North Sea wind farms (c) RBINS
Find out more about Case Study One:
Case Study Report
Executive Summary
Case Study Report Annexes
Case Study data and information on the AQUACROSS Information Portal

Biodiversity challenge: There is a need for a more integrated perspective for managing the many activities in the North Sea that impact biodiversity and hence compromise the achievement of societal goals. Management decisions are often taken without adequate knowledge of the associated risks. Our aim: to determine the requirements of the North Sea scientific knowledge base to guide decision-making toward the (balanced) achievement of societal goals, whilst involving important societal actors, including (national) government, fishing industry, the offshore wind energy sector, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Context: The North Sea is one of the busiest seas with many (often growing or newly emerging) sectors laying claim to a limited amount of space. The main human activities include fishing, shipping, oil and gas extraction, and newly emerging activities such as the renewable energy sector. These combined human activities and their associated pressures on the environment have hindered the achievement of the ecological goals for the North Sea. Management of often multiple competing interests is complex and requires novel, more integrated approaches such as Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) or Ecosystem-based Management (EBM), which come with additional requirements for the scientific knowledge base.

What was done? In collaboration with stakeholders

  • we assessed the current state of the North Sea ecosystem using a risk-based approach and the AQUACROSS linkage framework;
  • to provide further guidance to decision-makers, we developed an integrated risk-based approach that linked the impacts on biodiversity to the supply of ecosystem services;
  • we identified a number of likely ecosystem-based management measures for the North Sea;
  • we evaluated the effectiveness of these EBM measures to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, i.e. achievement of the “healthy marine ecosystem” societal goal, while also considering potential management initiatives toward achieving other societal goals, i.e. a “sustainable food supply” and “clean energy”.

Results: We show that integrated ecosystem-based scientific advice can provide a new perspective to the conventional science advice confined within institutional silos and, as such, should be considered complementary to this. The current knowledge base needs considerable development before it can fulfil this role. We show that risk-based approaches are promising for integrated assessments of cumulative effects and management of biodiversity.

Lessons learned for managing biodiversity: This work represents a first attempt to provide a more integrated, ecosystem-based approach that considers diverse societal goals, includes several sectors, and considers their impacts on the ecosystem and all relevant components. A risk assessment was applied to assess the effectiveness of a suite of management measures.

Applicability: Our findings provide direction for the (further) improvement of the North Sea knowledge base and the type of risk assessments it can support. It has provided input to policy makers in the Netherlands and Belgium on issues involving marine spatial planning and fisheries management.


Lead partner organisation: Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) of Stichting Dienst Landbouwkundig Onderzoek is leading the research in the case study.

Cooperating partner: Rijkswaterstaat (RWS) is the cooperating partner for AQUACROSS’s Case Study One: Trade-offs in ecosystem-based fisheries management in the North Sea aimed at achieving Biodiversity Strategy targets. RWS is a part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and is responsible for major water and other infrastructure, as well as environmental objectives including maintaining the ecological integrity of major lakes, rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas of the Netherlands. RWS and the case study are represented on the SPBTT by Joost Backx.