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North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA

JNCC prepared updated formal conservation advice for the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC in September 2017. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

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.

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Legislation

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

 

Protected Features

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

*For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting in the Assessment section.

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 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.

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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 EUNIS level 3 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 Evidence section.

Site location:  Co-ordinates for this SAC can be found in the Natura 2000 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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Evidence

Last updated: November 2017

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 (2017) 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

  • 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

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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Activities and Management

Last updated: April 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission. Ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required to conclude with confidence the degree to which the site is moving towards its conservation objectives.

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR Commission's network of MPAs, Europe’s Natura 2000 network and the Emerald Network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a contracting party to the OSPAR Commission, JNCC is committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is 'well-managed' by 2020.

JNCC considers 'well-managed' to mean the timely progress of an MPA around the 'MPA management cycle'. This involves:

  1. 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.
  2. The implementation of management measures – management actions considered necessary to achieve the conservation objectives of a site.
  3. Site condition monitoring programmes – collecting the information necessary to determine progress towards a site's conservation objectives.
  4. 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 Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC around each of the 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 in the Conservation Advice sectionFurther information is available on our 'Conserving MPAs' webpage.
  • 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 feature of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing, 'licensable' activities, and telecommunication cables.

Fisheries

  • There is evidence of mobile demersal, static and pelagic effort within the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC. UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area.
  • The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to managing fishing activity. Further information on progress is available on the Marine Management Organisation’s webpages.

Licensable activities

  • A considerable number of oil and gas developments take place within this MPA, including many fields, pipelines, wells, surface and subsurface infrastructure. Extensive oil and gas decommissioning is also taking place within the MPA.
  • There are two areas licensed for aggregate extraction within the MPA.
  • Two dredge disposal sites are located within the MPA boundary, on the Ower and Leman Banks.
  • Several navigational aids are located within the MPA demarking the location of the sandbanks.
  • Our conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
  • Further information on JNCC's role on the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCC's offshore industry advice webpages

Telecommunications cables

  • Three telecommunications cables currently cross through 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 (which may be regulated). Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine license beyond 12 nautical miles.
  • 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.

 

3. Site condition monitoring

A monitoring survey was undertaken within the site in 2016. The data is currently being analysed and more information will be provided in the Monitoring section as it becomes available.

 

4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data is available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. The site has a ‘recover’ conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment (exposure to activities associated with pressures to which the protected features of the site are considered sensitive). Site condition monitoring data would improve our confidence in this assessment. Further information will be provided under the Assessment section as it becomes available.

 

Site management

Management Plan: JNCC is undertaking a review of management plan requirements for offshore MPAs. Further detail will be provided at a later date.

The MMO have assessed all European Marine Sites within their jurisdiction and created a strategic management table which summarises the overall level of risk facing this site and the management actions being taken forward.

Management Group: MPA Management National Steering Group.

Further information on activities and feature sensitivity to these pressures can be found in the Conservation Advice section.

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Monitoring

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 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.

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Assessment

Last updated: November 2019

Assessments of the condition of designated features in offshore MPAs are required to report against our legal obligations. Ideally these assessments should be based on observed data, and then measured against targets for pre-defined indicators. However, for MPAs in offshore waters we do not always have the appropriate information to be able to do so. This is particularly true for seabed habitats, which are the main type of feature designated for protection in offshore MPAs.

To address these challenges, JNCC has been an active partner in the development of new approaches and tools for the assessment of habitats and species for a variety of national and international status reports.

 

Conservation Assessment Reports

Every six years, Member States of the European Union are required (by Article 17 of the Directive) to report on implementation of the Habitats Directive. The latest report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive was submitted by the UK in 2019 and provided an assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during period 2013–2018; information on the condition of features within SACs have made a contribution to this report.

 

UK State of the Seas Reports & UK Marine Strategy Part 1

Charting Progress 2 (CP2) published in 2010, is a comprehensive report on the state of the UK seas. It was published by the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) community which has over 40 member organisations. The report was based on a robust, peer-reviewed evidence base and describes progress made since the publication of Charting Progress in 2005. It provides key findings from UK marine research and monitoring for use by policy makers and others, as we move towards the UK vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. The results from CP2 were incorporated into the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status published in 2012 under the UK Marine Strategy Regulations (2010). The UK Marine Strategy Part 1 (2012) also set out the UK’s definition for Good Environmental Status, which could be achieved by meeting a series of environmental targets. JNCC worked with other organisations in the UKMMAS community to develop a series of indicators that were used to assess progress against each of the targets and to report on progress made since 2012. The results of these assessments have been published in the UK Marine Strategy Part 1: UK Updated Assessment and Good Environmental Status in 2019. Detailed evidence used to make these assessments is available via the Marine Online Assessment Tool (MOAT). It also sets out proposals for updated high-level objectives, targets and operational targets to be used for 2018 to 2024, which build on those set in 2012.

It is worth noting the two other parts of the UK Marine Strategy: UK Marine Strategy Part Two: marine monitoring programmes, published in 2014 and UK Marine Strategy Part Three: programme of measures published in 2015. Updates to these will be made in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

 

OSPAR Quality Status Reports

Many of the assessments in the updated UK Marine Strategy Part 1 2019 were developed and produced in collaboration with other contracting Parties of the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2017 OSPAR published its Intermediate Assessment (IA2017). The IA 2017 further develops OSPAR’s understanding of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic and its current status. It demonstrates OSPAR’s progress towards realising its vision of a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic, used sustainably. IA2017 follows on from OSPAR’s previous holistic assessment, the OSPAR Quality Status Report in 2010 (QSR2010) and in 2000 (QSR2000).

 

JNCC continues to develop and pilot tools for the assessment of marine habitats and species in offshore waters to improve the quality and transparency of our offshore MPA assessments, and contribute to the monitoring of marine biodiversity in UK waters. These tools cover methods for producing interim assessments of site features and their responses to pressures, as well as developing more robust indicators for determining condition of the features.

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