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Scanner Pockmark MPA

Updated Conservation Advice for Scanner Pockmark SAC was produced in February 2018 and is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Scanner pockmark, located 185 km off the north-east coast of Scotland, is a seafloor depression containing Submarine structures made by leaking gases.




Located approximately 185 km off the north-east coast of Scotland near the centre of the Witch Ground Basin, Scanner pockmark is a seafloor depression containing Submarine structures made by leaking gases.

The Scanner pockmark itself, together with additional pockmark depressions, make up the Scanner Pockmark SAC. A total of 67 pockmarks have been identified within the site boundary. The pockmarks were created by the expulsion of fluids and have been maintained by active gas seepage.The Scanner pockmark complex in the south of the site is a large seabed depression of approximately 320,000 m2 containing two deep areas about 17 m below the surrounding seafloor. Carbonate blocks known as 'Submarine structures made by leaking gases' form when methane is released from the seabed and reacts with the surrounding seawater and have been recorded in the base of these pockmarks. The northern section of the site contains the Scotia pockmark complex with two deep sections and active methane seeps. These large pockmarks reach a depth of approximately 15 m below the surrounding sea floor.

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

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

Map showing Scanner Pockmark 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).


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
1180 Submarine structures made by leaking gases Annex I Habitat*

* For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting within 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 Scanner Pockmark SAC. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

December 2004
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
December 2007 – March 2008
Formal public consultation. Site becomes a possible SAC.
August 2008
Submitted to the European Commission. The Habitats Regulations now formally apply to this MPA.
December 2009
Site is approved by the European Commission as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).
December 2015
Site is approved by the European Commission as a designated SAC.
September 2018
Site boundary amendment submitted to the European Commission.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Scanner Pockmark 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.

Amended boundary 2017:

These documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.


Original boundary: An amendment to the site boundary for Scanner Pockmark was consulted on in 2017. This was approved by the UK Government and European Commission in September 2018. More information, and the original documents for the site, can be found in the SAC consultation archive (available on The National Archives website).



Last updated: October 2018

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced.


Site overview

Scanner pockmark is a large seabed depression in the northern North Sea, which had in the past been identified as containing verified examples of large blocks of the Annex I habitat Submarine structures made by leaking gases. The Scanner pockmark itself, together with additional pockmark depressions, make up the Scanner Pockmark SAC. The site is situated approximately 185 km off the north-east coast of Scotland near the centre of the Witch Ground Basin, in waters of approximately 150 m depth. A total of 67 pockmarks have been identified within the Scanner Pockmark SAC boundary. The pockmarks were created by the expulsion of fluids and have been maintained by active gas seepage.

Four of these pockmarks have a considerably greater volume than more typical pockmarks in the vicinity of the site, comprised of two pockmark complexes; Scanner and Scotia. The Scanner pockmark complex in the south of the site comprises two large pockmarks with a combined area of approximately 320,000 m2 and depths of up to 16.7 m below the surrounding sea floor. At the base of the pockmarks, blocks of 'methane-derived authigenic carbonate' (MDAC) (equivalent to the interest feature of the site: Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gases) have been previously recorded. Scotia pockmark complex in the north is a composite feature composed of two deeper sections with active methane seeps. Analysis of survey data collected in 2012 suggests that small patches of harder substrate do occur within the Scotia pockmark complex, but whether these represent MDAC requires further confirmation.

Some of the pockmarks appeared to have infilled due to slope failure, interrupting gas migration and likely obscuring seabed features previously present such as MDAC or bacterial mats. The cause of slope failure is unknown, but may be either anthropogenic or natural. On the basis that verified examples of the qualifying feature having been recorded in the past, potential examples of Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gases have been considered in establishing the boundary for the site. High acoustic backscatter may be indicative of hard carbonate structures so are considered as potential feature records associated with pockmarks. Both verified and potential occurrences of the habitat are considered to represent the known extent of the feature within the site.

The faunal communities within the site have previously represented assemblages typically associated with rocky reef, colonising the carbonate structures in the base of the pockmarks. Although pockmark infilling appears to have obscured MDAC structures, there are still large numbers of the nematode species Astomonema southwardarum, known to host endosymbiotic, chemoautotrophic bacteria within their body cavity. However, as a result of the obscured carbonate structures, typical species assemblages appear to be more similar to wider soft sediment ecosystems.

Scanner Pockmark SAC is one of three sites identified for protection of Annex I Submarine structures made by leaking gases in the UK.  There is one other SAC in the Northern North Sea with Submarine structures made by leaking gases as a qualifying interest feature of the site. Braemar Pockmarks SAC is situated to the north-east of Scanner Pockmark SAC. There is also a site for the feature in the Irish Sea – Croker Carbonate Slabs SAC.

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 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: 6.74 km2

Site depth range:  Depth at the site ranges from 150 m below sea-level down to 165 m below sea-level at the base of the main pockmark.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The boundary for Scanner Pockmark is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat. Co-ordinate points have been positioned as close to the edge of the interest feature as possible. As bottom trawling is a significant threat to the interest feature, the proposed boundary includes a margin to ensure its protection.



Last updated: October 2018

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 Scanner Pockmark MPA SAC Selection Assessment Document. All data that can be made publicly available are displayed on JNCC's MPA mapper.

Some of the data for this SAC has been collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys and some through other means. These data provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.


Survey and data gathering


Data analysis reports

  • Offshore seabed survey of Braemar Pockmarks and Scanner Pockmark (2017) This report presents the findings from the analyses of the data gathered during the seabed survey of the Braemar Pockmarks and Scanner Pockmark in 2012 (cruise CEND19x/12). The report describes the presence, location and extent of the pockmark features, along with detail relating to the presence and location of any associated seafloor carbonate structures where they are observed to occur. 
  • Geological investigation of pockmarks in the Scanner Pockmark SCI area (2015) – JNCC commissioned the British Geological Survey to compare 2012 survey data and earlier geological data to assess changes in pockmark morphology and condition. The study confirmed the presence of 61 pockmarks within the site, four of which measured over 72,000 m2 with a depth of greater than 12 m compared to the surrounding seabed. Comparison of acoustic data between 2001 and 2012 surveys revealed that some pockmarks are becoming filled in with sediment, believed to be the result of collapsing pockmark sidewalls. Strong acoustic reflections shown in multibeam backscatter data suggest that the muddy sea floor is punctuated with patches of harder substrate in nearly half of the pockmarks. These require further investigation (such as through visual observation or seabed sampling) to determine whether they are examples of carbonate blocks, shell fragments or a change in sediment particle size.
  • Seabed fluid flow: the impact on geology, biology and the marine environment (2007) – A review of survey data and associated studies by Judd and Hovland (2007) indicates that the volume of the Scanner and Scotia pockmarks is approximately 1 million m3 and they are deep enough to cut through surrounding sediments, revealing stiffer clay beneath. These pockmarks are larger and deeper than those found nearby. The largest carbonate block observed in Scanner pockmark measured 2 x 1 metre and was 20–50 cm thick.
  • A review of pockmarks in the UK part of the North Sea (2001) – Dando (2001) reviewed data from a 1989 survey in which grab samples were taken to characterise the sediment, including chemical and gas composition, and 1990 and 1991 surveys in which a manned submersible was deployed to study infauna, taking 18 box-core sediment samples. These surveys found that the macro-infauna of Scanner pockmark was similar to that of the surrounding area, with the exception of the bivalve Thyasira sarsiwhich was confined to sulphur-rich sediments. The micro-infauna was dominated by the gutless nematode while anthozoans were the most conspicuous epifauna, found at higher densities in the pockmark than in surrounding areas.
  • Pockmarks in the UK Sector of the North Sea (2001) – Preliminary analysis by Judd (2001) of acoustic records including sidescan, backscatter and bathymetry taken during a 2001 survey of petroleum block 15/25. Gas seeps and carbonate blocks were identified in this area of the North Sea.
  • Pockmark formation and activity in UK block 15/25, North Sea (1994) – Seismic data from surveys in 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1991 found evidence of gas plumes on the seabed and gas accumulations at shallow depths beneath the seabed. The study by Judd et al. (1994) estimates that the Scanner pockmark was formed 13,000 years ago. 
  • Ecology of a North Sea pockmark with an active methane seep (1991) – Analysis of grab samples collected on two 1989 surveys by Dando et al. (1991) found that the pockmark fauna was characterised by the gutless nematode and the bivalve Thyasira sarsi, which was confirmed to be feeding on chemosynthetic bacteria. The chemical composition of samples suggested sediment displacement had taken place – a feature of typical feature of methane seeps.
  • Characteristics of two natural gas seepages in the North Sea (1985) – Hovland and Sommerville (1985) describe the discovery of the Scanner pockmark from acoustic and seismic records taken during a routine environmental survey by the petroleum industry in 1983. Acoustic data indicated the presence of an active seep in the form of gas bubbles, low density liquid or suspended sediments.


Additional relevant literature

Further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Selection Assessment. 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.

  • Judd, A.G. and Hovland, M. (2007). Seabed fluid flow: the impact on geology, biology and the marine environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Holmes, R. and Stoker, S.J. (2005). Investigation of the origin of shallow gas in Outer Moray Firth open blocks 15/20c and 15/25d. Report to the Department of Trade and Industry No. GC04/22. – A review of data from British Geological Society regional surveys and commercial data showing that gas is seeping from the seabed in the Scanner and Scotia pockmarks and that these are unusually large pockmarks compared to others in the surrounding area. Methane derived authigenic carbonate is documented in both.
  • Dando, P.R. (2001). A review of pockmarks in the UK part of the North Sea, with particular respect to their biology. Technical report produced for Strategic Environmental Assessment – SEA2. Department of Trade and Industry Technical Report No. TR_001.
  • Judd, A.G. (2001). Pockmarks in the UK Sector of the North Sea. Technical report produced for Strategic Environmental Assessment – SEA2. Department of Trade and Industry Report No. TR_002.
  • Judd, A., Long, D. and Sankey, M. (1994). Pockmark formation and activity, UK block 15/25, North Sea. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark, 41: 34-49.
  • Dando, P.R., Austen, M.C., Burke, R.J., Kendall, M.A., Kennicutt, M.C., Judd, A.G., Moore, D.C., O' Hara, S.C.M., Schmaljohann, R. and Southward, A.J. (1991). Ecology of a North Sea Pockmark with an active methane seep. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 70: 49-63.
  • Hovland, D.M. and Sommerville, J.H. (1985). Characteristics of two natural gas seepages in the North Sea. Marine and Petroleum Geology, 2 (4): 319-326.


Knowledge gaps

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


Conservation Advice

Last updated: February 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 Conservation Advice webpages 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 February 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. 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.

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 an 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.

Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals and 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:

  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 Scanner Pockmark 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 under the Conservation Advice section. Further information is available on our CConserving 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 sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • Mobile demersal trawling by UK vessels is the predominant activity in Scanner Pockmark SAC. There is little evidence of activity from non-UK fishing interests.
  • 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 on Marine Scotland’s webpages.

Licensable activities

  • Two abandoned, explorative oil wells occur within the site. The south-east corner of the MPA overlaps with the Blenheim oil field (production ceased).  
  • Any activities or 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


  • There is low density of commercial shipping in this area and due to its offshore location, vessel anchorage is unlikely.
  • Under international law (UNCLOS, Article 17), ships have a right of innocent passage at sea, including in areas designated as MPAs. The pressures associated with shipping activity within Scanner Pockmark SAC are not considered likely to impact the protected feature of the site.


3. Site condition monitoring

A baseline condition survey was undertaken in 2012 which was also used to gather evidence to support the development of fisheries management measures and a subsequent survey took place in 2017. Further information is provided in the Evidence section and Monitoring section.


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 'restore' conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment which suggests the site is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives.  Further information will be provided in the Assessment section.



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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