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Turbot Bank MPA

Updated Conservation Advice for the Turbot Bank MPA was produced in April 2018 and is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (Nature Conservation MPA)

Turbot Bank MPA is located off the east coast of Scotland and lies within an area of sandy sediment, including part of the shelf bank and mound feature known as 'Turbot Bank'.


Located off the east coast of Scotland, the Turbot Bank MPA lies within an area of sandy sediment, including part of the shelf bank and mound feature known as 'Turbot Bank'.

Turbot Bank is important for sandeels which are closely associated with sand habitats, living buried in the sand for months at a time. The Turbot Bank MPA encompasses areas where high numbers of sandeels have been found. Sandeels play an important role in the wider North Sea ecosystem, providing a vital source of food for larger fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Turbot Bank has the potential to act as a source of young sandeels for maintaining and restocking surrounding areas.

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

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


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


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Sandeels Mobile species

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 on 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 Turbot Bank. More detail can be found in the Relevant Documentation section.

November 2012
Site recommended to Marine Scotland.
Summer 2013
Site subject to formal public consultation and becomes a material consideration in licensing processes.
July 2014
Site designated by Marine Scotland as a Nature Conservation MPA.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Turbot Bank were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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 Nature Conservation MPA site selection process is available on JNCC's Nature Conservation MPA webpages.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Relevant Documentation section and incorporates any information gathered since these documents were produced.


Site overview

The Turbot Bank MPA is located to the south-west of the Fladen Grounds in the northern North Sea, 44 km east of Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland. The MPA lies within an area of sandy sediment and includes the shelf bank and mound feature known as 'Turbot Bank'.

Turbot Bank is important for sandeels, particularly Raitt’s sand eel (Ammodytes marinus), which is closely associated with sand habitats, living buried in the sand for months at a time. The site contains the type of sandy sediment with low silt and clay components that sandeels prefer. The sandeels present within Turbot Bank are an important component of the larger sandeel population in the northern North Sea.

Sandeels are a commercially important fish and regularly school together in large aggregations. Sandeel numbers have varied over the last several decades, apparently due to a mixture of historic overfishing and changes in food supply. Fishing effort at the site has reduced in recent times and catch allowances remain limited in this part of the North Sea. This, combined with the sandeel's relatively short lifespan, suggests that the population at Turbot Bank may now be close to its natural age and size composition.

Sandeels play an important role in the wider North Sea ecosystem, providing a vital source of food for seabirds such as Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arcticaand black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), fish such as plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), and marine mammals such as dolphins. Conserving Turbot Bank will help to sustain this ecosystem service and maintain its potential to act as a source of young sandeels (larvae) for surrounding areas, most likely to the east and south of the site based on current prevailing patterns. Further detail on the evidence for this Nature Conservation MPA can be found on the Evidence section.

Site location: Co-ordinates for this Nature Conservation MPA can be found in the Designation Order listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: 251 km2.

Site depth range: Depth at the site ranges from 60 m below sea-level on top of the Turbot Bank shelf bank and mound feature down to 80 m on the margins of the bank.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.

Site boundary description: The boundary of the MPA has been drawn to focus on the sample records of relatively high sandeel density together with areas of sediment considered suitable for sandeel colonisation in the vicinity of Turbot Bank. The boundary to the west reflects the full extent of the Turbot Bank shelf bank and mound feature based on interpretation of acoustic data. The edge of the bank is included because sandeels are reported to aggregate into dense schools in these areas.



Last updated: February 2017

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 Turbot Bank Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data to its MPA interactive map in due course. Some of the data for this Nature Conservation MPA 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 feature within the site.


Survey and data gathering

  • Cruise report for the 2012 offshore seabed survey of Turbot Bank possible MPA (2017) – This cruise report summarises operations and initial observations made on board the RV Cefas Endeavour during the cruise CEND19x/12 on behalf of JNCC. The survey took place between 17 November and 1 December 2012. The aim was to gather additional evidence to support the development of fisheries management measures and develop a baseline for future site monitoring.
  • East-coast sandeel dredge surveys (2008–2011) – Several dredge surveys were conducted in the area over a four-year period by Marine Scotland Science. Thirty-three records of sandeel abundance were taken from the central and eastern parts of the site, showing an average catch per unit effort of 99 sandeels, but up to 285 individuals.


Data analysis reports

  • Offshore seabed survey of Turbot Bank possible MPA – Analysis of acoustic and ground-truthing data is underway for the 2012 survey mentioned above. The analysis is examining the presence and extent of seabed habitats and their suitability for settling sandeels. Reporting will be made available in due course.
  • Sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) larval transport patterns in the North Sea (2008) – Young sandeel transport in the North Sea was modelled by Christensen et al. (2008) considering local physical conditions. The models for 1974–2004 suggest that sandeel larvae from Turbot Bank travel to settling grounds to the east, south-east and, to a lesser extent, to the south.
  • The influence of sediment type on the distribution of the lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus (2000) – Particle Size Analysis data from British Geological Survey samples collected in the area between 1973 and 1980 were analysed by Wright et al. (2000) to assess suitability for sandeel colonisation. Six of eight records from the site were considered suitable for sandeels; these occurred in the south-west and eastern area of the site.
  • Modelling the transport of larval sandeels on the north-west European shelf  (1998) – Young sandeel transport in the North Sea was predicted by Proctor et al. (1998) using data on sandeel spawning locations, age and hatching time combined with a model of ocean currents over a 39-year period. The study showed that sandeel larvae from Turbot Bank may disperse widely across the North Sea.


Additional relevant literature

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

  • Christensen, A., Jensen, H., Mosegaard, H., John, M.S. and Schrum, C. (2008). Sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) larval transport patterns in the North Sea from an individual-based hydrodynamic egg and larval model. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 65 (7): 1498–1511.
  • Wright, P.J., Jensen, H. and Tuck, I. (2000). The influence of sediment type on the distribution of the lesser sandeel, Ammodytes marinus. Journal of Sea Research, 44 (3–4): 243–256.
  • Proctor, R., Wright, P.J. and Everitt, A. (1998). Modelling the transport of larval sandeels on the north-west European shelf.Fisheries Oceanography, 7 (3–4): 347–354.


Knowledge gaps

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


Conservation Advice

Last updated: April 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'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 impact 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 April 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.

Please note our current understanding of whether the available evidence indicates that each attribute needs to be recovered or conserved is not provided here. However, links to available evidence for the site are provided and should you require further site-specific information for the site, please contact us.

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.
Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST) Provides an initial assessment of whether a proposed plan or project (or ongoing activity) may have an impact on a protected feature in the site.
FeAST identifies pressures associated with the most commonly occurring marine activities, and provides a detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting, other than insignificantly, a feature where the feature is known to be sensitive to associated pressures.
The sensitivity assessments provided in FeAST, should be used at an early stage of a plan or project when considering potential impacts of an activity.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub


Activities and Management

Last updated: March 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

Progress is ongoing with fisheries management options being developed. There is no long-term condition monitoring information available with which to infer with confidence as to the degree to which the conservation objective for the site is being met.

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR Commission’s network of MPAs. 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 Turbot Bank Nature Conservation MPA 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 '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 sensitive to pressures associated with direct sandeel fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • There is evidence of dredging, mobile demersal and pelagic gear effort by both UK and non-UK registered vessels in this MPA but there is no evidence of directed sandeel fishing.
  • The site sits within the Sandeel Area 4 management unit for which there is currently a very limited Total Allowable Catch for sandeels. In addition, a small area to the west of the MPA overlaps with the East of UK sandeel closure area which was introduced to prevent localised depletion of sandeels (Article 29a Council Regulation (EC) No 227/2013). A reduced fishery for scientific investigation is permitted within the closed area although this option has not been taken up in recent years.
  • 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

  • The site overlaps with one licensed oil and gas production area (known as a license 'block' as identified by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and two, as-yet-unlicensed blocks. Therefore, the site may be subject to further oil and gas development in the future. Although oil and gas infrastructure occurs nearby to the site, there is currently no infrastructure inside the site itself.
  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under Section 127 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). Under this clause, JNCC has a statutory responsibility to advise the regulator on developments that are capable of significantly affecting the protected features of the MPA and that may hinder the achievement of the sites conservation objectives. JNCC considers the existing marine licensing process is sufficient to ensure the management of licensable activities taking place, or that could take place in the future, on the protected feature of this MPA.
  • For further information, see Marine Scotland’s MPA Draft MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine licence applications
  • 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 the site are not considered likely to impact the protected feature.


  • One shipwreck has been identified in the site.


3. Site condition monitoring

No site condition monitoring surveys have been undertaken on the site since its designation.


4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring information is available to inform whether or not the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.

Further information will be provided under 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: October 2017

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

Under Section 124 of the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009), JNCC is required to report to Ministers every six years on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of the site have been achieved. Every six years from 2012, the Marine Act requires a report setting out how NCMPAs have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network as a whole. Marine Scotland has published a report setting out progress being made in implementing a Marine Protected Area network that supports the Government’s vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse marine and coastal environment, managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.

Outputs of assessments that feed into Marine Act reporting will also feed into reporting under other obligations.


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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