Haig Fras MPA


Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


The UK Government has submitted an amendment to the boundary of Haig Fras SAC/SCI to the European Commission for approval. Such an amendment was needed following analysis of data from recent surveys of the area, which improved our understanding of the extent of the protected feature, Annex 1 reef. The information in this Site Information Centre has been updated to reflect the boundary amendment.


Haig Fras is an isolated underwater granite rock outcrop in the Celtic Sea, 95 kilometres north-west of the Isles of Scilly.


It is the only recorded substantial area of rocky reef in the Celtic Sea beyond the coastal margin. It supports a variety of fauna ranging from jewel anemones and solitary corals near the peak of the outcrop to encrusting sponges, crinoids and ross coral colonies towards the base of the rock (where boulders surround its edge). The area of reef feature within the site boundary is approximately 175 km2. The rock type is granite, mostly smooth with occasional fissures, approximately 45 km long and in one area rises to a peak which lies just 38 m beneath the sea surface. The surrounding seabed is approximately 118 m deep, with small dispersed patches of rocky outcropping within the surrounding circalittoral sand and coarse sediment.


More detailed site information can be found on the Summary tab below.

Click to link to the interactive map

Map displaying the MPA boundary

View and download spatial data for this MPA

on the JNCC UK MPA interactive map.



Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended)


Protected Features:

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
                  1170 Reefs                            Annex I habitat   


to Favourable Condition


Conservation Objectives
The overarching conservation objectives for the designated features of all protected sites in UK offshore waters is to ensure they either remain in, or reach favourable condition. The ability of a designated feature to remain in, or reach favourable condition can be affected by its sensitivity to pressures associated with activities taking place within or in close proximity to a protected site.

Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this SAC is provided in the Conservation Advice tab.

Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Haig Fras SAC.  More detail can be found within the relevant documentation listed below.

Haig Fras SAC/SCI timeline

Relevant documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Haig Fras SAC were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.  This Site Information Centre is the most up to date source of information for this MPA, and will reflect any additional information gathered since these documents were produced.

Amended boundary (2015)


Original boundary

These documents have been superseded by the above documents, however, were correct at the time of original selection and submission of the site to the European Commission in 2008. The original boundary site documents are available to download here.

Information about the SAC site selection process is available on the JNCC SAC pages.



Site overview
The granite rock exposure known as Haig Fras measures about 45km by 15km and protrudes above the surrounding sediment seabed, with the main shoal pinnacle rising to within 38m of the sea surface. A survey undertaken in 2000 over the main platform and the shoal showed that distinct biotopes were associated with both the rock habitat and the sediment ‘pockets’ which occur on the platform area. Around the base of the shoal, boulders and cobbles partially embedded in sediment provide a complex habitat.

On the uppermost parts of the Haig Fras shoal, the exposed bedrock is dominated by jewel anemones Corynactis viridis but also supports encrusting sponges and bryozoans, as well as mobile fauna such as the sea urchin Echinus esculentus and gastropod mollusc Calliostoma spp. At the shallowest depth surveyed (approximately 52m), small patches of encrusting pink coralline algae were observed, indicating that the peak of the shoal protrudes into the photic zone. At depths of between 60 m and 70 m, the shoal bedrock was slightly covered in silt and was not widely colonised except by cup corals Caryophyllia smithii (which are abundant) and a few mobile species such as the urchin Echinus esculentus, Calliostoma spp. and crinoids (Antedon spp.). High numbers of cup corals were also seen on parts of the rock platform away from the shoal. At the base of the shoal, the rock was covered with a thin layer of fine calcareous sand and mud and supported cup sponges, erect branching sponges, Caryophyllia smithii and crinoids. The boulders and cobbles around the base of the shoal supported encrusting sponges, Caryophyllia smithii and crinoids in low numbers; brittlestars, squat lobster (Munida spp.) and the ross coral Pentapora fascialis were also present.

Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found on the Evidence tab.

Site location:  Coordinates for this SAC can be found in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation.

Site area:  476 km²

Site depth range:  Depth of the site ranges from 39m below sea level to 107m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Western Channel and Celtic Sea

Site boundary description

When the site was designated in 2008, the boundary enclosed the predicted extent of Annex I reef to the best of our knowledge at the time, drawn following the JNCC SAC boundary guidance.  However, analysis of data from the 2011 and 2012 surveys of the site improved our knowledge of the presence and extent of the reef feature. JNCC concluded that the existing boundary wasn’t appropriate to protect the full extent of the feature.

In 2015 the UK submitted a revised boundary that enclosed the full extent of the reef feature, as indicated by the available evidence. The boundary is a polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat. Coordinate points have been positioned as close to the edge of the interest feature as possible, rather than being located at the nearest whole degree or minute point. The boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile fishing gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface. The maximum depth of water around the feature is 110m; therefore, assuming a ratio of 3:1 fishing warp length to depth, the proposed boundary is defined to include a margin of approximately 330m from the bedrock reef.    


The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the relevant documentation section and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced.


Click to link to the interactive map

Site specific data
There is a range of data that underpin this SAC. All data that can be made publicly available is displayed on the map below. Click on the map to go to the JNCC UK MPA Interactive map where you can view the data and find out more about the evidence underpinning this site.

The full overview of the data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the Haig Fras SAC Selection Assessment Document

Some of the data for this SAC has been collected through JNCC funded or collaborative surveys and some through other means.  Data from this survey provides direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.


Survey and data gathering

  • JNCC/Cefas survey of Haig Fras SAC  - 2011
    JNCC and Cefas undertook a marine survey that integrated biodiversity and other environmental monitoring on the same cruise. This was to trial novel techniques for survey planning and sample stratification as well as to collect data for specific monitoring requirements.
  • JNCC/Cefas Greater Haig Fras rMCZ Survey - 2012
    As part of the process of establishing an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in the UK, Defra is considering the remaining Marine Conservation Zone (MCZs) recommendations (rMCZs) made by the regional MCZ projects for the second tranche of designations in 2015. Recently, evidence has been collected for some recommended sites via new environmental surveys. One such survey was in the location of the Haig Fras SAC and additional acoustic groundtruthing data for this site were collected including video and stills and particle size data.
  • JNCC/Cefas survey of Haig Fras SAC – 2015
    JNCC and Cefas undertook a survey of Haig Fras collecting a range of data for the site, including video, stills and particle size data, for MPA monitoring purposes.

Data analysis reports

  • Mapping of the Haig Fras SAC - 2015
    Survey data collected in 2011 and 2012 by JNCC and Cefas were analysed to map the full extent of reefs at Haig Fras. Updated maps depicting the distribution of identified EUNIS habitat types and Annex I reefs are presented.
  • Greater Haig Fras rMCZ post-survey site report (MB0120) - 2015
    The Greater Haig Fras rMCZ surrounds and overlaps Haig Fras SAC, the maps and analysis presented in this report include the area of Haig Fras SAC/SCI. This report provides an updated map of the presence and estimated extent of habitats within the Greater Haig Fras rMCZ. Survey data to support this were collected jointly by Cefas and the JNCC and Gardline Geosurvey personnel at the Greater Haig Fras rMCZ site during July 2012 and March 2014, respectively.


Knowledge gaps
If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in any of the relevant documentation listed on the main page, please contact JNCC.



MPA Conservation Advice

Conservation objectives
Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objective for the protected feature of the Haig Fras SAC has been set based on knowledge of the condition of the protected feature at the time of writing. Further information on feature condition and conservation objectives is provided in the Haig Fras Conservation objectives and advice on operations document.

This information is useful if you are:

  • preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) of proposed plans or projects that may affect the site;
  • planning measures to maintain or restore the site and its qualifying features;
  • monitoring the condition of the qualifying features; or
  • developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site


The conservation objective for the protected features of the MPA is:

Subject to natural change, restore the reef to a favourable condition, such that:

  • The natural environmental quality is restored;
  • The natural environmental processes are maintained;
  • The extent, physical structure, diversity, community structure and typical species representative of bedrock reef in the Celtic Sea, are restored.

JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objective listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.

Advice on operations
In line with Regulation (18) of the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) which apply to the UK’s offshore marine area. the advice on operations for the protected feature of the Haig Fras SAC outline current knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place which may have a significant impact on the feature for which a site has been selected.

The advice on operations is based on JNCC’s scientific knowledge of the biological communities present at the time of writing and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about the biological communities present within the site and their spatial distribution, please see the evidence tab. Sensitivity information for biological communities identified within the site can also be found on MarLIN’s website.

JNCC also provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management in the activities and management tab. This information is also useful when assessing an activity, plan or project which may affect the protected features and JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site. While every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate and kept up-to-date, the list is not to be considered exhaustive or definitive. The list does not, for example, include activities occurring off-site which may also be capable of affecting the protected features.  

The information contained within the advice on operations, activities and management tab, evidence tab, and MarLIN’s sensitivity assessments are useful if you are:

  • carrying out any activity that may impact the site and need to find out how to operate within the law
  • an authority providing advice on specific proposals
  • an authority responsible for putting management measures in place

Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying features and how activities can affect them may change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this and surveillance required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive. Conservation advice for sites which straddle the 12nm boundary will continue to be developed jointly with the relevant country nature conservation body. Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available via the offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.



Activities known to be currently occurring within this MPA
(Activities information correct as of December 2013)



  • Demersal: There are records of demersal mobile and static gear in use throughout the site, with higher mobile demersal effort concentrated towards the north-east and south-west corners of the SAC, while a lower mobile demersal fishing effort is indicated over the reef itself. Static gear targeting the species associated with the reef itself includes set gillnets, trammel nets, and possibly set longlines. Demersal fishing by French vessels is one of the predominant activities within the site.
  • Pelagic: Hook-lining and net fishing also take place within the site by other EU-registered vessels.


There is currently no fisheries management in place designed specifically to protect the designated features of this site.

A stakeholder workshop was held in France December 2011 as part of the Marine Protected Areas in the Atlantic Arc (MAIA) project.  The workshop was attended by French and UK industry stakeholders, and JNCC presented advice on possible management options. Following further engagement with stakeholders, the UK Government (Defra) will draw up management proposals to submit to the European Commission.

Where required, Defra is aiming to have management measures in place by 2016.  The site falls outside the UK’s 12 nautical mile limit thus any management will be implemented through the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In accordance with Article 18 of the revised CFP, requests for management will be developed jointly between the UK Government and any Member States with a direct management interest in the area. Once drafted, there is a requirement to consult the relevant Advisory Council (North Western waters AC) prior to submission of any final recommendations to the European Commission.  The UK Marine Management Organisation will be the lead authority regarding implementation and compliance of any measures.

Other activities:

  • Cables - Telecommunications cables pass through the site. 

Cables are largely an unregulated activity in offshore waters depending upon the type of cable being laid (or maintained), where it is being laid between and whether the cable is part of a larger development (which may be regulated). Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine licence beyond 12 nautical miles. JNCC encourages early discussion from operators regarding any plans related to new or existing cables, and encourages the undertaking of non-statutory Environmental Impact Assessments for new or existing cable projects to assess their effect on the protected features of the MPA.

The MMO have assessed all European Marine Sites within their jurisdiction and created a strategic management table, which summarises the overall risk facing this site and the management actions being taken forward.


Site management

Management Plan: JNCC is undertaking a review of management plan requirements for offshore MPAs. Further detail will be provided at a later date.

Management Group: MPA Management National Steering Group

Further information on activities and feature sensitivity to these pressures can be found under the Conservation Advice tab.




MPA Monitoring

JNCC is currently leading on the development of a strategy for biodiversity monitoring across all UK waters, to include MPA monitoring. For MPAs, data and evidence collected from monitoring activities will aim to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Enable assessment of the degree to which management measures are effective in achieving the conservation objectives for the protected features;
  • Support the identification of priorities for future protection and/or management; and,
  • Enable Government to fulfil its national and international assessment and reporting commitments in relation to MPAs and help identify where further action may be required.

In May 2015, a monitoring survey was undertaken within Haig Fras SAC aboard the R/V Cefas Endeavour. The aim of the survey was to collect the first dataset in a monitoring time-series, enabling a better understanding of long-term patterns in benthic fauna.

Links to the cruise report and monitoring report will be provided here when they have been published.




MPA Assessment

Assessments of the condition of designated features in offshore MPAs are required to report against our legal obligations. Ideally these assessments should be based on observed data, and then measured against targets for predefined indicators. However, for MPAs in offshore waters we do not always have the appropriate information to be able to do so. This is particularly true for seabed habitats, which are the main type of feature designated for protection in offshore MPAs. 

To address these challenges, JNCC has been an active partner in the development of new approaches and tools for the assessment of habitats and species for a variety of national and international status reports. They include the second cycle of the Conservation Status Assessment reports under the EU Habitats Directive, Charting Progress 2 (CP2) and the OSPAR Quality Status Report (QSR). JNCC continues to develop and pilot tools for the assessment of marine habitats and species in offshore waters to improve the quality and transparency of our offshore MPA assessments, and contribute to the monitoring of marine biodiversity in UK waters. These tools cover methods for producing interim assessments of site features and their responses to pressures, as well as developing more robust indicators for determining condition of the features.

Every six years, Member States are required under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive to report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive.  The assessments should consider the habitat or species both within the Natura 2000 network and in the wider sea.  The latest report was submitted by the UK in 2013 and provided a second assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during 2007-2012. The next report is for the period 2013-2018 and is due in 2019; information on the condition of features within SACs will make a contribution to this report. 

The assessments of features within MPAs will also feed into six yearly reports on the state of the marine environment under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020.




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