North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA

Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)

Click to link to the interactive map

Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is the largest designated MPA in Europe.

 

The continental slope here plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which in turn support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including the fin whale (‘razorback’), and sperm whale. At depths of 400-600m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful nutrients are ideal for deep-sea sponges. Below 800m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler Arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms. The MPA also includes several features of geological importance, including a series of deep-water mud volcanoes known as the Pilot Whale Diapirs.

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

 

Map displaying the MPA boundary

View and download spatial data for this MPA

on the JNCC UK MPA interactive map.

Legislation behind the designation: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009)

 

Protected Features:

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
Deep-sea sponge aggregations     Low or limited mobility species  Conserve in Favourable Condition
Offshore deep-sea muds Habitat Conserve in Favourable Condition
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat Conserve in Favourable Condition
Continental slope Large scale feature Conserve in Favourable Condition
A wide range of features representative of the West Shetland Margin Palaeo-depositional, Miller Slide and Pilot Whale Diapirs Key Geodiversity Areas Geological and geomorphological Conserve in 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 NCMPA 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 North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA. More detail can be found within the relevant documentation listed below.


Relevant documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA 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.

Information about the Nature Conservation MPA site selection process is available on the JNCC NCMPA pages.

 



Site overview
Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is the largest designated MPA in Europe. The habitats present here are strongly influenced by the significant range of environmental conditions in the region, from the upper continental slope to the depths of the channel, and include a dynamic mixing zone where warmer Atlantic waters flow over cooler Arctic waters. The continental slope plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which in turn support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including fin whales (‘razorback’) and sperm whales.

At depths of 400-600m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful supply of nutrients are ideal for the establishment of deep-sea sponges. Up to 50 sponge species can be found within the sponge fields, many of which are different to those found in the surrounding areas. Deep-sea sponge aggregations are an OSPAR threatened or declining habitat and a NERC Act Habitat of Priority Importance. The sponges provide shelter for a range of small sea life such as pencil urchins (Cidaris cidaris) and an elevated perch for animals such as brittlestars that filter food from the passing water currents. Below 800m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler Arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms.

The MPA includes several different features of geological importance, including the Pilot Whale Diapirs. The Diapirs are a series of seabed sediment mounds which measure 2 to 3 km across and rise to more than 70m above the surrounding seafloor. Research has shown the Diapirs are just a tiny fraction of more extensive subsurface features, covering more than 2,000 km2. The Pilot Whale Diapirs are unusual in that they are the only known example of Diapirs found in UK waters that breach the seabed surface and provide scientists with a rare opportunity to directly sample Mid-Cenozoic age sediments at the seabed.

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

Site location:  Coordinates for this NCMPA can be found in the Designation Order listed in the relevant Documentation.

Site area:  23,682 km2

Site depth range:  The site ranges from 330m below sea level at the edge of the Faroe-Shetland channel continental slope, extending down the slope into the deep and cooler Arctic influenced waters 2420m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Site boundary description

The MPA boundary reflects the full extent of the records of deep-sea sponge aggregations on the continental slope in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the range of key geodiversity interests present. The north-east of the boundary tracks the extent of Scottish waters, and the west and north-western boundary follows the slide deposit feature representative of the Miller Slide Key Geodiversity Area. The resulting shape also represents the diversity associated with the offshore subtidal sand and gravel and offshore deep-sea mud habitats in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the relevant documentation section, and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced.

 

Site specific data
There is a range of data that underpin this NCMPA. 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 North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment.  JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to our MPA interactive map in due course.

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

 

Survey and data gathering

  • MV Franklin Survey - 2006
    This survey was commissioned by the Department for Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC))  as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) survey programme. These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, collected acoustic and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland.
  • SV Kommandor Jack Survey - 2002
    This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES). The cruise undertook a seabed environmental survey of the deep waters to the North of Shetland within the UKCS (United Kingdom Continental Shelf) area. The cruise carried out seabed sampling and photography to investigate the seabed environment and fauna of the ‘Pilot Whale Diapirs’ and described and characterised ‘hard ground’ areas of the north-east Faroe Plateau.
  • RRS Charles Darwin Survey (C3-4) - 2000
    This cruise was led by the National Oceanography Centre and formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES) programme. Seabed samples were collected and photographic and video observations of the seabed and its fauna were also undertaken.
  • White Zone Environmental Survey, 1999
    This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES). Sidescan sonar, seabed sampling and underwater imagery data were collected. The survey also investigated areas of complex seabed topography, including the Pilot Whale Diapirs.
  • Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network Survey of the SEA4 Region - 1996 & 1998
    The Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network (AFEN) took on the need for a regional assessment of the environment west of Shetland. Sidescan sonar, seabed sampling and underwater imagery data were collected during these surveys.

 

Data analysis reports
Further analysis of data gathered as part of the surveys listed above are available via the following reports:

 

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Data Confidence Assessment.

 

Additional relevant literature
Please be aware that although these sources contain information which is of interest in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC:

  • Bett, B.J., (2001) UK Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey: Introduction and overview of bathyal benthic ecology Continental Shelf Research 21: 917-956.
    Summarises AFEN survey activities in 1996 and 1998, including discussion on their findings in relation to the benthic ecology of the Faroe-Shetland Channel.
  • Holmes, R., Hobbs, P.R.N.,Leslie, A.B., Wilkinson, I.P.,Gregory, F.J., Riding, J. B.,Hoult, R.J., Cooper, R.M. and Jones, S.M.. (2003) DTI Strategic Environmental Assessment Area 4 (SEA4): Geological evolution Pilot Whale Diapirs and stability of the seabed habitat. British Geological Survey Commercial Report CR/03/082.
    British Geological Survey report that discusses the formation and evolution of the Pilot Whale Diapirs.

Knowledge gaps
If you are aware of any additional data not referred to in 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. As there is no direct evidence of damage to any of the protected features within the North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA, the agreed policy approach states that such features should be allocated a conservation objective of ‘conserve in favourable condition’, noting that there is uncertainty in feature condition.

The conservation objectives for the protected features of the MPA are useful if you are:

  • planning measures to conserve the site and its protected features;
  • monitoring the condition of the protected features; or
  • developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the protected features of the site

 

The Conservation Objectives for the protected features of the MPA are:

Subject to natural change, conserve the deep-sea sponge aggregations, offshore deep-sea muds and offshore subtidal sands and gravels in favourable condition, such that:

  • their extent is stable or increasing; and
  • their structures and functions, their quality, and the composition of the characteristic biological communities are such as to ensure they are in a condition which is healthy and not deteriorating.

Subject to natural change, conserve the geomorphological and geological protected features in favourable condition, such that:

  • their extent, component elements and integrity are maintained;
  • their structure and functioning are unimpaired; and
  • their surface remains sufficiently unobscured for the purposes of determining with the conditions in the points above

Subject to natural change, conserve the area of the continental slope in favourable condition such that:

  • the extent, distribution and structure of the feature is maintained;
  • the characteristic biological communities and their use of the feature, for activities such as feeding, courtship, spawning and as nursery grounds, are maintained and not deteriorating; and
  • the processes supporting the feature are maintained

More information regarding the conservation objectives for the protected features of the North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA is available in the Designation Order. JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objectives for the features listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.

 

Advice on operations 

Section 127 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) states that JNCC may provide guidance regarding matters capable of damaging or otherwise affecting the protected features of a NCMPA. JNCC has contributed to the development of an online Features, Activities, Sensitivities Tool (FeAST), which is intended to help public authorities, industry and regulators determine which activities are capable of affecting the protected features of a MPA.

FeAST reflects our current understanding of the interactions between activities, pressures and features within NCMPAs. The tool highlights that activities can give rise to a range of pressures, to which the protected features of the MPA may be sensitive and may therefore be capable of affecting them. JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have also produced more specific guidance on the impacts of different fishing gears on the protected features of Nature Conservation MPAs. These are available on our Fisheries Management Guidance Documents webpage.

The activities taking place within the North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA that are considered capable of affecting the protected features of the site are as follows and have been taken from the Management Options Paper for the site:

 

  • Fishing activities:
    - Line fishing
    - Otter trawling
    - Set netting
  • Licenced activities:
    - Oil and gas industry developments, including drilling of wells, pipelines and other subsea infrastructure, and their ongoing use and maintenance.
  • Telecommunications cables

 

JNCC provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management within the activities and management tab. JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site.

The information contained within FeAST, the fisheries management guidance, and the activities and management tab are useful if you are:

  • Carrying out any activity that may impact the protected features of 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 protected features of the site and how activities can affect them may change over time. Similarly the activities taking place within the site may also change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this. Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available via our offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.

 

Activities known to be currently occurring within this MPA

(Activities information correct as of 8 January 2015)

 

Licensed activities:

  • Oil and gas – There is one well with activity currently suspended present in the south-east of the MPA. Part of the MPA overlaps with license blocks identified by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and may be subject to further oil and gas development in the future.

Existing licensed activities that take place or may take place in the future within North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA will continue to be managed in line with relevant legislation and application processes by the competent authorities. For further information, please see Marine Scotland’s MPA Management Handbook.  Information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on the offshore industries advice webpages.

 

Fisheries:

  • Demersal - The main fishing practices in the area involve line fishing, set netting and otter trawling.

There is no specific site-based fisheries management within this site.

The site falls outside the UK’s 12 nautical mile limit and the site is to be exclusively managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. Where required, Scottish Government is aiming to have management measures in place by 2016. Marine Scotland will be the lead authority regarding implementation and compliance of those measures.

In support of the site designation process, a Management Options Paper was prepared by JNCC. A management workshop involving national and international stakeholders will be held in March 2015. JNCC will provide a Fisheries Options Paper for the NE Faroe Shetland Channel NCMPA to support these discussions. Following engagement with stakeholders, Scottish Government will draw up management proposals to submit to the European Commission.

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 prior to submission of any final recommendations to the European Commission.

 

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.
  • Shipping – Under international law, ships have a rite of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPAs (unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an International Maritime Organisation measure).  The pressures associated with shipping activity within North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.

Additional information on management can be found in the North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA Management Options Paper

 

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: None at present

Further information on conservation advice in relation to this MPA 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.

Information on monitoring of this MPA will be provided when it becomes available.

 

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.

Under the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009), JNCC is required to report to Ministers on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of Nature Conservation MPAs (NCMPAs) have been achieved.  Every 6 years from 2012, the Marine & Coastal Access Act requires a report setting out how NCMPAs have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network as a whole. 

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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