1.         St Kilda (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) (C/N 387ter)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1986

Criteria  (iii)(v)(vii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/387/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/387/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Proposed Oil exploration and production, and potential oil spills

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/387/

Information presented to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee in 1999

Summary of previous deliberations: The Bureau at its twenty-second extraordinary session (November 1998) was informed that the Centre had transmitted the report entitled “Threats to St. Kilda World Heritage Site from Proposed Oil Exploration and Production in the Atlantic Frontier”, prepared by Greenpeace International, to IUCN for review. This report had raised serious concerns on potential impacts to this site, particularly in the event of a possible oil spill that may result from the use of the Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Facilities (FPSOs). There are important threats associated with pollution derived from by-products of oil exploration and drilling activities. IUCN had informed the Centre that the State Party is currently considering the establishment of a Special Area for Conservation of the seas of the St. Kilda archipelago under the European Union’s Habitats and Species Directive. IUCN had welcomed this initiative and expressed the hope that it would lead to the eventual extension of the World Heritage site to include the seas of the St. Kilda archipelago. The Observer of the United Kingdom informed the Bureau that his Government is in the process of preparing a detailed response on the issues raised. Any licence is subject to a thorough review, which is co­ordinated by Scottish Heritage. The decision on the blocks offered for petroleum licensing was agreed with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee who co-ordinated their response with Scottish Nature. The Bureau invited the State Party to take all possible measures to protect St. Kilda from potential adverse impacts of oil exploration and production in the Atlantic Frontier and to consult with all interested parties before proceeding with such activities. The Bureau welcomed the State Party’s initiative to extend the boundaries of the site to include the seas of the St. Kilda archipelago.

New information: The Scottish Office of the Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department, via its letter of 12 April 1999, has informed the Centre of the responses of the authorities with regard to threats arising from the proposed oil exploration and production at the Atlantic Frontier. This information has been transmitted to IUCN for review. The authorities indicate that they are satisfied with the implementation of various oil and gas round licensing procedures and that the risks to St. Kilda are minimal. They are firmly of the opinion that there is no case for inclusion of St. Kilda in the List of World Heritage in Danger.

IUCN however, has informed the Centre that new information it has received since the conclusion of the last session of the Committee (Kyoto, 1998) indicates that threats to this site have become greater. More than 150 blocks have now been licensed for oil development, including one located only 120 km from St. Kilda. Seismic testing continues to be carried out over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the Atlantic Frontier, with inadequate consideration of either the importance of the area for whales and dolphins or the effects of acoustic disturbance on these species. The Atlantic Frontier is the most important place in the UK, and possibly in Europe, for large whales and dolphins and the case for negative impacts of seismic testing on cetaceans is becoming stronger. A number of NGOs are concerned that current measures employed by the UK Government to protect the offshore marine environment are inadequate. Despite this, there are now plans to speed up further the process of approval for new oil developments and to offer new licenses more frequently. There are also concerns regarding the standards of EIA being applied to the area. The UK marine environment has experienced some of the worst oil pollution incidences in the world in recent years. New oil developments in the Atlantic Frontier increase the pollution potential. A significant increase in shuttle tanker traffic is expected as the new oil fields develop. Previous experience shows that the transfer of oil from drilling ship to shuttle tanker can be an inherently high-risk process made all the more risky by the extreme weather conditions experienced in these parts of the Atlantic Frontier. Should a spill occur, it is by no means certain that the capacity exists within the region to deal adequately with contingency actions. The potential for increased oil pollution presents serious threats to the bird and marine life around St. Kilda and throughout the Atlantic Frontier. Oil spills reaching the shores of St. Kilda would affect breeding birds, while spills remaining further offshore could have an impact on those species which feed in this area. Recent research has seriously challenged previous understanding of the effects of even small amounts of oil-related compounds on marine life, showing that even one part per billion can have serious effects. The two most serious oil spills in UK waters have occurred on the north and south sides of the Atlantic Frontier. Predictions are that the UK will experience spills of this scale every 12 years. Day-to-day pollution from smaller spills and routine oil industry discharges, that have degraded the North Sea, could gradually impact St. Kilda and it's surrounding waters in a less dramatic albeit significant ways. Despite the high risk to the integrity of this site from the development plans, IUCN has not received a detailed response that the Observer of the United Kingdom said was under preparation during the last session of the Committee (Kyoto, 1998). Increasing potential threats from oil development to the St. Kilda World Heritage site and the lack of an adequate response from the State Party on issues of concern has led IUCN to suggest that the Bureau consider declaring St. Kilda as a World Heritage in Danger.

Action Required

The Bureau may wish to review new information that may become available at the time of its session and take appropriate decisions thereupon.

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1999

Previous deliberations:

Twenty-second session of the Committee – Chapter VII. 27

Twenty-third ordinary session of the Bureau – Chapter IV. 43

 

New information: The twenty-second Bureau session noted conflicting information in relation to the state of conservation of St. Kilda.  Accordingly it suggested that the State Party, in co-operation with the Centre and IUCN, initiate a round table process involving interested parties.  This round table meeting was held in Edinburgh on 24 September 1999 with the participation of a representative from IUCN/WCPA and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The IUCN focus at the roundtable was whether risks to the existing World Heritage property were such that it should be included on the List of the World Heritage in Danger.  The boundary of the property is at the high tide mark and, therefore, any matters of marine pollution were considered in the context of impact on the nesting sea birds of St. Kilda while at sea, feeding or roosting, or the food upon which they depended. 

The strategy for exploration and possible exploitation of the Atlantic Frontier was explained in detail at the roundtable meeting, together with the procedures for the input of scientific advice by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) on environmental impacts.  Information was also provided about the data on which this scientific advice was based.

The evidence provided at the round table meeting covered:

·        Existing proposals to drill  exploration wells;

·        General environmental measures within licensing;

·        Preparedness and response to oil spills;

·        Environmental impact assessments for each exploration well and for development;

·        Assessment of risk of oil spills;

·        Details  about the likely scale of tanker traffic;

·        Data on the probability of spills during the transfer of oil;

·        An analysis of the procedures followed in Oil Spill Risk Assessment;

·        A breakdown of the factors influencing potential oil spill impact — taking into account the nature of the oil, wind and current direction, rate of dispersion and weathering of spilled oil, the distribution and populations of birds (species by species), shore life and sub-tidal life;

·        For birds at sea, the analysis of the database of birds at sea (at present 2 million records) is used to calculate an ‘offshore vulnerability index’ for each species and, derived from that an ‘area vulnerability index’.  Both of these are available for each month of the year.  They are constantly being reviewed and updated in the light of new evidence.  (They are, of course, not only concerned with St. Kilda); and

·        An analysis of the effects of exploration and drilling techniques.

The present suggested limit of 25 miles from St. Kilda for potential oil development is not cast in stone.  It is the best estimate based on existing scientific knowledge.  It is not possible to make exact predictions about the future of exploration and development.  This will depend upon future oil prices and the interest of companies in exploration.  There has been little interest in the last  year, but it is now increasing.  The latest blocks opened for licensing are in an arc from the west to east about 200 miles north of St. Kilda.  If there should be extensive strikes to the north of St. Kilda, it would probably become economic to move away from Shuttle Tankers to pipe line.  Any strikes to the south are more likely to be of gas than of oil.

The Round Table also discussed the possibility of damage to the intertidal and underwater communities round the coast of St. Kilda, even though these are not included in the present property.  The Round Table considered the intertidal communities are not considered to be at major risk from any pollutants that might reach them for a number of reasons:

·        the dispersed nature of any pollutants by the time they reached the coast;

·        the fact that species which are adapted to the extreme conditions of the inter-tidal zone in St. Kilda also tend to seal themselves effectively against foreign bodies;

·        the very rapid turn over of individuals and the large reservoir of free-swimming larval and juvenile stages.

In view of the information arising from the Round Table Process, IUCN does not recommend that this site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger at this time.

 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies

N/A

Decision Adopted: 23 BUR IV.B.43

The Bureau, at its twenty-second extraordinary session, was informed that the Centre had transmitted the report entitled «Threats to St. Kilda World Heritage Site from Proposed Oil Exploration and Production in the Atlantic Frontier», prepared by Greenpeace International, to IUCN for review. This report had raised serious concerns on potential impacts to this site, particularly in the event of a possible oil spill that may result from the use of the Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Facilities (FPSOs). There are important threats associated with pollution derived from by-products of oil exploration and drilling activities. IUCN had informed the Centre that the State Party is currently considering the establishment of a Special Area for Conservation of the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago under the European Union’s Habitats and Species Directive. IUCN had welcomed this initiative and expressed the hope that it would lead to the eventual extension of the World Heritage site to include the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago. The Observer of the United Kingdom had informed the Bureau that his Government was in the process of preparing a detailed response on the issues raised. Any licence would be subject to a thorough review, which is co-ordinated by Scottish Nature. The decision on the blocks offered for petroleum licensing was agreed with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee who co-ordinated their response with Scottish Nature. The Bureau invited the State Party to take all possible measures to protect St. Kilda from potential adverse impacts of oil exploration and production in the Atlantic Frontier and to consult with all interested parties before proceeding with such activities. The Bureau welcomed the State Party’s initiative to consider extending the boundaries of the site to include the seas of the St. Kilda Archipelago.

The Bureau noted that the Scottish Office, Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department, had informed the Centre of the responses of the authorities with regard to threats arising from the proposed oil exploration and production at the Atlantic Frontier. This information has been transmitted to IUCN for review. The authorities indicated that they are satisfied with the implementation of various oil and gas round licensing procedures and that the risks to St. Kilda are minimal. They are firmly of the opinion that there is no case for inclusion of St. Kilda in the List of World Heritage in Danger.

IUCN informed the Bureau that it had received new information since the conclusion of the last session of the Committee, which suggested that threats to this site have become greater. This information suggested that more than 150 blocks have now been licensed for oil development, including one located 120 km from St. Kilda. Seismic testing continues to be carried out over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the Atlantic Frontier, with allegedly inadequate consideration of either the importance of the area for whales and dolphins or the effects of acoustic disturbance on these species. The Atlantic Frontier is the most important place in the UK, and possibly in Europe, for large whales and dolphins and the threat of negative impacts of seismic testing on cetaceans is becoming stronger. IUCN noted that the UK marine environment has experienced some of the worst oil pollution incidents in the world in recent years. New oil developments in the Atlantic Frontier increase the pollution potential. A significant increase in shuttle tanker traffic is expected as the new oil fields develop. Should a spill occur, it is by no means certain that the capacity exists within the region to deal adequately with contingency actions. The potential for increased oil pollution presents serious threats to the bird and marine life around St. Kilda and throughout the Atlantic Frontier. IUCN noted conflicting information, and the need for clarity and suggested a round table meeting with a delay in granting any licenses until the round table meeting.

The Observer of the United Kingdom informed the Bureau that his Government’s response was provided to the Centre by 12 April 1999 and has reached IUCN. His Government refutes any suggestions that threats to St. Kilda have become greater since the last Committee meeting. He emphasised that no additional sites had been licenced for oil exploration. Licences cover 80 blocks (not 150), and the nearest block to St. Kilda is 70 km away, the furthest 350 km. In offering blocks for petroleum licensing, the Government took full account of the views of the Joint Natural Conservation Committee (JNCC). His Government would take full account of environmental, safety and legislative requirements before allowing any development. Much of the information relates to potential threats from possible developments, which are a very long way from the World Heritage site. His Government would be happy to set up round table discussions among the interested parties.

In view of the need to clarify and consolidate information on the offshore oil issues in relation to this site, the Bureau suggested that the State Party, in co-operation with the Centre and IUCN, initiate a round table process involving all interested parties.  Following this meeting, a state of conservation report should be prepared and provided to the extraordinary session of the Bureau in November 1999.

Decision Adopted: 23 COM X.B.27

X.27 St. Kilda (United Kingdom)

The Committee recalled the reports from the twenty-third ordinary and the twenty-third extraordinary session of the Bureau on the state of conservation of this property and adopted the following decision:

The Committee noted that a round table meeting on the state of conservation of the site was held in Edinburgh on 24 September 1999 with the participation of a representative from IUCN/WCPA and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

IUCN underlined that it does not recommend that this site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The Delegate of Portugal highlighted comments made by the Observer of France at the Bureau session, namely the issue of economic development at maritime sites. He underlined that this applies to coastal areas in general. A technical meeting could be organized on the problems of tourism and economic development in coastal areas and he recommended the involvement of the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to start a dialogue on these issues.

Following the discussion, the Committee decided the following:

"The Committee noted the results of the St. Kilda Round Table of September 1999. The Committee recommended (1) that the boundaries of the World Heritage area should be expanded to include the surrounding marine area and consideration be given to a buffer zone as was recommended in the IUCN's original evaluation in 1986; (2) that a revised management plan should be prepared. The Committee also recommended that, until the management plan and the risk assessment of any proposed development that might affect the integrity of the site had been prepared, consideration be given to placing a moratorium on oil licensing nearer to St Kilda other than that already licensed. The Committee decided not to include the site in the List of World Heritage in Danger."

The Observer of the United Kingdom informed the Committee that his Government would be happy to respond to the Committee's request.