Updated conservation advice is now available for Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope Nature Conservation MPA under the Conservation Advice tab below


Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)




Click to link to the interactive map


Located to the north-west of Scotland, the Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope MPA follows the descent of the seabed from the Hebridean continental shelf at a depth of 200m into the deep-sea of the Rockall Trough. The Slide is a geological submarine landslide, named after the famous Scottish geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie. 


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) Habitat
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat
Offshore deep-sea muds Habitat
Continental slope Large scale feature
Slide deposit and slide scars representative of the Geikie Slide 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 below.

Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of Geikie Slide and

Hebridean Slope.  More detail can be found within the relevant documentation listed below.

Geikie Slide Timeline

Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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


Information for this site summary was adapted from the 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
Located to the north-west of Scotland, the Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope MPA follows the descent of seabed from a depth of 200m on the Hebridean continental shelf into the deep-sea of the Rockall Trough. Habitats within the MPA vary down the slope with the descent into deeper, calmer water. The purpose of the MPA is to represent variation in sandy, muddy and gravelly habitat types, and the animal communities they support, with depth. The Geikie Slide is a submarine landslide of geological importance, named after the famous Scottish geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie. The Hebridean continental slope is believed to be significant for the health of Scotland’s seas because of the way it influences the movement of water currents which bring a plentiful supply of food to the area.


Habitats within the MPA vary down the slope with the descent into deeper water. The sand and gravel habitat on the continental shelf continues down the slope changing to mud as the depth increases. The mud is characterised by the burrows formed by animals such as mud shrimp and deep sea crabs. Along the bottom of the slope, a range of animals are present that tolerate the environmental conditions of the deep-sea. A diverse range of sea life can be found living in and on the mud, including sea urchins, sea spiders, and deep-sea worms. The area is also a breeding ground for commercially important fish such as blue ling. The Hebridean slope more broadly is thought to have functional significance to the health and biodiversity of Scotland’s seas in the way that it serves to increase water column mixing and subsequently a rise in levels of biological productivity. Large-scale slides such as the Geikie Slide are considered characteristic geodiversity features along the Scottish continental slope.

Biotope analysis characterised the biological diversity on the Hebridean slope based on archive stills data from 1988-1998. The findings indicate five distinct biological zones with associated communities that change with depth on the slope, and the MPA represent examples of each:

  • Outer shelf and shelf break zone (135-227m) – characterised by coarse sediments ranging from strongly rippled sand and gravel plains to dense fields of cobbles and small boulders. Visible fauna is sparse in this zone and predominantly comprises echinoderms such as the pencil urchin Cidaris cidaris and sea stars.
  • Upper slope zone (279-470m) – generally characterised by coarser sediments with sand and gravel patches and predominantly includes echinoderms as visible fauna. 
  • Ophiocten gracialis zone (600-1020m) – a biological zone dominated by large numbers of the small brittlestar Ophiocten gracialis on fine sandy, muddy sand or sandy mud, with some areas of gravel or cobbles.
  • Xenophyophore zone (1088-1180m) – a biological zone characterised by the Xenophyophore Syringammina fragilissima in rippled muddy sand or sandy mud.
  • Decapod burrowing zone (1293-1595m) – a biological zone characterised by the burrows of large decapods such as Munida tenuimania in fine muds.

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:  2,215km2.

Site depth range:  113m below sea level on the edge of the Hebridean continental shelf, down to 1757m at the base of the Rockall Trough. 

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Scottish Continental Shelf.


Site boundary description

The MPA boundary captures the full range of sedimentary communities as they change with depth down the Hebridean continental slope in this region. The site also encompasses the geological features representative of the Geikie Slide Key Geodiversity Area. The MPA boundary encompasses all records of burrows in the area based on data from Marine Scotland Science deep-water towed video surveys, and sample locations of seapens recorded as by-catch from Marine Scotland Science trawl surveys.  The MPA boundary comprises of a corridor down the slope that captures examples of the different biological zones that characterise the Hebridean slope.




Last updated: February 2017


Site specific data
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 Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to our MPA interactive map in due course. All of the data available for this MPA have been generated through JNCC commissioned analysis of existing survey data. These data provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.


Survey and data gathering

  • Offshore seabed survey of Geikie Slide & Hebridean Slope NCMPA (2016) -A dedicated multidisciplinary survey of Geikie Slide & Hebridean Slope NCMPA was conducted in August 2016. The principal aim of the survey was to collect additional information to increase current knowledge of the site features. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.  


Data analysis reports
JNCC commissioned analysis of available survey data are provided in the following reports:

  • 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 - Provides support information on the presence and extent of important geological/geomphological areas in Scotland’s seas, which includes the Geikie Slide Key Geodiversity Area of relevance to this NCMPA. 
  • Biotope analysis of archived stills from the Strategic Environmental Assessment 7 region of Scotland’s seas.
    Hughes et al. (2014) characterised the biological diversity of the Hebridean continental slope based on archived stills data from 1988-1998. The findings indicate that five distinct biological zones with associated communities that change with depth on the slope and help to define the communities that characterise the protected features of the MPA.
  • FRV Scotia - Hebridean Slope Marine Scotland Science Towed Video surveys (2004-2009) - JNCC commissioned an analysis of video footage from several Marine Scotland Science Nephrops stock assessment survey stations within the MPA (surveys conducted in 2004 and 2009), as well as fisheries by-catch records (surveys conducted in 2008 and 2009). These data help confirm the presence of the protected features of the site and are reported in Allen et al. (2014) and Axelsson et al. (2014).


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 data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed in the relevant documentation, including the Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope MPA Data Confidence Assessment, 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.

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 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: offshorempas@jncc.gov.uk.


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 detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting 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: March 2017


Management status: Progressing towards being well managed


Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission. A survey for took place in 2016 to establish the first point in a site condition monitoring time-series. Further 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 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 Geikie Slide and Hebridean Slope 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 demersal and pelagic effort within the MPA and UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area.
  • The site falls outside the UK's 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

  • Whilst ‘licensable’ activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Darwin Mounds SAC at present,  any future developments would need to be 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 JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on JNCC's offshore industries advice webpage


Military activities

  • A small area of the south-western part of the MPA overlaps with a Ministry of Defence practice area.
  • This area is thought to be mostly used for sea surface activity such as vessel transiting and aerial use, and so is unlikely to interact with the protected features of the site.
  • The MoD have incorporated all designated MPAs into their Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) and wider Marine Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool. These guidelines are used to manage MOD activity to minimise the associated risks to the environment.


Site condition monitoring
A monitoring survey of the MPA took place in 2016. The aim of the survey was to establish the first point in a site condition monitoring time-series and to enable the effectiveness of current proposed fisheries management measures to be determined. The data from this survey are under analysis and will be reported on under the monitoring tab when complete.


Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives
Whilst a baseline site condition monitoring survey has taken place, further 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. 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 (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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