Rockall Bank is an offshore bank situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400 km west of the Outer Hebrides.
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.
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).
|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.
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.
The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North West Rockall Bank SAC were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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.
- Standard Data Form – Details the SAC and the designated features;
- SAC Selection Assessment Document – Overview of the SAC, designated features and rationale for site selection;
- Consultation Report and Impact Assessment – Overview of the consultation outcomes, and an assessment of the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of the designation.
- JNCC's formal conservation advice for this site is available in the Conservation Advice section.
These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.
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.
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 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: 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 SAC 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. Further information on how this margin has been applied can be found in the site selection assessment document. It is notable that the site boundary follows, for the most part, the boundary of the Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission demersal fishing closure (NEAFC Recommendation IX-2008) (see Activities and Management section for updates).
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 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 Document. 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.
- 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.
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 Marine Directorate of Scottish Government, in partnership with JNCC and NatureScot, developed a Scottish Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring strategy. The Strategy spans Scottish territorial and offshore waters, focusing on biodiversity within Marine Protected Areas. The Strategy is supported by a series of annexes which provide more detail on monitoring methods, collaborative working, current monitoring and a two year forward look for MPA monitoring in Scottish waters.
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.
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).
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 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).
|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.
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 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 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.
- Under Council Regulation (EU) 2019/1241 (Annex XII, Part D), as amended by The Common Fisheries Policy and Animals (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 Statutory Instrument 2019, No. 1312, it is prohibited to conduct bottom trawling and fishing with static gear (including bottom set gillnets and bottom set longlines) within most of the North-West Rockall area, for the protection of sensitive habitats.
- Under Regulation (EU) 2019/1241 (as amended by S.I 2019/1312 and S.I. 2020/1542), fishing with bottom-set gillnets, entangling nets, and trammel nets below 200m is also prohibited for the protection of deep-water shark species. However, there are derogations for the use of static nets between 200m and 600m, which are applicable in the shallower areas of the MPA to allow directed fishing for anglerfish and hake.
- The Marine Directorate of Scottish Government 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 Directorate’s webpages.
- 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 Regulation 28 (Protection of European offshore marine sites and European sites) of The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).
- 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 and Evidence 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'.