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Marine Habitat Classification

The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland is one of the most comprehensive marine benthic classification systems currently in use, and has been developed through the analysis of empirical data sets, the review of other classifications and scientific literature, and in collaboration with a wide range of marine scientists and conservation managers.

The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland (v15.03)

The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland provides a tool to aid the management and conservation of marine habitats. This publication presents a fully revised version of the national classification of benthic marine habitats (seashore and seabed habitats and their associated communities of species) for Britain and Ireland. It is one of the most comprehensive marine benthic classification systems currently in use, and has been developed through the analysis of empirical data sets, the review of other classifications and scientific literature, and in collaboration with a wide range of marine scientists and conservation managers. It is compatible with and contributes to the marine part of the European EUNIS habitat classification system. It was originally developed by JNCC's Marine Nature Conservation Review (MNCR) as part of the EC Life Nature-funded BioMar project (Connor et al. 1997 a, b).

The dedicated JNCC Marine Habitat Classification website shows the 15.03 version of the habitat classification, which comprises a shallow section, taken from the previous Version 04.05, and a new deep-sea section. The 'shallow section' refers to the level 2 habitats littoral rock, littoral sediment, infralittoral rock, circalittoral rock and sublittoral sediment (and their 'child' habitats). The 'deep-sea section' refers to the level 2 habitats Atlantic upper bathyal, Atlantic mid bathyal, Atlantic lower bathyal, Atlantic upper abyssal, Atlantic mid abyssal, Atlantic lower abyssal, Arctic mid bathyal, Arctic lower bathyal, Arctic upper abyssal and Atlanto-Arctic upper bathyal (and their child habitats).

The classification is presented in hierarchical format, which differs slightly between the shallow and deep-sea sections. The levels in the hierarchy represent:

  Shallow Deep
  (Connor et al, 2004) (Parry et al, 2015)
Level 1 Environment (marine) Environment (marine)
Level 2 Broad habitat type Biological zone
Level 3 Habitat complex Substratum
Level 4 Biotope complex Broad community
Levels 5 & 6 Biotope or sub-biotope Biological assemblage

Information provided for the classification includes the search pages and expandable hierarchy with the biotope descriptions. Downloadable documents for the classification system are also available.

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Classification update

In 2015, JNCC started a project to update the existing shallower part of the Classification. This project aims to improve the consistency of classification by reviewing the validity existing biotopes and adding any new biotopes identified from recent survey data. The overall structure of higher levels will be revised to be more user-friendly, if agreed by stakeholders. The project also aims to develop a less subjective, data driven approach for assigning biotopes. The classification will be updated section by section in the following order: sublittoral sediment, circalittoral and infralittoral rock, littoral sediment and littoral rock.

Timetable of key tasks for classification update
2015:

Initiate a stakeholder consultation on the scope of classification updates.

Data preparation and trial analysis of data.

Complete
2016: Decide final analysis method
Analysis of sublittoral sediment grab data
Analysis of sublittoral sediment video and dive data
Complete
2017: Expert review of sublittoral sediment results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
Analysis of circalittoral rock data
Expert review of circalittoral rock results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
Analysis of littoral sediment data
Expert review of littoral sediment results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
Complete
2018: Peer review of proposed new and revised littoral and sublittoral sediment biotopes  
2019: Publish new and revised littoral and sublittoral sediment biotopes
Review the approach to defining biotopes from photo and video imagery
...Plan for updating littoral and sublittoral rock section coming soon...
Consultation on changing the structure of the upper levels of the classification
 

JNCC will recommend any revisions to the Marine Habitat Classification are incorporated into the EUNIS classification.

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