Skip to Content

Pobie Bank Reef MPA

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The Pobie Bank Reef is located in the North Sea, approximately 20 km east of Shetland, Scotland. The Pobie Bank Reef SAC lies across the 12 nm territorial sea limit. Advice on this MPA is therefore jointly delivered with NatureScot.




Located in the North Sea, approximately 20 km east of Shetland, Scotland, Pobie Bank Reef is approximately 70 km long and 21 km wide with seabed depth ranging from 70 m to 100 m. The Pobie Bank Reef SAC lies across the 12 nm territorial sea limit. Advice on this MPA is therefore jointly delivered with NatureScot.

The reef is composed of a combination of stony and bedrock reef and in the central section of the reef there are very large, rugged bedrock outcrops. The reef provides a habitat to an extensive community of encrusting and robust sponges and bryozoans, which are found throughout the site. These include encrusting coralline algae, cup sponges, and bryozoans in the shallower areas; and small erect sponges, cup corals and brittlestars in the deeper areas.

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


Map displaying the Pobie Bank Reef MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing Pobie Bank Reef Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


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) and The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended in Scotland) (territorial waters).


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type Conservation Objective
1170 Reefs Annex I Habitat Maintain or restore the feature in/to favourable condition

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.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Pobie Bank Reef. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

October 2011
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
March 2012
Formal public consultation. Site becomes a possible SAC.
October 2012
Site submitted to the European Commission. The Habitats Regulations now formally apply to this MPA.
November 2013
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.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Pobie Bank Reef 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.



Last updated: October 2017

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


Site overview

Pobie Bank Reef is located in the North Sea, approximately 20 km east of Unst, Fetlar and Whalsey in Shetland, and is separated from Shetland by the Unst Basin. The SAC is approximately 70 km long (crest running NNE to SSW) and up to 21 km wide. The depth within the SAC ranges from 70 m to over 100 m; the average seabed depth within the site boundary is approximately 90 m. The reef is located on a bank of metamorphic and sedimentary rocks covered by a patchy veneer of sediment, ranging from sandy gravels to slightly gravelly sands. The bank overlays a flat plain of sedimentary rock, known as the East of Shetland Platform. The reef is composed of a combination of stony and bedrock reef which meet the definition of the Annex I habitat type 1170 (Reef).

In the central section of the reef, very large, rugged bedrocks outcrop from areas of sand and this represents the most topographically complex area. In most areas these outcrops are surrounded by large boulders and cobbles in a sandy matrix. Towards the north and south of the reef, bedrock outcrops are smoother and integrated with extensive areas of stony reef. The bedrock and boulders provide reef habitat for a variety of species. Bedrock reef is more widespread on Pobie Bank Reef above 100 m depth where the rugged rocky outcrops occur. Stony reef appears to predominate around the eastern margins of the bedrock, particularly in lower-lying ground between outcrops. Much of the SAC is most accurately described as a mixture of these two reef types.

The reef provides a habitat to an extensive community of encrusting and robust sponges and bryozoans, which are found throughout the site. In the shallowest areas the bedrock and boulders also support encrusting coralline algae. Axinellid cup sponges (Axinella infundibuliformis) are common on the bedrock and stony reef at depth ranges of 70 m to over 100 m. The bryozoan Omalosecosa ramulosa is also common on these reefs, but this species is rare in inshore sites in this regional sea. In the deepest areas (>100 m), low-lying silty bedrock is commonplace, supporting small erect sponges, cup corals (Caryophyllia smithii) and the Serpent’s table brittlestar (Ophiura albida). Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found on 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: 966 km2.

Site depth range: 58 m below sea-level on the top of the bank feature, down to 137 m below sea-level at its base.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The proposed boundary is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat, As any bottom trawling that occurs in the area may pose a threat to the reef, the SAC boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface. The maximum depth of water around the feature is approximately 100 m; assuming a ratio of 3:1 fishing warp length to depth on the continental shelf, the boundary is defined to include a margin of 300 m from the bedrock and stony reef feature.  


Monitoring and Evidence

Last updated: November 2023

The full overview of the various data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the Pobie Bank Reef 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

  • JNCC survey of the Pobie Bank Reef SAC (2013) – JNCC commissioned a survey of The Pobie Bank Reef SAC in 2013 to collate further ground-truthing data on the presence and extent of the Annex I reef feature. This JNCC survey was carried out in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Surveys (2005 & 2006) – The SEA surveys (SEA5 and SEA SAC 2006) were commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)). These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, acquired multibeam and sidescan sonar data. Ground-truthing data (seabed imagery and biological/sediment samples) was also collected.  Although full coverage multibeam and sidescan data was not present for all locations where potential Annex I reef was indicated the available data has provided a good indication of the nature of Annex I reef habitat present within Pobie Bank Reef SAC.
  • Albrecht, J. & Stirling, D. (2021) Pobie Bank Reef Special Area of Conservation 2020 Cruise Report (1220S). JNCC/MSS Partnership Report No. 5, JNCC, Peterborough, ISSN 2634-2081.


Data analysis reports

  • Interpretation of Pobie Bank East of Shetland for Annex I Reef (2009) – Foster-smith et al. (2009) analysed the data collected through the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) 5 2005 and SEA SAC 2006 surveys to identify areas of Annex I reef in the Pobie Bank Reef SAC. The results support the presence of three rocky biotopes: (1) Faunal and algal crusts on exposed to moderately wave-exposed circalittoral rock (CR.MCR.EcCr.FaAlCr), (2) Phakellia ventilabrum and Axinellid sponges on deep, wave-exposed circalittoral rock (CR.HCR.DpSp.PhaAxi) and (3) Caryophyllia smithii, sponges and crustose communities.
  • Geological Data Interpretation of the Reef East of Shetland (Pobie Bank) (2008) – Green et al. (2008) undertook a review of historic geophysical data to provide a more accurate determination of the spatial extent of Annex I reef habitat within the area of Pobie Bank Reef. 


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 in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC.


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 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.

If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed in the relevant documentation, or the Pobie Bank Reef SAC Selection Assessment Document listed in the Relevant Documentation section, please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: October 2017

Conservation objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the Pobie Bank Reef SAC has been set based on knowledge of the condition of the protected feature at the time of writing. Further information on feature condition and conservation objectives is provided in the Pobie Bank Reef Conservation objectives and advice on operations document.

This information is useful if you are:

  • Preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) of proposed plans or projects that may affect the site;
  • Planning measures to maintain or restore the site and its qualifying features;
  • Monitoring the condition of the qualifying features; and/or
  • Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.

Advice on operations

In line with Regulation (21) of the The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) which apply to the UK’s offshore marine area and Regulation 33(2) of the The Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended in Scotland) which apply to Scotland’s inshore waters, the advice on operations for the protected feature of the Pobie Bank Reef SAC outlines current knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place which may have a significant impact on the feature for which a site has been selected.

The advice on operations is based on the scientific knowledge of JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) on the biological communities present at the time of writing and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about the biological communities present within the site and their spatial distribution, please see the Monitoring and Evidence section. Sensitivity information for biological communities identified within the site can also be found on MarLIN’s website.

The information contained within the advice on operations, Monitoring and Evidence section, and MarLIN’s sensitivity assessments are useful if you are:

  • Carrying out any activity that may impact the site and need to find out how to operate within the law;
  • An authority providing advice on specific proposals; and/or
  • An authority responsible for putting management measures in place.

Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying features and how activities can affect them may change over time. Conservation advice provided by JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) will be kept under review and will be periodically updated. Conservation advice for sites which straddle the 12 nm boundary will continue to be developed jointly with the relevant country nature conservation body. Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available on our 'Conserving MPAs' webpage.



Published: .

Back to top