JNCC have prepared updated formal conservation advice for Central Fladen NCMPA. Further information is available on the Conservation Advice tab below.


Central Fladen MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)



Click to link to the interactive map


The Central Fladen MPA lies within the Fladen Grounds, a large area of mud in the northern North Sea. The mud habitat is characterised by feather-like soft corals called sea pens, and the burrows made by crustaceans such as mud shrimp and the Norway lobster.

The churning of the mud by burrowing animals releases nutrients and helps mix oxygen into the mud, supporting a wide diversity of life. The southern area of the MPA includes examples of the nationally scarce tall seapen, which can grow up to 2m in height. The MPA has also been shaped to include a tunnel valley on the seafloor representative of an area of geomorphological interest known as the Fladen Deeps. It is thought these valleys were created by erosion of melt water under an ice sheet in former ice ages.


More detailed site information can be found on the Summary tab.

Map displaying MPA boundary and

 associated protected feature data.

Visit the JNCC MPA Mapper to further

view and explore data for this MPA.


Legislation behind the designation: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009)


Protected features

Features Feature Type
Burrowed mud (seapens and burrowing megafauna and tall seapen components) Habitat
Sub-glacial tunnel valley representative of the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area Geomorphological feature


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 mapper and the evidence underpinning this can be viewed in the Evidence tab.

Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of the Central Fladen NCMPA.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation below.

Central Fladen Timeline

Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the Central Fladen NCMPA were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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 Nature Conservation MPA site selection process is available on the JNCC NCMPA pages.





Last updated: October 2017


Information for this site summary was adapted from the Central Fladen Site Summary Document and incorporates any further information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to this document in the relevant documentation section for further details and information sources.


Site overview
The Central Fladen MPA lies within the Fladen Grounds, a large area of mud in the northern North Sea named after the German word “fladen” meaning “flat cake”. The MPA includes a particular type of mud habitat that is characterised by feather-like soft corals called sea pens, and the burrows made by crustaceans such as mud shrimp and the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus, also known as the Dublin Bay prawn or langoustine). Burrowed mud is an interesting and important marine habitat that supports a rich community of animals. Burrowing species can be found living within the mud itself.  Their burrowing activity plays an important role in supporting life in the area; the constant churning of the mud releases nutrients and helps to mix oxygen into the mud. Longer lasting burrows also provide shelter to other marine life from the starfish and sea urchins that patrol the muddy surface looking for food. Burrowed mud is considered by OSPAR to be a Threatened and/or Declining habitat across the North-east Atlantic.

Several different types of seapen can be found anchored in the muddy seabed within the MPA. The southern area includes examples of the nationally uncommon tall seapen (Funiculina quadrangularis), which can grow up to 2m in height. Brittlestars use the tall seapen as an elevated perch to filter food from passing currents.

The MPA has also been shaped to include an unusual tunnel valley, representing part of a Key Geodiversity Area known as the Fladen Deeps or ‘The Holes’. It is thought these valleys were created by erosion of melt water under an ice sheet in former ice ages. In places, these tunnel valleys can stretch for 40km and be 4km wide. The Fladen Deeps are considered scientifically important since they hold potentially valuable evidence about past changes in the extent and geometry of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet. Further detail on the evidence for this NCMPA can be found under the Evidence tab.


Site location:  Coordinates for this NCMPA can be found in the Designation Order listed under Relevant Documentation.

Site area: 925 km2

Site depth range:  The minimum depth within this NCMPA is 100m below sea level, whereas the ‘Fladen Deeps’ sub-glacial tunnel valley that runs through the MPA is the deepest area of the site and reaches depths of 280m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea


Site boundary description
The MPA boundary was drawn to include survey records of burrowed mud habitat, mostly including areas where the distribution of the seapen species meet or exceed the average density of seapens from across the wider Fladen Grounds based on available survey data. The southern part of the MPA boundary was drawn to include one of the only areas where tall seapen have been recorded in Scottish offshore waters. The MPA also includes the entirety of a sub-glacial tunnel-valley geomorphological feature representative of the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area.




Last updated: October 2017


There is a range of data that underpin this NCMPA. 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 Central Fladen NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to the MPA interactive map in due course. Some of the data for this NCMPA 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

  • RV Cefas Endeavour survey (2014) - This JNCC-led survey collected data about the ecological communities across the Fladen Grounds, and also sought to improve our understanding of feature condition in the NCMPA.
  • RV Cefas Endeavour survey (2013) - This JNCC-led survey of the Fladen Grounds set out to map the presence of burrowed mud habitat, including the seapens and burrowing megafauna communities in circalittoral fine mud across the region.
  • International Bottom Trawl Survey Quarter 3 (2011) JNCC collaborated with Marine Scotland Science on this survey to undertake habitat survey work to verify the presence of seapens and burrowing megafauna communities in circalittoral fine mud.


Data analysis reports

  • Analysis of CEND01/13 Fladen Grounds survey (2017) - This report presents findings from the analyses of samples collected during the CEND01/13 Fladen Grounds pMPA survey. The main aim of this survey was to confirm the presence of Priority Marine Features (burrowed mud) within the pMPAs and provide evidence to allow comparison of benthic assemblages between the sites. 
  • Monitoring options report (2016) - This report describes monitoring options for the Central Fladen NCMPA, and offshore mud habitats more generally, based on survey data collected in 2014.
  • EUSeaMap (2016) - Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of sedimentary features from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.
  • Report on the identification of Key Geodiversity Areas in Scotland’s seas (2013) - This report helped support information on the presence and extent of important geological/geomorphological areas in Scotland’s seas, which includes the Fladen Deeps Key Geodiversity Area of relevance to this NCMPA. 
  • Marine Scotland Science Nephrops Towed Video Analysis - Marine Scotland Science processed video data from their Nephrops stock assessment work to report on the presence of seapens and burrowing megafauna communities in the area.
  • Analysis from IBTSQ3 survey (2011) - Seabed imagery analysis from video/stills samples taken at 2 stations during 2011 confirm the presence of the burrowed mud feature.


Additional relevant literature
References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Central Fladen Data Confidence Assessment.


Knowledge gaps
 If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed here or in the Relevant Documentation, please contact JNCC.


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 the Conservation Advice webpage along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC conservation advice. 


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 prevent the deterioration of habitats and significant disturbance of features; 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 advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of March 2018).  A zipped folder enabling these documents to be downloaded together is available at the bottom of this page.




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 provide 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 JNCC at



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 consider 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.


Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST)

Provides an initial assessment of whether a proposed plan or project (or ongoing activity) may have an impact on a protected feature in the site.


FeAST identifies pressures associated with the most commonly occurring marine activities, and provides a detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting, other than insignificantly, a feature where the feature is known to be sensitive to associated pressures.


The sensitivity assessments provided in FeAST, should be used at an early stage of a plan or project when considering potential impacts of an activity.






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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 to conclude with confidence as to the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives. A baseline condition monitoring survey was undertaken in 2014(Murray et al. 2016).


This site forms part of the UKs contribution to the OSPAR commission’s network of MPAs and the Emerald network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a member of the OSPAR commission, JNCC are committed to ensuring that the OSPAR MPA network is ‘well-managed’ by 2020.

JNCC consider ‘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 sites 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 Central Fladen NCMPA around each of these four stages in the MPA management cycle:


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 tab.
  • JNCC are in the process of improving our MPA conservation advice packages. Further information is available on our conservation advice pages.
  • Spatial information on the presence and extent of the protected feature of this MPA is available via JNCC's MPA mapper.
  • JNCC are in the process of developing downloadable MPA data packages where appropriate permissions to share datasets are in place.


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.



  • There is evidence of mobile demersal effort within the MPA and UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area.
  • The site falls outside the UKs 12 nautical mile limit and is to be exclusively managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In accordance with Article 18 of the revised CFP, requests for management will be developed jointly between the UK Government and any Member States with a direct management interest in the area affected.
  • Marine Scotland are 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 web pages.


Licensable activities

  • Three gas pipelines currently cross through the MPA, and oil and gas blocks licenced  in the 29th licencing round occur along the southern boundary and east of the MPA, and so may be subject to oil and gas development in the future. 
  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under section 127 of The Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). Under this clause, JNCC have a statutory responsibility to advise the regulator on developments that are capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of the MPA and that may hinder the achievement of the sites conservation objectives. JNCC consider the existing marine licensing process is sufficient to ensure the management of licensable activities taking place, or that could take place in the future, on the protected features of this MPA.
  • For further information, see Marine Scotland’s draft MPA management handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine license applications.
  • Further information on JNCCs role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCCs offshore industries advice webpage


Telecommunications cables

  • One telecommunications cable currently crosses 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.


Site condition monitoring

A research and development monitoring survey of the MPA took place in 2014. The survey included a study to collect data over a gradient of surface abrasion pressure to better understand the relationship between surface abrasion and seapens and burrowing megafauna communities. In addition, the survey also established the baseline condition of the protected features of the MPA. Further information is provided in the monitoring tab and the survey cruise report (Murray et al. 2016).


Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data is available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. Further information will be provided under the Assessment tab 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.


An research and development monitoring survey of the Central Fladen NCMPA was undertaken in March 2014. The survey included a study to collect data over a gradient of surface abrasion which could be used to better understand the relationship between surface abrasion and the seapens and burrowing megafauna habitat.




Last updated: October 2017


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 predefined 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. They include the second cycle of the Conservation Status Assessment reports under the EU Habitats Directive, Charting Progress 2 (CP2) and the OSPAR Quality Status Report (QSR). 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.


Under the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009), JNCC is required to report to Ministers on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of Nature Conservation MPAs (NCMPAs) have been achieved.  Every 6 years from 2012, the Marine Act requires a report setting out how NCMPAs have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network as a whole. The assessments of features within MPAs will also feed into six yearly reports on the state of the marine environment under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020.



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