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Strategic Environment Assessment for the German EEZ in the North Sea

Maritime Spatial Plan for the German EEZ in the North Sea


The establishment and amendment of spatial plans foresees an environmental assessment in line with the SEA Directive according to § 7 para. 5 ROG (German Spatial Planning Law). The Strategic Environmental Assessment for the German EEZ in the North Sea contains and assesses the expected strong impacts for the environment caused by the implementation of the spatial plan according to the criteria of Annex I of the SEA Directive. The assessment also analyses alternative planning solutions and the development of the area without a plan. The report is available in German only.


Application in MSP:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:


  • How has the process run around the Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) for maritime spatial plans in Germany?
  • What alternative is recommended by the SEA concerning sector developments?
  • What are the possible developments of the marine area and impacts of different uses with and without a plan? 
  • Which measures could minimize negative impacts caused by the MSP?
  • What are alternatives for each of the impacting sector?
  • Which monitoring measures could supervise the impacts of the implemented MSP?


The responsible agency for the SEA is BSH (Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency) according § 14 m para. 2 UVPG (Environmental Impact Assessment Law). 

The SEA is linked to the MSP with spatially relevant determinations for the following aspects:

  • Guarantee of security and facilities of shipping
  • Economical use
  • Research 
  • Protecion of the marine environment. 

Main objectives of the German MSP for the EEZ (North Sea) are:

  • Special importance of shipping (also in accordance to UNCLOS) 
  • According to the Strategy on Sustainability of the German government, the German maritime spatial planning is supporting the expansion of offshore windfarms
  • For uses like mineral extraction, submarine cables and research sufficient space has to be reserved; flexibility for unpredictable developments has to be preserved. Accordingly, uses like fisheries can be taken into account since it is impossible to determine categories of different areas due to the competency of the EU.
  • Beyond the sectoral planning of Natura 2000 areas a contribution to the protection of the marine environment 

The spatial planning process of the German EEZ is a one-step approach, i.e. there exist no overarching plans or regulations for subordinate planning levels. Planning is directly followed by approval, i.e. projects. However, other planning and assessment processes have to be taken into account. This is especially relevant for the determination of two especially suitable areas for the wind energy in the EEZ of the North Sea for which Strategic Environemental Assessments have been performed and which have been included into the MSP as priority areas (according to § 18 para. 3 ROG). 

Furthermore spatial planning processes in coastal areas of the federal states (Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein) have to be coordinated as well as transboundary issues with the Netherlands. Here, coordination is necessary, for example related to their "Integrated plan of measures for the North Sea 2015" (Integraal Beheerplan Nordzee 2015).

During all these planning processes, legal frameworks for environmental protection on international, European and national level provide the frame for environmental protection objectives and the MSP with its SEA for the German EEZ in the North Sea. Additonally, for specific uses specific sources have to be taken into account to ensure marine environmental protection. For example, when developing the MSP the "best environmental practice" according best available techniques has to be applied or the impacts of specific uses in the frame of a project-related monitoring has to be assessed.

Also principles like the precautionary principle or ecosystem-based approach are relevant. Following these sources, the overall aim for planning has to be a permanent, large-scale preservation, development and securing of the EEZ as ecologically sound open space. 

The BSH is responsible for the monitoring of the foreseen measures to oversee and assess the impacts of the MSP. 

aspects / objectives

In general, a strategic environmental assessment should help to ensure maritime spatial plans are indeed aligned to all agreed environmental objectives. The German SEA analyses whether the MSP for the EEZ takes relevant legislation and principles for the marine environmental protection into account and assesses impacts as well as alternative uses.

The SEA is aiming to describe the currrent environmental status and assesses current and future uses and their impact on the environment without and with a MSP. It provides measures to minimise strong negative effects on the environment caused by maritime planning, verifyes alternatives and describes the implementation process of the environmental assessment. 


Starting point for the assessment of possible impacts caused by the maritime spatial plan is the comprehensive description and assessment of the environmental status (chapter 2). It takes the following environmental goods into account:

  • soil
  • water
  • phytoplankton
  • zooplankton
  • benthos
  • biotope types
  • fish
  • marine mammals
  • resting birds
  • migratory birds
  • bats
  • biodiversity
  • air
  • climate
  • landscape scenery 
  • cultural heritage
  • interaction between protected goods.

Chapter 3 describes the possible development of the above mentioned biotic and abiotic environmental goods without a plan. The description and assessment of possible severe impacts of the MSP also focuses on these environmental goods (chapter 4).

These assessments are the first comprehensive ones due to the first EEZ-wide planning in the German North Sea. 

During the selection of areas for specific uses, FFH- and EU-protected areas for birds have been avoided as far as possible. In those cases where this was not possible, an impact assessment has been condcted according § 34 BNatSchG (German Nature Conservation Law). This aims to avoid strong damage of the conservation and protection goals. If available, results of already existing impact assessments of plan approval procedures and determination processes have been taken into account (chapter 5). One important aspect of the determination process is that wind power farms are not allowed in Natura 2000 areas. 

The assessments are complemented by the presentation of measures to minimize negative impacts caused by the MSP (chapter 6) and are examining alternatives for each of the impacting sector (chapter 7). Monitoring measures to supervise the impacts of an implemented MSP are also part of the assessment (chapter 8). The annex of the report provides a draft concept for a monitoring plan to assess possible severe impacts  of offshore wind farms.

main outputs / results

The report provides a first comprehensive overview of the biological goods (biotic and abiotic) in the German EEZ of the North Sea. In addition, relevant gaps of knowledge in relation to these goods are described in more detail. Here the main aspects which impede a better understanding of complex processes of the marine environment are:

  • Lack of joint evaluation of data from research and monitoring programmes as well as from impact assessments related to approval proceures for different uses 
  • Lack of analysis of data coming from monitoring of effects to assess impacts of uses like sand and gravel extraction or offshore wind energy on the marine environment 
  • Lack of evaluation and intersection of biological data with data provided by marine physics, marine chemistry, marine geology and marine meteorology


Therefore also the forecast for further development of the biotic marine environment in case of non-implementation of the MSP keeps quite unsure. The assessment of impacts of uses on the biotic marine environment highlights also the lack of the following information:

  • Impacts of uses on the biotic marine environment 
  • Cumulative and/or interaction of different uses on the marine biodiversity
  • Forecasts for the development of the biotic marine environment after the implementation of the MSP


In a next step, the Environmental Assessment describes foreseeable strong impacts on the marine environment caused by the implementation of the MSP. According the SEA Directive all measures are presented which are planned to minimize or balance negative environmental impacts as far as possible (analysis of the minimizing potential of the plan). Alternatives of the planning with regard to their environmental impacts are analysed as far as they are useful for the selection process. The examination of alternatives is focusing on possible determinations of areas, covering the following uses/issues:

  • Shipping
  • Raw material extraction
  • Pipeline and sea cables
  • Scientific research
  • Energy, especially wind energy
  • Fisheries and mariculture
  • Marine environment

Existing monitoring measures and (national as well as international) monitoring programmes are examined with a view to their applicability for spatial planning. 


According to the SEA, the following MSP related monitoring measures for the North Sea can be summarized:

  • Aggregation and analysis of monitoring/research results related to effects of uses 
  • Evaluation of national and international monitoring programmes like
    • State - Federal States measuring programme
    • Marine environmental measuring net of the BSH "MARNET"
    • Monitoring programmes in the frame of OSPAR (e.g. Joint Monitoring and Assessment Programme, Quality Status Report)
    • Monitoring programmes of ICES
    • Monitoring of the status of specific species and ecosystems according Art. 11 FFH-D
    • Management plans of the nature protection area "Östliche Deutsche Bucht"
    • Monitoring according § 12 BNatSchG
    • Measures according MSRL and WFD


First lessons learned for the monitoring on spatial planning level are expected to come from 

  • the BSH-concept of standardized monitoring of the impacts of offshore wind farms on the marine environment (monitoring of effects)
  • the accompanying ecological research in the priority area for wind energy "Nördlich Borkum" (test field "alpha ventus" with 12 offshore wind turbines) on behalf of the German Ministry of the Environment

It is planned to evaluate the whole concept of monitoring effects during the installation and operation of the test field. 


The structure and some results of the SEA report for the German EEZ in the North Sea are transferable to other countries in the North Sea region. In general, the SEA report can serve as model for reports in other sea basins. 

costs / Funding

The SEA report is a product of collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digial Structure, its subordinate agency BSH (Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency) and other ministries and agencies of involved sectors as well as of the nature protection side. 

responsible entity

Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH)

Bernhard-Nocht-Str. 78

20359 Hamburg

Phone: 0049-(0)40-3190-0 (posteingang[at]bsh[dot]de)