Assessing the environmental credentials of marine spatial plans in Europe

In accordance with the EU MSP directive all EU coastal member states were required to produce marine spatial plans by 2021. Not all have met this deadline but many are now published and adopted by national governments. A key requirement of the MSP directive is that marine spatial plans follow an ecosystem-based approach and contribute to the achievement of Good Environmental Status for marine ecosystems, as set out in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Over the last nine months or so, I have been engaged in the evaluation of selected national-level marine spatial plans, with a view to assessing their degree of alignment with EU environmental legislation and policy objectives. This work has been commissioned by environmental NGOs: Birdlife International and the Irish umbrella NGO Sustainable Water Network (SWAN). In the following, I provide an overview of this work with links to the published reports.

Source: (C) Birdlife International
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More than Lines on a Map? Towards Regional Governance for Irish Marine Space

Last month, I spoke at the Conference of Irish Geographers about the current developments and future challenges in marine protected area (MPA) management and maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Irish context. In this commentary, I further develop some of the key arguments and proposals from that presentation.

As an island nation, Ireland is surrounded by the sea and has an extensive maritime territory (Figure 1 below). Nevertheless, the sea has often occupied a peripheral position in the national consciousness and politics. There is a prevailing sense that successive Irish governments have ‘turned their backs on the sea’, neglecting this rich resource (e.g. Tom MacSweeney 2008, Kevin O’ Sullivan 2019). Currently, however, Ireland’s marine territory is subject to significant policy attention, indicating perhaps, the beginning of a new relationship between the land and the sea. Irish marine governance is evolving rapidly with the adoption of a National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF), the preparation of a Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, and ambitious targets for the large-scale expansion of Ireland’s MPA network, in line with international commitments. Yet, blind spots and a sense of disjointed policy-making continues with, for example, the lack of marine biodiversity characterization or sensitivity mapping to support the preparation of NMPF. Indeed, by all accounts (the final NMPF will not be made public until June 17th), the NMPF does not provide a map of spatial strategy or an indication of priority areas for specific uses and activities at sea. In this sense, it is very much a policy framework rather than a spatial plan and barely meets the requirements set out under EU MSP Directive. This apparent lack of willingness to provide strategic policy direction in relation to the spatial distribution of activities and priority areas for ecosystem protection at sea is disappointing. As pressures for the development of marine space increase, there is a real risk of a reactive, development-led regime emerging by default. 

Figure 1: Ireland’s maritime territory (continental shelf). Source: Marine Institute.

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Towards a Green Coastal Deal for the Wadden Sea Region

The trilateral Wadden Sea Forum (WSF) has recently initiated the process of developing a Green Coastal Deal for the Wadden Sea Region. The Wadden Sea Forum was established in 2002 as an independent multi-stakeholder partnership for the Wadden Sea region, complementing and supporting the intergovernmental Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation (TWSC). From the beginning, the WSF has sought to facilitate exchange of knowledge, experience and good practice among a broad group of stakeholders across the Wadden Sea region in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. Whereas the formal TWSC is focused on the conservation of the Wadden Sea itself, the WSF is concerned with the sustainable development of the wider coastal region, helping to position the Wadden Sea conservation efforts (now a World Heritage site) site within its wider geographical context.

The international Wadden Sea Region: Source: Agenda voor het Waddengebied 2050
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New edited book on Landscape in Policy and Practice

Landschaftsbilder und Landschaftsverständnisse in Politik und Praxis

Edited by Cormac Walsh, Gisela Kangler & Markus Schaffert, Springer VS, March 2021

In the following, I provide an English-language introduction to the book, drawing in particular on the text of the introduction chapter.

Landscape is highly relevant for the policy, practice and politics of spatial planning and environmental management. In the preamble of the European Landscape Convention, (Council of Europe 2000) landscape is attested a “an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields”. Landscape management is described as a cross-sectoral task, part of an integrative environmental policy, requiring stakeholder engagement and public participation. The European Landscape Convention has to date, been signed and ratified by over 85% of member states, but not by Germany or Austria. This is particularly surprising, given that German landscape planning is often seen as model of best practice, yet perhaps reflects the high degree of sectoral institutionalisation and professionalisation of landscape policy and planning within the German and Austrian systems.

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Marine Protected Areas for Irish Waters

Following the publication of the comprehensive report of an Advisory Group on the Expansion of Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network (MPA) in January, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has opened a public consultation on the planning of MPAs. The consultation takes the form of an online survey with a series of questions, many of ask for detailed, open responses and assume knowledge of the content of the individual chapters of the Advisory Report. I completed my submission this morning. In what follows, I summarise my key recommendations and outline what I view as priorities re. MPA planning and management.

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