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Wight-Barfleur Reef MPA

Updated Conservation Advice was produced for Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC in March 2018. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section below

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*

*For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting in the Assessment section.

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 within the 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 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.



Last updated: October 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 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

  • Characterisation of Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC (2013) – Conducted aboard the RV Cefas Endeavour by Cefas on behalf of JNCC in order to better understand the extent of Annex I reef (both bedrock and stony) within the area. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.
  • UKHO Digital Survey Bathymetry data (2006). Using bathymetry to identify basin inversion structures on the English Channel shelf. Geology, 34 (12): 1001–1004. 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

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.


Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed.

The vulnerability assessment conducted for this site suggests it is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives, but directed site condition monitoring data are required to improve our confidence in this assessment. Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals.

This site forms part of the networks of MPAs across the UK and contributes to international MPA networks such as that of the North-east Atlantic under OSPAR. 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 Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC 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 in the Conservation Advice section. Further information is available on our Conservation advice webpages.
  • 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 to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.


  • Both mobile and static gears are used in the site. UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area, mainly using pots/traps and pelagic trawls, respectively.
  • The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to manage fishing activity. Further information on progress is available via the Marine Management Organisation's webpages.  

Licensable activities

  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC at present, however, there are three plugged and abandoned wells within the site.
  • Any activities or future proposals would have to comply with Regulation 28 (Protection of European offshore marine sites and European sites) of The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).
  • Our conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
  • 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 one operational submarine cable which runs through the site from east to west.
  • 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 license beyond 12 nautical miles. 
  • 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. 


  • A major English Channel shipping lane runs through the site longitudinally, plus various cruising routes traverse the site.
  • 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 Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC are not considered likely to impact the protected feature of the site.


3. Site condition monitoring

Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available under the Monitoring section in due course.


4. Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data are available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. The site has a 'restore' conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment, which suggests the site is unlikely to be moving towards 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: November 2019

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

Every six years, Member States of the European Union are required (by Article 17 of the Directive) to report on implementation of the Habitats Directive. The latest report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive was submitted by the UK in 2019 and provided an assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during period 2013–2018; information on the condition of features within SACs have made a contribution to this report.


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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