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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

* 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.


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 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.  



Last updated: May 2020

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.


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

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.

The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the MPA is:
Subject to natural change, maintain or restore the reef in/to favourable condition, such that:

  • the natural environmental quality and processes supporting the habitat;
  • the extent of the habitat on site;
  • the physical structure, community structure, function, diversity and distribution of the habitat and typical species representative of the reef in the Northern North Sea regional sea;

are maintained or restored, thereby ensuring the integrity of the site and also making an appropriate contribution to favourable conservation status of the Annex 1 habitats.

JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high-level conservation objective listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.


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 Evidence section. Sensitivity information for biological communities identified within the site can also be found on MarLIN’s website.

JNCC also provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management in the Activities and Management section. This information is also useful when assessing an activity, plan or project which may affect the protected features, and JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site. While every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate and kept up-to-date, the list is not to be considered exhaustive or definitive. The list does not, for example, include activities occurring off-site which may also be capable of affecting the protected features.

The information contained within the advice on operations, Activities and Management section, 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.


Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

Progress is ongoing, with fisheries management options being developed. Directed 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:

  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 Pobie Bank 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 section. Further 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 feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • There is evidence of mobile demersal and pelagic fishing activity within the MPA and UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area.
  • 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 Pobie Bank Reef 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

Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available in the Monitoring section in due course.


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. Further information will be provided in the Assessment section as it becomes available.



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.



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.



Published: .

This Site Information Centre (SIC) was created and last substantially updated prior to the end of the Transition Period following the UK’s exit from the European Union (31 December 2020). Therefore some of the content may still refer to EU legislation and management proposals or commitments which were correct at the time that the content was last updated. These references will be revised as necessary when the SIC is next substantially revised. Requirements through EU legislation are being retained in the UK so existing environmental protections and standards remain, and the protection given to habitats and species continues.

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