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Central Fladen MPA

JNCC prepared updated formal conservation advice for the Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA in March 2018. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (Nature Conservation MPA)

The Central Fladen MPA lies within the Fladen Grounds, a large area of mud in the northern North Sea. The mud habitat is characterised by feather-like soft corals called sea-pens, and burrows made by crustaceans such as mud shrimp and the Norway lobster.




The Central Fladen MPA lies in a large area of mud in the northern North Sea – the Fladen Grounds. The churning of the mud by burrowing animals releases nutrients and helps mix oxygen into the mud, supporting a wide diversity of life. The southern area of the MPA includes examples of the nationally scarce tall sea-pen, which can grow up to 2 m in height. The MPA has also been shaped to include a tunnel valley on the seafloor representative of an area of geomorphological interest known as the 'Fladen Deeps'. It is thought these valleys were created by erosion of meltwater under an ice sheet in former ice ages.

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

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

Map showing Central Fladen Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


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


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Burrowed mud (seapens and burrowing megafauna and tall seapen components) Habitat
Sub-glacial tunnel valley representative of the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area Geomorphological feature

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.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of the Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

November 2012
Site recommended to Marine Scotland.
Summer 2013
Site subject to formal public consultation and becomes material consideration in licensing processes.
July 2014
Site designated by Marine Scotland as a Nature Conservation MPA.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the Central Fladen Nature Conservation 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 JNCC's Nature Conservation MPA webpages.

The Relevant Documentation is available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

Information for this site summary was adapted from the Central Fladen Site Summary Document and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to this document in the Relevant Documentation section for further details and information sources.


Site overview

The Central Fladen MPA lies within the Fladen Grounds, a large area of mud in the northern North Sea named after the German word "fladen" meaning "flat cake". The MPA includes a particular type of mud habitat that is characterised by feather-like soft corals called sea-pens, and the burrows made by crustaceans such as mud shrimp and the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus, also known as the Dublin Bay prawn or langoustine). Burrowed mud is an interesting and important marine habitat that supports a rich community of animals. Burrowing species can be found living within the mud itself. Their burrowing activity plays an important role in supporting life in the area; the constant churning of the mud releases nutrients and helps to mix oxygen into the mud. Longer-lasting burrows also provide shelter to other marine life from the starfish and sea urchins that patrol the muddy surface looking for food. Burrowed mud is considered by OSPAR to be a Threatened and/or Declining habitat across the North-east Atlantic.

Several different types of sea-pen can be found anchored in the muddy seabed within the MPA. The southern area includes examples of the nationally uncommon tall sea-pen (Funiculina quadrangularis), which can grow up to 2 m in height. Brittlestars use the tall sea-pen as an elevated perch to filter food from passing currents.

The MPA has also been shaped to include an unusual tunnel valley, representing part of a Key Geodiversity Area known as the Fladen Deeps or 'The Holes'. It is thought these valleys were created by erosion of meltwater under an ice sheet in former ice ages. In places, these tunnel-valleys can stretch for 40 km and be 4 km wide. The Fladen Deeps are considered scientifically important since they hold potentially valuable evidence about past changes in the extent and geometry of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet. Further detail on the evidence for this Nature Conservation MPA can be found in the Evidence section.

Site location:  Co-ordinates for this Nature Conservation MPA can be found in the Designation Order listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: 925 km2.

Site depth range:  The minimum depth within this Nature Conservation MPA is 100 m below sea-level, whereas the 'Fladen Deeps' sub-glacial tunnel-valley that runs through the MPA is the deepest area of the site and reaches depths of 280 m below sea-level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The MPA boundary was drawn to include survey records of burrowed mud habitat, mostly including areas where the distribution of the sea-pen species meet or exceed the average density of sea-pens from across the wider Fladen Grounds based on available survey data. The southern part of the MPA boundary was drawn to include one of the only areas where tall sea-pen have been recorded in Scottish offshore waters. The MPA also includes the entirety of a sub-glacial tunnel-valley geomorphological feature representative of the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area.



Last updated: October 2017

There are a range of data that underpin this Nature Conservation MPA. 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 Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to the its MPA mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this Nature Conservation MPA 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

  • RV Cefas Endeavour survey (2014) – This JNCC-led survey collected data about the ecological communities across the Fladen Grounds, and also sought to improve our understanding of feature condition in the Nature Conservation MPA.
  • RV Cefas Endeavour survey (2013) – This JNCC-led survey of the Fladen Grounds set out to map the presence of burrowed mud habitat, including the seapens and burrowing megafauna communities in circalittoral fine mud across the region. 
  • International Bottom Trawl Survey Quarter 3 (2011) – JNCC collaborated with Marine Scotland Science on this survey to undertake habitat survey work to verify the presence of sea-pens and burrowing megafauna communities in circalittoral fine mud.


Data analysis reports

  • Analysis of CEND01/13 Fladen Grounds survey (2017) – This report presents findings from the analyses of samples collected during the CEND01/13 Fladen Grounds pMPA survey. The main aim of this survey was to confirm the presence of Priority Marine Features (burrowed mud) within the pMPAs and provide evidence to allow comparison of benthic assemblages between the sites. 
  • Monitoring options report (2016) – This report describes monitoring options for the Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA, and offshore mud habitats more generally, based on survey data collected in 2014.
  • EMODnet – Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of sedimentary features from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.
  • Report on the identification of Key Geodiversity Areas in Scotland’s seas (2013) – This report helped support information on the presence and extent of important geological/geomorphological areas in Scotland’s seas, which includes the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area of relevance to this Nature Conservation MPA. 
  • Marine Scotland Science Nephrops Towed Video Analysis – Marine Scotland Science processed video data from their Nephrops stock assessment work to report on the presence of sea-pens and burrowing megafauna communities in the area.
  • Analysis from IBTSQ3 survey (2011) – Seabed imagery analysis from video/stills samples taken at two stations during 2011 confirm the presence of the burrowed mud feature.


Additional relevant literature

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


Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed here or in the Relevant Documentation section please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 2018

Updated formal conservation advice for this MPA was produced in March 2018. 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 an impact assessment for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for such an assessment;
  • respond to specific measures to further 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 advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of March 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.

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 restored 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.

Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST)

Provides an initial assessment of whether a proposed plan or project (or ongoing activity) may have an impact on a protected feature in the site.

FeAST identifies pressures associated with the most commonly occurring marine activities, and provides a detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting, other than insignificantly, a feature where the feature is known to be sensitive to associated pressures.

The sensitivity assessments provided in FeAST, should be used at an early stage of a plan or project when considering potential impacts of an activity.

These Conservation Advice documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub


Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

Progress is ongoing with fisheries management options being developed. Ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required to conclude with confidence as to the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR Commission’s network of MPAs. As the UK is a contracting party to the OSPAR Commission, JNCC is committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is well-managed.

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 site's 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 Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA around each of these four stages in the MPA management cycle:


1. The documentation of appropriate management information

  • The conservation objectives and advice on operations capable of affecting the conservation status of the protected feature of this site are available in the Conservation Advice section.  Further information is available on our Conservation Advice webpage.
  • 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 features of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • There is evidence of mobile demersal effort within the MPA and 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 web pages.

Licensable activities

  • Three gas pipelines currently cross through the MPA, and oil and gas blocks licensed in the 29th licencing round occur along the southern boundary and east of the MPA, and so may be subject to oil and gas development in the future. 
  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under Section 127 of The Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). Under this clause, JNCC has a statutory responsibility to advise the regulator on developments that are capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of the MPA and that may hinder the achievement of the sites conservation objectives. JNCC considers the existing marine licensing process is sufficient to ensure the management of licensable activities taking place, or that could take place in the future, on the protected features of this MPA.
  • For further information, see Marine Scotland’s MPA Draft Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine licence applications.
  • 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

Telecommunications cables

  • One telecommunications cable currently crosses through the MPA.
  • 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.


3. Site condition monitoring

A research and development monitoring survey of the MPA took place in 2014. The survey included a study to collect data over a gradient of surface abrasion pressure to better understand the relationship between surface abrasion and sea-pens and burrowing megafauna communities. In addition, the survey also established the baseline condition of the protected features of the MPA. Further information is provided in the Monitoring section and the survey cruise report (Murray et al. 2016).


4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data is available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. Further information will be provided under the Assessment section as it becomes available.



Last updated: October 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.

A research and development monitoring survey of the Central Fladen Nature Conservation MPA was undertaken in March 2014. The survey included a study to collect data over a gradient of surface abrasion which could be used to better understand the relationship between surface abrasion and the sea-pens and burrowing megafauna habitat.



Last updated: October 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

Under Section 124 of the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009), JNCC is required to report to Ministers every six years on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of the site have been achieved. Every six years from 2012, the Marine 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. Marine Scotland has published a report setting out progress being made in implementing a Marine Protected Area network that supports the Government’s vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse marine and coastal environment, managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.

Outputs of assessments that feed into Marine Act reporting will also feed into reporting under other obligations.


UK State of the Seas Reports & Marine Strategy Part one

Charting Progress 2 (CP2), published in 2010, is a comprehensive report on the state of the UK's 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 One: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status, published in 2012 under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations (2010). The UK Marine Strategy Part One (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 One: 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 one (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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