Report 346
Irish Sea Pilot - a Marine Landscape Classification for the Irish Sea
Golding, N., Vincent, M.A., & Connor, D.W.
© Defra 2004


The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) (now Defra), established a working group to undertake a Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC) in the UK. One of the key recommendations in the interim report of the RMNC Working Group, submitted to Ministers in March 2001, was the promotion of a pilot scheme, at the regional sea scale, to demonstrate the application of the regional seas concept.
The Irish Sea Pilot scheme was established in 2002, with the aim of trialling a 'framework for marine conservation' (Laffoley et al., 2000), addressing the ecological requirements of marine wildlife at an appropriate range of spatial scales. In doing so, the Irish Sea Pilot has examined the degree to which this framework can contribute to wider sustainable development for the whole of the marine environment. In particular, the trial investigated the manner in which nature conservation objectives could be integrated into the objectives of other marine interest sectors (fisheries, oil and gas, shipping etc.) in practice. The 'framework for marine conservation' proposed the use of marine landscapes as part of an ecosystem-based approach to marine conservation
The concept of marine landscapes was developed for Canadian waters by Roff and Taylor (2000), and is further discussed in a UK context by Laffoley et al., (2000). The concept is a broad-scale classification of the marine environment based on geophysical features, recognising that these are important in determining the nature of biological communities. This approach is potentially well suited for areas away from the coastline where biological information is likely to be lacking, and/or where the regulation of human activity needs to be addressed at the relatively large scale.
Roff and Taylor (2000) considered that the concept could be applied to the water column (using factors such as water temperature, depth/light, and stratification/mixing regime), and also to the seabed (using factors such as water temperature, depth/light, substratum type, exposure and slope). Using these parameters, they developed a classification, the resultant components of which were termed 'seascapes'.
However, as the term 'seascapes' has already been used in other contexts in the UK and its use could lead to confusion, the RMNC Working Group has adopted the term 'marine landscapes' for this concept.
The 'framework for marine nature conservation' envisages conservation action at a range of scales, from measures taken at the scale of the UK continental shelf and adjacent waters, down to measures taken to conserve individual marine protected areas and individual species (Laffoley et al., 2000). In summary, these scales can be summarised as follows:
The wider sea: This includes all territorial waters, the continental shelf under UK jurisdiction and adjacent waters. At this scale, conservation action will address wider issues such as pollution, water quality and the protection of wide ranging marine species, as well as reporting on environmental change.
Regional Seas: This level is based on ecologically meaningful sub-divisions of the wider sea (Turnbull, 2004). This approach will provide a framework within which to map and describe marine biodiversity, identify conservation priorities, assess the marine resource and engage with industry (Laffoley et al., 2000).
Marine Landscapes: This level represents an intermediate scale between regional seas and habitats, which have consistent physical and ecological character and provide a sensible scale to relate to the management of certain human activities such as fishing. Conservation action will be aimed at regulating such human activities in a way which is tailored to the relative sensitivity to damage of the seabed substratum, and also to the relative sensitivity to alteration or disturbance of particular water column characteristics (such as frontal systems).
Habitats/Species: Here, conservation action will be aimed at ensuring that areas which are of high value for biodiversity are maintained in this condition for the future, and to regulate human activity which could harm important species, including mobile species, whose needs are not met by action taken under the other scales. At this level, conservation action will include the establishment of marine protected areas, i.e. areas protected within a tightly defined legal framework; for example as provided for under the Habitats Directive (EC, 1992).
The classification of marine landscapes has been based on readily available broad-scale geophysical and hydrographical data to define and map a series of marine landscape types for the seabed and water column. For each of these, it was expected that it would be possible to ascertain (or predict) the biological communities characteristic of the particular type and thus use them for conservation and management purposes, particularly in the absence of ground-truthed biological data. These marine landscape features are defined at a scale which is both ecologically relevant and applicable to the management of human activities.
The work that was undertaken on marine landscapes under the Pilot can be summarised as follows:
The collation and analysis of essential geophysical information to identify and map the main types of marine landscape occurring in the Irish Sea.
The characterisation of the marine landscapes identified, to summarise their characteristic biological communities, insofar as this can be ascertained from available data.
An evaluation of the marine landscapes in relation to their susceptibility to harm as a result of human activities.
The setting of conservation objectives appropriate to the various marine landscapes and the identification of management measures necessary to protect, recover and maintain their contribution to marine ecosystem structure and function, and our sustainable use of them.
This paper reports on the work undertaken to collate and analyse geophysical information and identify marine landscapes for the Irish Sea, and also identify their characteristic biological communities. Work to evaluate the susceptibility of marine landscapes to human activities (Tyler-Walters et al., 2003), and to 'score' each coastal (physiographic) and seabed marine landscape using a simple measure of relative biological diversity, is also reported in this paper. Work on the setting of conservation objectives for marine landscapes is reported in Lumb et al. (2004).
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Please cite as: Golding, N., Vincent, M.A., & Connor, D.W., (2004), Irish Sea Pilot - a Marine Landscape Classification for the Irish Sea, JNCC Report 346