Skip to Content

East of Haig Fras MPA

Updated conservation advice for East of Haig Fras MCZ was prepared in March 2018 and is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)

East of Haig Fras MCZ is located approximately 67 km west of Land’s End, in the Celtic Sea. The seabed is heterogeneous, with small patches of habitat blending into each other. 


Situated in the Celtic sea, East of Haig Fras MCZ is approximately 67 km west of Land’s End. The seabed is heterogeneous, with small patches of habitat blending into each other. Ridges composed of a mosaic of coarse and mixed subtidal sediments run through the site. These sediment ridges are topped with rocky features and are separated by mobile sand or mud.

The rocky cobbles and boulders provide habitat for hydroids and bryozoans along with other species, such as sponges, cup corals and squat lobsters. 

The sediments are home to a wide diversity of worm species. Pea urchins, small sea urchins which only reach 1 cm in diameter, are one of the most common species living in the sediments. Juvenile brittlestars and cushion stars have also been recorded.

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

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



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


Protected features

EUNIS Code: Protected Feature

Feature Type

A4.1: High energy circalittoral rock

Broad-Scale Habitat

A4.2: Moderate energy circalittoral rock

Broad-Scale Habitat

A5.1: Subtidal coarse sediment / A5.4: Subtidal mixed sediments mosaic

Marine Habitat

A5.2: Subtidal sand

Broad-Scale Habitat

A5.3 Subtidal mud

Broad-Scale Habitat

Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities

Feature of Conservation Importance

Fan mussel (Atrina fragilis)

Feature of Conservation Importance

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 East of Haig Fras MCZ. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section below and in Annex 3 of JNCC's Advice on offshore Marine Conservation Zones considered for consultation in 2015.



Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below, and any other historical documents relating to East of Haig Fras MCZ, 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. Further information about the Marine Conservation Zone site selection process and historic MCZ advice is available on JNCC's MCZ webpages.

  • The latest factsheet, site map and designation order is available on Defra's website.
  • Site Summary Document – Summary of the key attributes of the site including boundaries, maps and descriptive text, produced as part of the site designation consultation package. 
  • JNCC's formal conservation advice for this site is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

These Resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

Reviewed: November 2018

The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Evidence section.

Site overview

East of Haig Fras MCZ is located approximately 67 km north-west of Land’s End, in the Celtic Sea. The site has an area of around 400 km2 and is situated on a plateau on the UK continental shelf. The seabed in the MCZ is heterogeneous, with small patches of habitat blending into each other. Ridges composed of a mosaic of subtidal coarse and mixed sediments run north-east to south-west through the site. These sediment ridges are topped with rocky features, such as boulders and cobbles. Various sponges, anemones and hydroids have been observed on the coarser sediments and rocky habitats. The sediment ridges are separated by mobile sand or mud, with sandy habitat being more prevalent in the north west of the site. Pea urchins (Echinocyamus pusillus) and brittlestars are some of the most common species living in and on the sediment. East of Haig Fras MCZ is also home to a wide diversity of polychaete worm species. Several molluscs have also been recorded on multiple occasions. Analyses of benthic community data collected during offshore surveys have indicated that there are seven biotopes present within the East of Haig Fras MCZ.

The MCZ currently has seven designated features; the broad-scale habitat features High energy circalittoral rock, Moderate energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud and a mosaic of Subtidal coarse sediment and Subtidal mixed sediments, the habitat of conservation importance Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities and the species of conservation importance Fan mussel (Atrina fragilis). The East of Haig Fras MCZ was included in the Finding Sanctuary Regional MCZ Project recommendations to help meet targets regarding Moderate energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment and Subtidal sand broad-scale habitats. Since the site was first recommended, three dedicated surveys have visited East of Haig Fras MCZ. Surveys have confirmed the presence of the three originally recommended broad-scale habitats. Subtidal mixed sediments and Subtidal mud were also identified during the surveys. The spatial extent of the Subtidal coarse sediment and Subtidal mixed sediments could not be delineated separately, and therefore they have been designated together as a habitat mosaic. Evidence of High energy circalittoral rock were provided by an MB0120 survey in 2013, and in 2015 a JNCC monitoring survey also found evidence of the species feature of conservation interest (FOCI) Fan mussel (Atrina fragilis) and the habitat FOCI Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities. these have been designated as additional features within the MCZ. Further detail on the evidence for this MCZ can be found in the Evidence section.

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

Site area: 400 km2, which makes it larger than the Isle of Wight at only 380 km2.

Site depth range: Sea depth at East of Haig Fras MCZ ranges from 50 m to over 100 m, however most of the site is between 80 m and 100 m deep.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Western Channel and Celtic Sea.

Site boundary description: The site is a simple polygon with boundary lines running north to south and east to west in line with the guidance provided by the MCZ project Ecological Network Guidance (ENG). The north of the site overlaps with the Trevose Box seasonal fishing closure. The boundary of the East of Haig Fras MCZ has not changed since it was recommended by the Finding Sanctuary Regional MCZ Project in 2011.



Last updated: November 2018

The full overview of the range of data used to support site identification along with information on the confidence in feature presence and extent is available in JNCC's advice on offshore Marine Conservation Zones proposed for designation in 2013, JNCC's advice on offshore MCZs proposed for designation in 2016 and JNCC's advice on offshore MCZs proposed for designation in 2019. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA mapper in due course.

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

Survey and data gathering

  • East of Haig Fras MCZ monitoring survey (2015) – East of Haig Fras MCZ was surveyed by Cefas and JNCC in 2015, during which ground truth samples were collected to provide a baseline for site monitoring.
  • East of Haig Fras MCZ verification survey (2013) – A second survey by Cefas and JNCC was undertaken in 2013 because the results of the 2012 survey highlighted a need for further groundtruthing around the potential circalittoral rock features.
  • East of Haig Fras MCZ verification survey (2012) – The survey was a collaboration between Cefas and JNCC to collect acoustic and groundtruth data to identify the presence and extent of broadscale habitats and habitat features of conservation importance within East of Haig Fras MCZ.

Data analysis reports

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

  • British Geological Survey Hard Substrate Map – The interpretation of the BGS hard substrate maps was based on a variety of data sourced from within the British Geological Survey and externally. The map provides evidence for the presence of Moderate energy circalittoral rock within East of Haig Fras MCZ.
  • British Geological Survey Seabed Sediments Data Points Map – Particle Size Analysis of historical data was used to identify habitat type and converted to the EUNIS broadscale habitats by JNCC. The data suggest subtidal coarse sediment and subtidal sand both occur within the site.
  • East of Haig Fras rMCZ Summary Site Report (2014) – The data from the 2012 and 2013 verification surveys have been analysed by Cefas. The analysis confirmed the presence of moderate energy circalittoral rock, subtidal sand and subtidal coarse sediments and subtidal mixed sediment mosaics. High energy circalittoral rock, mud habitats in deep water and subtidal mud habitat, which are not currently protected features of the site, were also identified.
  • Community analysis of East of Haig Fras MCZ data (2014) – JNCC contracted Seastar Survey Ltd to complete a community analysis of offshore MCZ grab and video data to establish biotopes. The following biotopes were recorded in East of Haig Fras MCZ:
    • CR.HCR.DpSp.(PhaAxi): A4.121 Phakellia ventilabrum (chalice sponge) and axinellid sponges on deep, wave-exposed circalittoral rock
    • SS.SCS.OCS: A5.15 Offshore circalittoral coarse sediment
    • SS.SSa.CFiSa.EpusOborApri / SS.SMx.OMx: A5.251 Echinocyamus pusillus (pea urchin), Ophelia borealis (a bristle worm) and Abra prismatica (a bivalve mollusc) in circalittoral fine sand / A5.45 Offshore circalittoral mixed sediments
    • SS.SSa.OSa: A5.37 Deep circalittoral sand
    • SS.SMu.OMu / SS.SMx.OMx: A5.37 Offshore circalittoral mud / A5.45 Offshore circalittoral mixed sediments
    • SS.SMx.OMx.(PoVen): A5.451 Polychaete-rich deep Venus community in offshore mixed sediments.

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the annexes of our advice. 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 any of the documents listed on the Evidence section or the annexes of the MCZ advice documents, please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 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 'Conserving MPAs' webpage along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC conservation advice and a short video explaining how to use the conservation advice packages. 

You must refer to this advice if you:

  • undertake an MCZ 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.
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 documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.


Activities and Management

Last updated: November 2018

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed
The vulnerability assessment conducted for this site suggests it is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives, but directed site condition monitoring data are required in improve our confidence in this assessment. Licensable activities are being managed and progress is ongoing with regards to the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission.

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' 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 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 Haig Fras MCZ 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 'Conserving MPAs' 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 and static demersal effort within the MPA. UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area.
  • The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to manage fishing activity. Further information on progress is available on the Marine Management Organisation's webpages.

Licensable activities

  • Whilst licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within East of Haig Fras MCZ at present, any future proposals would be 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 site’s conservation objectives. JNCC considers that 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, please see The Marine Management Organisation's guidance on marine conservation zones and marine licensing.
  • 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

  • A number of telecommunication cables cross 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 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.

3. Site condition monitoring

A monitoring survey of the MPA took place in 2015. The survey established the baseline conditions of the protected features of the MPA. Further information is provided in the Monitoring section and the survey cruise report (Calloway, 2015).

4. Assessment of progression 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. The site has a 'recover' conservation objective based on a vulnerability assessment which indicated exposure to activities associated with pressures to which the protected features of the site are considered sensitive. This suggests the site is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives, but longer-term site condition monitoring data would improve our confidence in this assessment. Further information will be provided in 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. Data and evidence collected from MPA monitoring activities will aim to:

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

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



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 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 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have been achieved. Every six years from 2012, the Marine Act requires a report setting out how MCZs have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network as a whole.

To date, three reports have been published, each setting out progress being made in implementing a Marine Protected Area network, covering the following areas: 

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

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.



Published: .

Back to top