Meet the Team: Sean Leake

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The environment is one of the key considerations at all stages of the project’s development. It’s why we’ve spent thousands of hours gathering data about the site and why we’re going beyond mitigation in our environmental impact assessment and also looking at opportunities for nature-inclusive design to improve the local biodiversity. Read more in our interview with Sean Leake, Offshore and EIA Consents Manager.

Codling Wind Park Sean Leake

Q. What’s your role on the Codling Wind Park project?

A. I’m the Offshore and EIA Consents Manager. So I look after the offshore environmental impact assessment (EIA) and consenting process for the project.

In a simple sense, I manage the team responsible for pulling together all the information that goes into the request for planning permission offshore. So this is everything from the foreshore investigation licence – which gives you the ability to undertake surveys of the seabed – through to the offshore element of the EIA for the whole project.

I work in the consenting team and I manage the offshore environmental specialists: which includes ornithologists, benthic ecologists looking at worms and shellfish, archaeologists, and shipping and navigation specialists.

Q. What’s been your career path into renewables?

A. I became a chef at an early age and worked at a local family restaurant in Brighton, where I grew up. I spent a lot of my time visiting the fish markets and this triggered an interest to understand more about the sustainability of the fish and shellfish we were buying.

This led me down the path of studying marine biology at Plymouth, and eventually to working in marine ecology. This was nearly 25 years ago: a time when as a society we were beginning to understand more about climate change and the risks it might pose, particularly on marine species as they tend to respond rapidly to changing environments

And the effects of climate change were visible even then. Part of my undergraduate degree was looking at pink sea fan, a type of coral, which grows around the UK. Typically the most northerly area you’d find it was in Wales, but it’s now extending further north and we’re seeing some coral along the southwest coast of the UK suffering necrosis and dying, something that has occurred elsewhere in the world as a result of unusually high seawater temperature.

After completing my Masters degree, I worked in environmental consultancy as a marine specialist across marine industries such as aggregate dredging and ports, before focusing more fully on offshore wind in England, Wales and Scotland. Then this opportunity came up to join Codling Wind Park and I thought it was too good to miss. Although I’m from Brighton in the UK, my mum grew up in Wexford and I’d always wanted to support a project through development, so it felt like the right move to make.

Q. How does it feel to be working on Codling Wind Park?

A. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work on the largest offshore wind farm project in Ireland. Working in offshore renewables also gives me that opportunity to help mitigate against climate change in some small way: by both bringing renewables forward and helping to reduce some of the impacts of climate change being felt by birds right down to barnacles and top-shells that live on the seabed.

It makes me immensely proud to be part of a project that will make such a positive contribution to Ireland’s climate targets and the world.

Q. What is the Environmental Impact Assessment?

A. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) is really an umbrella term for the process under which we collect all of the data to understand the ‘receiving environment’ (where the wind farm will go) as it exists now, to understand the potential impacts of the project on this receiving environment, and to inform the mitigation measures we plan to deliver and the future monitoring of the environment.

Q. How do you determine what the environment is like for an offshore wind farm?

A. We go out and do surveys! These include geophysical surveys to understand the seabed habitats and archaeology that may be present; intertidal surveys; aerial surveys and vessel-based surveys to understand the birds and marine mammals that are there; and surveys of small and large boats to understand how the area is used for shipping and fishing. We also carry out desk-based assessments using scientific literature and data from other reputable sources.

Q. How are we going beyond best practice with our data sourcing?

A. We’ve sought to align the data that’s gone into our EIA with regulations and best practice wherever possible. But in many instances we have gone beyond best practice as well to ensure the data is as robust as possible.

In fact, the data that’s gone into the EIA for Codling Wind Park is probably the largest dataset I’ve ever seen for an offshore wind farm.

We have an ornithology (birds) data set which is almost unprecedented, in that we have survey data from when Codling first put in for planning permission in the early 2000s. So we have environmental data that spans the best part of 20 years across a number of different surveys; but almost uniquely we have a combination of boat-based and aerial survey data, which gives us a robust basis for understanding what birds are present and the heights that they fly at.

In the intertidal area, we’ve got a very substantial data set including archaeological review, and long-term ornithological survey.

And for shipping and navigation, we’ve gone above and beyond in collecting a wide range of data too. There’s a general standard, which is to undertake a 14-day survey over winter and a 14-day survey during the summer months to give you an understanding of vessel presence within the area.

We also use 12-months of data from automatic identification systems (AIS) that larger vessels have on board, to give ourselves a picture of how larger vessels are moving across the area over time. Some of our AIS survey data sets panned across the Covid pandemic, when fewer ships were going out. So as a result, we’ve extended our AIS data over a five-year span.

Also, to make sure we’re presenting the most contemporary data that we can, of the highest possible quality, we’re providing a further two weeks of summer survey data, which we’ve collected more recently.

So across the board on the project, we’ve used the best available data that’s out there, supplemented it with our own data and then gone further with additional surveys. This allows us to demonstrate that those data sets correspond with one another, but also it gives us a really strong foundation from which to undertake our impact assessment.

Q. How are we going above and beyond with our mitigation measures too?

A. One example is the minimum tip clearance (height of the blades from the sea) for the turbine blades. Typically for offshore wind farms across the UK and Europe this is set at 22m. But for the Codling Wind Park project we’ve actually increased our minimum tip clearance to 36m. This is to minimise the impact of collision risk from kittiwakes, which fly at a certain height above the waves.

There are other aspects too, such as avoiding certain sensitive seabed habitats if they appear between now and construction. We know that there is a species out at sea called Sabellaria spinulosa, which is a worm that builds reef-like structures. While we didn’t find any reef-like structures during the extensive surveys already undertaken, we recognise that there is the potential for the reefs to appear over a relative short period. As such, Codling Wind Park has committed to undertaking a future survey in advance of construction and avoiding any reefs that may have appeared between now and then.

Q. Can you explain more about the proactive measures Codling Wind Park is taking to improve the offshore biodiversity around the site?

A. The net benefits in the offshore environment are only just starting to be explored in Europe and the UK. And although there’s no statutory requirement in Ireland, we’re looking into the opportunities for including nature-inclusive design in the project and will be discussing these with the relevant authorities.

So what does nature-inclusive design mean? Well, to give an example: in the offshore array area, we’re beginning to look at opportunities for reef cubes. These are structures that can be installed near the base of the turbine that can serve an engineering purpose, but also encourage marine species. Another aspect we’re looking at for the offshore array area is oyster reefs. These have a benefit for water quality, but can also create a biogenic reef.

We’re beginning to look at opportunities for nature-inclusive design and enhanced measures to support biodiversity in the intertidal area too. For instance creating these exciting eco engineering structures called reef panels or living seawalls, which effectively create a type of rocky environment that encourages fauna and flora, and in turn brings with it some interest for passers-by from a public interest point of view. But importantly, from an ecological point of view, it can have a greater benefit than the rock material alone that would historically have been used in development in the coastal environment.

The other thing to mention with nature-inclusive or nature-plus design is that we recognise there is limited value looking at this at just a project level. So we’re hoping to partner with some academic institutions to explore the impacts of nature-inclusive design beyond our project. This will benefit Ireland by providing data on how the environment responds to nature-inclusive design on a much bigger scale.

It makes me proud to be working on a project that’s really open to new opportunities. I’ve worked across a number of projects that have historically been quite nervous about looking at nature-inclusive design because it’s such a new world and there’s a view that perhaps regulators need to look at it before developers bring it forward. But Codling Wind Park is really open to working in partnerships, so it’s a really exciting project to be part of.

Read more about the environmental studies we’ve undertaken and our environmental impact assessment. If you’re interested in working on the project, take a look at our jobs page.

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