Marine development: submitting proposals for project level adaptive management

This guidance applies to project level adaptive management. There may be other relevant considerations on how your project can be used at a strategic level within the sector.

If you intend to include phasing in your adaptive management strategy, find out how the marine licensing team assess single applications for multi-phase projects.

Using adaptive management at project level

Adaptive management may be used to address areas of uncertainty that remain after completing a robust environmental assessment, or where the environmental baseline is likely to change.

Read our principles on using adaptive management.

The source of this uncertainty may either be about the maximum potential effect of the project, in comparison to acceptable adverse effects, or from uncertainty of the efficacy of proposed management measures.

If the predicted worst-case effects exceed an acceptable level, it may be necessary to implement measures to reduce that effect. The scale of management measures may change depending on the potential magnitude of effect and on how effective the management measures are likely to be.

Managing risks through adaptive management can be resource intensive, both for the developer, and for the regulator and environmental advisors. Adaptive management may allow a consent to be granted for a project, but it does not guarantee that the full project will be developed if data obtained during the project invalidates the predictions made at application or identifies previously unidentified effects. It should therefore only be used where risks cannot be assessed or managed through other means.

The Welsh National Marine Plan (WNMP)(SCI-01) notes that adaptive management may have a role in risk based decision making. Our guidance sets out how adaptive management can be used to support marine licence applications. This is supported by the WNMP Implementation Guidance.

What to include in an Adaptive Environmental Management Plan

The AEMPs should be designed to avoid, reduce or mitigate the risk of environmental impacts. Therefore, the scale of potential management actions should reflect the maximum potential risk.

We do not consider it appropriate to include the provision of potential compensation for adverse effects on the integrity of a European Site to be included in an AEMP; the AEMP should focus on measures to avoid, reduce or mitigate the risk of environmental impacts.

The following detail should be included in an AEMP:

Maximum potential environmental impact

It must include summary description of the maximum potential environmental impact, as assessed in the EIA, along with as much information on the likelihood of that impact as is possible. The AEMP should then describe how the uncertainty will be resolved through monitoring and mitigation

Measures to avoid, reduce or mitigate

It must provide an outline of the possible measures that could be used to avoid, reduce or mitigate the worst-case impacts. These should be sufficient to reduce the potential maximum impact to a level below that which causes an adverse effect, even if they may not all need to be used.

It is acceptable to propose experimental mitigation, where the effect of the mitigation is unknown. This must be accompanied by a description of the nature of the uncertainty. The plan must include contingency if the measure fails to reduce or mitigate the effect. If experimental mitigation is used, the monitoring scheme used must be sufficient to detect whether the mitigation has been successful, in a time period that would allow implementation of additional mitigation if necessary.

If it is not possible to confidently determine whether the management measures would suitably reduce the potential maximum effect of the project, a ‘failsafe’ should be described. Such a ‘failsafe’ may encompass temporarily ceasing construction activities and/or deployment, temporarily ceasing operations, or decommissioning of the project. The plan must describe the effect of each of these measures.

Monitoring programme

It must provide a description of the monitoring programme that will support the deployment of mitigation measures. This must include, but is not limited to:

  • ­The purpose of the monitoring – is environmental change being monitored, or a specific interaction between the project and certain environmental receptors?
  • ­The proposed technology(ies) and procedures for monitoring – what is being measured, why and how? If there is uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring technique, this must be described.
  • ­Is a comparison against a baseline required? If so, is the baseline established?
  • ­The reporting timeframe – for example, is real-time monitoring and reporting required, or should reports be produced on a specified timescale?
  • ­The timeframes in which change can be detected using this monitoring programme. This must be suitable to enact any required measures. For example, it is not appropriate to rely on Adaptive Management if negative effects predicted at the time of application cannot be observed until several years after they have occurred.

Action triggers

The Plan must include an outline of any action trigger points required to implement management measures. These trigger points must be measurable and detected at a time when enacting management measures will prevent adverse effect from occurring. It is not appropriate to use a trigger point that initiates action at the point at which an adverse effect on integrity of a European Site will occur. Trigger levels should initiate action before an adverse effect occurs and be set at a point that allows for potential uncertainty or delay in deploying management measures.

Include a description of what action will occur at these points. This may include automatic deployment of management measures, or may require reporting to a management group, or NRW, for approval of subsequent action.

Reporting arrangements

The plan must include a description of the reporting arrangements including:

  • What is the frequency of reports?
  • What will be reported?
  • How will the reports inform future action?

The content and level of detail required at the point of determining the Marine Licence of the AEMP will be project specific.

Describing how your Adaptive Environmental Management Plan will be implemented

Your AEMP should include details of how the plan will be implemented. Any Marine Licence issued by NRW will include licence conditions requiring you to carry out the AEMP as agreed by NRW as the Licensing Authority. Any changes to the agreed procedures will need to be agreed by the Licensing Authority; this may need a variation to the Marine Licence in some cases.

You should consider the following when describing the implementation procedure.

Monitoring techniques

You should consider how you will implement the monitoring techniques described in your AEMP. Monitoring techniques must be an appropriate, best available technique for the purpose of the monitoring. If your monitoring technique requires deployment of equipment, you must include this in your EIA and Marine Licence application.

You should engage with NRW during the early stages of project development to discuss suitable monitoring techniques as this will underpin the AEMP.

Action triggers

You will need to describe in your AEMP what the potential management actions will be in the event that action trigger levels are reached. Once these are agreed, you must ensure that you are able to carry out the designated action. Evidence of the effectiveness of actions may be required and, if so, you should ensure this is included in your EIA and Marine Licence application.


If your AEMP requires reports to be prepared for NRW, you must ensure these are submitted within the required timescales. You must build in time for NRW to scrutinise reports if approvals for continued activity or increased activity are required.


If gateway steps are required, the potential actions at the gateways will have been described in the AEMP, including how it will be determined which action will be taken. Where these require approval from NRW, sufficient time should be included in the AEMP timeline to allow scrutiny of the submitted proposal. If insufficient information is submitted to ensure the conclusions of the EIA or HRA remain valid, additional mitigatory or remediation action will be required.

Reviewing the AEMP

Evidence collected as part of adaptive management could result in the need to amend the AEMP. You should include provision for reviewing the AEMP to ensure the AEMP is adequately fulfilling its intended objectives.

How we assess your adaptive environmental management plan

You must submit at least a draft AEMP at the point of application. This plan must contain enough information for us to make a decision on the suitability of the plan. The level of detail required at this stage will depend on the scale of potential impact(s), uncertainty of effects, and uncertainty on the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation. Ideally, a complete AEMP should be submitted at the application stage.

We will use this AEMP to inform EIA and HRA assessments, as required. It is not sufficient to state that adverse effects will be avoided or reduced by the provision of an AEMP to be agreed at a later date. Therefore, the draft AEMP must include enough detail to allow us to determine if the proposed mitigation is sufficient to reduce the maximum potential impact to a level below that which causes an adverse effect. In most cases the AEMP will need to be very well developed prior to issuing a marine licence.

To ensure transparency in our licensing process, we will consult on all application documents, including the submitted AEMP. It is important to provide enough detail in the draft AEMP at the application stage for interested parties to understand how you intend to manage the impacts of your project.

The detail of the AEMP may be finalised after a marine licence is issued. If this is the case, the marine licence will include a condition that no work may start until the final AEMP is agreed with NRW Permitting Service. Any changes to the AEMP arising from reviews will need to be agreed by NRW Permitting Service prior to any changes being enacted.

Environmental Impact Assessment for projects using adaptive management

Adaptive management is often used when uncertainty remains following the completion of Environmental Impact Assessment. Adaptive management should only focus on the issues that cannot be resolved through the EIA. Where adaptive management relies on comparison of monitoring data to baseline data, the baseline must be described in the Environmental Statement.

Habitats Regulations Assessment for projects using adaptive management

Projects that have the potential to cause impacts in European Sites require a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to be completed prior to issuing a marine licence. A marine licence may only be issued if the conclusion of the HRA is that the project will not cause an adverse effect on site integrity of any European Site, unless paragraphs 64 and 68 of the Habitats Regulations 2017 can be applied (there are no alternative solutions, the project has imperative reasons of overriding public interest, and compensation for the loss can be provided).

When an HRA is carried out, the assessment must include all aspects of the project. If the project may cause adverse effect on the integrity of a European site, either alone or in combination with other plans or projects, you will need to provide adequate measures to reduce the impacts to a level below that which causes an adverse effect. As the HRA process is precautionary, if the impacts are uncertain, but may occur, we cannot rule out adverse effect. You can propose potential mitigation which may not need to be implemented using an adaptive environmental management plan (AEMP).

As we must carry out the HRA before issuing any marine licence, we must consider whether the management measures proposed in an AEMP will allow us to conclude there is no adverse effect arising from the project on any European Site. To reach this conclusion, we must have sufficient detail about the AEMP to decide if, when implemented, it will avoid, reduce or mitigate adverse effects to a level below that which causes an adverse effect. The detail required at this stage will be project specific. Pre-application advice on this subject can be obtained through our Discretionary Advice Service.

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