Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (Nature Conservation MPA)
The North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA is located to the far north-east of Scotland, and is one of the largest designated Nature Conservation MPA.
Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is one the largest designated Nature Conservation MPA.
The continental slope here plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including the fin whale ('razorback'), and sperm whale. At depths of 400–600 m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful nutrients are ideal for deep-sea sponges. Below 800 m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms. The MPA also includes several features of geological importance, including a series of deep-water mud volcanoes known as the pilot whale diapirs.
More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.
Map displaying the North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.
|Protected Feature||Feature Type|
|Deep-sea sponge aggregations||Low or limited mobility species|
|Offshore deep-sea muds||Habitat|
|Offshore subtidal sands and gravels||Habitat|
|Continental slope||Large-scale feature|
|A wide range of features representative of the West Shetland Margin Palaeo-depositional, Miller Slide and Pilot Whale Diapirs Key Geodiversity Areas||Geological and 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 at the top of this section and in JNCC's MPA mapper, and the evidence underpinning the site available in the Evidence section.
The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.
The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of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 the North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation 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.
- Site Summary Document – Overview of the site and the protected features;
- Data Confidence Assessment – Sets out our confidence in the presence and extent of the protected features;
- Assessment against MPA Selection Guidelines – Details the application of the five stages of the Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines;
- Management Options Paper – Considers the management options for achieving the Conservation Objectives for each of the protected features in the MPA;
- Designation Order – Scottish ministerial order for the designation;
- Business Regulatory Impact Assessment – An assessment of the environmental and social and economic costs and benefits of the designation;
- JNCC’s formal conservation advice for this site is available within the Conservation Advice section.
These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.
Last updated: October 2017
This site summary was adapted from the Nature Conservation MPA Site Summary Document and incorporates any information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to Relevant Document section for further details and information sources.
Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is the largest designated Nature Conservation MPA. The habitats found here are strongly influenced by a significant range of environmental conditions, from the upper continental slope to the depths of the channel, and include a dynamic mixing zone where warmer Atlantic waters flow over cooler arctic waters. The continental slope plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which in turn support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including fin whales ('razorback') and sperm whales.
At depths of 400–600 m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful supply of nutrients are ideal for the establishment of deep-sea sponges. Up to 50 sponge species can be found within the sponge fields, many of which are different to those found in the surrounding areas. Deep-sea sponge aggregations are an OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining habitat. The sponges provide shelter for a range of small sea life such as pencil urchins (Cidaris cidaris) and an elevated perch for animals such as brittlestars that filter food from the passing water currents. Below 800 m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms.
The MPA includes several different features of geological importance, including the pilot whale diapirs. Diapirs are geological structures consisting of mobile material that was forced into more brittle surrounding rocks, usually by the upward flow of material from a parent stratum. The diapirs are a series of seabed sediment mounds which measure 2 km to 3 km across and rise to more than 70 m above the surrounding seafloor. Research has shown the diapirs are just a tiny fraction of more extensive subsurface features, covering more than 2,000 km2. The pilot whale diapirs are unusual in that they are the only known example of diapirs found in UK waters that breach the seabed surface and provide scientists with a rare opportunity to directly sample mid-Cenozoic age sediments at the seabed. 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: 23,682 km2, approximately the same size as the south-west of England (23,880 km2).
Site depth range: The site ranges from 330 m below sea-level at the edge of the Faroe-Shetland channel continental slope, extending down the slope into the deep and cooler arctic influenced waters 2,420 m below sea-level.
Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel.
Site boundary description: The MPA boundary reflects the full extent of the records of deep-sea sponge aggregations on the continental slope in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the range of key geodiversity interests present. The north-east of the boundary tracks the extent of Scottish waters, and the west and north-western boundary follows the slide deposit feature representative of the Miller Slide key geodiversity area. The resulting shape also represents the diversity associated with the offshore subtidal sand and gravel and offshore deep-sea mud habitats in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel.
Last updated: October 2017
For a full overview of the data used to support site identification and information on confidence in feature presence and extent see the North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment. Some of the data for this Nature Conservation MPA has been collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys, with other data obtained through other data sourcing. The data gathered provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site. Additional survey data will be added to JNCC's interactive MPA mapper in due course.
Survey and data gathering
- North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA, Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC and West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA Cruise report (2019) – This cruise report documents the survey details from 2017 and addresses the aim of the survey: to gather initial data for a site monitoring time-series for NEF, WTR and WSS. In addition, the survey gathered evidence to inform assessment of the condition of the protected features of the site for comparison against future data to monitor the rate and direction of any changes. This allowed assessment of the long-term effectiveness of current proposed management measures.
- North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA and Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC Survey (2017) – Live video footage and images from a camera will allow the team to explore North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel to inform how best to protect this unique area and the animals that live within it.
- MV Franklin Survey (2006) – This survey was commissioned by the Department for Trade and Industry (now Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; BEIS) as part of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) survey programme. These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, collected acoustic and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland.
- SV Kommandor Jack Survey (2002) – This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES). The cruise undertook a seabed environmental survey of the deep waters to the north of Shetland within the UK continental shelf. The cruise carried out seabed sampling and photography to investigate the seabed environment and fauna of the pilot whale diapirs and described and characterised 'hard ground' areas of the North-East Faroe Plateau.
- RRS Charles Darwin Survey (2000) – This cruise was led by the National Oceanography Centre and formed part of the AMES programme. Seabed samples were collected and photographic and video observations of the seabed and its fauna were also undertaken.
- White Zone Environmental Survey (1999) – This cruise formed part of the AMES programme to collect sidescan sonar, seabed samples and underwater imagery data. The survey also investigated areas of complex seabed topography, including the pilot whale diapirs.
- Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network Survey of the SEA4 Region (1996/1998) – The Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network (AFEN) undertook a regional assessment of the environment west of Shetland, collecting sidescan sonar, seabed samples and underwater imagery.
Data analysis reports
- Applying the OSPAR habitat definition of deep-sea sponge aggregations to verify suspected records of the habitat in UK waters (2014) – JNCC commissioned work to verify the presence of examples of the OSPAR threatened and/or declining habitat 'deep-sea sponge aggregations' in UK waters. Survey data from this site was included in that contract and supported with high confidence presence of the 'boreal ostur' type of deep-sea sponge aggregations in the MPA.
- Report on the identification of key geodiversity areas in Scottish waters (2013) – This report helped support information on the presence and extent of important geological and geomorphological areas in Scotland’s seas, which includes features representative of the key geodiversity areas represented by this MPA.
- Seafloor biotope analysis of the deep waters of the SEA4 region of Scotland's Seas (2012) – JNCC commissioned work to identify representative biotopes of the SEA4 region. The report drew on survey data collected by the 1998 AFEN survey and 2000 National Oceanography Centre led RRS Charles Darwin cruises.
- SEA/SAC survey photographic analysis report (2007) – This report by Howell et al. analysed the images from the 2006 SEA survey. The results support the presence of offshore subtidal sand and gravels, offshore deep-sea muds, and deep-sea sponge aggregations in the MPA.
- DTI SEA 4: Geological evolution of the pilot whale diapirs and stability of the seabed habitat (2003) – This report by Holmes et al. presents the results of a desk-based study in the evolution of the pilot whale diapirs geological feature. Acoustic data and sediment core samples taken during the strategic environmental assessment surveys were used to determine the development and evolution of the diapirs in the site. The stability of the seabed habitat was also discussed.
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 which is of interest in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC:
- Bett, B.J. (2001) UK Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey: Introduction and overview of bathyal benthic ecology Continental Shelf Research, 21: 917-956.
- Holmes, R., Hobbs, P.R.N., Leslie, A.B., Wilkinson, I.P., Gregory, F.J., Riding, J. B., Hoult, R.J., Cooper, R.M. and Jones, S.M. (2003) DTI SEA4: Geological evolution Pilot Whale Diapirs and stability of the seabed habitat. British Geological Survey Commercial Report CR/03/082.
If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed here, please contact us.
Last updated: April 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 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 to be learned from customers who have used the advice, to ensure the conservation advice remains 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 April 2018).
|Background Information||Explains the purpose of the advice and when it must be referred to.|
The conservation objectives set out the broad ecological aims for the site. JNCC provides supplementary advice in the Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (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).
|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 resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.
Activities and Management
Last updated: October 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 networks of MPAs across the UK and contributes to international MPA networks such as that of the North-east Atlantic under OSPAR. 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:
- 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.
- The implementation of management measures – management actions considered necessary to achieve the conservation objectives of a site.
- Site condition monitoring programmes – collecting the information necessary to determine progress towards a site's conservation objectives.
- 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 North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel 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 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.
- Prior to 2016 there is evidence of mobile demersal, static and pelagic effort within the MPA, and 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.
- In compliance with Part 5, Chapter 7 of The Common Fisheries Policy and Aquaculture (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Statutory Instrument (S.I.) 2019 No. 753, there is a ban on the use of all bottom-contacting mobile gear below 800 m depth across all UK waters. This applies across the area of North-East Faroe-Shetland Chanel MPA where the depth falls below 800 m.
- Part 5 Chapter 7 of S.I. 2019, No. 753 also implements restrictions on fishing between 400 m and 800 m where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are present, or are likely to occur. These rules aim to minimise the impact of fishing activities on VMEs.
- Under The Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 S.I. 2019, No. 1312 (amending S.I. 2019, No. 753) there is a prohibition on the use of bottom-set gillnets, entangling nets, and trammel nets at depths greater than 200 m for the protection of deepwater shark species. These protective measures are also applied in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) technical measures regulatory area (beyond European Union waters) through the same S.I.
- There is one well with suspended activity in the south-east of the MPA. Part of the MPA also overlaps with license blocks identified by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; BEIS (formally the Department of Energy and Climate Change; DECC) and may be subject to further oil and gas development in the future.
- Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under Section 127 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, see Marine Scotland’s Draft MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s Guidance for Marine Licence Applications.
- 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.
- Telecommunication cables currently cross 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 that may be regulated. Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine license beyond 12 nm.
- 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.
- Under international law, ships have a right of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPA's unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an international maritime organisation measure. The pressures associated with shipping activity within North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel Nature Conservation MPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.
3. Site condition monitoring
A baseline site condition monitoring survey took place within this MPA in October 2017 and can further information can be found in the Evidence section. 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 currently available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives.
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 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.
- Crinoids (feather stars) and encrusting sponges on Subtidal sands and gravels in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- Chimaera (ghost shark) on Subtidal sands and gravels in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- Colourful encrusting sponges on Subtidal sands and gravels in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- White fan-like sponges (Phakellia sp.) and a common sea star (Asteria rubens) in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- Pencil urchins, encrusting sponges and a white soft coral (Alcyonium digitatum) in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- White fan-like sponges (Phakellia sp.), encrusting sponges and pencil urchins in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- Pencil urchins, a fan-like sponge (Phakellia sp.) and an unidentified sponge with brittle stars and crustaceans on it in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- White fan-like sponges (Phakellia sp.), other sponges and pencil urchins on Subtidal sands and gravels in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- Sponges and pencil urchins on Subtidal sands and gravels sediment in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. © JNCC.
- White fan-like sponges (Phakellia sp.), encrusting sponges and a sea star in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel. © JNCC.
- Various sponge species (upright and encrusting), pencil urchin, sea star and sea cucumber in North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. Green lines are laser points. © JNCC.
- Digital representation of the Pilot Whale Diapirs at North-east Faroe-Shetland MPA. © DECC SEA Programme.