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Wight-Barfleur Reef MPA

Please be advised that, as of 22 March 2024, new fisheries management measures are in force for Wight-Barfleur Reef Special Area of Conservation (SAC). For more information about what these fisheries measures are, please see MMO Statutory guidance for the Tranche 2 Marine Protected Areas Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw 2023.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Wight-Barfleur Reef is an area of bedrock and stony reef located in the central English Channel, between St Catherine’s point on the Isle of Wight and Barfleur Point on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France.




Located in the central English Channel, between St Catherine’s point on the Isle of Wight and Barfleur Point on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France, Wight-Barfleur Reef is an area of bedrock and stony reef.

The site is approximately 65 km long (east to west) and up to 26 km wide. The bedrock and stony reef areas support a diverse range of wildlife including sponges, tube worms, anemones and sea squirts. The south-eastern area of the site contains part of a large geological feature known as a palaeochannel, which forms a major channel running roughly in a north-east to south-west direction across the English Channel.

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

Map displaying the Wight-Barfleur Reef MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing Wight-Barfleur Reef Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by the The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).


Protected Features

Feature Feature Type
1170 Reefs Annex 1 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 section 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 Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

May 2012
Site formally recommended to the UK Government as a draft Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
August 2012
Site becomes a candidate SAC (cSAC) and is entered on the Register of European Marine Sites.
November 2013
Site is approved by the European Commission as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).
September 2017
Site is formally designated as a SAC by UK Government.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Wight-Barfleur Reef 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 documents listed in the Relevant Documentation section and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced.


Site overview

Wight-Barfleur Reef is an area of bedrock and stony reef located in the central English Channel, between St Catherine’s point on the Isle of Wight and Barfleur Point on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France. The site is approximately 65 km long (east to west) and up to 26 km wide.

The large area of bedrock reef within the site is characterised by a series of well-defined exposed bedrock ridges, up to 4 m high. The rock is generally sandstone, mudstone and siltstone, although different regions within the boundary can be distinguished on the basis of the different textures formed by different types of rock.

The southern area of the site is composed of flat, smooth mudstone and sandstone, with overlying coarse sediment (gravels, cobbles and boulders) which in places forms stony reef. The south-eastern area of the site contains part of a large palaeochannel known as the Northern Palaeovalley, which forms a major channel running roughly north-east to south-west across the English Channel. In this area the palaeovalley remains largely unfilled by sediment due to the strong currents in the area, and is characterised by a gravel, cobble and boulder substrate which in places forms stony reef.

The bedrock and stony reef areas support a diverse range of reef fauna. There are many types of sponges present, from encrusting sponges to larger branching types. Tube worms, anemones and tunicates (sea squirts) are also common on the large boulders and bedrock. 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 listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: This site has an area of 1,373 km2, just over three times the size of its namesake, the Isle of Wight.

Site depth range: The depth ranges from 25 m to 100 m below sea-level, with the deepest areas to the south, and within the palaeovalley which runs along the south-east part of the site.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Eastern Channel.


Site boundary description 

The site boundary for Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC has been defined using JNCC’s marine SAC boundary definition guidelines. The SAC boundary is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitats. The bedrock reef feature was derived from UKHO survey bathymetry, interpreted following detailed acoustic and biological surveys in the area.

The boundary has been chosen to include the bedrock types in the area that include Annex I reef, based on interpretation of digital survey bathymetric acoustic data and ground-truthing with video. Stony reef has also been recorded in the south-western part of the site, but due to the inherently patchy distribution of stony reef, it is not possible to precisely delineate the extent of reef area here.

The south-east section of the SAC boundary has been drawn along the southern edge of the palaeochannel, to include all recorded occurrence of reef within the channel. The boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile fishing gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface. This buffer has been applied to the bedrock feature in the north of the site, and to the individual reef points in the south of the site.


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 the Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC Selection Assessment Document. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data to the MPA interactive map in due course.

Some of the data for this SAC 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

  • Monitoring Survey of Wight-Barfleur Reef and Bassurelle Sandbank SACs (2017) – This collaborative survey, between Cefas and JNCC, of Bassurelle Sandbanks SAC and Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC aimed to acquire monitoring data to contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series for these two sites. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.
  • Seabed survey of the central English Channel (2006) – As part of the ME1102 Defra contract, Cefas undertook survey work on behalf of JNCC in order to provide information on the distribution, extent and character of potential Annex I Reef habitat within the central English Channel. A 3-day pilot survey in May 2006 (CEND12/06) found widespread evidence of rock outcrops and a subsequent 12-day cruise in July/August 2006 (CEND14/06) conducted further acoustic surveys followed by directed ground-truth sampling using underwater video.


Data analysis and reports

  • Offshore seabed survey of Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC (2021) – Report detailing the collaborative survey between Cefas and JNCC that took place in March and April 2013 (CEND0313). Conducted aboard the RV Cefas Endeavour in order to better understand the extent of Annex I reef (both bedrock and stony) within the area.
  • UKHO Digital Survey Bathymetry data (2006). Using bathymetry to identify basin inversion structures on the English Channel shelf. Geology, 34 (12): 1,001–1,004. Bathymetric data were available for an extensive part of the central English Channel clearly showing bedform features, and has been used, in combination with rock samples and seismic data, to delineate areas of different rock type.
  • Broadscale mapping of hard substrates in the central English Channel – provides an evidence base to support regional management of aggregate resources. 
  • Mapping Annex I Reefs in the central English Channel – provides evidence to support the selection of candidate SACs.


Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the 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:


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 above or in the Relevant Documentation section, 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 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 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 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 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.
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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