Environmental protection

The Royal Navy undertakes a wide range of operational activities around the globe. This is necessary to maintain an effective naval force and fulfil a range of Government directed tasks.

In this way RN meets not only its legal responsibilities to protect the environment but also the internal requirements set out by the SofS for Defence in this statement:

Secretary of State for Defence’s Policy statement

In home waters and abroad RN planners and operators aim to meet UK standards for protecting the environment.  We monitor emerging legislation and applicable science in order that we can continue to meet the Government’s environmental expectations and those of countries that we visit.

Layered Environmental Protection

In order to procure and maintain complex effective naval capabilities the RN utilises a layered approach to protect the environment.

Environmental Protection

Figure 1. The Royal Navy’s layered approach to protect the marine environment (SNCB = Statutory Nature Conservation Body).

International and UK environmental regulations and MOD internal policy all influence the design requirements for defence equipment and ships. Environmental assessments are carried out for all equipment during the procurement and build phases with the aim of removing or reducing impacts and risks.  

When operating, the environmental impact of Royal Naval activity is limited through the use of appropriate Standard Operating Procedures. The procedures have environmental protection elements embedded within them and include routine on board practices such as the posting of marine mammal observers on ships before and during active sonar use. Other standard operational control measures include the assessment of environmental impacts at military sites which leads to mitigation being included in such things as local Port Authority instructions or Firing Range Orders.

When the Royal Navy operates close to Marine Protected Areas it is often necessary to enhance Standard Operating Procedures or moderate activities to ensure sensitive marine habitats or species are not harmed. This is achieved through the introduction of Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) – EPG(M) which are described in more detail below.

Should operators or planning authorities be unable to comply with the Standard Operating Procedures or EPG(M) or they intend to undertake particularly novel maritime activity, a comprehensive and activity specific maritime environmental assessment is conducted.

Throughout the development of EPG(M) and the conduct of Environmental Assessments, the Royal Navy maintain close engagement with all UK Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies including:

  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Natural England
  • NatureScot
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Department of Environment Northern Ireland

Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) EPG(M)

In close consultation with UK Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, the Royal Navy established the Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) (EPG(M)).  The guidelines are a simple system which allows Royal Naval operators and planners to identify where UK Marine Protected Areas are located and quickly understand what appropriate additional precautions may be necessary to safeguard these legally protected sites whilst maintaining the freedom of manoeuvre within and in the vicinity of the sites. EPG(M) is generic and is not superior to any other local instructions (such as Port authority instructions and Range orders). 

The guidelines are regularly updated and published as additional military layers into the Royal Naval Electronic charting system. Interactive .pdf charts are also generated from this data for advanced shore based planning activities. The guidelines cover guidance for all UK designated Marine Protected Areas and certain MPAs beyond national jurisdiction. 

Within the guidelines, Marine Protected Areas are divided into five groups (Fig 2). Each group provides Royal Naval operators and planners with specific guidance on their activities when operating within or in the vicinity of Marine Protected Areas. Click here to download the Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) (pdf).

 Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) map

Figure 2. Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) off the East coast of the UK

In 2013, the guidelines and its approach were endorsed when the Royal Navy and UK Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies signed up to a Statement of Intent (pdf).

This committed all parties to on-going collaboration to ensure that it remained relevant and readily utilised. The guidelines are updated bi-annually and are continuously expanding to integrate important operating areas. 

Maritime Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool (MESAT)

Navy Command’s recommended tool for the production of Environmental Assessments of Royal Naval maritime activities is the ‘Maritime Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool (MESAT). MESAT is designed to enable Royal Naval Units to meet their obligations for Maritime Environmental Protection in accordance with MOD Policy and environmental legislation. Naval Command activities occurring ashore, i.e. above the high water line, should comply with instructions provided by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. 

MESAT explores, justifies and records whether negative impacts to the marine environment exist and how they have been mitigated in the planning and conduct of any activity. Close engagement with Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies is held when the MESAT process demonstrates a possibility of a likely significant effect to the marine environment. 

EPG(M) and MESAT enable responsible conduct of Royal Naval exercises and operations at sea whilst maintaining the optimal freedom of operation for maritime commanders. 

Environmental Considerations for Exercise Joint Warrior 

The MESAT process is followed for the bi-annual, multi-national Exercise Joint Warrior. Close consultation is held with Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies during the preparation of every Joint Warrior Exercise to ensure appropriate mitigation measures are taken and both MOD and external authority interests are included in the Environmental Statement

A few weeks before the commencement of Exercise Joint Warrior, the Environmental Statement is uploaded onto the Queen’s Harbour Master Clyde website. 

Secretary of State for Defence’s Policy statement


Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime)


environmental protection Statement of Intent