'Irreversible losses': Wildlife expert fears for North Sea habitat

Horsey Gap seal Picture: STEPHEN SQUIRRELL

North Sea wildlife is facing a variety of threats - including loss of habitat and food sources - Credit: STEPHEN SQUIRRELL

The North Sea off Suffolk could be facing "irreversible wildlife losses" because of the impact on its environment of the growing number of windfarms.

RSPB policy officer Helen Quayle told a Parliamentary sub-committee that the energy industry was destroying habitats and food sources.

The House of Lords EU Environment sub-committee is examining the environmental impact of energy developments in the North Sea as the government calls for more offshore wind turbines to provide a four-fold increase in electricity generation from wind power.

Suffolk already has sizeable windfarms off its coast and the Planning Inspectorate is currently assessing applications for ScottishPower Renewables’ (SPR) application for a Development Consent Order for its plans for the East Anglia One North (EA1N) and East Anglia Two (EA2) offshore wind farm.

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The giant Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm off Felixstowe/Harwich - Credit: ALAN O'NEILL

The two projects would cover more than 400 sq km of the North Sea, with a 142 turbines, generating 1700 megawatts of power, enough electricity for nearly 1.5million households.

Ms Quayle said infrastructure in the North Sea was having an impact on a wide range of wildlife.

The sea was in a "poor state" with declines in species populations and breeding success, and habitat loss and displacement and a reduction in food availability. Creatures such as harbour porpoises, sandeels and kittiwakes were suffering particularly.

She said: "The North Sea is now is littered with cabling from energy infrastructure and this changes the habitat of the seabed.

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'So for example if you had a sand bank, and you put cabling through that that is then covered with rock armouring to protect the cabling.

'If you're a sandeel and you need to live in a seabed that's a big problem, it's modified your environment.

'Sandeels are really important species in the North Sea, they're a keystone species part of many food webs for other fish species for our seabirds.

"What we have started to see in the North Sea is this picture of threats and issues arising at every level of the food web and every part of the habitat. We are now at the stage where we face irreversible wildlife losses."

The sub-committee is drawing up a report on the North Sea and hearing evidence from a wide range of witnesses.

Trudi Wakelin, director of licensing, marine planning and Blue Belt at the Marine Management Organisation, said a wide range of issues needed to be examined, including the interaction between various sea users, including shipping, and the impact of displacement activity caused by new uses.

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