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West Shetland Shelf MPA

Please note that the management measures in place in the site have changed (i.e. the Windsock Closure has been lifted). The conservation advice for the site will be updated in due course to reflect this.

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

The West Shetland Shelf MPA lies to the north of Scotland in offshore waters 70–150 m deep.


Lying to the north of Scotland in offshore waters, 70–150 m deep, the West Shetland Shelf MPA is designated for the wide variety of sand and gravel habitats present in the area. From fine-grained sands to coarse gravels, the different habitats provide conditions suitable for a diverse range of animals to thrive in and on the seabed.

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

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

Map showing West Shetland Shelf Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


Legislation behind the designation: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) transposed into Scottish law by the Marine Scotland Act (2010)


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels 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 on this page and in JNCC’s MPA mapper and the evidence underpinning this can be viewed within the Monitoring and Evidence section.


Site Timeline

The diagram below summarises the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

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


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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 West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation 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 pages.

These resources are available on JNCC's Resource Hub.



Last updated: October 2017

This site summary was adapted from the Nature Conservation MPA site summary and incorporates any information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to this document for further details and information sources.


Site overview

Lying to the north of Scotland in offshore waters, the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA has been designated for the protection of the wide variety of sand and gravel habitats (habitats of priority importance) present in the area, providing an important example of the northern extent of their range on the continental shelf in Scottish seas.

Although a relatively common habitat in Scottish seas, the range of different types of sand and gravel habitats present within the MPA support a particularly rich diversity of wildlife. On the surface anemones, cup sponges (Axinella infundibuloformis) and several types of crustaceans including hermit crabs and squat lobster (Munida rugosa) can be found living between small rocks, whilst urchins and starfish (such as Porania pulvillus and Asterias rubens) are typical fauna living on the surface of sandier sediments. Bryozoans and encrusting sponges are often found growing on the surface of cobbles and pebbles. Sea snails and bivalves, such as scallops, keel worms and sand mason worms (Lanice conchilega), are adapted to living buried in the sand to avoid predators.

The area enclosed within the MPA is also important for several species of fish, including the dragonet (Callionymus lyra), red gurnad (Aspitrigla cuculus), cod (Gadus morhua), plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and skate and rays (e.g. Raja naevus). 

Site location: Co-ordinates for this Nature Conservation MPA can be found in the designation order.

Site area: 4,083 km2, a size similar to the Cairngorms National Park (4,508 km2).

Site depth range: 70–150 m.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Scottish Continental Shelf.

Site boundary description: The MPA boundary encompasses the distribution of a range of offshore subtidal sand and gravel habitats present within the area, providing an important example of the northern extent of their range on the continental shelf in Scotland’s seas.


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 West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA Data Confidence Assessment.

Data for this Nature Conservation MPA 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

  • Monitoring survey of West Shetland Shelf MPA and adjacent areas (2019) – This survey was a collaborative effort between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science and will contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series, against which the rate and direction of any change in the condition of the MPA features can be assessed.
  • RV Scotia Rona-Windsock Survey (2011) – This survey was a collaborative effort between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science to improve our understanding of the species and habitats present within the MPA.
  • Marine Scotland Science International Bottom Trawl Survey (2011) – This bottom trawl survey collected data on the fish populations in the MPA. Environmental information, including seabed samples and underwater imagery were collected to aid habitat classification and identify fauna present.
  • RRS Charles Darwin Cruise (112C; 1998) – This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES) programme, surveying the continental slope to the north and west of Shetland. Seabed samples, acoustic data and underwater imagery including photographic images and videos were collected.


Data analysis reports


Additional relevant literature

Supporting information on the presence and extent of the offshore subtidal sands and gravels was provided from EUSeaMap, a predictive seabed habitat mapping report for European waters. References for 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:


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 for this MPA was produced in March 2018. 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'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 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.

Please note our current understanding of whether the available evidence indicates that each attribute needs to be recovered or maintained 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 detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting 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: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

Progress is ongoing with baseline site condition monitoring work occurring in October 2017 to further our understanding of the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.

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 the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA around each of these 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 features of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • The main fishing practices in the area involve creeling and potting. UK potting vessels operate widely across the West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA. There is also evidence of Irish potting effort concentrated in the south-west of the MPA.
  • The Technical Conservation Regulation 850/98 delineated an area closed to mobile fishing gears known as the ‘Windsock’ which overlapped the West Shetland Shelf MPA, offering some protection to the benthic features of this site. However, new Technical Conservation Regulations (Regulation (EU) 2019/1241) were introduced in 2019, lifting the Windsock restrictions as of 14 August 2019.
  • The Marine Directorate of Scottish Government is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to managing fishing activity. Further information on progress is available on the Marine Directorate's webpages

Licensable activities

  • A very small part of the north-east of the MPA overlaps with license blocks identified by the department of energy and climate change. Although no oil and gas activity takes place within the region, the license blocks may be subject to development in the future.
  • Existing licensed activities that take place or may take place in the future within West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA will continue to be managed in line with relevant legislation and application processes by the competent authorities. For further information, please see the Marine Directorate’s MPA Draft Management Handbook. Information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on the offshore industry advice webpages.

Telecommunications cables

  • Telecommunication cables currently cross the MPA at the north-east boundary of the site.
  • Cables are largely an unregulated activity in offshore waters depending upon the type of cable being laid (or maintained), where it is being laid between, and whether the cable is part of a larger development (which may be regulated). Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine licence beyond 12 nm.
  • JNCC encourages early discussion from operators regarding any plans related to new or existing cables, and encourages the undertaking of non-statutory environmental impact assessments for new or existing cable projects to assess their effect on the protected features of the MPA.


  • Under international law, ships have a right of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPA's (unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an international maritime organisation measure). The pressures associated with shipping activity within West Shetland Shelf Nature Conservation MPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.


  • Wrecks have been recorded by the UK Hydrographic Office within the site.


3. Site condition monitoring

A baseline site condition monitoring survey took place within this MPA in October 2017. Further information will be made available in the Monitoring and Evidence section in due course.


4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data is currently available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives.



Published: .

This Site Information Centre (SIC) was created 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 created. These references will be revised as necessary when the SIC is next substantially revised. Requirements through EU legislation are retained in the UK so existing environmental protections and standards remain, and the protection given to habitats and species continues.

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