FIRST it was the bream, and now it's the herring.
Work on the £1.3 billion Rampion Wind Farm is set to be halted for a second time because of the local wildlife.
Last month pile driving work on the 116 turbine site, eight miles off the coast of Shoreham and Worthing, was paused so not to interrupt breeding black sea bream.
And now, this winter, the same type of work on the turbines' foundations will be banned, so not to disturb spawning herring.
The ban is set to run from November 20 to January 15, 2017.
The current ban, which runs until July, is in place to allow the migrating fish time to lay their eggs in the shallow waters they prefer.
A spokeswoman for E.ON, the company behind the wind farm, said the delay was all part of their plans.
She said: “The project has not been stopped, we have simply paused our offshore piling work which was planned.
“Towards the end of last month, piling work [the method by which turbine foundations are piled into the sea bed] was paused to protect the black bream spawning season and is planned to start again in July.
“Prior to this 18 foundations had been installed. Other offshore work including boulder relocation work continues as does our activity onshore.”
It comes as an aerial photograph for the first time shows the scale of the land-side development.
Taken by a reader as he was coming in to land at Gatwick, it shows a scar on the South Downs where the underground cabling, which leads to the Wineham substation, has been laid.
The delays in work are a result of the 2014 planning permission granted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, following representations by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).
In March two 500lb wartime bombs were discovered nearby but E.ON staff were told they could not be detonated during the breeding season.
An MMO spokesman explained: “The Rampion Wind Farm development is close to a site designated as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). As such the MMO must consider the effect of proposed activities on an MCZ and its features before granting authorisation for any works to take place.
“Black sea bream are a designated feature of the zone and the timing restriction to prevent unexploded ordnance detonations occurring was included as a condition of the marine licence in order to protect the fish.”
Sea bream stocks are considered healthy and the fish are common in Sussex waters at this time of year.
WILL THIS ‘GREEN’ ENERGY SCHEME SCAR THE EARTH?
MUST protecting our environment cost the earth?
That surely is the question posed by this extraordinary photograph, which shows an open scar cut into the earth across the natural beauty of the South Downs.
It has been caused by work to lay electrical cables from the Rampion Wind Farm to a station in Mid Sussex.
The energy company behind the project, E.ON, has stressed that once cables have been installed, the ground will be covered over and the land made good.
And the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has been granted oversight and funds to ensure such reinstatement does take place.
But for the time being, whether looking down from a plane from several thousand feet or walking across the undulating landscape to the north of Worthing, the scale of the earthworks is a shocking reminder that even green energy comes at a price to the natural world.
David George, a retired IT consultant from Saltdean, took the photograph as his flight from New York approached Gatwick.
He said: “It’s just such a scar on the landscape I had to find out what it was and much to my surprise it was the trench for Rampion. I hadn’t realised what an extensive undertaking this was.”
The power from the 116 turbines, which are eight miles off the coast of Shoreham and Worthing, will come ashore at Brooklands Pleasure Park, Lancing.
From there a 16.7 mile underground cable will conduct the electricity to a station near Twineham where it will enter the National Grid.
That distance includes a winding eight-mile route underneath the South Downs National Park.
When planning permission was granted in 2014 by the then Secretary of State for energy and climate change Ed Davey, the SDNPA said it was “disappointed” E.ON had not fully mitigated the impact on the national park by taking the shortest possible route.
In submissions to the planners, the national park secured concessions including a reduction from a proposed 195 turbines to a maximum of 175 – the final tally will now be 116.
The disruption and scarring to the national park from the eight-mile route through the South Downs has also been mitigated in some places by the use of horizontal drilling, a trenchless method of installing underground pipework which digs tunnels under the River Adur, the railway line and the A283 and A27.
But significant visible works were unavoidable in order to lay cables capable of transporting the 400MW of electricity produced by the wind.
E.ON acknowledges 29 footpaths, bridleways and rights of way will be affected during the course of the works. However, most should be closed for just four non-consecutive days.
The South Downs Way will be affected but will remain accessible at all times, with stop and go and trench boards installed by the energy firm where digging temporarily cuts across the route.
Initial works for Rampion – named after the round-headed rampion, the county flower of Sussex – started after E.ON was awarded a 50-year lease on the site by the Crown Estates in 2010.
Planning permission for one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, with turbines standing 140m, was granted in 2014 after the matter was escalated to Whitehall as a “nationally significant infrastructure project”.
E.ON promised more jobs during both construction and operation and also a boost to the port regeneration at Newhaven.
Physical work on the seabed and the onshore route started in September of last year, with foundations laid this January from a stationary elevated ship equipped with a crane and rigging equipment.
The project is due for completion in early 2018, with the majority of the on-shore works scheduled over the course of this summer.
Jeremy Burgess, SDNPA’s lead figure on Rampion, explained that under the terms of the planning permission there is a 10-year monitoring period during which time the authority can hold the energy company responsible for disturbing the South Downs.
He said: “Unfortunately we’re at a stage of the project where it looks particularly dramatic. But once reinstatement starts, they’re committed to having all that disappear completely and that’s what we’re aiming to ensure they do.
“We’ll be monitoring this project closely as it goes along.”
BREAM ENVIRONMENT IS PROTECTED
BREAM arrive in Sussex in March and inhabit inshore water shallower than 5m in depth to feed prior to reproducing.
According to the The Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, by April they move to the area between the south of the Winter Knoll and Kingmere Rocks off the coast of Littlehampton, which has been identified as a black bream breeding ground.
Egg laying takes place from early May until early June and they remain in this area until early July. To reproduce, the male sea bream excavates a depression in a sandy seabed and the female lays her eggs into it.
The eggs stick to the base of the nest, where they are fertilised and guarded fiercely by the male until they hatch.
The Marine Conservation Society says that black bream stocks currently appear to be in a healthy state but notes that the species is “moderately vulnerable” to fishing and stresses there is a lack of appropriate management measures for the species. The fish are not therefore considered endangered but are a “designated feature” of the Kingmere Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which sits off the coast of Sussex.
As such, the protection of their environment and spawning grounds is a requirement of any construction works being carried out in the area.
The Kingmere MCZ is an approximate rectangle, 18 miles from west to east and eight miles from north to south, with its northernmost point about 10 miles off the coast of Worthing.