Roughly the size of County Fermanagh, the North Channel SAC has been identified for the protection of harbour porpoise.
Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Designated: February 2019
The North Channel SAC is around the size of County Fermanagh, and has been identified for the protection of harbour porpoise. The site includes locations where some of the largest groups of harbour porpoise have been observed around Northern Ireland.
Habitats within the site consist mainly of coarse or sandy sediments, with patches of rock and mud. Water depths reach a maximum of 150 m along the eastern boundary, but much of the site lies between 10 m and 40 m. The site covers important winter habitat for harbour porpoise and extends from the coast into offshore waters, overlapping with the Pisces Reef Complex SAC.
More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.
Map displaying the North Channel 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: European Commission Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as the 'Habitats Directive'. The EU Habitats Directive (1992) is transposed into UK law by The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 within 12 nautical miles (nm), and The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 between 12 nm out to 200 nm or the UK Continental Shelf.
|Feature||Feature Type||Management Unit||Conservation Objectives|
|Annex II Species||Celtic and Irish Seas
|Maintain site integrity|
To ensure that the integrity of the site is maintained and that it makes an appropriate contribution to maintaining Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) for harbour porpoise in UK waters.
The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of the North Channel SAC. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section or in the sections below.
Some documents linked below relating to the North Channel SAC were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may not be updated from point of designation in January 2017. This Site Information Centre is the most up-to-date source of information for this site and will reflect any additional information gathered since our advice to Government in September 2016.
- SAC Selection Assessment Document (2017) – Overview of the SAC, designated feature and rationale for site selection.
- Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations package – Provides the conservation objectives for the site; the activities occurring within or close to the site with the associated level of risk to harbour porpoise; and consideration of management options for these pressures. This document was last updated in March 2019.
- Draft Impact Assessment – a socio-economic impact assessment of the harbour porpoise SACs, produced for the public consultation held in 2016.
- Standard Data Form – Provides official site information submitted to the European Commission.
- Post consultation report and advice to Governments – Overview of the consultation outcomes, and joint country nature conservation body (CNCB) responses and advice to Governments.
Identification and selection process
- The use of harbour porpoise sightings data to inform the development of Special Areas of Conservation in UK waters (JNCC Report No. 565) – report summarising the process undertaken by the CNCBs, using the results from the previous reports to identify the significant areas to propose as possible harbour porpoise SACs.
- A Conservation Literature Review for the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) (JNCC Report No. 566) – a comprehensive review of relevant literature to support our understanding of behaviours, needs and threats regarding harbour porpoise in UK waters.
Further documents relating to the evidence and analysis can be found in the Evidence section, whilst documents published during the public consultation in 2016 can be found on the archived consultation page. Information about the SAC site selection process is available on JNCC's SAC webpages.
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.
Located along the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, the North Channel SAC has been identified as an important winter area for harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena, supporting an estimated 1.2% of the UK Celtic and Irish Seas Management Unit (MU) population. Although small compared to most of the harbour porpoise SACs, this site, with an area of 1,604 km2, supports areas where large groups of up to 100 harbour porpoise have been sighted and are considered to be the best porpoise watching locations in Northern Ireland.
Habitats within the site consist mainly of coarse or sandy sediments, with patches of rock and mud. Water depths reach a maximum of 150m along the eastern boundary, but much of the site lies between 10 m and 40 m. 85% of the site lies in Northern Irish inshore waters (0–12 nm from shore), hence, both the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), and JNCC are responsible for producing statutory advice for this site.
Survey data collated through the Joint Cetacean Protocol (JCP) were analysed to identify areas with persistently high harbour porpoise occurrence. The modelled outputs of this analysis demonstrate that the North Channel SAC persistently contains densities of porpoises which are within the top 10% of those for the Management Unit during winter. Included within this site is a 2 x 8 km strip, extending along the coast from Mew island in the south to Island Magee in the north. This section of the site was supported by land-based sightings data, validated and stored by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found in the Evidence section.
Site location: The boundary of this SAC is available to view and download via JNCC's MPA Mapper. Co-ordinates for this SAC are available from the Selection Assessment Document listed in the Relevant Documentation section.
Site area: This site has an area of 1,604 km2.
Site depth range: The site ranges from Mean Low Water to 150 m below sea-level.
Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Irish Sea region
Site boundary description: The North Channel SAC boundary was defined based on predicted areas with high densities of harbour porpoise identified through data modelling over an 18-year period. As a general principle, site boundaries were drawn tightly around the qualifying feature. The seaward boundaries were drawn using straight lines where possible; however, a balance was needed between more-complex site shapes drawn tightly around the feature and simple square/rectangular boundaries, so that the area of ‘non-interest-feature’ within the boundary was reduced. Further boundary principles were developed due to the nature of the modelled output. The modelling approach used 5 x 5 km grids, and so the model output was "blocky", and further boundary smoothing methods were applied to simplify the boundary, without altering the site area by more than 5%. Coastal edges were defined by the “Mean Low Water” (MLW) tide line.
Last updated: October 2017
A range of data underpin this SAC as described below. Given the extensive range and mobility of harbour porpoise, analyses to underpin site identification were completed at a UK scale; localised datasets were not used in isolation to define the boundaries of this SAC. Two types of data have been analysed to investigate harbour porpoise persistent densities in UK waters; these are effort-related sea-based data (collected from ships and aircraft) and effort-related land-based data (collect from coastal locations).
- Sea-based data were collated through the Joint Cetacean Protocol (JCP), created in 2004, which is amongst the largest collation of standardised survey data on harbour porpoise in the world, comprising 39 data sources with data from at least 545 distinct survey platforms (ships and aircraft), representing over 1 million km of survey effort (coverage) over an 18-year period from 1994–2011. DHI (UK) Ltd. (DHI) were contracted by JNCC to undertake an analysis of these data in order to identify persistent areas of higher harbour porpoise density around the UK.
- Land-based survey data were compiled from a wide range of UK sources; this was part of a contract with a consortium led by Sea Watch Foundation to analyse these data as an aid to identifying coastal areas of importance to harbour porpoises. Data for the analyses came from 678 locations and amounted to over 75,000 hours of survey effort and around 50,000 sightings over a 20-year period (1994–2014).
The survey data analyses underpinned the identification of the North Channel SAC as an area with persistently higher density of porpoises in relation to other areas (IAMMWG, 2015).
For further information on the data used and the process applied to identify the SAC, please consult the North Channel SAC Selection Assessment Document, and Section two of ‘The use of harbour porpoise sightings data to inform the development of Special Areas of Conservation in UK waters’ (JNCC Report No. 565). Further documents are also listed below in support of the identification of the North Channel SAC:
- The identification of discrete and persistent areas of relatively high harbour porpoise density in the wider UK marine area (JNCC Report No. 544, 2015): A report analysing all available at-sea data, in order to model the persistently important areas of UK waters for harbour porpoise by Heinänen, S. & Skov, H.
- Analysis of long-term effort-related land-based observations to identify whether coastal areas of harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin have persistent high occurrence and abundance (JNCC Report No. 543, 2015): A report analysing all available land-based data in order to establish persistently important coastal areas for harbour porpoise by Evans et al.
- The use of harbour porpoise sightings data to inform the development of Special Areas of Conservation in UK waters (JNCC Report No. 565, 2015): A report summarising the process undertaken by the Country Nature Conservation Bodies (CNCBs), using the results from the previous reports to identify the significant areas to propose as possible harbour porpoise SACs
- Evidence supporting the Impact Assessment (2015): ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd working on behalf of the SNCBs have drafted an assessment of the potential social and economic impact of the SACs. The supporting evidence for the Impact Assessment report is published in draft form to assist with identifying any additional information or evidence that would help improve it.
- A Conservation Literature Review for the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) (JNCC Report No. 566, 2015): A comprehensive review of relevant literature to support our understanding of behaviours, needs and threats regarding harbour porpoise in UK waters.
Additional relevant literature
References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the North Channel SAC Selection Assessment Document. Please be aware that although these sources contain information in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC.
- Management Units for cetaceans in UK waters (JNCC Report No. 547, 2015): Description of the Management Units (MUs) for the seven most common cetacean species in UK waters, including harbour porpoise. The Management Unit is the spatial scale defined as the most appropriate scale to apply management for a species considering abundance and distribution.
If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site made available since 2011 that we may not be aware of, please contact us. Please note that due to the process of identifying boundaries, data are unlikely to impact the boundaries of the site, but may be used to support management decisions.
Last updated: March 2019
Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the North Channel Special Area of Conservation (SAC) are available in the Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations document.
This information is useful if you are:
- Preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) of proposed plans or projects that may affect the site;
- Planning measures to maintain or restore the site and its qualifying feature;
- Monitoring the qualifying features; and/or
- Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.
The conservation objectives for the North Channel SAC are: To ensure that the integrity of the site is maintained and that it makes the best possible contribution to maintaining Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) for harbour porpoise in UK waters.
In the context of natural change, this will be achieved by ensuring that:
- Harbour porpoise is a viable component of the site;
- There is no significant disturbance of the species; and
- The condition of supporting habitats and processes, and the availability of prey is maintained.
JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the interpretation of the conservation objectives listed above. Supplementary advice is available in the Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations document, and updates will be provided here when available.
Advice on Operations
The advice on operations for the protected feature of the North Channel Approaches SAC outlines knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place at the time of writing which may have a significant impact on the feature for which a site has been selected.
The advice on operations is based on the knowledge of harbour porpoise of JNCC and The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) at the time of writing, and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about harbour porpoise within the site and the spatial distribution, please see the Evidence section.
The advice on operations summarises ongoing activities occurring within or close to the site, with an assessment as to whether they pose a risk to harbour porpoise. This information is useful when assessing an activity, plan or project which may affect the protected features and JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site. While every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate and kept up-to-date, the list is not to be considered exhaustive or definitive. The list does not, for example, include activities occurring off-site which may also be capable of affecting the protected features.
The information contained within the Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations document and Evidence section are useful if you are:
- Carrying out any activity that may impact the site and need to find out how to operate within the law;
- An authority providing advice on specific proposals; and/or
- An authority responsible for putting management measures in place.
Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying feature and how activities can affect it may change over time. Conservation advice provided by JNCC and DAERA will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this and surveillance required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive. Conservation advice for sites which straddle the 12 nm boundary will continue to be developed jointly with the relevant country nature conservation body (CNCB).
Activities and Management
Last updated: June 2020
To ensure the site contributes in the best possible way to achieving Favourable Conservation Status, the Relevant and Competent Authorities should consider the need for managing human activities within their remit which might affect (directly or indirectly) the integrity of the site, with regards to its Conservation Objectives. JNCC, along with other statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs), advises those authorities on the need for managing activities.
In June of 2020, JNCC together with Natural England (NE) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland (DAERA) published advice to competent authorities on what could constitute Significant Disturbance within harbour porpoise SACs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland marine areas. In addition, guidance was provided on a noise management approach to keep underwater noise within levels that do not affect a site’s integrity. The advice and guidance are the culmination of several years of inter-agency discussion as well as consultation with regulators, industry and Non-Governmental Organisations. JNCC, NE and DAERA are committed to periodically reviewing this advice to ensure it remains workable, effective and takes account of best-available evidence.
Further information on conservation advice in relation to this MPA can be found in the Conservation Advice section.
Last updated: October 2017
JNCC is currently leading on the development of a strategy for biodiversity monitoring across all UK waters, to include Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring. For MPAs, data and evidence collected from monitoring activities will aim to:
- Enable assessment of the status 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 SAC will be provided here when it becomes available.
Last updated: November 2019
Every six years, Member States are required under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive to report on the conservation status of habitats and species listed under Annex I and II. For harbour porpoise, the Article 17 assessments consider conservation status both within the Natura 2000 network and in the wider sea, with particular emphasis placed on status and trends in terms of population size, range and habitat quality. These assessments will also feed into six-yearly reports on the state of the marine environment under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).