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Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA

JNCC prepared updated formal conservation advice for the Hatton-Rockall Basin NCMPA in March 2018. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section.

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

Situated in a deep-water basin to the far west of Scotland, the Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA supports a range of species adapted to life in deep waters.


The Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA is situated in a deep-water basin to the far west of Scotland. Water depth at the site is over 1 km and the muddy sediments present support a range of species adapted to life at this depth.

The site is designated to protect unusual aggregations of deep-sea sponges, an OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitat. The MPA also includes protection for offshore deep-sea muds and a series of unique geological features known as polygonal faults. Polygonal faults are cracks in the seafloor, similar in appearance to those on a sun scorched desert. More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.

Map displaying the Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing Hatton-Rockall Basin Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


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


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Deep-sea sponge aggregations Habitat
Offshore deep sea muds Habitat
Sediment drifts and polygonal faults representative of Hatton Bank (and adjacent sea floor) 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 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 Hatton-Rockall Basin 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.
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 Hatton-Rockall Basin 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 the JNCC's Nature Conservation MPA webpages.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 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

The Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA is situated in a deep-water basin to the far west of Scotland. The site is located between Hatton Bank to the west and Rockall Bank to the eastand water depth at the site is over 1 km. The site is designated to protect unusual aggregations of deep-sea sponges, an OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitat. Two different types of deep-sea sponge aggregations are known to be present; aggregations dominated by encrusting sponges and bird’s nest sponge (Pheronema carpenteri) fields. The bird’s nest sponge fields within the site are the only known examples to occur in UK waters. The encrusting sponge aggregation is typified by encrusting grey sponges living on boulders and mud substrata. Both types of deep-sea sponge aggregations act as biodiversity hotspots, with a range of other species associated with them. For the bird’s nest sponge fields, these include ascidians, formaniferans, polychaetes and burrowing anemones, while the encrusting sponge aggregations include anemones, ascidians, crinoids and ophiuroids. The seabed in the area is littered with spicules, spiny remnants of dead sponges, that inhibit the establishment of burrowing animals but allow surface-dwelling species to thrive. For example, beds of brittlestars are present, which live on the surface of the seabed, filtering food from passing currents.

Offshore deep sea mud habitat is predicted to be present throughout the Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA and is another of the site’s protected features. It is predicted that there are two different types of offshore deep-sea mud habitat in the MPA. The majority of it is believed to be "Atlantic mid bathyal mud and sandy mud", but this encompasses a patch of "Atlantic upper bathyal mud and sandy mud". There is little information on the level of biological diversity and composition of communities supported by the offshore deep-sea mud habitats in the MPA, however limited survey data support the presence of habitat that is dominated by different species of burrowing anemone as well as echinoderms such as starfish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

A series of unique geological features known as polygonal faults are also included for protection within the site. Polygonal faults are cracks in the seafloor, similar in appearance to those on a sun scorched desert. Usually polygonal faulting occurs below the seafloor, but the faults in the Hatton-Rockall Basin are present on the surface of the seabed, making this a unique example of the feature. The hard edges of these cracks may facilitate the aggregations of deep-sea sponges by providing a suitable surface for settlement. Along with the polygonal faults, sediment drifts are also protected within the Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA, as it is a representative feature of the Hatton Bank (and adjacent sea floor) Key Geodiversity Area.

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

Site area: 1,256 km2which makes it larger than the county of Moray at 1,233 km2.

Site depth range: The depth of the MPA ranges from 1,080 m below sea-level to a maximum of 1,200 m below sea-level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Site boundary description: The site is a simple polygon drawn to include all verified records of deep-sea sponges within the entire Hatton-Rockall Basin. The boundary has also been drawn to incorporate significant areas of both types of offshore deep-sea muds present in the region.



Last updated: October 2017

The full overview of the various data used to support site identification along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the Hatton-Rockall Basin 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 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

  • Survey of Darwin Mounds and North West Rockall (2011) – The cruise was part of the MAREMAP initiative (UK Marine Environmental Mapping Programme) and was a collaboration of multiple organisations including JNCC, Plymouth University and the National Oceanography Centre. The main aim of the survey was to use acoustic and imagery data to perform benthic habitat mapping in relation to human activity. The survey identified bird’s nest sponge aggregations, encrusting sponge aggregations and offshore deep-sea mud habitats.
  • 2006 Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), JNCC RV Franklin Survey (2006) – The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) surveys were commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)). These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, collected multibeam and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland. In 2006, the survey visited the polygonal faults in the site and recorded deep-sea sponge aggregations and mud habitats.


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:

  • EUSeaMap – Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of sedimentary features from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.
  • Application of the OSPAR definition of deep-sea sponge aggregations (2014) – JNCC commissioned a contract to apply the OSPAR definition of deep-sea sponge aggregations to verify suspected records of the habitat in UK waters. Survey data from this site was included in that contract and supported with high confidence the presence of Pheronema carpentari fields and encrusting sponge dominated aggregation types of deep-sea sponge aggregations
  • Analysis of biological data from the JC60 survey (2014) – The data from the National Oceanography Centre, University of Plymouth and JNCC survey of Darwin Mounds and North West Rockall, were analysed and help support the presence of offshore deep-sea muds and deep-sea sponge aggregations in Hatton-Rockall Basin MPA.
  • Report of the identification of Key Geodiversity Areas in Scotland's seas (2013) – This report helped support information on the presence and extent of important geological/geomphological areas in Scotland’s seas, which includes The Hatton Bank (and adjacent sea floor) Key Geodiversity Area of relevance to this NCMPA.


Additional relevant literature

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

  • Oliver, G.P. and Drewery, J. (2013). New species of chemosymbiotic clams (Bivalvia: Vesicomyidae and Thyasiridae) from a putative ‘seep’ in Hatton-Rockall Basin, north-east Atlantic. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 94: 389–403. – Describes two new species of bivalves which were discovered in The Hatton-Rockall Basin from around 1,180–1,200 m deep.


Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in the Relevant Documentation section listed on the main page, 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 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 updated advice replaces the previous Regulation 18 package for the site. This advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of 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.

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.
Features, Activities, Sensitivities 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 resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.


Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

Fishing activities within the site are managed under the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. 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 Hatton-Rockall Basin NCMPA around each of the four stages in the MPA management cycle.


1. The documentation of appropriate management information

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


2. The implementation of management measures

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


  • The MPA lies outside of UK fishery limits and therefore fishing activity and its associated Vessel Monitoring System data are managed by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). Evidence of fishing activity taking place within the region of the MPA is limited, although non-UK fishing vessels are known to be active.
  • Hatton-Rockall Basin NCMPA is situated in a "new bottom fishing area" under current NEAFC regulations. Any proposed new fishing activity would require an environmental assessment to show damage would not be caused to Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), which in this case constitutes one of the protected features of the site: Deep-sea sponge aggregations.
  • An area in the north of Hatton-Rockall Basin NCMPA is closed to bottom fisheries under NEAFC Recommendation 19 2014: Protection of VMEs in NEAFC Regulatory Areas, as Amended by Recommendation 09:2015 and Recommendation 10:2018 to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), namely deep-sea sponge aggregations.
  • Fishing with bottom-set gillnets, entangling nets and trammel nets below 600 m is also prohibited for the protection of deepwater shark species under Council Regulation (EC) 2019/1241, and there are additional restrictions on their use between 200 m and 600 m. This regulation also applies to those areas beyond Union waters, but within the NEAFC technical measures regulatory area.

Licensable activities

  • No licensable activities are currently known to take place within this MPA.
  • Should interest be expressed by developers in the future, a legal framework for consenting licensed activities would need to be developed.
  • 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 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

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


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. 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. For MPAs, data and evidence collected from monitoring activities will aim to:

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

Information on monitoring of this MPA will be provided when it becomes available.



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 & 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: .

This Site Information Centre (SIC) was created and last substantially updated prior to the end of the Transition Period following the UK’s exit from the European Union (31 December 2020). Therefore some of the content may still refer to EU legislation and management proposals or commitments which were correct at the time that the content was last updated. These references will be revised as necessary when the SIC is next substantially revised. Requirements through EU legislation are being retained in the UK so existing environmental protections and standards remain, and the protection given to habitats and species continues.

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