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Marine Protected Areas: guidance for developing compensatory measures

Between July and September 2021, the Department for Food & Rural Affairs, Defra, sought views on their best practice guidance for developing compensatory measures in Marine Protected Areas, MPAs. The proposed guidance will assist regulatory bodies, statutory nature conservative bodies, marine developers and other public authorities whose functions may affect MPAs. In particular, it will help these groups consider how to mitigate impact on the marine environment within MPAs and how to deliver compensatory measures. The Summary of Responses was published on 22 December 2021 and can be read here.  

What is an MPA?

There are various different types of MPA, including Marine Conservations Zones, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. Together, they form an ecologically coherent network of MPAs with an objective to restore, preserve and maintain biodiversity by protecting habitats and species. In order to achieve this, environmentally damaging activities, such as development works, are restricted. 

What is a compensatory measure?

Compensatory measures are practical measures taken to offset the negative impacts of development/activities on habitats and species. They seek to maintain ecological integrity and uphold conservation objectives whilst simultaneously allowing development/activities to take place. The underlying principle is that compensatory measures must benefit the same feature that is being impacted, where feasible, and compensate for the impact in comparable proportions.

At the time of writing, compensatory measures have rarely been used in the marine environment and they are much more frequently found in terrestrial planning matters. However, with the increasing activities taking place in the marine environment, including the government’s ambition to secure 40GW of offshore wind power by 2030, the process of securing compensatory measures is likely to be necessary in the future to obtain consent.

What has the consultation concluded?

The majority of respondents to the consultation were largely in support with the proposed hierarchy of biodiversity outcomes, location of compensatory measures, and the approach that compensatory measures should be delivered at a ratio higher than 1:1. There was also a majority of support towards compensatory measures being implemented before any development or activity takes places, although the need for flexibility at times was recognised.

However, respondents have argued that the current guidance is unclear on specific mitigation and compensation measures relating to the marine environment. In particular, respondents have requested:

  • Examples of compensatory measures tailored to the marine environment;
  • Examples of additionality in practice; and
  • Clearer advice on how to operate effectively.

Defra have already confirmed that these issues will be addressed in their amended guidance by the end of March 2022.

What will happen next?

Defra will continue to analyse the responses and incorporate necessary changes into the guidance. Some responses will be addressed through the updated guidance and others will be addressed via wider workstreams and discussions across Defra and other government departments. The final version of the guidance is due to be published in spring 2022 along with a summary of changes made.

If you have any questions regarding MPAs please contact Tommy Fox and Lara Moore in Ashford's Marine Regulation & Planning team.

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