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East of Gannet and Montrose Fields MPA

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

Located to the east of Scotland, the East of Gannet and Montrose Fields MPA lies within a relatively shallow sediment plain.

Site

The East of Gannet and Montrose Fields MPA lies to the east of Scotland within a relatively shallow sediment plain.

About half the seabed within the MPA is dominated by sands and gravels, which are the preferred habitat of the ocean quahog (Arctica islandica). These animals can live for more than 400 years and are one of the longest living creatures on Earth. The MPA also includes a substantial area of offshore deep-sea mud dominating the south-east half of the MPA. Many types of worm and mollusc live buried in the mud and provide an important food source for fish.

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

 

Map displaying the East of Gannet and Montrose Fields MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper

Legislation

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

 

Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Offshore deep sea muds Habitat
Ocean quahog aggregations (including sands and gravels as their supporting habitat) Low or limited mobility species

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 below.

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Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section below.

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.

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Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to East of Gannet and Montrose Fields 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.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Summary

Last updated: May 2021

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.

 

Site overview

The East of Gannet and Montrose Fields MPA lies within a relatively shallow sediment plain comprised mainly of sand and gravel habitats that support a range of benthic species. One such species is the ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), which is considered Threatened and/or Declining across the North-east Atlantic by the OSPAR Commission. This species of clam is typically found beneath the surface of sandy sediments, in water depths from 4 m to over 400 m. Ocean quahog filter food from passing currents and use their shovel-like 'foot' to bury into the sediment. Ocean quahog are an important food source for several species of fish, including cod, and can live buried deep in the sand for long periods of time without food or oxygen to escape predators. They can live for more than 400 years and are one of the longest living creatures on Earth. The Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain Nature Conservation MPA and Firth of Forth Banks Complex Nature Conservation MPA are also located within the Northern North Sea biogeographic region and designated for ocean quahog aggregations, increasing the replication and, therefore, the resilience of this protected feature in the MPA network.

The MPA also protects the full extent of an area of offshore deep-sea mud. By protecting the full extent of the deep-sea mud in this area, the MPA protects a coherent, rather than fragmented, example of this habitat. This is one of the few examples of Atlantic-influenced offshore deep sea mud habitats on the continental shelf in the region. Furthermore, East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA is the only MPA designated in the northern North Sea region for the protection of offshore deep sea muds. The deep sea muds occur across the south-east half of the MPA, approximately 100 m deep. Ocean quahog are distributed across the entire site, with the supporting habitat for this feature occurring across the north-west half of the MPA. There is limited evidence of the composition and diversity of the biological communities present in this habitat, but evidence from the monitoring survey in 2015 showed this to be colonised by animals such as seapens. 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.

Site area: 1,839 km. The East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA protects an area similar in size to the Scottish county of Caithness (1,844 km2).

Site depth range: The site ranges in depth between 80 m below sea-level and 100 m below sea-level.

Site boundary description: At the time of designation, the MPA boundary encompassed the predicted extent of offshore deep-sea muds verified by British Geological Survey (BGS) and Marine Scotland Science survey data,  and seabed habitats considered appropriate to harbour ocean quahog aggregations. Since the 2015 survey to the site, a more accurate habitat map has been produced (McCabe et al, 2020). The updated feature distribution is described above.

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Evidence

Last updated: May 2021

The full overview of the range of data used to support site identification along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant data for this MPA to its interactive MPA mapper when they become available. Some of the data for this MPA have been collected through a JNCC-funded survey. Data from this survey has provided evidence to confirm the presence of the protected features within the site.

 

Survey and data gathering

  • East of Gannet and Montrose Fields and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain seabed monitoring survey (2015) – This survey was a collaboration between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science. Video, grabs and camera imagery were collected to form the first point in a monitoring time-series, allowing JNCC to monitor the rate and direction of long-term change in ocean quahog aggregations and offshore deep sea mud communities.
  • Cruise Report from the East of Gannet and Montrose Fields and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain monitoring survey (2016) – This report details the preliminary field observations of the seabed monitoring survey of East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain Nature Conservation MPA conducted by JNCC and Marine Scotland Science. These observations have not been quality assured and so have not been used to support the presence and extent of ocean quahog aggregations and offshore deep-sea mud.
  • Further evidence that supports our understanding of sediment type in the site has been derived from Particle Size Analysis data that have been sourced from partner organisations, including the British Geological Survey. Operators connected to the oil and gas industry in the Northern North Sea have provided data that support the presence of ocean quahog aggregations and offshore deep sea muds within the MPA boundary.

 

Data analysis reports

  • East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Monitoring Report 2015 (2020) – In this report data collected during the 2015 monitoring survey of East of Gannet and Montrose Fields Nature Conservation MPA conducted by JNCC and Marine Scotland Science are analysed, and results presented. The findings provide evidence for the wider than initially modelled extent of offshore deep-sea muds in the MPA and a concomitatly smaller than initially modelled extent of sandy sediments supporting ocean quahog aggregations. The report also provides evidence for the presence of three seapen species across the MPA with the phosphorescent seapen (Pennatula phosphorea) being most abundant, but mainly restricted to the deep-sea muds. Virgularia mirabilis was found across the entire site and the tall seapen (Funiculina quadrangularis) mainly found in sandy sediments.
  • EUSeaMap – Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of offshore subtidal sands and gravels from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.

 

Additional relevant literature

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

 

Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in the Relevant Documentation section or 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 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 to be learned from customers who have used the advice, to ensure the conservation advice remains 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 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 Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (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 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: April 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 in order 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 East of Gannet and Montrose Fields 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 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 features of this MPA is available via JNCC's MPA mapper.
  • JNCC is in the process of developing downloadable MPA data packages with appropriate permissions to share datasets 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.

Fisheries

  • There is evidence of mobile demersal fishing and some pelagic fishing 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 on Marine Scotland’s web pages.

Licensable activities

  • A considerable number of oil and gas development are currently within the MPA, and the MPA overlaps with a number of license blocks identified by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (formally the Department of Energy and Climate Change) and so may be subject to further 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 126 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 site's 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 Draft MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine license 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.

 

3. Site condition monitoring

A monitoring survey of the MPA took place in 2015. Data were collected to form the first point in a monitoring time-series, allowing for the assessment of the rate and direction of long-term change in ocean quahog aggregations and offshore deep-sea mud habitat. Further information is provided in the Monitoring section and the survey cruise report (O’Connor 2016).

 

4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data are available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. 

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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 be used with the 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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  1. Sea anemone (Arachnanthus sarsi) and Phosphorescent sea-pens (Pennatula phosphorea) on offshore subtidal sands and gravels. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.
  2. Sea urchins (Echinodea) on offshore deep-sea muds. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.
  3. Phosphorescent sea-pens (Pennatula phosphorea) and hag fish (Myxini) on offshore subtidal sands and gravels. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.
  4. Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) burrow in offshore subtidal sands and gravels. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.
  5. Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), phosporescent sea-pen (Pennatula phosphorea) and gurnard (Triglidae) on offshore subtidal sands and gravels. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.
  6. Large sea snails (Buccinidae ssp.) on subtidal sand and gravel. ©JNCC/Marine Scotland Science.

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