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Stanton Banks MPA

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The Stanton Banks are a series of granite ridges up to 160 m tall that protrude from the seabed, situated south of the Outer Hebrides.


Located south of the Outer Hebrides, the Stanton Banks are a series of granite ridges up to 160 m tall that protrude from the seabed at 190 m deep.

The tops of these ridges are smooth and covered in encrusting species, such as red algae and small sponges. The inter-connecting gullies are filled with rippled coarse shell sand. The rougher sides of the ridges support species such as feather stars, dead man's fingers and hydroids. The smoother lower regions of the banks provide habitat for barnacles, brittlestars, cup-shaped sponges and massive sponges. On the edges of the ridges there are boulders and cobbles covered by coralline algae and keel worms.

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

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

Map showing Stanton Banks 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
1170 Reefs 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 at the top of the page and in JNCC's MPA Mapper, with the evidence underpinning available 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 Stanton Banks SAC. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

June 2005
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
December 2007
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 formally designated as a SAC by UK Government.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Stanton Banks 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



Last updated: October 2017

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC selection assessment available in the Relevant Documentation section and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced.


Site overview

Stanton Banks SAC is located in the Scottish Continental Shelf south of the Outer Hebrides and lies approximately 124 km west of the UK mainland, 43 km west-south-west of Tiree and 83 km north-north-east of Malin Head, Ireland. Surveys of the Stanton Banks reef has shown it to be a rocky landscape with deep gullies. Although the rocky outcrops have been rounded by glacial action, they remain deeply fissured and extremely rugged.

The bedrock outcrops are heavily encrusted with coralline algae, keel worms and brittlestars such as Ophiura albida, with clusters of sponges including cup-shaped axinellid sponges (Axinella infundifiliformis). On the slopes, there is a transition from smooth bedrock to fissured rock outcrops, boulder and cobble with feather stars (Leptometra celtica), dead man's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) and robust hydroids (Tubularia spp.). The lower circalittoral zone of the Stanton Banks is characterised by smooth, silty bedrock dominated by extensive encrusting coralline red algae, numerous barnacles, brittlestars, small sponge crusts (including Hymedesmia paupertas), cup-shaped axinellid sponges (A. infundibuliformis) and massive sponges (Mycale lingua and Pachymatisma johnstonia). Starfish (such as Luidia ciliaris, Porania pulvillus, Crossaster papposus) and sea urchins (Echinus esculentus) are also common.

Surrounding the Annex 1 rocky reef feature, the banks are fringed with stony reef comprising of boulders and cobbles, graduating into coarse and mixed sediments. Many of the cobbles are covered by encrusting sponges (including Hymedesmia paupertas), hydroids and bryozoans. Crabs (Cancer pagarus) and squat lobsters (Galatheoidea sp.) are also present. There have been reports of cold-water coral at the site, but currently JNCC has no direct evidence to support this. 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.

Site area: 817.27 km2, a similar size to the Isle of Mull (870 km2).

Site depth range: The rocky outcrops rise from the seabed at 190 m below sea-level to approximately 30 m below sea-level, encompassing a vertical rise of approximately 160 m. The major gullies within the site are approximately 100 m wide and up to 30 m deep, with other minor gullies typically measuring 20–40 m wide.

Charting progress 2 region: Scottish Continental Shelf.

Site boundary description: The site boundary is a complex 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 features as possible, rather than being located at the nearest whole degree or minute point. The proposed boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel on the sea surface. The maximum depth of water around the feature is 190 m; therefore, assuming a ratio of 3:1 fishing warp length to depth, the proposed boundary is defined to include a margin of 570 m from the bedrock reef.


Monitoring and Evidence

Last updated: November 2023

For a full overview of the data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent see the Stanton Banks SAC Selection Assessment Document.

Data for this SAC have been primarily collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys with other data obtained through other data sourcing. The data gathered provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site. Additional survey data will be added to JNCC's MPA mapper in due course.


Survey and data gathering

  • RV Scotia Survey (2013) – This survey, led by the Marine Directorate, opportunistically collected more acoustic data to improve our understanding of the distribution and extent of the bank features in this site.
  • NLV Polestar C5816 Survey (2012) – The main aim of this JNCC collaboration was to acquire acoustic and ground-truthing data at Stanton Banks SAC to confirm the presence and extent of Annex I stony and bedrock reef. Additional biological data were also collected to develop a baseline for future monitoring.
  • Rockall-North Channel Geophysical CD174 Survey (2005) – This survey was led by the British Geological Survey to collect acoustic data on the topography of the seabed at Stanton Banks and the surrounding area. This survey also gathered geophysical data using a sparker system, a pinger and a precision echosounder.
  • Stanton Banks Surveys (2005 and 2006) – Further survey was undertaken by the North Western Shelf consortium, as part of the Mapping European Seabed Habitats project in 2005 and 2006. This included multibeam survey of three further areas and biological ground-truthing using drop-down video and remotely operated vehicles.
  • Blackstone Surveys (2003 and 2004) – A collaborative survey between JNCC and the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, Northern Ireland on the RV Lough Foyle. Two areas of Stanton Banks were surveyed acoustically to characterise the topography of the seabed. Biological ground-truthing of these areas using video tows and camera images confirmed the presence of bedrock reef and the biological communities associated with bedrock reef. Additional ground-truthing data were collected in 2004, however, poor weather limited the amount of data collected.


Data analysis reports

Further analysis of data gathered as part of the surveys listed above are available via the following reports:

  • Blackstone banks and Stanton Banks habitat mapping (2009) – Provides the results of the analysis of survey data collected during the 2003 and 2004 JNCC collaborative surveys of the Stanton Banks.
  • Report on a survey over Stanton Bank 4 for MESH (2006) – The British Geological Rockall-North Channel survey data were analysed by Stewart and Long (2006) to improve coverage over the site and surrounding area. The geophysical data collected are discussed in the report, and provide more information on the geological history of the site. A new geological feature may also have been identified. 
  • Community analysis – From the analysis of video and stills from the 2006 survey, the following biotopes were found on Stanton Banks:

CR.MCR.EcCr.FaAlCr.Bri: Brittlestars on faunal and algal encrusted exposed to moderately wave-exposed circalittoral rock;

CR.MCR.EcCr.FaAlCr: Faunal and algal crusts on exposed to moderately wave-exposed circalittoral rock and CGS: Cobbles, Gravels and Sands.


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:

  • Eden et al. (1971) Geological investigations with a manned submersible in the Irish Sea and off western Scotland. Report of the Institute of Geological Sciences, 73 (2): 27. – An account of a series of dives in a manned submersible undertaken in 1971 to Stanton Banks and the surrounding area.
  • Blondel and Gomez Sichi (2009) Textural analyses of multibeam sonar from Stanton Banks, Northern Ireland continental shelf.Applied Acoustics, 70 (10): 1288–1297. – Presents textural analyses of multibeam sonar data that was collected as part of the Blackstone and Stanton Banks survey undertaken as part of the MESH project in 2005. When compared with multibeam sonar that was collected at the site in 2006, the textural analyses were able to detect trawl marks and distinguish between different sediment types.


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 here, please contact us.


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 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.

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 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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