Wind energy and nature protection can and must advance together in the North Sea


Brussels, 24 June 2021 – The Belgian Offshore Platform (BOP) and 4Sea (Bond Beter Leefmilieu, Greenpeace Belgium, Natuurpunt and WWF-Belgium) are jointly convinced that the development of wind energy in the Belgian part of the North Sea can benefit both nature and climate, provided that the necessary measures are taken. We agree that nature protection is a top priority in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of the wind farms in the new Belgian offshore wind zones, some of which are located in protected Natura 2000 areas.

The Belgian Offshore Platform, an association of investors and owners of wind farms in the Belgian North Sea, and 4Sea, a coalition of environmental organisations, will work together to maximise the protection and enhancement of the biodiversity values of the North Sea.

Based on the findings of more than 10 years of scientific research in existing wind farms (WinMon.BE 2020), both parties are convinced that further development of offshore wind energy can and must go together with the protection of the marine environment and marine biodiversity. In the Belgian part of the North Sea, we jointly strive for optimisation and customisation, always starting from the biodiversity values to be protected, a critical step towards measures to solve the climate and biodiversity crises.

We agree that the following points are important in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of wind farms in the North Sea:

  • Wind farms in Natura 2000 areas are an exception and can only be developed under strict conditions, including the mandatory appropriate assessment as stipulated in the Habitats Directive.
  • Further investment in scientific research and innovation is necessary to minimise the impact on nature and to maximise the opportunities for nature.
  • Nature-inclusive designs of new wind farm constructions are the norm. The wind farm and its infrastructure must mitigate any negative effects and, where possible, create positive effects for biodiversity.
  • Future-proof renewable energy production: start the dialogue now on how to combine the improvement of nature values and renewable energy production, within a circular approach.

Marine spatial planning

Despite the limited space, it is quite busy in, on and around our North Sea. Various users are looking for a spot: fisheries and aquaculture, military activities, sand and gravel extraction, shipping, ports, renewable energy production, pipelines and cables, tourism and recreation, scientific research… In order to keep it organised, Belgium has been one of the first countries in the world to draft a marine spatial plan, back in 2014. This plan legally determines, for a period of 6 years, where each activity is (or isn’t) allowed at sea. The existing Natura 2000 nature areas were already designated in the marine spatial plan of 2014, but until now these areas lack effective protection.

The new areas for wind energy, as indicated in the marine spatial plan for 2020-2026, are partly situated in the Natura 2000 areas. The limited space for offshore activities, combined with Belgium’s leading position in offshore wind, results in many countries watching us with great interest. This joint declaration of intent between different stakeholders is therefore an important first step towards good spatial planning in the entire North Sea area, with regards to both the necessary transition from fossil energy to renewable energy in a cross-border offshore energy network, and to the protection of marine biodiversity in a Natura 2000 network. By jointly endorsing nature-inclusive renewable energy, possible conflicts between nature and climate goals are avoided. The goal of a climate-neutral and nature-friendly North Sea can be achieved more quickly.

“To combat the irreversible, destructive consequences for humans and nature due to the overheating of the planet, we need more wind energy and more nature protection in the North Sea. With this declaration of intent, the nature NGOs and the offshore wind energy sector are proactively joining forces to work together towards a climate-neutral and nature-friendly North Sea,” Annemie Vermeylen, secretary-general of the Belgian Offshore Platform, says.

Sofie Luyten, deputy-CEO of WWF Belgium, on behalf of 4Sea: “Today we are faced with two large crises for man and nature, being the rapid rate at which we are losing nature and global warming. One of the solutions is more wind energy and also more nature protection in the North Sea. This way, North Sea nature will be an ally in the fight against climate change.”