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Braemar Pockmarks MPA

Updated Conservation Advice was produced for the Braemar Pockmarks SAC in February 2018 and is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

PLEASE NOTE: The UK Government submitted an amendment to the boundary of Braemar Pockmarks SAC to the European Commission in 2018. Such an amendment was required following analysis of data from surveys of the area, which improved our understanding of the extent of the protected feature 'Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gases'. The Site Information Centre has been updated to reflect the boundary amendment.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The Braemar pockmarks are a series of crater-like depressions situated in the seabed in the northern North Sea, approximately 240 km east of the Orkney Islands.

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Site

Located approximately 240 km east of the Orkney Islands, the Braemar pockmarks are a series of crater-like depressions in the seabed in the northern North Sea.

The pockmarks within the site are shallow, ovoid, seabed depressions, several metres across, which were created by the expulsion of fluids into the water column. Forty-eight pockmarks have been identified within the Braemar Pockmarks SAC boundary; all of which are greater than 20 m in diameter, the largest being 200 m in diameter. Six of the pockmarks have verified examples of the Annex I habitat Submarine structures made by leaking gases – a listed habitat under Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive. These carbonate blocks, pavements slabs and smaller fragments of methane-derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC) have been deposited at the base of the pockmarks through a process of precipitation during the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) by a unique community of microbial organisms. The habitat may host specialist organisms, for example those with chemosynthetic symbionts, whilst the carbonate structures provide a habitat for marine fauna usually associated with rocky reef. Larger blocks of carbonate can also provide shelter for fish species such as wolf-fish.

More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.

Map displaying the Braemar Pockmarks MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

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Legislation

Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992, transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

 

Protected features

Features Feature Type
1180 Submarine structures made by leaking gases Annex I Habitat*

*For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting in the Assessment section.

Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this site is provided in the Conservation Advice section.

The acquisition of new data may result in updates to our knowledge on feature presence and extent within this site. The most up-to-date information is reflected on the map on this page and in JNCC’s MPA mapper, and the evidence underpinning this can be viewed in the Evidence section.

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Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Braemar Pockmarks SAC. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

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Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Braemar Pockmarks 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. Information about the SAC site selection process is available on JNCC's SAC webpages.

Amended boundary 2017:

Original boundary: 

An amendment to the site boundary for Braemar Pockmarks was consulted on in 2017 and approved and submitted to the European Commission in September 2018. More information, and the original documents for the site, can be found in the consultation archive (available on The National Archives website).

 

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Summary

Last updated: October 2018

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment Document and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced.

 

Site overview

The Braemar pockmarks are a series of crater-like depressions on the sea floor, six of which contain verified records of the Annex I habitat Submarine structures made by leaking gases. In this location, large blocks, pavements slabs and smaller fragments of methane-derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC) have been deposited through a process of precipitation during the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) by a unique community of microbial organisms. This AOM activity at the sulphate-methane interface (SMI) beneath the seabed results in the presence of hydrogen sulphide in the sediments. The sulphide-rich sediments may host specialist organisms, for example those with chemosynthetic symbionts, whilst the carbonate structures provide a habitat for marine fauna usually associated with rocky reef. Larger blocks of carbonate can also provide shelter for fish species such as wolf-fish. 

The name of the site originates from its proximity to the Braemar oil field in the northern North Sea, approximately 240 km east of the Orkney Islands. The site is situated to the north of the Witch Ground Basin at a water depth of approximately 120 m. The pockmarks within the site are shallow, ovoid, seabed depressions, several metres across, which were created by the expulsion of fluids into the water column. It is in the base of these pockmarks where MDAC is formed beneath the seabed. Most of the pockmarks in the Witch Ground Basin occur in very soft muds, however the pockmarks in Braemar Pockmarks SAC occur in firmer, slightly coarser sediments.

Forty-eight pockmarks have been identified within the Braemar Pockmarks SAC boundary; all of which are greater than 20 m in diameter, the largest being 200 m in diameter. Six of the pockmarks have verified examples of the Annex I habitat Submarine structures made by leaking gases, with a further 14 showing strong acoustic reflectance. The high backscatter may be indicative of hard carbonate structures so are considered as potential feature records associated with pockmarks. Both verified and potential occurrences of the habitat are considered to represent the known extent of the feature within the site.

Braemar Pockmarks SAC is one of three sites identified for protection of Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gases in the UK. There is one other SAC in the Northern North Sea with Submarine structures made by leaking gases as a qualifying interest feature of the site. Scanner Pockmark SAC is situated to the south-west of Braemar Pockmarks. There is also a site in the Irish Sea – Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC.

Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found in the Evidence section

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

Site area: 11.43 km2

Site depth range: Depth at the site is relatively even and ranges from 120 m  to 124 m below sea-level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site Boundary Description: The boundary for the Braemar Pockmarks is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat. Co-ordinate 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. As bottom trawling is a significant threat to the interest feature, the proposed boundary includes a margin to ensure its protection.

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Evidence

Last updated: October 2018

There are a range of data to underpin this SAC. 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 Braemar Pockmarks MPA SAC Selection Assessment Document. All data that can be made publicly available are displayed on JNCC's MPA mapper.

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

 

Survey and data gathering

  • Cruise report for the offshore seabed survey of Braemar Pockmarks SAC and Scanner Pockmark SAC (2017) – This cruise report summarises operations and initial observations made onboard the RV Cefas Endeavour during the cruise CEND19x/12 on behalf of JNCC. The survey took place between 17 November and 1 December 2012. The aim was to gather additional evidence to support the development of fisheries management measures and develop a baseline for future site monitoring.

 

Data analysis reports

Analyses of data gathered as part of the survey listed above, as well as other relevant data analysis products, are available via the following reports:

  • Offshore seabed survey of Braemar Pockmarks and Scanner Pockmark (2017) – Presents results from the analyses of the data gathered during the seabed survey of the Braemar Pockmarks and Scanner Pockmark in 2012 (cruise CEND19x/12). The report describes the presence, location and extent of the pockmarks, along with detail relating to the presence and location of any associated Methane Derived Authigenic Carbonate (MDAC) structures where they were observed to occur based on video, stills and laboratory sample analysis.
  • Geological investigation of pockmarks in the Braemar Pockmarks SCI and surrounding area (2015) – Describes the findings of a desk study carried out by British Geological Survey (BGS) for JNCC covering the Braemar Pockmarks area. The main dataset for this study in the JNCC research cruise at the end of 2012 (cruise CEND19x/12). The report confirmed there is strong evidence of active gas seepage within Braemar SAC, including the presence of methane derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC), as well as gas bubbles in the water column. MDAC was recorded 11 times within six different pockmarks, (five within the site boundary, the other just 500 m outside) during the 2012 survey. Some pockmarks show change in their morphology reflecting slope failure, supporting the interpretation that these pockmarks are sites of active processes. Strong acoustic reflections shown in multibeam backscatter data suggest that harder substrate may be present in other areas of the site too. These require further investigation (such as through visual observation or seabed sampling) to determine whether they are examples of carbonate blocks, shell fragments or a change in sediment particle size.
  • Petrography and stableisotope study of methane – derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC) from the Braemar Pockmark Area, North Sea (2013) – The British Geological Survey was commissioned by CEFAS to undertake petrographic and stable isotope investigation of samples of carbonate-cemented sediment recovered from the JNCC/CEFAS 2012 survey. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.

 

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Selection Assessment Document. Please be aware that although these sources contain information in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC.

  • Judd, A.G. and Hovland, M. (2007). Seabed fluid flow: the impact on geology, biology and the marine environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. – Describes seabed fluid flow features and processes, and demonstrates their importance to human activities and natural environments.
  • Biddick, K., Spink, J. and Nichols, P. (2006). Harding Area Gas Project. Seabed Habitat Assessment Survey, Environmental Habitat Assessment Report, Volume 3. Report for BP Exploration Operating Company Ltd by Gardline Environmental Ltd – Details a habitat assessment survey conducted by Gardline Environmental on behalf of BP, for two proposed new pipeline routes within the vicinity of Braemar oil field.
  • Hartley, J.P. (2005), Seabed investigation of Pockmark Features in UKCS Block 16/3, Report to JNCC – Details several pockmarks containing carbonate cemented rocks and chemosynthetic biota discovered in the central North Sea in the vicinity of the Braemar field (UKCS Block 16/3). The pockmarks are of note as they occur outside areas previously recognised as containing pockmarks.
  • Berry, T. and Stewart, E. (2002). Braemar Pipeline Route Surveys. Report for Marathon Oil U.K Ltd. – A geophysical and geotechnical sampling, and an environmental baseline survey along three proposed pipeline routes in UKCS block 16/3, 16/7 and 16/8, carried out by Fugro survey limited on the instructions of Marathon Oil U.K. Ltd.
  • Marathon Oil UK Ltd (2002). Braemar Field Development Environmental Statement. – This Environmental Statement presents the findings of the Environmental Assessment conducted by Marathon for the proposed Braemar field development.
  • Dando, P.R. (2001) A review of pockmarks in the UK part of the North Sea, with particular respect to their biology. Technical report produced for Strategic Environmental Assessment, SEA2. Department of Trade and Industry Technical Report No. TR_001. – The report describes pockmarks in the UK North Sea, and their biology. Although this paper doesn’t refer to Braemar Pockmarks specifically there is good detail on species found within Pockmark habitats.
  • Judd, A.G. (2001). Pockmarks in the UK Sector of the North Sea. Technical report produced for Strategic Environmental Assessment, SEA2. Department of Trade and Industry Report No. TR_002. – The report describes pockmarks, their formation and character, and their occurrence in the North Sea (with specific reference to the SEA2 areas). The report reviewed current understanding of pockmarks in the UK North Sea, with specific reference to the methane-derived authigenic carbonate (MDAC).
  • Dando, P.R., Austen, M.C., Burke, R.J., Kendall, M.A., Kennicutt, M.C., Judd, A.G., Moore, D.C., O'Hara, S.C.M., Schmaljohann, R. and Southward, A.J. (1991) Ecology of a North Sea Pockmark with an active methane seep. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 70: 49–63. – Survey of a large pockmark in the Fladen ground area of the North Sea. Data from echo-sounders and sediment grabs reveals more about the ecology within the pockmark.
  • Hovland, M. and Judd, A.G. (1988). Seabed Pockmarks and Seepages: Impact on geology, biology and the marine environment. London: Graham and Trotman. – This report describes the ecology of seabed pockmarks and seepages and the implications and consequences of these features. Two chapters focus on examples in the North Sea, but other examples from around the world are also described. Features associated with submarine seepages and mineral precipitation is also explored in the report.

 

Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in the Relevant Documentation section or listed above, please contact us.

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Conservation Advice

Last updated: February 2018

Updated formal conservation advice is now available for this MPA. Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on our Conservation Advice webpages along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC's conservation advice and a short video explaining how to use the conservation advice packages. 

You must refer to this advice if you:

  • undertake a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for a HRA;
  • respond to specific measures to support delivery of the conservation objectives for the site; and 
  • consider the need to put new or additional management measures in place.

You may also find it useful to refer to this advice if you:

  • Carry out any other activity that could impact the site.

We will engage with stakeholders to identify any lessons which JNCC can learn from customers who have used the advice, with a view to continuing to ensure it is fit-for-purpose.

The following table provides an overview of the components of the conservation advice, and provides hyperlinks to each of the products for this MPA. These elements together form JNCC’s formal conservation advice for this site and should be read in conjunction with each other. This updated advice replaces the previous Regulation 18 package for the site. This advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of February 2018).  

Document Overview
Background Information Explains the purpose of the advice and when it must be referred to.

Conservation Objectives

 

Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO)

The conservation objectives set out the broad ecological aims for the site. JNCC provides supplementary advice in the SACO which is essential reading to support interpretation of these conservation objectives. It provides further detail and site-specific information for each feature within the site including which of the attributes need to be conserved and which ones recovered.

You can use these documents to assess the impacts of your planned activity on the important attributes of the site.

Please note our current understanding of whether the available evidence indicates that each attribute needs to be recovered or maintained is not provided here. However, links to available evidence for the site are provided and should you require further site-specific information for the site, please contact us.

Conservation Advice Statements

These statements provide a summary of the Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO).

  • Site condition presents our up-to-date understanding of the condition of features within the site;
  • Conservation benefits which the site can provide, these help you understand what is important about the site and why it needs protecting; and
  • Conservation measures which JNCC considers are needed to support achievement of the conservation objectives. These provide clarity around measures needed to support restoration or maintenance of the feature(s) within the site.
Advice on Operations

Provides information on the activities capable of affecting site integrity and therefore achievement of the site’s conservation objectives.

This is a starting point for determining potential management requirements. It does not take into account the intensity, frequency or cumulative impacts from activities taking place. It is simply to advise you of the possible adverse impacts that your activity can have on a MPA’s features.

Use the advice on operations to determine those pressures your activity causes that could harm the habitat and/or species features of the site.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed
Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission. Further information will be provided in the assessment section as it becomes available.

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR Commission's network of MPAs, Europe’s Natura 2000 network, and the Emerald Network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a contracting party to the OSPAR Commission, JNCC is committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is 'well-managed' by 2020.

JNCC considers 'well-managed' to mean the timely progress of an MPA around the 'MPA management cycle'. This involves:

  1. The documentation of appropriate management information – conservation objectives, advice on activities capable of affecting the protected features of a site, and spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected features of a site.
  2. The implementation of management measures – management actions considered necessary to achieve the conservation objectives of a site.
  3. Site condition monitoring programmes – collecting the information necessary to determine progress towards a sites conservation objectives.
  4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives – using available information to infer whether or not a site is moving towards or has achieved its conservation objectives.

The sub-sections that follow provide an account of the progress of Braemar Pockmarks SAC around each of the four stages in the MPA management cycle.

 

1. The documentation of appropriate management information

  • The conservation objectives and advice on activities capable of affecting the conservation status of the protected feature of this site are available under the Conservation Advice section. Further information is available on our conservation advice webpages.
  • Spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected feature of this MPA is available via JNCC's MPA mapper.
  • JNCC is in the process of developing downloadable MPA data packages where appropriate permissions to share datasets are in place.

 

2. The implementation of management measures

This section details progress towards the implementation of management measures for activities considered capable of affecting the conservation status of the protected feature of the site. The protected feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.

Fisheries

  • There is evidence of mobile and static demersal fishing effort within the Braemar Pockmarks SAC. UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area. 
  • Marine Scotland is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to managing fishing activity. Further information on progress is available via Marine Scotland’s webpages.  

Licensable activities

  • This MPA got its name from its close proximity to the Braemar Hydrocarbon Field. A wellhead of this field and connecting pipelines lie just outside the boundary of the site. There is also one exploration well for oil within the site (status completed).
  • Any activities or future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
  • Our conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
  • Further information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCC's offshore industry advice webpages

Cables

  • There is one telecommunications cable which runs across the north of the site in an east to west direction. This cable is out of service.
  • 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 license 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

  • There is low density of commercial shipping in this area and due to its offshore location, vessel anchorage is unlikely. The Lerwick to Hanstholm ferry route crosses the south-west corner of the site.
  • Under international law (UNCLOS, Article 17), ships have a right of innocent passage at sea including in areas designated as MPAs. The pressures associated with shipping activity within Braemar Pockmarks SAC are not considered likely to impact the protected feature of the site.

 

3. Site condition monitoring

A baseline condition survey was undertaken in 2012 which was also used to gather evidence to support the development of fisheries management measures. Further information is provided in the Monitoring section.

 

4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

A baseline condition survey was undertaken in 2012, which was also used to gather evidence to support the development of fisheries management measures. Further information is provided in the Assessment section.

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Monitoring

Last updated: February 2017

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.

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Assessment

Last updated: February 2017

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 pre-defined 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.

 

Conservation Assessment Reports

Every six years, Member States of the European Union are required (by Article 17 of the Directive) to report on implementation of the Habitats Directive. The latest report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive was submitted by the UK in 2019 and provided an assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during period 2013–2018; information on the condition of features within SACs have made a contribution to this report.

 

UK State of the Seas Reports & UK Marine Strategy Part 1

Charting Progress 2 (CP2) published in 2010, is a comprehensive report on the state of the UK seas. It was published by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) community which has over 40 member organisations. The report was based on a robust, peer-reviewed evidence base and describes progress made since the publication of Charting Progress in 2005. It provides key findings from UK marine research and monitoring for use by policy makers and others, as we move towards the UK vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. The results from CP2 were incorporated into the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status published in 2012 under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations (2010). The UK Marine Strategy Part 1 (2012) also set out the UK’s definition for Good Environmental Status, which could be achieved by meeting a series of environmental targets. JNCC worked with other organisations in the UKMMAS community to develop a series of indicators that were used to assess progress against each of the targets and to report on progress made since 2012. The results of these assessments have been published in the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Updated Assessment and Good Environmental Status in 2019. Detailed evidence used to make these assessments is available via the Marine Online Assessment Tool (MOAT). It also sets out proposals for updated high-level objectives, targets and operational targets to be used for 2018 to 2024, which build on those set in 2012.

It is worth noting the two other parts of the UK Marine Strategy: UK Marine Strategy Part Two: marine monitoring programmes, published in 2014 and UK Marine Strategy Part Three: programme of measures published in 2015. Updates to these will be made in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

 

OSPAR Quality Status Reports

Many of the assessments in the updated UK Marine Strategy Part 1 2019 were developed and produced in collaboration with other contracting Parties of the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2017 OSPAR Published its Intermediate Assessment (IA2017). The IA 2017 further develops OSPAR’s understanding of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic and its current status. It demonstrates OSPAR’s progress towards realising its vision of a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic, used sustainably. IA2017 follows on from OSPAR’s previous holistic assessment, the OSPAR Quality Status Report in 2010 (QSR2010) and in 2000 (QSR2000).

 

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.

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