Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)


The Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA is located in offshore waters to the east of Scotland, and includes the Berwick, Scalp and Montrose Banks and the Wee Bankie shelf banks and mounds.


Strongly influenced by water currents, the mosaic of different types of sands and gravels create a unique mixture of habitats that overlie the underwater banks and mounds within the MPA. The Wee Bankie includes moraines, formed from underwater glacial ridges deposited during the last Ice Age. The moraines here are scientifically important for their role in improving our understanding of the history of glaciation around Scotland.


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 Conservation Objectives
Ocean quahog aggregations  Low or limited mobility species Conserve in favourable condition
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat Conserve in favourable condition
Shelf Banks and Mounds Large scale feature Conserve in favourable condition
Moraines representative of the Wee Bankie Key Geodiversity Area Geomorphological feature Conserve in favourable condition


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 below.


Conservation objectives
The overarching conservation objectives for the designated features of all protected sites in UK offshore waters is to ensure they either remain in, or reach favourable condition. The ability of a designated feature to remain in, or reach favourable condition can be affected by its sensitivity to pressures associated with activities taking place within or in close proximity to a protected site. Information on the conservation objectives relating to this NCMPA is provided in the Conservation Advice tab.

Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Firth of Forth Banks Complex NCMPA.  More detail can be found within the relevant documentation listed below.

Relevant documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Firth of Forth Banks Complex 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: June 2017


The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Relevant Documentation and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced.


Site overview

Owing to local current patterns in the area, the Firth of Forth Banks Complex is considered to be a relatively closed system where localised productivity is enhanced. Diverse and fine-scale current patterns result in a wide-ranging mosaic of different sedimentary habitats throughout the site, which support a range of benthic species, such as the common brittlestar, a species of soft coral known as dead mens fingers, and hornwrack (a colonial bryozoan). The sand and gravel habitats also support the ocean quahog, which is considered to be Threatened and/or Declining by the OSPAR Commission and is a protected species of the MPA. The East of Gannet and Montrose Fields and Norwegian Boundary Sediment Plain MPAs are both sites within the Northern North Sea biogeographic region that are also designated for ocean quahog aggregations and their associated habitat. Together, these three sites contribute to the representativity, and therefore the resilience, of this protected feature in the MPA network.


There is evidence to suggest that two of the shelf bank and mound features within the MPA are of wider functional significance to the overall health and biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Both Berwick Bank and Wee Bankie support sand and gravel habitats suitable for colonisation by sandeels, a key prey item for top predators in the North Sea food web. As such, the Firth of Forth shelf banks and mounds have been identified as critical for foraging seabirds and grey seals. Furthermore, Berwick Bank is also thought to be a spawning ground for plaice, the larvae of which may be important for repopulating exploited stocks along the east coast of England.


A large proportion of the Wee Bankie moraine formation is located within the Wee Bankie (including Scalp Bank) part of the MPA and is considered to be a key geodiversity area in Scotland’s seas. This formation is a series of prominent (20m high) submarine glacial ridges, composed of poorly sorted sediments (boulders, gravels, sands and clays), and is considered important in furthering understanding of the last British-Irish Ice Sheet. Further detail on the evidence for this NCMPA can be found on the Evidence tab.


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

Site area:  2130 km2.

Firth of Forth Banks Complex is similar in size to Snowdonia National Park (2176 km2).

Site depth range:  The site ranges in depth from approximately 110m below sea level to just 30m below sea level on top of the shelf banks and mounds.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.


Site boundary description

The Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA is a composite site and the boundaries of each of the three areas were determined by the presence and extent of the important features contained within them. The Wee Bankie (inc. Scalp Bank) area boundary has been designed to protect its geomorphological and biological interests, as well as an important seabird and grey seal foraging areas. The Berwick Bank area boundary encompasses the bank feature and areas of known occurrences of adult ocean quahog in the MPA. Finally, Montrose Bank boundary encompasses a high diversity of sand and gravel habitats and an area where juvenile ocean quahog are known to occur.




Last updated: April 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 Firth of Forth Banks Complex NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to the JNCC MPA mapper 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 provides direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.


Survey and data gathering

  • Firth of Forth Banks Complex Survey (2011) - This JNCC and Marine Scotland collaborative survey was commissioned to collect grab samples and photographic samples to enable the biological communities present at the site to be characterised.
  • Marine Scotland Science International Bottom Trawl Survey (IBTS Q3) (2011) - JNCC collaborated with Marine Scotland Science to collect opportunistic video and photographic data on this survey during fish survey downtime.

Data analysis reports


Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Data Confidence Assessment. 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 in any of the Relevant Documentation, please contact JNCC


Conservation Advice


Last updated: February 2017


Conservation Objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected features of an MPA. As there is no direct evidence of damage to any of the protected features within the Firth of Forth Banks Complex Nature Conservation MPA, the agreed policy approach states that such features should be allocated a conservation objective of ‘conserve in favourable condition’, noting that there is uncertainty in feature condition.


The conservation objectives for the protected features of the MPA are useful if you are:

  • Planning measures to conserve the site and its protected features;
  • Monitoring the condition of the protected features; and/or
  • Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the protected features of the site


The Conservation Objectives for the protected features of the MPA are:

Subject to natural change, conserve the ocean quahog aggregations in favourable condition, such that the:

  • Quality and extent of its habitat is stable or increasing; and

  • Population structure allows numbers to be maintained or increased.

Subject to natural change, conserve the offshore subtidal sands and gravels habitat in favourable condition, such that it's:

  • Extent is stable or increasing; and

  • Structures and functions, its quality, and the composition of its characteristic biological communities are such as to ensure that it is in a condition which is healthy and not deteriorating.

Subject to natural change, conserve the shelf banks and mounds large-scale feature in favourable condition, such that the: 

  • Extent, distribution and structure of the feature is maintained;

  • Characteristic biological communities and their use of the feature, for activities such as feeding, courtship, spawning and as nursery grounds, are maintained and not deteriorating; and

  • Processes supporting the feature are maintained.

Subject to natural change, conserve the moraines geomorphological interest feature in favourable condition, such that it's:

  • Extent, component elements and integrity are maintained;

  • Structure and functioning are unimpaired; and

  • Surface remains sufficiently unobscured for the purposes of determining with the conditions in the points above.


More information regarding the conservation objectives for the protected features of the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA is available in the Designation Order. JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objectives for the features listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.


Advice on operations 

Section 127 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) states that JNCC may provide guidance regarding matters capable of damaging or otherwise affecting the protected features of a NCMPA. JNCC has contributed to the development of an online Features, Activities, Sensitivities Tool (FeAST), which is intended to help public authorities, industry and regulators determine which activities are capable of affecting the protected features of a MPA.


FeAST reflects our current high-level understanding of the interactions between activities, pressures and features within NCMPAs. The tool highlights that activities can give rise to a range of pressures, to which the protected features of the MPA may be sensitive and may therefore be capable of affecting them. JNCC and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have also produced more specific guidance on the impacts of different fishing gears on the protected features of Nature Conservation MPAs. These are available on the Fisheries Management Guidance Documents webpage. For more detailed sensitivity information on the communities that comprise the features within the site, please use the search function on the MarLIN webpage to access updated sensitivity assessments.


The activities taking place within the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA that are considered capable of affecting the protected features of the site are as follows and have been taken from the Management Options Paper for the site:

Fishing activity 

  • Demersal seine netting (minimal activity);
  • Otter trawling;
  • Scallop dredging; and 
  • Creeling and potting.

Licensed activities

  • Renewable energy

Ministry of Defence

  • Seabed, sea surface and sub-surface activity.


JNCC provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management within the Activities and Management tab. JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site.

The information contained within FeAST, the fisheries management guidance, and the activities and management tab are useful if you are:

  • Carrying out any activity that may impact the protected features of the site and need to find out how to operate within the law;
  • An authority providing advice on specific proposals; and/or 
  • An authority responsible for putting management measures in place.


Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the protected features of the site and how activities can affect them may change over time. Similarly the activities taking place within the site may also change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this. Further information is available via the offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.


Activities and Management


Last updated: April 2017


Management status: Progressing towards being well managed


Progress is ongoing with the recommendation for 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 is conservation objectives.


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 Firth of Forth Banks Complex 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 JNCCs 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 and static effort within the MPA. 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

  • The Firth of Forth was selected by the Offshore Wind Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment as an area for potential renewable energy developments. Seagreen Wind Energy Limited, a partnership between SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy plc) and Fluor Limited, was granted permission to develop the Firth of Forth Offshore Wind Zone in 2009.
  • The full zone has considerable overlap with the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA. The first phase of the zone development was granted consent in October 2014 and consists of two wind farm developments, known as Project Alpha and Project Bravo. These projects will consist of up to 150 turbines with the potential to generate up to 1050MW of renewable energy. A further five wind farms are planned to be built within the full zone in the future (Phases 2 and 3), but timeframes for these further phases are unknown at present.
  • Licensable activities such as renewable energy developments taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under section 126 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, please see Marine Scotland’s MPA Management Handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine license applications
  • Information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on the offshore industries advice webpages.


Site condition monitoring

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


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: February 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: February 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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