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Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA

Updated Conservation Advice for the Firth of Forth Banks Complex Nature Conservation MPA was produced in February 2018 and is available in the Conservation Advice section below

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

The Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA is located in offshore waters to the east of Scotland, and includes the Berwick, Scalp and Montrose Banks, and the Wee Bankie shelf banks and mounds.




Located in offshore waters to the east of Scotland, the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA includes the Berwick, Scalp and Montrose Banks, and the Wee Bankie shelf banks and mounds.

Strongly influenced by water currents, the mosaic of different types of sands and gravels create a unique mixture of habitats that overlie the underwater banks and mounds within the MPA and support ocean quahog aggregations. The Wee Bankie includes moraines, formed from underwater glacial ridges deposited during the last Ice Age. The moraines here are scientifically important for their role in improving our understanding of the history of glaciation around Scotland.

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

Map displaying the Firth of Forth Banks MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing Firth of Forth Banks Complex Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


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


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Ocean quahog aggregations Low or limited mobility species
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat
Shelf Banks and Mounds Large scale feature
Moraines representative of the Wee Bankie Key Geodiversity Area Geomorphological

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 in this section and in JNCC’s MPA mapper, and the evidence underpinning this can be viewed within the Evidence section below.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Firth of Forth Banks Complex 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 a 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 Firth of Forth Banks Complex 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.



Last updated: June 2017

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

Owing to local current patterns in the area, the Firth of Forth Banks Complex is considered to be a relatively closed system where localised productivity is enhanced. Diverse and fine-scale current patterns result in a wide-ranging mosaic of different sedimentary habitats throughout the site, which support a range of benthic species, such as the common brittlestar, a species of soft coral known as Dead man's fingers, and hornwrack (a colonial bryozoan). The sand and gravel habitats also support the ocean quahog, which is considered to be Threatened and/or Declining by the OSPAR Commission and is a protected species of the MPA. Two further sites within the Northern North Sea biogeographic region that are also designated for ocean quahog aggregations and their associated habitat are the East of Gannet and Montrose Fields and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain MPAs. Together, these three sites contribute to the representativity, and therefore the resilience, of this protected feature in the MPA network.

There is evidence to suggest that two of the shelf bank and mound features within the MPA are of wider functional significance to the overall health and biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Both Berwick Bank and Wee Bankie support sand and gravel habitats suitable for colonisation by sandeels, a key prey item for top predators in the North Sea food web. As such, the Firth of Forth shelf banks and mounds have been identified as critical for foraging seabirds and grey seals. Furthermore, Berwick Bank is also thought to be a spawning ground for plaice, the larvae of which may be important for repopulating exploited stocks along the east coast of England.

A large proportion of the Wee Bankie moraine formation is located within the Wee Bankie (including Scalp Bank) part of the MPA and is considered to be a key geodiversity area in Scotland’s seas. This formation is a series of prominent (20 m high) submarine glacial ridges, composed of poorly sorted sediments (boulders, gravels, sands and clays), and is considered important in furthering understanding 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:  2,130 km2. Firth of Forth Banks Complex is similar in size to Snowdonia National Park (2,176 km2).

Site depth range:  The site ranges in depth from approximately 110 m below sea-level to just 30 m below sea-level on top of the shelf banks and mounds.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA is a composite site and the boundaries of each of the three areas were determined by the presence and extent of the important features contained within them. The Wee Bankie (inc. Scalp Bank) area boundary has been designed to protect its geomorphological and biological interests, as well as an important seabird and grey seal foraging areas. The Berwick Bank area boundary encompasses the bank feature and areas of known occurrences of adult ocean quahog in the MPA. Finally, Montrose Bank boundary encompasses a high diversity of sand and gravel habitats and an area where juvenile ocean quahog are known to occur.



Last updated: April 2017

There is 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 Firth of Forth Banks Complex Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA Mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this Nature Conservation MPA has 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


Data analysis reports


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, please contact us.


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 the Conservation Advice 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 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 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 documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.


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 Firth of Forth Banks Complex 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 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 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.


  • There is evidence of mobile demersal and static fishing effort within the MPA. 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

  • The Firth of Forth was selected by the Offshore Wind Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment as an area for potential renewable energy developments. Seagreen Wind Energy Ltd, a partnership between SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy plc) and Fluor Limited, was granted permission to develop the Firth of Forth Offshore Wind Zone in 2009.
  • The full zone has considerable overlap with the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA. The first phase of the zone development was granted consent in October 2014 and consists of two wind farm developments, known as Project Alpha and Project Bravo. These projects will consist of up to 150 turbines with the potential to generate up to 1,050 MW of renewable energy. A further five wind farms are planned to be built within the full zone in the future (Phases 2 and 3), but time-frames for these further phases are unknown at present.
  • Licensable activities such as renewable energy developments 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 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, please see Marine Scotlands's Draft MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland's guidance for marine license applications.
  • 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

Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available under the Monitoring section in due course. 


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: 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.



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

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 a 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 & 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.


  1. Rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science, 2011.
  2. Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) on rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science, 2011.
  3. Hornwrack (Flustra folicea) on rippled sand. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science, 2011.
  4. Hermit crabs (Paguridae) on rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science, 2011.
  5. Swimming crab (Liocarcinus sp.) on Dead man's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) on gravel and sand. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  6. Dead man's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum), brittlestars (Ophiophrix fragilis) and hornwrack (Flustra foliacea) on gravel and pebbles. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  7. Rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  8. Hermit crab (Pagurus prideaux) with cloak anemone (Adamsia palliata) on rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  9. Sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) and hornwrack (Flustra foliacea) on sandy and silty mixed sediments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  10. Hermit crab (Pagurus prideaux) with cloak anemone (Adamsia palliata) on rippled sand with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  11. Brittlestar (Ophiuroidea) on rippled sandy sediment with shell fragments. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.
  12. Common starfish (Asterias rubens) on rippled sand. © JNCC/Marine Scotland Science/Cefas/NLB.


Published: .

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