7.5. Seascape, Landscape and Visual Resources

7.5.1. Introduction

  1. This section of this Scoping Report identifies the elements of the seascape, landscape and visual environment relevant to the Array, and considers the scope of assessment on the seascape, landscape and visual environment from the construction, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning of the Array.
  2. Seascape, landscape and visual impact assessment (SLVIA) considers effects on:
  • seascape/landscape as a resource in its own right (caused by changes to its constituent elements, its specific aesthetic or perceptual qualities and/or its character); and
  • views and visual amenity as experienced by people (caused by changes in the appearance of the seascape/landscape).
  1. This section also considers the potential for the Array to affect the setting of onshore cultural heritage features.

7.5.2. Study Area

  1. The SLVIA study area is defined as a radius around the site boundary, within which the Array will be developed. Published guidance suggests a study area of 45 km radius for wind turbines over 150 m in overall height (Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), 2017). A typical radius of 50 km has been adopted for offshore developments with wind turbines around 200 m to blade tip (e.g. Neart na Gaoithe (Mainstream Renewable Power, 2012)). A ‘ready reckoner’ of potential visual effects related to wind turbine size (White et al., 2019) suggests a very approximate ratio of 1:133 between wind turbine height and distance at which low magnitude of impact might be detected. For a proposed maximum blade tip height of 399 m above Low Astronomical Tide (LAT), this would indicate a SLVIA study area radius of at least 52.5 km.
  2. More recently, SLVIA study areas of greater than 50 km have been advised by stakeholders (Marine Scotland, 2021), and up to 70 km has been adopted (RWE Renewables, 2022), in recognition of the maximum heights of wind turbines increasing to over 300 m. This Scoping Report therefore considers a SLVIA study area of 70 km radius, though with consideration of selected potentially sensitive receptors that are beyond this distance. Potentially sensitive receptors beyond 70 km are identified within this section based on professional judgement. Figure 7.9   Open ▸ shows the site boundary in the context of a 70 km SLVIA study area.

Figure 7.9:
SLVIA Study Area

Figure 7.9: SLVIA Study Area

7.5.3. Baseline Environment

  1. The site boundary is located approximately 80 km from the closest point on the coast, at Souter Head to the south of Aberdeen. The SLVIA study area includes a section of the North Sea. The closest land is the Aberdeenshire coast around Aberdeen, which is around 10 km to 15 km to the north-west of the SLVIA study area boundary. The SLVIA study area boundary is around 50 km from the coast of East Lothian to the south-west. The baseline of the SLVIA study area and its wider context is discussed below in terms of offshore seascape, coastal character, and visual amenity. This section also considers the value attached to the identified receptors. Data sources are noted in the reference list at the end of this section.

                        Offshore seascape baseline

  1. The whole of the 70 km SLVIA study area comprises open sea, remote from the coastline. The Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm is within the area, and in the south-west the Seagreen Offshore Wind Farm is currently under construction. Oil and gas infrastructure is generally further offshore, in the east of the SLVIA study area. Within this area, there is shipping and fishing activity, with large vessels being a common sight closer to Aberdeen Harbour in particular.
  2. There is no published characterisation of offshore seascape character in Scotland. As such there are no key characteristics for the majority of the SLVIA study area. The southern part of the SLVIA study area extends into English waters and is covered by a Seascape Character Assessment published by the MMO. The SLVIA study area overlaps with three marine character areas (MCAs). Key characteristics for these MCAs are set out in MMO (2018) and summarised below.
  • MCA 25 Farne Deeps, an area of deeper water south of Berwick Bank, focused on trenches that drop to 108 m depth. Used for military practice as well as shipping and recreational sailing.
  • MCA 26 Berwick Bank, shallower waters associated with Berwick Bank, which extends into Scottish waters. A remote area in the east, within the SLVIA study area. More limited shipping activity.
  • MCA 28 Swallow Hole Plain, an extensive distant offshore area of open waters over a deep plain with deeper troughs. Busy shipping routes and large numbers of fishing boats, as well as recreational sailing yachts.
  1. There are no designations within the offshore environment that are relevant to SLVIA, either in Scottish or English waters. The value of the offshore seascape is therefore considered to be low.

                        Coastal character baseline

  1. The closest coast is between Cove Bay and Aberdeen, around 80 km from the Array, and is 10 km outside the SLVIA study area. This section of coastline is relatively elevated, with rocky cliffs of 30 m to 40 m in height. The land above the cliffs is generally developed, including the settlement of Cove Bay and industrial estates. There are also recreational interests along this coast, and the main railway between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
  2. To the south, the coastline is further from the SLVIA study area, and remains elevated beyond Stonehaven. To the north of Aberdeen, the coast is very low-lying, with the Aberdeen Bay Offshore Wind Farm being a key feature. Further north the distance between the SLVIA study area continues to increase, particularly beyond Buchan Ness near Peterhead. 
  3. Rather than defining offshore marine character areas, as in English waters, Nature Scot has adopted coastal character assessment as its preferred approach (SNH, 2012). This defines coastal character areas (CCA) which are influenced by landward and seaward context. There is no national dataset of CCAs, but some of the above coastline has been characterised to inform other SLVIA studies. The area north of Collieston is described in the Hywind Scotland SLVIA (Statoil, 2015), while the coast south of Aberdeen is described in a study prepared for three east coast wind farms (FTOWDG, 2011). Key characteristics from these previous studies are summarised below, alongside high level key characteristics for Aberdeen Bay which lies between the two previously described areas.
  • Peterhead: generally developed coast between the Ugie Water and Boddam, with promontories providing shelter. Large buildings and chimneys are prominent features (Statoil, 2015).
  • Collieston to Boddam: indented rocky coastline north and south of the gentle curving beach at Bay of Cruden. Steep cliffs, skerries, caves, and natural arches which contrast with the sweeping bay and dunes at Cruden Bay. Farmland and dispersed settlement between the three main settlements. Slains Castle is a prominent feature (Statoil, 2015).
  • Aberdeen Bay: long open sweep of sand, backed by dune systems. Estuaries of the Don and Ythan, and the more developed Dee. Recreational interests including golf links. More developed further south, with urban influences south of the Don. Aberdeen Bay offshore wind farm is a prominent feature. 
  • Nigg Bay: Sandy cove with enclosing headlands, close to urban development and modern infrastructure, as well as historic buildings (FTOWDG, 2011). More recently, construction of Aberdeen Harbour Expansion in the bay.
  • Greg Ness to Cove Bay: rocky coast, low cliffs and narrow strip of agricultural hinterland to the east of the Dundee to Aberdeen railway. Local industrial areas nearby (FTOWDG, 2011).
  • Cove Bay to Milton Ness: predominantly rocky shore backed by cliffs or steep slopes giving way to agricultural hinterland. Small coves and shingle beaches. Larger settlements including Stonehaven, and smaller fishing villages (FTOWDG, 2011).
  1. There are no nationally designated landscapes along this coast. The Aberdeenshire coast, either side of Aberdeen, is locally designated as a Special Landscape Area (SLA), recognising its scenic qualities (Aberdeenshire Council, 2017). The aspects and features for which these areas are designated include “panoramic views out to sea from cliff tops and open beaches”, and also “panoramic views out to sea from headlands and beaches and important views along the coast”. The value of the coastal character areas is therefore considered to be medium, based on the local or regional importance indicated by SLA designation.
  2. Onshore landscape character, away from the coast, is unlikely to be affected by development at the distance offshore of the Array area due to very limited visibility (see Figure 7.11   Open ▸ to Figure 7.14   Open ▸ ), and the reduced importance of sea views in non-coastal landscapes. Landscape character types and areas have therefore not been reviewed.

                        Visual amenity baseline

  1. Visual receptors within the SLVIA study area, that is, within the offshore environment, are limited to those passing through the area on vessels, most of whom will be working in the fishing, transport and oil and gas industries.
  2. AIS Ship Traffic data has been used to identify potential receptors crossing the SLVIA study area (Marine Scotland, 2022a). Shipping activity includes cargo vessels, which generally travel out from Aberdeen and Peterhead, heading north-east, east, or south across the SLVIA study area. Fishing vessels tend to be more concentrated in the western part of the area, within 50 km of the coast. Movements of passenger vessels and recreational craft are more limited within the SLVIA study area though occasional use is shown by the data.
  3. AIS Ship Traffic data shows that more vessels of all types are more likely to be found in inshore locations between the north-west edge of the SLVIA study area and the Aberdeenshire coast. This includes frequent recreational marine users travelling along the east coast of Scotland.
  4. Visual receptors also include people on land where they have views of the sea. As noted above, this is a scenic coast with numerous coastal walks, beaches and viewpoints offering views out to sea. Sea views are also available to residents in their homes and within their communities, and people travelling along the coast on roads and railways. Although not within the SLVIA study area, selected onshore receptors are considered within this Scoping Report as they may be of greater sensitivity than those passing through the offshore environment. The most sensitive receptors to offshore development would be those along the coastal edge. Therefore, onshore receptors are only considered at coastal locations such as beaches, cliff-tops walks and coastal settlements.
  5. The visibility of the Array will determine the potential for effects on views. A zone of theoretical visibility (ZTV) has not been produced, as theoretical visibility can be assumed across the open seascape, and across all locations where sea views are available. Actual visibility will vary greatly. Clear views can be assumed for closer marine views within the SLVIA study area. For onshore receptors, a number of factors affect the visibility of distant features in views. These are: the acuity of the human eye; atmospheric visibility; meteorological conditions; and the curvature of the Earth. These are considered in the following section, in order to determine whether significant effects on sensitive onshore receptors would be likely.
  6. The Review and Update of Seascape and Visual Buffer study for Offshore Wind Farms (White Consultants, 2020) states that “The largest currently consented turbine towers have a diameter of up to 5m and so, theoretically, can be seen from 50km. Larger turbines 350-400m high are likely to have larger diameter towers and so may be able to be seen from longer distances. Therefore visual acuity is unlikely to be a limiting factor in terms of visual buffers.”
  7. White Consultants (2020) presents a formula “for calculating the maximum distance at which an observer can discern the outline of an object”. This formula includes a locally determined ‘extinction coefficient’, which is a measure of how much haze is in the air. Table 9.1 in White Consultants (2020) gives a ‘maximum likely viewable distance' for northern Scotland, where the extinction coefficient is lowest, of 39 km.
  8. The Met Office records data on atmospheric visibility and classifies atmospheric visibility of over 40 km as ‘excellent’. An analysis carried out for the Seagreen 1 Offshore Wind Farm (Seagreen, 2012), using Met Office data from Leuchars, Fife, indicates that visibility of greater than 40 km only occurs 8% of the time, the equivalent of 29 days per year. Visibility is also affected by meteorological conditions, such as rain. Assessments should nevertheless consider the worst case (White Consultants, 2020).
  9. The curvature of the Earth means that distant structures may appear beyond the horizon. Tall structures such as wind turbines are likely to be visible at long distances, as their blades may be visible even when the tower base or hub is out of sight. Diagram 5.1 in White Consultants (2020) shows the effect of curvature of the Earth on wind turbine visibility. This indicates that a wind turbine of 350 m height would need to be 82 km offshore to be out of the view of an observer located 6 m above sea level. An observer on higher ground would theoretically see part of the same turbine at even greater distances.
  10. Therefore, it is possible that receptors on the elevated coast closest to the Array would be able to gain partial views of the offshore wind turbines. Wireline views from four representative viewpoints have been generated to illustrate this potential visibility. The viewpoint locations are shown in Figure 7.10   Open ▸ , and the wirelines are shown in Figure 7.11   Open ▸ to Figure 7.14   Open ▸ .
  11. The viewpoint locations are all within the closest section of coast, between Aberdeen and Portlethen, and represent locations that would potentially be chosen as representative viewpoints for inclusion in an SLVIA. They have been selected to represent potentially sensitive receptors located along the coastal edge. The viewpoints were chosen as they are the closest locations where sensitive receptors (people) on land could have views of the offshore wind farm. This means that they can be used to illustrate ‘worst case’ views of the Array. All are at similar distances from the Array: between 80 km and 81 km. This is beyond the study area, but as noted above these are the closest sensitive receptors on land. The wirelines ( Figure 7.11   Open ▸ to Figure 7.14   Open ▸ ) are discussed below.
  12. Viewpoint 1 Girdle Ness (grid reference 397197, 805345): from the coast near the lighthouse at the north of Aberdeen Harbour, the Array will be barely visible. The viewpoint is around 20 m above Ordnance Datum (AOD) and so the wind turbines are hidden by the curvature of the Earth. This also indicates that there would be no visibility of the Array for people at sea level, including visitors to beaches and people using boats in the inshore area.
  13. Viewpoint 2 Tullos Hill (396375, 803786): from the high point south of Aberdeen Harbour, at 86 m AOD, the upper blades of the wind turbines will be theoretically visible. The wireline indicates that no wind turbine hubs (nacelles) will be visible.
  14. Viewpoint 3 Coast Road near Souter Head (395908, 802037): on the cycle route above Souter Head, the closest point to the Array. At around 47 m AOD, the view is similar to Tullos Hill, with no wind turbine hubs theoretically visible.
  15. Viewpoint 4 Portlethen (392644, 796241): on a high point at 93 m AOD to the south of the other viewpoints, within the SLA. The software indicates that a small number of wind turbine hubs would be theoretically visible, although these would be just at the horizon. The Array would be behind the Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm wind turbines, which appear much larger in the view.
  16. These wirelines illustrate a dummy layout of the wind turbines with the highest upper blade tip height above LAT (see section 2.3.4), located in the north-west part of the site boundary, closest to land. The wind turbines are modelled at 399 m to blade tip height (above LAT)[13] and are spaced at the minimum separation distance (1,000 m). This dummy layout is entirely indicative and is purely to show potential visibility of wind turbines from land-based receptors. Offshore substation platforms are not shown as these would be of lower height than the wind turbines. The wirelines show a 53.5° angle of view in each case. The wirelines include, for context, the operational Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm, which comprises turbines up to 186 m to blade tip height and is approximately 15 km from the viewpoint locations.
  17. This analysis shows that there will be limited actual visibility of the Array from these closest viewpoints. Due to distance and elevation, there are no onshore locations where more extensive views of the Array would be possible. Combined with the limited atmospheric visibility across a distance of approximately 80 km, the actual visibility of the Array is likely to be minimal.
  18. Aviation lighting would be mounted on wind turbine hubs. As noted above, the wind turbine hubs would generally be below the horizon line so no lighting would be visible. Wind turbine hubs, and lighting, would only be theoretically visible from more limited elevated locations. There is no requirement for aviation lighting to be visible at distances of 80 km. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) guidance states that, in conditions of good visibility, the intensity of aviation lighting can be reduced to 10% of the maximum value (CAA, 2016). Good visibility would be required to gain views of the Array, but at these times the intensity of lighting would be substantively reduced. It is therefore unlikely that aviation lighting would be visible to sensitive visual receptors.

7.5.4. Potential Array Impacts

  1. A list of all potential impacts on the seascape, landscape and visual environment which may arise during the construction, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning phases of the Array in the absence of designed in measures is included in Table 7.15   Open ▸ .


Table 7.15:
Potential Impacts Identified for Seascape, Landscape and Visual Environment in the Absence of Designed in Measures

Table 7.15: Potential Impacts Identified for Seascape, Landscape and Visual Environment in the Absence of Designed in Measures

Figure 7.10:
Viewpoint Locations

Figure 7.10: Viewpoint Locations


7.5.5. Designed in Measures

  1. The main designed in measure of SLVIA effects is the distance of the Array from the locations of sensitive receptors. The most sensitive seascape, landscape and visual receptors are found along coastlines, including, for example, scenic coasts, and people visiting beaches and clifftop viewpoints. The Array is unlikely to be clearly visible from these receptors.

7.5.6. Potential Impacts After the Implementation of Designed in Measures

  1. According to good practice guidance (Landscape Institute, 2013), impacts on seascape, landscape and visual receptors are judged with reference to the sensitivity of the receptor and the magnitude of the predicted impact. Sensitivity is judged with reference to the susceptibility of the receptor to the type of change proposed, and the value placed on the landscape or visual resource. Magnitude is judged with reference to the scale, extent, duration and reversibility of the impact.
  2. The offshore seascape is unlikely to be sensitive to changes arising from the Array. For the offshore seascape, there are no key characteristics that are considered highly susceptible to changes of the type that would arise from introduction of the Array. There are no designations or other indications that the Array is a valued seascape. Both susceptibility and value, and therefore sensitivity, are likely to be low. While the scale of change in seascape character may be high in the vicinity of the Array, due to the low sensitivity, significant effects are unlikely to arise.
  3. Some of the key characteristics of the coastal character areas are susceptible to changes arising from the introduction of offshore structures. The coast is also locally designated for its scenic value. Susceptibility and value, and therefore sensitivity, are likely to be higher. The analysis presented in this Scoping Report indicates that visibility of the Array from the coast will be minimal, by day and by night, largely due to the distance offshore. The magnitude of change in coastal character is not considered likely to be great enough to give rise to significant effects.
  4. Considering visual receptors, those people within the SLVIA study area will be either passing through or working within the seascape and are unlikely to be susceptible to changes in their outlook as they move around the sea. There is no indication that any particular value is placed on views within the marine environment. Both susceptibility and value, and therefore sensitivity, are likely to be low. While the scale of change in views may be high for receptors close to the Array, due to their low sensitivity significant effects are unlikely to arise.
  5. Visual receptors closer to the coast include residents, visitors to coastal locations and beaches, and recreational users of inshore waters. The marine view forms part of their enjoyment of the area, and they are likely to be of higher sensitivity to changes in seaward views. The value of coastal views is recognised in local landscape designations, and in the many viewpoints provided along the coast. Susceptibility and value, and therefore sensitivity, of these receptors is likely to be higher. The analysis presented in this Scoping Report indicates that visibility of the Array from locations of these sensitive receptors will be minimal, largely due to the distance offshore. This includes visibility of lighting at night time. Even when excellent visibility and weather conditions enable views to the Array, the magnitude of change in view, by day and by night, is likely to be very small. It is not considered that there would be any likely significant effects on views experienced by receptors on land and in inshore waters.
  6. The above analysis focuses on operational effects. Construction and decommissioning works would take place largely within the site boundary. The only activity taking place outside the site boundary would be vessel movements, which are a feature of the seascape and views in this area. As such, the effects of construction and decommissioning works are not likely to be significant.
  7. On the basis of the evidence and analysis presented in this Scoping Report, it is proposed that all potential impacts to the seascape, landscape and visual environment will be scoped out of the assessment. Further detail is presented in Table 7.16   Open ▸ .
  8. An analysis of onshore cultural heritage setting has not been carried out because, given the minimal visibility from onshore locations, it is considered highly unlikely that the setting of any onshore cultural heritage receptors would be affected to a significant degree. With reference to the guidance set out in Historic Environment Scotland (2016), it is therefore further proposed that effects on setting of onshore cultural heritage receptors will be scoped out of the assessment.

Figure 7.11:
Viewpoint 1 Girdle Ness

Figure 7.11: Viewpoint 1 Girdle Ness

Figure 7.12:
Viewpoint 2 Tullos Hill

Figure 7.12: Viewpoint 2 Tullos Hill

Figure 7.13:
Viewpoint 3 Coast Road Near Souter Head

Figure 7.13: Viewpoint 3 Coast Road Near Souter Head

Figure 7.14:
Viewpoint 4 Portlethen

Figure 7.14: Viewpoint 4 Portlethen

Table 7.16:
Impacts Proposed to be Scoped Out of the Array Assessment for Seascape, Landscape and Visual Environment and Cultural Heritage Setting

Table 7.16: Impacts Proposed to be Scoped Out of the Array Assessment for Seascape, Landscape and Visual Environment and Cultural Heritage Setting


7.5.7. Proposed Approach to the Environmental Impact Assessment

  1. Since there are no likely significant effects on seascape, landscape or visual receptors, it is proposed that this topic will be scoped out entirely from the Array EIA Report.

7.5.8. Potential Cumulative Effects

  1. Cumulative seascape, landscape and visual effects arise from the presence of multiple developments, usually other wind farms, affecting the same receptors. As shown in Figure 7.9   Open ▸ , a number of operational and planned offshore wind farms are located within the SLVIA study area. Most of these are closer to shore than the Array, and so would likely be more visible from sensitive coasts and visual receptors. It is possible that the Array would be seen in combination with the operational schemes, and with proposed wind farms should they be constructed.
  2. The low sensitivity of the offshore seascape and offshore visual receptors means that any cumulative effects are unlikely to be judged significant. The minimal visibility of the Array from more sensitive receptors onshore and inshore, suggests that any cumulative effects would be limited, and significant effects are considered unlikely. No assessment of cumulative effects on the seascape, landscape or visual environment is therefore proposed to be included in the assessment.

7.5.9. Potential Transboundary Impacts

  1. A screening of transboundary impacts has been carried out and is presented in Appendix 3. There is no potential for transboundary impacts upon the seascape, landscape and visual environment or cultural heritage setting due to construction, operational and maintenance, and decommissioning impacts of the Array.

7.5.10. Scoping Questions to Consultees

  • Do you agree that the evidence suggests that visibility of the Array will be minimal, and that receptors beyond 70 km from the site boundary do not need to be considered?
  • Do you agree that offshore receptors, within the 70 km SLVIA study area, including offshore seascape character and people working in the marine environment, are of low sensitivity to the type of change proposed?
  • Do you agree that the assessment of seascape, landscape and visual environment and cultural heritage setting receptors should be scoped out of the Array EIA Report?

7.5.11. Next Steps

  1. At this stage, there is no post-scoping stakeholder consultation for SLVIA expected to be required to support the Array EIA Report. The over-arching next steps are outlined in section 4.3.4.