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Wyville Thomson Ridge MPA

JNCC prepared updated formal conservation advice for Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC in March 2018. Further information is available in the Conservation Advice section below.

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

The Wyville Thomson Ridge is a rocky plateau situated in the Atlantic Ocean to the north-eastern part of the Rockall Trough.

 

Site

Situated in the Atlantic Ocean to the north-eastern part of the Rockall Trough, The Wyville Thomson Ridge is a rocky plateau.  

It is composed of extensive areas of stony reef interspersed with gravel areas and bedrock reef along its flanks, and supports diverse biological communities representative of hard substratum in deep water including a range of sponges; stylasterid, cup and soft corals; brachiopods; bryozoans; dense beds of featherstars and brittlestars; sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sea spiders. The stony reef is thought to have been formed by the ploughing movement of icebergs through the seabed at the end of the last ice age.

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

Map displaying the Wyville-Thompson Ridge MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

 

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Legislation

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

 

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 page and in JNCC’s MPA mapperand the evidence underpinning this can be viewed within the Evidence section.

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Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section.

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Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the Wyville Thomson Ridge 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.

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Summary

Last updated: October 2017

The 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

The Wyville Thomson Ridge is located on the Scottish continental shelf edge approximately 150 km north-west of Cape Wrath, and extends in a north-westerly direction towards the Faeroe Bank. The Ridge divides the relatively warmer waters of the Rockall Trough from the relatively cooler waters of the Faroe-Shetland Channel, and is a transitional area between the two water masses.

The Wyville Thomson Ridge is approximately 20 km wide and 70 km long and rises from over 1,000 m depth to less than 400 m at the summit. The ridge is composed of extensive areas of stony reef interspersed with gravel areas and bedrock reef along its flanks. The stony reef is thought to have been formed by the ploughing movement of icebergs through the seabed at the end of the last ice age. These iceberg 'ploughmarks' consist of ridges of boulders, cobbles and gravel where finer sediments have been winnowed away by high-energy currents at the site, interspersed with finer sediment troughs up to 10m deep.

The rock and stony reef areas in the site support diverse biological communities representative of hard substratum in deep water, including a range of sponges; stylasterid, cup and soft corals; brachiopods; bryozoans; dense beds of featherstars and brittlestars; sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sea spiders. Communities on the bedrock reef vary in species composition between the two sides of the ridge due to the influences of different water masses. This combination of water masses in one area is unique in UK waters. 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 Natura 2000 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area:  This site has an area of 1,740 km2, slightly larger than the neighbouring Shetland Isles.

Site depth range: The site is on a ridge at the edge of the continental shelf, sitting at 310 m, sloping down to its deepest at 1,010 m below sea-level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: The MPA spans the boundary between the Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faeroe/Shetland Channel region and the Scottish Continental Shelf region.

Site boundary description: The boundary for the Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC is a simple polygon defined by whole degrees and minutes, fully enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I reef of the site. Bottom trawling is a threat to the reef and, therefore, the proposed boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface.

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Evidence

Last updated: March 2018

There are a range of data that underpin this SAC. 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 Wyville Thomson Ridge MPA SAC Selection Assessment Document. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this SAC have 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 Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC (2017) – JNCC and Marine Scotland Science undertook a survey of three Scottish MPAs, including Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC. Fifteen video tows were collected over the iceberg ploughmark fields within the site to inform monitoring of the protected Annex I reefs.
  • Deep Links Project (2016) – A collaborative project between Plymouth University's Deep Sea CRU and University of Oxford, in partnership with JNCC and British Geological Survey, funded by NERC. During May and June 2016 the team undertook a 6 week research cruise in the North East Atlantic, including Wyville Thomson Ridge, on board the RRS James Cook collecting data. This project aims to investigate the theory that populations at bathyal depths are more isolated because the currents that transport larvae decrease with depth.
  • Wyville Thomson Ridge and Faroe-Shetland Channel Survey (2012) – This survey was a collaboration between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science. Video and camera imagery were collected to support evidence on the presence and extent of the Annex I reef feature of the Wyville Thomson Ridge.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Survey 7 (2006) – This survey was commissioned by the Department for Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)), as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) survey programme. This survey aboard the commercial research vessel Franklin, in which JNCC collaborated, collected acoustic and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland including the Wyville Thomson Ridge.
  • Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network (AFEN) (1996–2000) – Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre undertook large-scale sampling of the shelf edge and slope west of Shetland on behalf of the Department for Transport and Industry (now the Department for Energy and Climate Change) on a series of surveys undertaken between 1996 and 2000. These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, helped characterise the geology, geomorphology and fauna on the Wyville Thomson Ridge.
  • Towed Ocean Bottom Instrument (TOBI) surveys of the continental slope west of Shetland (1996/1998) – The National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) used side-scan sonar amongst other sampling methods to undertake a baseline environmental survey of the seafloor on the continental slope west of Shetland. This included the collection of extensive side-scan sonar data at the Wyville Thomson Ridge.

 

Data analysis reports

 

Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC Selection Assessment Document. 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

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

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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 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.
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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Activities and Management

Last updated: October 2017

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission and ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required in order to conclude with confidence as to 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, Europe's Natura 2000 network, and the Emerald Network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a contracting party to the OSPAR Commission, JNCC is committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is 'well-managed’ by 2020.

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 Wyville Thomson Ridge 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 under 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 features of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and 'licensable' activities.

Fisheries

  • Prior to 2016 there is evidence of mobile demersal, static and pelagic effort within the MPA, and UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area. 
  • 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.
  • In compliance with Article 8 of the deep-sea Regulation (EU) 2016/2336, a ban on the use of all bottom-contacting mobile gear has been introduced below 800 m depth across all European waters. This applies across the area of Wyville Thomson Ridge MPA where the depth falls below 800 m. Article 9 of this same regulation also sets out rules for fishing between 400 m and 800 m where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are present, or are likely to occur. These rules aim to minimise the impact of fishing activities on VMEs.
  • Fishing with bottom-set gillnets, entangling nets and trammel nets below 600 m is also prohibited for the protection of deepwater shark species under Council Regulation (EC) 2019/1241, and there are additional restrictions on their use between 200 m and 600 m. This regulation also applies to those areas beyond Union waters, but within the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) technical measures regulatory area.

Licensable activities

  • Whilst 'licensable' activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Wyville Thomson Ridge SAC at present, any future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
  • 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.

Telecommunications cables

  • Two telecommunications cables currently cross through the MPA.
  • 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.

 

3. Site condition monitoring

Fishing vessel monitoring data are collected within the site. Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available in 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.

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Monitoring

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.

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Assessment

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.

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