The Crown Estate and the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) have today announced the launch of a new £3.5m research project. Led by OWIC, it aims to improve the shared understanding of environmental compensation options relating to offshore wind’s interface with nature, and better coordinate the consenting process for offshore wind projects. This important work will help meet the recommendations laid out by the UK’s Offshore Wind Champion, Tim Pick, in his recent independent report commissioned by DESNZ, which called for an aligned approach on the delivery of strategic compensation.
Subject to contracts, £3m will be provided by The Crown Estate via the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, which it leads in partnership with the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ). In addition to funding from The Crown Estate, participating OWIC developers  will contribute around £0.5m financially as well as providing significant in-kind contributions, including access to schemes and specialist technical resource.
The process of developing offshore wind farms requires a thorough assessment of potential impacts on the environment and other sea users, both positive and negative. As part of these assessments, developers must detail steps taken to avoid, mitigate or compensate for negative impacts. In certain cases, offshore wind developers are required to provide environmental compensation measures to offset potential residual negative impacts. These are generally positive actions taken to support protected habitats or species in locations that may be separate to where a specific development has been proposed. As the pipeline of offshore wind development grows, there is an increasing need for developers, Government and stakeholders to be able to take a more coordinated and strategic approach to identifying and delivering any required environmental compensation measures.
Currently, there are uncertainties around how to assess the effectiveness of these environmental compensation measures, which has led to delays in consenting decisions related to clean, renewable energy. In an increasingly busy marine environment, some measures may need to be delivered at scale, and across multiple developments. A more comprehensive bank of data and evidence on the efficacy of these measures can deliver a more strategic approach to compensation and deliver solutions that ensure the ecological coherence of the designated sites network. This will reduce consenting risks - providing opportunity for improved outcomes for the marine environment at a large scale. Ultimately, this can help enable achievement of 2030 offshore wind targets and make significant contributions towards net zero, whilst protecting the environment.
Through the £3.5m project, OWIC will lead on bringing together key stakeholders including offshore wind developers, representatives from statutory nature conservation bodies, The Crown Estate, UK Government, Devolved Governments and environmental non-governmental organisations, via the Collaboration on Offshore Wind Strategic Compensation (COWSC) governance framework, and will deliver a shared body of evidence on best-practice, research and practical pilot projects for offshore wind compensation spanning investment in four target measures:
Provision of artificial nesting for seabirds – this could be onshore or offshore, such as building nesting structures on disused oil and gas platforms.
Habitat restoration and creation
Predation reduction – this can involve exclusion zones around protected seabird colonies and biosecurity programmes to improve seabird breeding success
Removal of defunct infrastructure
As with other initiatives funded via the £50m Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, final data and evidence captured by the project will be freely accessible on The Crown Estate’s Marine Data Exchange, the world’s largest database of offshore renewables survey data, research and evidence.
Mandy King, Programme Manager of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme at The Crown Estate, said: “Effective strategic compensation will be a vital component in the continued rollout of offshore wind in a manner that preserves the ecological coherence of the marine environment. This can only be achieved through strategic thinking, underpinned by true collaboration.
“I look forward to making this a reality, working with OWIC and all members of the Collaboration on Offshore Wind Strategic Compensation (COWSC) group on this project.
“The Crown Estate is delighted to provide this support as part of its wider drive to de-risk offshore development, catalyse the UK’s clean energy transition and support a thriving marine natural environment. We will continue to use the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme to invest in projects to generate better insights and understanding for the long-term future of nature positive marine energy.“
Benj Sykes, the OWIC board member sponsor for this project, said: “Rather than working separately on a site-by-site basis, this new strategic compensation initiative gives the offshore wind sector and stakeholders the opportunity to deliver compensation at scale for the UK, bringing better ecological outcomes and supporting the acceleration of offshore wind deployment.”
Jane Cooper, Director of Offshore Wind at OWIC, said: We hope the body of evidence delivered will allow us to better understand how to build offshore wind at the pace required to tackle our climate change and energy security commitments, while protecting the precious environment that our wind power sites reside in. We are extremely grateful to The Crown Estate for their funding, and for every organisation contributing time, resources and expertise.”
 P40, Independent report of the Offshore Wind Champion: Seizing our opportunities, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero - 2023
 The OWIC developers participating in this project comprise ScottishPower Renewables, Ørsted, Vattenfall, Ocean Winds, SSE Renewables, RWE, Equinor, bp, TotalEnergies and Corio Generation.