Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST)

The Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST) is a web-based application which allows users to investigate the sensitivity of marine features.

The Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST) is a web-based application which allows users to investigate the sensitivity of marine features (habitats, species, geology and landforms) in Scotland's seas, to pressures arising from human activities. FeAST has been devised as a tool to be used in a variety of ways by anyone with an interest in potential impacts on marine features, for example:

  • Conservation advisers and consultants,
  • Developers, Planners and other regulators,
  • People who work in marine industries (e.g. offshore development and marine renewables, fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, seaweed harvesting, marine tourism and recreation).

Scotland's Marine Assessment 2020 is using FeAST to underpin the pressure assessments required under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. FeAST is also being used to inform discussions on management requirements for Marine Protected Areas and Priority Marine Features.

Take a look at the online sensitivity tool FeAST.

FeAST can provide evidence to demonstrate how, for example:

  • infrastructure changes to tidal flow could impact on native oyster beds,
  • abrasion of the sea-bed from trawling could impact cold water reef-building corals in carbonate mound communities,
  • the marine features kelp and seaweed communities on sublittoral sediment and maerl beds may be impacted by the introduction of the non-indigenous species transported via boat hulls or in shipping ballast water,
  • nitrogen and phosphorous enrichment from sewage disposal could impact on black guillemot populations by reducing the availability of prey,
  • aquaculture is associated with a number of pressures including de-oxygenation, synthetic compound contamination and siltation changes.

The aim is that information on the sensitivity of all Scottish marine features of conservation importance will be incorporated into FeAST.

Future FeAST Improvements

The tool is undergoing a review with plans to update and improve it. To build on its scope the following features will be incorporated into FeAST:

Further updates will include:

  • A revised list of human-induced pressures, each with a clear definition and impact benchmark at which sensitivities are assessed. The marine pressures list is adapted from an inventory prepared and agreed by OSPAR Joint Assessment Monitoring Programme 2014-2021 (see Table II).
  • Updated descriptions of activities and pressures associations.
  • A potential rebuild of the tool with increased functionality and improved ease of use.
  • More visible information on sensitivity assessment methods for different feature types (e.g. summary assessments for Annex 1 features).
  • Updated assessments for features currently in FeAST using the information within the Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN) where available.

This work is being developed through the FeAST Working Group (NatureScot, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Marine Scotland, Marine Scotland Science, and Scottish Environment Protection Agency).

Relevant publications

NatureScot Research Report 1273 - Development of Marine Bird Sensitivity Assessments for FeAST

A review was carried out to determine how best to categorise marine mammal sensitivity using methods consistent with FeAST. An initial suite of five marine mammal assessments was drafted using an individual based approach (as opposed to a population one):

NatureScot Research Report 11735 Developing FeAST for mobile marine species.

Sensitivity Assessment Methods

Sensitivity assessments use the best available evidence to assess the likely response of a marine feature to anthropogenic pressures.  This is done by considering a feature’s tolerance (ability to absorb or resist change or disturbance) to a pressure and its likely ability to recover, should the pressure be stopped. The sensitivity assessment process uses pressure benchmarks where possible to provide a measure of the pressure to assess against, but it does not take into account the intensity, frequency or cumulative impacts from activities taking place at specific locations. One example of summarised information for flame shell bed sensitivity is given in the graphic below.

A full description for this image can be found directly below
Figure 1: Sensitivity assessment process
Click for a full description

The flow diagram for the flame shell bed sensitivity assessment process - 

  • Activity - Infrastructure (e.g. ports, marinas)
  • Arrow points to Example pressure - siltation (light) - Smothering of up to 5cm of sediment
  • Arrow points to Sensitivity evidence for example feature - flame shell beds. Siltation is likely to prevent water flow through the byssal nests of flame shells, preventing feeding and resulting in local hypoxia.
  • Separate arrows point to
    • Tolerance - medium - a proportion of up to 25% of flame shell bed may be lost
    • Recovery - Low - full recovery may take over 10 years
      • Both arrows point to - Sensitivity - Medium

The flow diagram displays an example of summarised information obtainable from FeAST when interrogated from the starting point of a marine activity. A development involving coastal infrastructure which may cause light siltation pressure (smothering of up to 5 cm of silt), could restrict water flow through marine habitats. Local hypoxia could occur in e.g. flame shells beds, where a score of Medium tolerance and Low recovery are given for this feature resulting in a Medium sensitivity score.

To ensure consistent scoring between different features, a sensitivity scoring matrix is used, which combines the tolerance and recovery scores to give an overall sensitivity score. This matrix is shown in the table below.

Sensitivity scoring matrix
Sensitivity scores Tolerance - - -
Recovery None Low Medium High
Very low High High Medium Low
Low High High Medium Low
Medium Medium Medium Medium Low
High Low Low Low Not sensitive


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