The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain & Ireland (v15.03)

The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland provides a tool to aid the management and conservation of marine habitats. This publication presents a fully revised version of the national classification of benthic marine habitats (seashore and seabed habitats and their associated communities of species) for Britain and Ireland. It is one of the most comprehensive marine benthic classification systems currently in use, and has been developed through the analysis of empirical data sets, the review of other classifications and scientific literature, and in collaboration with a wide range of marine scientists and conservation managers. It is compatible with and contributes to the marine part of the European EUNIS habitat classification system. It was originally developed by JNCC's Marine Nature Conservation Review (MNCR) as part of the EC Life Nature-funded BioMar project (Connor et al. 1997 a, b).
This website shows the 15.03 version of the habitat classification, which comprises a shallow section, taken from the previous Version 04.05, and a new deep-sea section. The 'shallow section' refers to the level 2 habitats littoral rock, littoral sediment, infralittoral rock, circalittoral rock and sublittoral sediment (and their 'child' habitats). The 'deep-sea section' refers to the level 2 habitats Atlantic upper bathyal, Atlantic mid bathyal, Atlantic lower bathyal, Atlantic upper abyssal, Atlantic mid abyssal, Atlantic lower abyssal, Arctic mid bathyal, Arctic lower bathyal, Arctic upper abyssal and Atlanto-Arctic upper bathyal (and their child habitats).

The classification is presented in hierarchical format, which differs slightly between the shallow and deep-sea sections. The levels in the hierarchy represent:



(Connor et al, 2004)


(Parry et al, 2015)

Level 1
Environment (marine)
Environment (marine)
Level 2
Broad habitat type
Biological zone
Level 3
Habitat complex
Level 4
Biotope complex
Broad community
Levels 5 & 6    
Biotope or sub-biotope     
Biological assemblage     
Information provided for the classification includes the search pages and expandable hierarchy with the biotope descriptions. Downloadable documents for the classification system are also available.

Classification Update

In 2015, JNCC started a project to update the existing shallower part of the Classification. This project aims to improve  the consistency of classification by reviewing the validity existing biotopes and adding any new biotopes identified from recent survey data. The overall structure of higher levels will be revised to be more user-friendly, if agreed by stakeholders. The project also aims to develop a less subjective, data driven approach for assigning biotopes. The classification will be updated section by section in the following order: sublittoral sediment, circalittoral and infralittoral rock, littoral sediment and littoral rock. A summary of the project can be downloaded from this link: JNCC Biotope Project Summary.
A timetable of key tasks is provided below (those complete in green):
2015: Initiate a stakeholder consultation on the scope of classification updates.
  Data preparation and trial analysis of data.
2016: Decide final analysis method
  Analysis of sublittoral sediment grab data
  Analysis of sublittoral sediment video and dive data 
2017: Expert review of sublittoral sediment results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
  Analysis of infralittoral and circalittoral rock data
  Expert review of infralittoral and circalittoral rock results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
  Analysis of littoral sediment and rock data
  Expert review of littoral sediment and rock results - match clusters to existing biotopes and identify new biotopes
  Publish new and revised biotopes
  Consultation on changing the structure of the upper levels of the classification
  Revise the structure of the classification
JNCC will recommend any revisions to the Marine Habitat Classification are incorporated into the EUNIS classification.

New biotope proposals


If you find a community not currently in the classification, you can submit a new biotope proposal to JNCC.

Developments since 2004


2014: report published on User Issues with the Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland to guide future revisions.

2015: publication of v15.03 of the classification with the addition of a deep-sea section in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Plymouth University and other institutions. 

Please if you have any queries regarding the Marine Habitat Classification.
Version 15.03 of the classification adds a deep-sea section to version 04.05; therefore superseding version 04.05, 97.06 and 03.02.
This online classification should be cited as:
JNCC (2015) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 15.03 [Online]. [Date accessed]. Available from: 
Information from the shallower section (up to sublittoral sediment, taken from Version 04.05) be cited as the report accompanying Version 04.05, as follows:
CONNOR, D.W., J.H. ALLEN, N.GOLDING, K.L.HOWELL, L.M. LIEBERKNECHT, K.O. NORTHEN AND J.B. REKER (2004) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 04.05. In: JNCC (2015) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 15.03 [Online]. [Date accessed].
ISBN 1 861 07561 8
Information from the deep-sea section (added in March 2015) should be cited as the report accompanying the deep-sea section, as follows:
PARRY, M.E.V., K.L. HOWELL, B.E. NARAYANASWAMY, B.J. BETT, D.O.B. JONES, D.J. HUGHES, N. PIECHAUD, H. ELLWOOD, N. ASKEW, C. JENKINS and E. MANCA (2015) A Deep-sea Section for the Marine Habitat Classification of Britain and Ireland. JNCC report 530. In: JNCC (2015) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 15.03 [Online]. [Date accessed].
ISSN 0963 8901



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