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Guidance on noise management in harbour porpoise SACs 2020

Marine JNCC Publications Protected Areas Advice Cetacean Consultations Habitats Directive JNCC report series Marine Marine protected area UK Species 652 653 654


In June 2020, JNCC together with Natural England (NE) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland (DAERA) published advice to competent authorities on what could constitute Significant Disturbance within harbour porpoise SACs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland marine areas. In addition, guidance is provided on a noise management approach to keep underwater noise within levels that do not affect a site’s integrity. The advice and guidance are the culmination of several years of inter-agency discussion as well as consultation with regulators, industry and Non-Governmental Organisations.

The areas inside and around the SACs have, over the last couple of decades, experienced a certain level of noise disturbance from offshore industries. Harbour porpoise are sensitive to underwater noise associated with these activities and field studies have shown that animals respond to the disturbance over relatively large areas, for example by moving away or changing activity patterns. Despite historical levels of noise, the cetacean survey data collected over the last two decades showed the SACs to sustain higher persistent densities of harbour porpoise than other areas, suggesting that animals may cope with a certain level of disturbance whilst still favouring those areas. More recently, the installation of offshore wind turbines has created temporary noisy areas with lower densities of porpoises. The scale of offshore wind installation planned over the next decades in some of these areas raises the potential for unprecedented disturbance, on top of a continuing background of noise from oil and gas and other sources. Given the now protected status of these areas, it is the responsibility of competent authorities to set the bar higher than in other areas within the species range, in terms of regulation, risk assessment, mitigation and monitoring applied to all industries producing noise and associated disturbance.

The Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies, when developing advice on the management of noise, have tried to devise an approach that could be equally applied to all relevant industries, one that reduces accumulated noise at times of the year where porpoise occur in particularly higher densities and one that incentivises industry to look for less noisy alternatives and ways to reduce their disturbance footprint in time and space.

In addition to the noise guidance document (JNCC Report No. 654), there are two other documents with supporting information:

  • Background to the advice on noise management within harbour porpoise SACs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (JNCC Report No. 653) – This report sets out the background to the development of advice and guidance on managing activities resulting in noise and disturbance to harbour porpoise in SACs. It also addresses questions posed over the last couple of years of consultation with stakeholders clarifying the rationale behind the advice/guidance.

  • Consultation Report: Harbour porpoise SACs noise guidance (JNCC Report No. 652) – This report addresses comments received from several stakeholders consulted during February and March 2020 on the evidence base supporting the guidance and the approach taken. It provides all comments received, including those on implementation. Whilst the consultation did not focus on implementation aspects, those comments were welcomed as these will help inform future discussions with industry and regulators.

JNCC, NE and DAERA are committed to periodically reviewing the noise guidance to ensure it remains workable, effective and takes account of best-available evidence.

Resource type Publication

Topic category Environment

Reference date 2020·06·01

This guidance document lays out JNCC, Natural England and DAERA’s advice on the assessment of significant disturbance in UK Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for harbour porpoise. Scottish Natural Heritage will provide separate advice for the Scottish harbour porpoise SAC and Natural Resources Wales will provide separate advice for sites which are their joint responsibility with JNCC and/or Natural England.

Responsible organisation
Communications, JNCC publisher

Limitations on public access No limitations

Use constraints Available under the Open Government Licence 3.0

Metadata date 2020·06·02

Metadata point of contact
Communications, JNCC

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