favourable condition. English Nature also recommends that the technical development of renewables should be accompanied by monitoring and research programmes, in which assessment and mitigation of impacts would be a key part.


  4.1  At present in the UK, all identified marine candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which will form part of the Natura 2000 network, are on or adjacent to the coast. There are no sites that are wholly at sea. However, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is currently undertaking a project to identify further sites in the offshore environment. This follows a change in policy by the UK Government to apply both the Birds and Habitats Directives to the entire UK continental shelf.

  4.2  The first phase of the project will identify suitable sites in waters beyond 12 nautical miles from land. In relation to the Habitats Directive, sites in this zone are likely to be for reefs and shallow (under 20 metres in depth) sandbanks. Sites may also be identified for harbour porpoise and (under the Birds Directive) for seabirds. It is expected that the results will be provided to Government by late summer 2001. In undertaking the study, it is possible that further suitable sites will be identified within 12 nautical miles of the shore, but there is uncertainty as to how such sites might be taken forward. In the period prior to identification of possible new Natura 2000 sites, all potentially suitable habitat must be treated with care, ensuring that these areas are not damaged or altered in a way that might prejudice their selection.


  5.1  English Nature advocates that sustainable development principles should underpin all areas of policy development (which should also be subject to strategic environmental assessment) and believes that the concept should be placed at the heart of policies for all sources of energy, including renewables. Biodiversity is a key indicator of sustainability, and gives a measure of the extent to which environmental sustainability has been achieved.

  5.2  The development of renewable energy technologies in the UK since 1990 has been greatly assisted by the protected market niche provided through the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO). English Nature was concerned, however, that the NFFO contracting process appeared to be sealed from the environmental policy framework promoted by Government, in which all policies and programmes are appraised for their environmental implications. English Nature believes that continued support is needed to "force the pace" in the renewables industry and equip suppliers for the eventual transition into the open electricity market, but recommends that contracts under the new Renewables Obligation should be awarded in the light of the environmental costs attached to each.

12 February 2001

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