Ecosystem-Based Marine Spatial Planning for the Dogger Bank

As part of my teaching at Leuphana University Lüneburg, I gave a seminar in Winter Semester 22/23 on ‘Spatial Planning in Practice’ with a particular focus on ecosystem-based marine spatial planning. The seminar formed part of the minor programme in Spatial Science. The interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students brought their own perspectives and skills to the complex task of preparing an ecosystem-based transboundary marine spatial plan for the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea. The students initially worked in small groups focussed on thematic issues of relevance to the case study area, including offshore wind, shipping, fishing, marine mammals and birds.

Students discussing planning options for the Dogger Bank, bringing together diverse stakeholder perspectives.

Mapping fishing grounds at the Dogger Bank

The groups identified objectives for their area of focus for both 2030 and 2060 as well as potential planning measures targeted at achieving those objectives. In a subsequent step, the students exchanged information between the groups and engaged in negotiation with the aim of achieving common objectives, balancing the expansion of offshore renewable energy with protection of the marine environment and against the background of existing uses of marine space.

The students gained an appreciation for the challenge of bringing together multiple sectoral perspectives with at times contradictory objectives. In the case of the Dogger Bank, it quickly became evident that the scientific information available on both marine ecosystems and socioeconomic activities is limited, incomplete and subject to uncertainties. Nevertheless planners and policymakers are required to plan strategically on the basis of the information that is available. The students reflected on the power relations inherent in the processes of negotiation which often occur ‘behind the scenes’ when marine and other spatial plans are prepared.

For the purposes of this seminar an analogue approach was deliberately chosen with printed-out maps in poster format rather than working with specific software or a board game format (e.g. MSP Challenge). This had the advantage of a more fluid dynamic, where the mapping of individual activities and proposed planning measures became an integral part of the discussions both within and among the groups.

The Dogger Bank represents a critical site for transboundary cooperation in marine spatial planning as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark put forward ambitious plans for the development of offshore wind. It remains to be seen if an ecosystem-based approach to marine spatial planning can be implemented at the Dogger Bank that respects the integrity of marine ecosystems and is compatible with the achievement and maintenance of Good Environmental Status both within and beyond the boundaries of existing marine protected areas.

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