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North West Rockall Bank MPA

JNCC prepared updated formal conservation advice for North West Rockall Bank SAC in March 2018. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Rockall Bank is an offshore bank situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400 km west of the Outer Hebrides. 

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Site

Situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400 km west of the Outer Hebrides, Rockall Bank is an offshore bank and is potentially one of the most extensive areas for biogenic reef formed by cold-water coral species in UK waters.

The north-west area of the Rockall Bank has been included as a SAC for two types of Annex I reef habitat – biogenic and stony. Interspersed with the stony reef throughout the site are sizeable patches of Annex I biogenic reef comprised primarily of Lophelia pertusa and associated species such as Madrepora oculata (another cold-water coral species).  Notable species include erect bryozoa Reteporella sp., solitary corals Caryophyllia sp., serpulid worms and many types of sponges including globose, tubular, cup and encrusting varieties. The site includes iceberg ploughmarks, which are a type of Annex I stony reef habitat that consists of lines of cobbles and boulders with a sediment-filled furrow between. The associated biological communities are dependent on this mixed sediment and stony substratum, rather than on the underlying bedrock.  

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

Map displaying the North West Rockall Bank 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

Features Feature Type
1170 Reefs 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 West Rockall Bank 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 North West Rockall Bank 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

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. 

 

Site overview

Rockall Bank is an offshore bank situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400 km west of the Outer Hebrides. It is oriented north-east to the south-west and is approximately 450 km in length and 200 km wide. Depth ranges from over 1,000 m at the base of the Rockall Bank, to 200 m across much of the top. The centre of the bank breaks the surface forming a rocky island outcrop around 25 m wide and 20 m high. On account of their sheer size, oceanic banks such as Rockall cause deviation of ocean currents along their flanks. This facilitates the colonisation of habitat-forming corals which depend on a consistent supply of current-transported organic matter and zooplankton. Rockall Bank is potentially one of the most extensive sites for biogenic reef formed by cold-water coral species in UK waters.

Included within areas of stony reef are sizeable patches of Annex I biogenic reef comprising the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa and associated species, including erect sponges and the pencil urchin (Cidaris cidaris). Stands of Madrepora oculata, another cold-water coral species, are also present. Evidence from the 1970s suggests that areas of Lophelia pertusa reef up to 30 m in diameter existed on the North West Rockall Bank, though more recent surveys (albeit at different locations in this region) have recorded reefs smaller in size. Cobble rubble surrounds the living reefs in many places and supports fauna such as squat lobsters (Munida rugosa), sea cucumbers (Parastichopus tremulus) and the bluemouth red fish (Helicolenus dactylopterus).

The north-west area of the Rockall Bank is covered in a layer of fine sediment, gravel, cobbles and boulders of glacial origin, some of which is shaped into characteristic 'ploughmark' formations by icebergs during the last ice age. These iceberg ploughmarks are a variant of Annex I stony reef and consist of lines of cobbles and boulders with a sediment-filled furrow between. The associated biological communities are dependent on this mixed sediment and stony substratum, rather than on the underlying bedrock. Notable species include sessile fauna such as erect bryozoa (e.g. Reteporella sp.), solitary corals (e.g. Caryophyllia sp.), serpulid worms and many types of sponge including globose, tubular, cup and encrusting varieties.

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:  4,365 km²

Site depth range:  The depth of the site ranges from 102 m below sea-level along the crest of the bank down to 428 m below sea-level at the base of the bank formation.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Site boundary description: The boundary is a relatively simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure the protection of the Annex I habitats and is defined by whole degrees, minutes and seconds. The boundary definition guidelines indicate that where interest features are at risk from bottom trawling, a margin should be included in the proposed boundary to ensure their protection. It is notable that the site boundary follows, for the most part, the boundary of the EU Common Fisheries Policy and North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission demersal fishing closure (EC Regulation No 40/2008, NEAFC Recommendation IX-2008) (see Activities and Management section for updates).

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Evidence

Last updated: October 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 West Rockall Bank MPA SAC 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

  • Deep-water surveys off north and west Scotland (2011) – JNCC contributed to a survey by the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) to areas of conservation interest (including North West Rockall SAC) in deep waters off north and west Scotland.  The overall objectives of the survey were to investigate the response of deep-sea benthic ecosystems to spatial and temporal variability in environmental parameters.
  • Mapping seabed habitats and Annex I Reef (2011) – JNCC joined a Marine Scotland Science survey of the Haddock stock of the Rockall Plateau. Video and acoustic surveys mapped seabed habitats and coral reef within North-West Rockall.
  • Broadscale habitat survey and Mapping of Annex I reef habitat at Rockall Bank (2005–2008) – JNCC and the University of Plymouth opportunistically joined four Marine Scotland Science fisheries research cruises, in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, to collect video footage and stills. The aim was to confirm the presence and map the distribution of Annex I reef habitat on Rockall Bank and to propose a possible boundary for a Marine Protected Area.

 

Data analysis reports

  • Deep-water surveys off north and west Scotland (2011) – JNCC commissioned Plymouth University and the National Oceanography Centre to analyse the biological data from the 2011 survey, and information is available in Howell et al (2014). This analysis will contribute to the provision of advice on the condition and long-term monitoring plans for North-West Rockall Bank SAC.
  • Broadscale survey and Mapping of Annex I reef habitat at Rockall Bank (2005–2008) – The 2005–2008 JNCC and University of Plymouth survey data was analysed by Howell et al (2009). The aim of the study was to confirm the presence and map the distribution of Annex I reef habitat on Rockall Bank and to propose possible boundaries for SACs. 

 

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the SAC Selection Assessment DocumentPlease 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.

  • Robert, K., Jones, D.O.B., Huvenne, V.A.I. (2014). Megafaunal distribution and biodiversity in a heterogeneous landscape: the iceberg scoured Rockall Bank, NE Atlantic. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 501: 67-88. Examines the heterogeneity of deep-sea environments and their consequent biodiversity. The authors find that biodiversity increases as environmental variability increases. Seafloor heterogeneity is proposed as a proxy for biological diversity where evidence is limited as it is more easily surveyed (using acoustic techniques).
  • Masson. D., Bett. B.J., Billett. D.S.M., Jacobs. C.L.,Wheeler. A.J. and Wynn. R.B. (2003).The origin of deep-water, coral-topped mounds in the northern Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic. Marine Geology, 194: 59–180. Examines the origin of sea mounds and their relationship with cold-water coral distribution in the northern Rockall trough. The study concludes that the elevation of the mounds is key to colonisation by cold-water corals.

 

Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional information not referred to in the Relevant Documentation section, please contact us.

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Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 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 'Conserving MPAs' webpage 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 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  March 2018).  

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. 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 restored 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: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

There is evidence to suggest that some damage to the biogenic reef might have occurred in areas of the site as large coral rubble fields, which could be the result of trawling activities, have been observed (Howell et al., 2014). No visible signs of recovery from this damage were apparent. 

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 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 West Rockall 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 section. Further information is available on JNCC's '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 feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.

Fisheries

  • Fisheries are subject to regulation under the EU Common Fisheries Policy within this site. It is prohibited to conduct bottom trawling or fishing with static gear including bottom set gillnets and bottom set longlines in most of the site, as prescribed in Regulation (EU) No. 227/2013 amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 850/98 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juvenile marine organisms.
  • This closure was imposed following recommendations from North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission for measures for the protection of vulnerable deep-sea habitats. The majority of North West Rockall is closed to bottom fisheries under NEAFC Recommendation 19 2014: Protection of VMEs in NEAFC Regulatory Areas, as Amended by Recommendation 09:2015 and Recommendation 10:2018 and EC Regulation No 40/2008, but part of the site is not covered by these measures.
  • 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.

Licensable activities

  • Whilst 'licensable' activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within North West Rockall SAC at present, any future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
  • 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 in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCC’s offshore industry advice webpages

 

3. Site condition monitoring

Fishing vessel monitoring data are used to monitor compliance with the management measure in place. Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available in the Monitoring section.

 

4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data are available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives.  The site has a ‘restore’ conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment which suggests the site is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives.

Howell et al., 2014, suggest that some damage to the biogenic reef (Lophelia pertusa) might have occurred as large rubble fields, which could be the result of trawling activities, were observed frequently in two video transects. Some trawl marks were visible in the video imagery and in the high-resolution sidescan sonar maps, but it was not possible to determine when the damage might have occurred.  The report states that 'no visible signs of recovery from this trawling damage were apparent (e.g. recolonisation of coral rubble or boulders, signs of coral recruitment) which further support the 'restore' conservation objective set for this site'. Further information will be provided in the Assessment 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 the 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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