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Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a type of marine protected area that can be designated in Scottish territorial and offshore waters.

Nature Conservation MPAs protect a range of nationally important habitats and species such as sand eels, which form an important component of the marine food web, sedimentary seabed habitats vital for a range of marine processes and other species, and deep-sea sponge aggregations identified as an OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitat.

JNCC's role

JNCC is responsible for identifying and recommending Nature Conservation MPAs in Scottish offshore waters (beyond 12 nautical miles). The Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act include powers for Scottish Ministers to designate Nature Conservation MPAs.

There are currently 36 Nature Conservation MPAs designated, 13 of which are offshore. An overview of those Nature Conservation MPAs that fall in offshore waters are provided in the table below, with links to further information on individual sites and their protected features included. The Descriptions of Scottish Marine Priority Report provides further information on the designated biodiversity features of Nature Conservation MPAs. Further information on the designated geodiversity features of Nature Conservation MPAs is provided in SNH Commissioned Report No. 430.

Site name Designated feature(s)
Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt

Deep-sea sponge aggregationsOffshore subtidal sands and gravelsOcean quahog aggregations

Continental slope;

Continental slope channels, iceberg plough marks, prograding wedges and slide deposits representative of the West Shetland Margin paleo-depositional system Key Geodiversity Area;

Sand wave fields and sediment wave fields representative of the West Shetland Margin contourite deposits Key Geodiversity Area

Hatton-Rockall Basin

Deep-sea sponge aggregationsOffshore deep sea muds;

Sediment drifts and polygonal faults representative of Hatton Bank (and adjacent sea floor) Key Geodiversity Area.

North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel

Deep-sea sponge aggregationsOffshore deep-sea muds; Offshore subtidal sands and gravels

Continental slope;

A wide range of features representative of the West Shetland Margin Palaeo-depositional, Miller Slide and Pilot Whale Diapirs Key Geodiversity Areas

Rosemary Bank Seamount

Deep-sea sponge aggregationsSeamount communities;


A range of features representative of the Rosemary Bank Seamount (and adjacent sea floor) Key Geodiversity Area, including iceberg ploughmark fields, slide scars, sediment drifts, sediment wave fields and the seamount scour moat

The Barra Fan and Hebrides Terrace Seamount

Burrowed mud (seapen and burrowing megafauna communities); Seamount Communities; Offshore deep-sea muds; Offshore subtidal sands and gravelsOrange roughy; Continental slope;


Geomorphological features representative of The Barra Fan and The Peaches Slide Complex Key Geodiversity Areas: iceberg ploughmark field, prograding wedges, continental slope turbidite canyons, slide deposits,  scour moat, continental slope, Hebrides Terrace Seamount

Central Fladen Burrowed mud (seapen and burrowing megafauna communities); 

Sub-glacial tunnel valley representative of the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area
East of Gannet and Montrose Fields

Offshore deep-sea mudsOcean quahog aggregations (including sands and gravels as their supporting habitat)

Firth of Forth Banks Complex Ocean quahog aggregations; Offshore subtidal sands and gravels; Shelf Banks and Mounds, Moraines representative of the Wee Bankie Key Geodiversity Area
Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain Ocean quahog aggregations (including sands and gravels as their supporting habitat)
Turbot Bank Sandeels
Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope

Burrowed mud (seapen and burrowing megafauna communities); Offshore subtidal sands and gravels; Offshore deep-sea muds; Continental slope

Slide deposit and slide scars representative of the Geikie Slide Key Geodiversity Area

North-west Orkney Sandeels; Sand banks, sand wave fields and sediment wave fields representative of the Fair Isle Strait Marine Process Bedforms Key Geodiversity Area.
West Shetland Shelf

Offshore subtidal sands and gravels



Designation process

JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH – now NatureScot) applied Site Selection Guidelines to identify Nature Conservation MPAs that together with existing protected areas form a network of MPAs. The first 30 Nature Conservation MPAs were designated in August 2014.

The first stage of the Nature Conservation MPA designation process is to identify search locations containing MPA search features within broad search areas and to record presence and distribution of these features. The search features are those considered to be of conservation value at either a national or international level.

The MPA selection guidelines were used to produce an advice document and associated addendum for Ministers on proposals for Nature Conservation MPAs and the development of the MPA network. Key stakeholders were involved with the development of initial proposals and to take into account any data that could be provided. Scientific advice provided by Marine Scotland and informed by SNH and JNCC was considered by Scottish Ministers and they selected sites to progress to public consultation. The consultation responses were analysed by SNH and JNCC and they provided post-consultation advice to Marine Scotland and Ministers who decided on the final sites to be designated.

Further detail of the Nature Conservation MPA designation process can be found in the Site Selection Guidelines.


Management of offshore Nature Conservation MPAs

Management measures may be required in order to conserve or recover the protected features of Nature Conservation MPAs.

Marine Scotland is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures implemented for the management of fishing activity.

Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production proposed or taking place within Nature Conservation MPAs are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under Section 127 of The Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). JNCC has a statutory responsibility to advise the regulator on developments that are capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of the MPAs and that may hinder the achievement of the sites conservation objectives. For further information, please see Marine Scotland’s MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s Guidance for marine licence applications.



About Marine Protected Areas

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