The UK environment ministry designated Dogger Bank - set to become the site of the world's largest offshore wind project - under the EU Habitats Directive. Germany and the Netherlands have already designated their parts of the zone. Designation is aimed primarily at protecting the harbour porpoise, which in recent years has declined in numbers in the North Sea.
The consortium developing the zone, Forewind, which comprises UK energy firms RWE Npower Renewables and SSE Renewables, Norwegian renewables company Statkraft and Norwegian oil and gas firm Statoil, said it had been aware of the proposed designation of Dogger Bank as a draft SAC for some time and intended to ensure its development proposals incorporate a proper consideration of the directive's relevant provisions.
Forewind's head of offshore development Gareth Lewis said that some of the most comprehensive environmental surveys on Dogger Bank have already been undertaken. "New seabed maps coupled with species information gathered from more than 100 seabed samples will give us confidence in understanding the animal communities in this important sandbank habitat," he said.
He added that an impact assessment by the government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee stated that offshore wind, oil and gas activities are likely to account for less than 1% habitat loss in the area. "Our initial calculations suggest less than 0.2% of the SAC area could be impacted by the whole wind farm," Lewis said.
According to the WWF, SAC designation did not mean all activities and development at Dogger Bank would be restricted. Lewis agreed. "We believe that the wind farm and the new SAC can coexist," he said. "(We) look forward to working with the regulatory authorities to share our comprehensive biological data and also consider how to best manage long-term operational activities to minimise any impact on the environment."
Dogger Bank is a large submerged sandbank 100 kilometres off the North Sea coast of eastern England. At 15-36 metres in depth, it is some 20 metres shallower than the surrounding water. The 9GW wind farm is due to generate its first electricity in 2014.