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Swallow Sand MPA

Status: Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)

Swallow Sand MCZ is situated in the northern North Sea where the offshore seabed is sandy with some coarser gravel and muddy patches.


Situated in the northern North Sea, Swallow Sand MCZ is located where the offshore seabed is sandy with some coarser gravel and muddy patches.

The site is low energy, providing a stable sediment habitat supporting a diverse range of marine species including worms, brittlestars, bivalves and gastropods.

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

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

Map showing Swallow Sand Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


Legislation behind the designation: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009)


Protected Features

Protected Feature Feature Type
Subtidal coarse sediment Broad-Scale Habitat 
Subtidal sand Broad-Scale Habitat 
North Sea glacial tunnel valley
(Swallow Hole)
Geological/Geomorphological feature

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 Swallow Sand MCZ. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

September 2011
Regional Projects recommended a total of 127 rMCZs to Defra and the statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs).
July 2012
SNCB advice to Defra on the 127 recommended MCZs.
December 2012 – March 2013
Formal public consultation on 31 Tranche One rMCZs; Swallow Sand MCZ included.
August 2013
CNCB post-consultation advice submitted to Defra.
November 2013
Tranche One MCZ designations announced; Swallow Sand MCZ included.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Swallow Sand MCZ were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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. Further information about the Marine Conservation Zone site selection process and historic MCZ advice is available on JNCC's MCZ webpages.

  • Swallow Sand MCZ factsheet, map and Designation Order – includes the official description of the site designation under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The Designation Order includes boundary co-ordinates, Conservation Objectives and a list of the designated features.
  • Site Summary Document – a high-level summary of the key attributes of the site including boundaries, maps and descriptive text, produced as part of the site designation consultation package.
  • JNCC's formal conservation advice for this site is available in the Conservation Advice section.

These documents are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

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.


Site overview

Swallow Sand MCZ is located in the northern North Sea region, approximately 100 km offshore from the Northumberland coast. Subtidal sand is the most abundant feature, with evidence of patches of coarse and mixed sediments as well as mud.  It is the largest site designated in the first Tranche of MCZs, with depths ranging from approximately 50 m to 100 m and a drop down to 150 m in the channel described as Swallow Hole Glacial Tunnel Valley, situated in the north-west corner of the site.

This sediment habitat is characteristic of those found in offshore waters deeper than 30 m, experiencing low tidal stress and constituting a relatively stable habitat that supports a diverse range of marine flora and fauna due to the low energy environment, which is illustrated in the EUSeaMap 'energy due to currents' layer. Following the 2012 MCZ site verification survey, analysis was completed by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and Seastar Surveys Ltd in 2014, in order to further quantify feature extent and assign biotopes to the site. 

The three main elements of the site are sand, coarse sediment, and mud.  The analysis resulted in approximate proportions of 80% sand, 12% mud and 8% gravel.  The community analysis assigned biotopes to the features within the boundary. Four EUNIS Level 3 biotopes were established as well as four EUNIS Level 4 sub-biotopes. A newly established biotope was also described including Ditrupa arietina, an annelid worm found in samples across the site. Further detail on the evidence for this MCZ can be found in the Monitoring and Evidence section.

Site location: Co-ordinates for this MCZ can be found in the Site Summary Document, listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: Swallow Sand MCZ is a relatively large site in terms of MCZ designations, with an area of 4,746 km2. This is approximately the same area as that of its neighbouring county, Northumberland.

Site depth range: Depth range in this MCZ is approximately 50–150 m (within the Swallow Hole Glacial Tunnel Valley feature) below sea-level.   

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Region 1 – Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The boundary for Swallow Sand MCZ is a simple rectangle, set to include the geomorphological feature 'Swallow Hole' and broad-scale habitats that encompass coarse and sandy sediment ecosystems. The original site initially proposed included over 15,500 km² of subtidal sand, with almost half encroaching on the Dogger Bank SAC. This overlap was deemed unnecessary therefore a significant reduction in size was applied to form Swallow Sand MCZ as it is now presented, no longer encroaching into the Dogger Bank SAC area.


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 JNCC's 2013 Post-Consultation Advice. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA interactive map in due course. Some of the data for this MCZ has 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


Data analysis reports

  • Swallow Sand Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) Monitoring Report (2016) – This report includes recommendations that inform continual improvement and development of sample acquisition, analysis and data interpretation for future survey and reporting. Site and feature specific indicator metrics are not currently defined for this site. Potential indicators, where identified, will be evaluated and considered for inclusion in recommendations for future reporting.
  • Swallow Sand MCZ Post-survey Site Report (2016) –  This report provides an interpretation of the survey data collected by the above collaborative surveys with Cefas and JNCC at Swallow Sand MCZ site during May 2012 and March 2014.
  • Community analysis of Swallow Sand data (2014) – JNCC contracted Seastar Survey Ltd to complete a community analysis of offshore MCZ grab and video data to establish biotopes. The following biotopes were assigned after multivariate analysis:
    • SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg A5.361, Seapens and burrowing megafauna in circalittoral fine mud.
    • SS.SSa.OSa.Dari A5.27x: Deep circalittoral muddy sand with Ditrupa arietina, a polychaete worm.
    • SS.SSa.OSa.(MalDef) A5.271: Maldanid polychaetes and Eudorellopsis deformis in deep circalittoral sand or muddy sand
    • SS.SMu.OMu.PjefThyAfil A5.376: Paramphinome jeffreysii, Thyasira spp. and Amphiura filiformis in offshore circalittoral sandy mud.
    • EUNIS level 3 biotopes: SS.SSa.OSa A5.27: Deep circalittoral sand SS.SMu.OMu A5.37: Deep circalittoral mud. SS.SMu.CFiMu A5.36 Circalittoral fine mud & SS.SMx.CMx A5.44 Circalittoral mixed sediment.

Note that this biotope analysis solely relates to data gathered in 2012 and does not consider samples gathered more recently in 2014.


Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the annexes of our advice. 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 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 information not referred to in the Relevant Documentation section or above, please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 2018

A period to comment regarding a change in the General Management Approach for Subtidal sand within Swallow Sand MCZ was run between 23 October and 4 December 2017. JNCC produced a summary of the response to comments received during this period, which is available in the following paper:

Defra has reviewed the advice provided by JNCC and confirmed the formal change in the Subtidal sand General Management Approach from 'Recover' to 'Maintain' within Swallow Sand MCZ. Please note: a GMA of Maintain does not preclude the need for management now or in the future. Please contact JNCC for further information.

Updated formal conservation advice is now available for this MPA.  Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on the 'Conserving MPAs' webpage along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC's conservation advice and a short video explaining how to use the conservation advice packages. 

You must refer to this advice if you:

  • undertake an MCZ assessment for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for such an assessment;
  •  respond to specific measures to further 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 March 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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