Influence of Man-made Structures in the Ecosystem (INSITE)

Windfarm pylon encrusted with marine life

Copyright Dr Alain Norro

There is a major programme of decommissioning of North Sea energy installations planned over the next 20 years and beyond, however there is a lack of robust scientific rationale and a limited evidence base to support environmental management strategies for decommissioning.

This programme will address this by tackling critical gaps in scientific understanding of the role these man-made structures play in North Sea ecosystem structure and function. The programme is supported by NERC and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

Announcement of Opportunity: Influence of Man-made Structures In The Ecosystem

Closing date: 19 Sep

25 Jun 2019

Proposals are invited for a new research programme on tackling critical gaps in the scientific understanding of the role North Sea energy installations have on the North Sea ecosystem structure and function.

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The North Sea continues to have both high biological productivity and economic resource value, supporting intense human activity across multiple sectors, such as oil and gas, offshore wind, fisheries, aggregate extraction and shipping. Since the 1970s, an increasing amount of hard infrastructure (such as oil / gas rigs and pipelines, and offshore wind turbines) has been installed in the North Sea, with limited research being done to understand and assess the effect of this man-made habitat upon the North Sea ecosystem.

Understanding the ecosystem effects of structures has been furthered elsewhere, particularly with the development of the US 'rigs-to-reefs' programmes, that have been supported by research in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore California. Under these initiatives, the substructures of decommissioned facilities can be lifted and placed in designated sites to preserve habitat and enhance ecosystem services. Maintenance of these reefs is funded by savings in decommissioning costs associated with recovery and disposal onshore.

The gaps in scientific understanding of the North Sea ecosystem are becoming increasingly clear from both environmental and regulatory perspectives. A robust evidence base is urgently needed to support the most appropriate environmental management for decommissioning oil / gas infrastructure, which has been in place for up to 40 years, and the installation of new offshore wind infrastructure that will be in place for the next 25-50 years.

It is estimated that the cost of oil / gas decommissioning will be $70-80 billion (up to 2040), with the UK, Netherlands and Norwegian governments carrying 50-80% of the total through tax relief on expenditure - for example, the UK government's latest estimate of its liabilities is £24 billion. Understanding how the ecosystem has responded to man-made, hard substrate infrastructure that has been in place for a significant period of time, and how it may respond to new infrastructure that could be in place for the next 50 years, will be fundamental to inform decommissioning decisions and ensure that the health of the North Sea is maintained.

The two-year (2015-2017) foundation phase of the Influence of Man-made Structures in the Ecosystem (INSITE) research programme was funded by the oil and gas industry. This initial phase helped to establish preliminary, independent and transparent science to understand the influence of man-made structures in the North Sea ecosystem. The projects funded under the foundation phase have advanced our initial understanding of the role of man-made structures in the North Sea ecosystem and they have highlighted critical gaps in understanding. This new research programme aims to build on the outcomes of the INSITE foundation stage and to address the identified gaps in knowledge.


2019 - 2023

Can I apply for a grant?

An Announcement of Opportunity is open until 19 September 2019.


£5 million