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North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA

Please be advised that, as of 22 March 2024, new fisheries management measures are in force for North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA. For more information about what these fisheries measures are please see MMO Statutory guidance for the Tranche 2 Marine Protected Areas Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw 2023.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC is located in the southern North Sea, and includes a series of ten main sandbanks and associated fragmented smaller banks as a result of tidal processes; as well as areas of Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef.

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Site

Located in the southern North Sea, the North Norfolk Sandbanks are the most extensive example of the offshore linear ridge sandbank type in UK waters. The banks support communities of invertebrates which are typical of sandy sediments in the southern North Sea such as polychaete worms, isopods, crabs and starfish. Areas of Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef are present within the site, consisting of thousands of fragile sand-tubes made by ross worms (polychaetes) which have consolidated together to create solid structures rising above the seabed.

The entirety of the MPA is considered a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time. The whole SAC is designated and viewed as one integrated sandbank system, and reflects our current advice that its extent covers the entirety of the site. This physical delineation has been further validated by recent biological community analysis and is supported by the original Site Assessment. A 500 m margin has been applied to point records of Sabellaria spinulosa reef to create the 'Area to be managed as Reef'. This is to reflect uncertainty in extent and distribution. While the areas inside the margins are not confirmed but potential feature, JNCC advises a precautionary approach to their management (i.e. treat them as if they were confirmed feature) to ensure appropriate protection now and into the future. 

The North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA overlaps with a Special Area of Conservation that has been identified for the protection of Harbour porpoise – the Southern North Sea SAC. For more information on this MPA, please see the Southern North Sea MPA Site Information Centre.

More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.

 

Map displaying the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper

Legislation

Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).

 

Protected Features

Protected Feature Feature Type
1170 Reefs Annex I habitat
1110 Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all of the time Annex I habitat

 

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 Monitoring and Evidence section.

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Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section below.

September 2004 – December 2005
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
December 2007 – March 2008
Formal public consultation. Site becomes a possible SAC.
August 2010
Site submitted to the European Commission. The Habitats Regulations now formally apply to this MPA.
November 2011
Site is approved by the European Commission as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).
September 2017
Site is formally designated as a SAC by UK Government.

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Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC 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 SAC site selection process is available on JNCC's SAC webpages.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Summary

Last updated: October 2017

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment Document and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to this document in the Relevant Documentation section for further details and information sources.

 

Site overview

The North Norfolk Sandbanks are the most extensive example of the offshore linear ridge sandbank type in UK waters. They are subject to a range of current strengths which are strongest on the banks closest to shore and which reduce offshore. The sandbank structures are maintained through offshore sediment transport, with each bank acting as a stepping stone, and the development of new sandbanks between existing banks. The designated boundary of the site encompasses the whole linear sandbank system rather than attempting to separate out individual banks.

The outer banks are the best example of open sea, tidal sandbanks in a moderate current strength in UK waters. Sandwaves are present, being best developed on the inner banks; the outer banks having small or no sandwaves associated with them. The sandbanks have a north-west to south-east orientation and are thought to be progressively, though very slowly, elongating in a north-easterly direction. They extend from about 40 km (22 nautical miles) off the north-east coast of Norfolk out to approximately 110 km (60 nautical miles).

The summits of the banks are in water shallower than 20 m below Chart Datum, and the flanks of the banks extend into waters up to 40 m deep. Areas surveyed in 2013 identified three broad-scale habitat types; Sublittoral Sands, Sublittoral Mixed Sediments and Sublittoral Coarse Sediments. Further biological community analysis of the 2013 survey data has been completed by JNCC. The findings of this analysis confirmed that the biological communities associated with the topographic sandbanks occur across the MPA, including adjacent areas where the seabed is much deeper than 20 m. Sand is the dominant sediment type across the MPA, with patches of coarser and mixed sediment, which may then also be associated in places with Sabellaria spinulosa reef. These results confirm JNCC’s earlier view set out in the SAC Selection Assessment Document, that the whole MPA should be considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time

The biological communities present on the sandbanks are representative of the infralittoral mobile sand biotope. Species typical of this biotope include the polychaete worm Nephtys cirrosa and the isopod Eurydice pulchra. The series of sandbanks within the SAC are very similar in terms of the biological communities present. However, within the infralittoral mobile sand biotope, fewer species were recorded on the inner and eastern most end of the outer banks. Increasing species numbers were recorded on the outer most banks, particularly on the Indefatigables and the western-most end of the Swarte Bank, which is likely to be related to the change in hydrodynamic regime with increasing distance from the coast.

Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef consists of thousands of fragile sand-tubes made by ross worms (polychaetes) which have consolidated together to create a solid structure rising above the seabed. Reefs formed by Sabellaria spinulosa allow the settlement of other species not found in adjacent habitats leading to a diverse community of epifaunal and infaunal species. First discovered in 2002, the Saturn reef covered an area approximately 750 m by 500 m just to the south of Swarte Bank, varying in density over this area. More recent surveys have failed to identify the extensive areas of S. spinulosa reef previously identified. However, a 2013 survey identified reef to the west of Saturn reef and observed areas of low reef structure in the north and south of the site, with more extensive reef delineated in the centre of the site. The previous extent of Saturn reef, in comparison to the more recently collated data highlights the ephemeral nature of this feature, and indicates the favourable conditions for S. spinulosa formation within the MPA. A 500 m margin has been applied to the point records of Sabellaria spinulosa reef to create the 'Area to be managed as Reef'. This is to reflect uncertainty in extent and distribution within these areas. While the areas inside these margins are not confirmed, but potential feature, JNCC advises a precautionary approach to their management (i.e. to treat them as if they were confirmed feature) to ensure appropriate protection now and into the future.

Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found in the Monitoring and Evidence section.

Site location:  Co-ordinates for this SAC can be found in the Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area:  3,603 km2.

Site depth range:  The shallowest depth within the MPA is just 3 m below sea-level, and the deepest is over 60 m below sea-level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Southern North Sea.

 

Site boundary description

The boundary of this SAC is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitats, taking into account potential movement of the sandbanks, and also encompassing the area of Saturn reef and surrounding Sabellaria spinulosa reef. The boundary presented includes both "sandy sediments in less than 20 m water depth" and the flanks and troughs of these banks which are also part of the sandbank feature but extend into deeper waters. The whole MPA is considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature "Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time".

Co-ordinate points have been positioned as close to the edge of these interest features as possible, rather than being located at the nearest whole degree or minute point. No margin to allow for mobile gear was applied given the shallow water depth at this site and the lack of a precise feature edge from which to add a margin. The boundary of the site has been defined to enable conservation of the structure and functions of the sandbanks and to include representation of both more disturbed (inshore) and more stable (offshore) sandbank biological communities. The sandbank structures are maintained through offshore sediment transport, with each bank acting as a stepping stone, and the development of new sandbanks between existing banks. Therefore, the boundary encompasses the whole linear sandbank system rather than attempting to separate out individual banks. The boundary allows for the potential elongation of banks in a north-easterly direction, and the coarse scale at which the underlying geological and bathymetric data are mapped.

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Monitoring and Evidence

Last updated: November 2023

The full overview of the data used to support site identification along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Selection Assessment Document. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA Mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this SAC have 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

  • Southern North Sea Sandbanks Monitoring Survey (2016) Cruise Report – This collaborative survey between Cefas and JNCC covered three sites; Haisborough Hammond and Winterton SAC, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge SAC and North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC. This cruise report details the operations carried out onboard the survey which was aimed to acquire monitoring data to contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series for these three sites. Reporting of the data is underway and will be made available in due course.
  • RV Cefas Endeavour survey (2013) – This collaborative survey between Cefas and JNCC of the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC aimed to investigate the presence of Sabellaria spinulosa reef and consider sandbank community variability within the site. Acoustic data (multibeam echosounder and side scan sonar) and video, still and grab data were collected.
  • Entec/Envision survey (2008) – This survey commissioned by Natural England collected data on the presence and extent of Annex I sandbanks in the Outer Wash area of the North Sea.
  • Conoco Phillips survey (2003) – Undertaken by Subsea 7 on behalf of Conocco Philips, this survey first identified the Saturn Reef Sabellaria spinulosa reef. A visual survey of the area was undertaken using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to determine the extent of S. spinulosa reef. The reef was recorded as being 750 m x 500 m.
  • S/V Kommandor Jack Strategic Environmental Assessment 2 survey (2001) – Data collected as part of the North Sea SEA survey for DTI (Department of Trade and Industry). Area 2 includes the majority of existing oil and gas fields in the North Sea, and data collected included multibeam acoustic data and grab samples.

 

Data analysis reports

  • North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef, Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) Monitoring Report 2016 – This report presents the findings of the first dedicated monitoring survey of the Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge (IDRBNR) SAC, Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton (HHW) SAC and the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef (NNSSR) SAC, which will form the initial point in a monitoring time series against which feature condition can be assessed in the future.
  • JNCC Biological Community Analysis of North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef cSAC/SCI (2015) – Statistical analysis of the biological communities present within the MPA using data from grab and video samples collected in the 2013 Cefas/JNCC survey. The results of this analysis confirmed that the biological communities associated with the topographic sandbanks occur across the MPA, including adjacent areas where the seabed is much deeper than 20 m. Sand is the dominant sediment type across the MPA, with patches of coarser and mixed sediment, which may then also be associated in places with Sabellaria spinulosa reef. These results confirm JNCC’s earlier view set out in the SAC Selection Assessment Document, that the whole MPA should be considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time
  • Cefas/JNCC Survey CEND22/13 & 23/13 survey report (2015) – Analysis of this collaborative survey in 2013 was undertaken by Cefas. This report describes the findings of the dedicated survey with the aims of characterising the infaunal communities across the sandbanks in order to better understand their sensitivities to human pressures and confirm / identify the existence of Annex I Sabellaria spinulosa reef and characterising the associated fauna 
  • EUSeaMap (2016) – Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of the sandbank and reef Annex 1 features from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.
  • Analysis of Natural England survey data (2008) – Natural England. 2008. SAC Site Selection Assessment: Outer Wash Sandbanks. Contract FST20-18-030. Acquisition of survey data and preparation of site-specific briefing statements for draft marine SACs. Report prepared by Entec UK Ltd.

 

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the SAC Selection Assessment Document available in the Relevant Documentation section. 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.

  • Collins, M.B., Shimwell, S.J., Gao, S., Powell, H., Hewitson, C. and Taylor, J.A. (1995) Water and sediment movement in the vicinity of linear sandbanks: the Norfolk Banks, southern North Sea. Marine Geology, 123: 125–142

 

Knowledge gaps

As part of the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS), JNCC led the development of a UK Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Strategy, working with partners across the UK monitoring community. The Strategy spans UK territorial and offshore waters, focusing on biodiversity in the wider environment and within Marine Protected Areas. Its aim is to implement efficient, integrated monitoring of marine biodiversity to provide the evidence needed for all the UK's policy drivers.

The evidence collected during MPA monitoring surveys is used in combination with other available evidence to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Contribute to the 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.

More detail on offshore MPA monitoring can be found on the Offshore MPA monitoring webpage. A list of monitoring surveys and relevant reports can be found on the MPA monitoring survey reports webpage.

If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed in the relevant documentation, including the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Selection Assessment Document listed in the relevant documents section, please contact us.

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Conservation Advice

Last updated: December 2017

Updated formal conservation advice is now available for this MPA.  Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on our 'Conserving MPAs' webpage 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 a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for a HRA;
  • respond to specific measures to support delivery of 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 December 2017). 

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. 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).

  • 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.
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

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