North-west Orkney MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)


Newly hatched sandeel larvae from this MPA are exported by currents to sandeel grounds around Shetland and south of the Moray Firth.


The MPA also affords protection to several geomorphological features; the study of which can help improve our understanding of the relationships between currents and seabed sediments.


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





Map displaying the MPA boundary - larger polygon -

and two inshore Nature Conservation MPAs

which sit closely to the NCMPA boundary.  

View and download spatial data for this MPA

on the JNCC UK MPA interactive map.


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


Protected Features:

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
Sandeels Mobile species Conserve in Favourable Condition
Sand banks, sand wave fields and sediment wave fields representative of the Fair Isle Strait Marine Process Bedforms Key Geodiversity Area. Geomorphological feature Conserve in Favourable Condition


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.

Specific 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 Turbot Bank. 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The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North-west Orkney were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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.



Site overview
The MPA is a shallow area lying to the north and west of the Orkney Isles on the Scottish continental shelf. The area is considered important as an export ground for sandeels - a type of burrowing fish that forms a critical component of many North Sea food webs.

The area is characterised by a mixed ground type (areas of rough substrate within the areas of sediment) which make it suitable for sandeel colonisation. This may also account for the patchiness of the larval distribution. The MPA plays an important role in supporting wider populations of sandeels in Scottish waters. Specifically, newly hatched sandeel larvae from this region are exported by currents to sandeel grounds around Shetland and the Moray Firth. This is supported by a time series of data on larval abundance that date back to the 1950s, illustrating the continued importance of this area as an export ground for sandeels.

The MPA also includes protection for geomorphological features representative of the Fair Isle Strait Marine Process Bedforms Key Geodiversity Area. These shelf tidal bedform features such as the sediment wave fields, sand wave fields and sand banks are active and are maintained under a specific range of tidal current conditions. It is thought that study of these features can help improve our understanding of the relationships between currents and seabed sediments.


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

Site area: 4,365 km2 making it roughly twice the size of the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

Site depth range: 12 m below sea level to 216 m below sea level further away from the coast.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Scottish Continental Shelf.

Site boundary description
The boundary of the MPA has been drawn to focus on the greatest density of newly emergent sandeel larvae in the region following consideration of newly hatched larval data, predicted larval dispersal modelling and the presence of suitable sediments for sandeel colonisation (see Evidence tab)


The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the relevant documentation section and incorporates and further information gathered since these documents were produced.


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 North-west Orkney NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to our 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 feature within the site.

Survey and data gathering

  • Marine Scotland Science Survey Trawls 1986 - 1991
    This is a collation of historic trawl surveys completed by Marine Scotland Science recording the occurrence of sandeels across the extent of the MPA. Data from these surveys have been analysed and reported through Wright & Bailey (1996), Procter et al (1996) and Wright et al (2000) (see References and additional relevant literature below).

Data analysis reports
Analyses of data gathered as part of the surveys listed above, as well as other relevant data analysis products, are available via the following reports. Note the citations given are fully referenced in the ‘additional relevant literature’ section below:

  • Spatial patterns and trends in abundance of larval Ammodytidae from Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) surveys of the North Sea: 1950-2005 - 2013
    This study (Lynam et al. 2013) analysed data gathered and stored by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) In the CPR database. The data is gathered from continuous plankton recorders attached to commercial trawlers. This data was used to show the mean abundance of sandeel larvae.
  • The influence of sediment type on the distribution of the lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus - 2000
    Particle Size Analysis data from British Geological Survey samples collected in the area between 1973 and 1980 were analysed by Wright et al. (2000) to assess suitability for sandeel colonisation. Seven of nine records from the site were considered suitable for sandeels; these occurred in the south-west and eastern area of the site.
  • Modelling the transport of larval sandeels on the north-west European shelf - 1998
    Young sandeel transport in the North Sea was predicted by Proctor et al. (1998) using data on sandeel spawning locations, age and hatching time combined with a model of ocean currents over a 39-year period. The study showed that sandeel larvae from North-west Orkney MPA may disperse widely across the North Sea
  • Timing of hatching in Ammodytes marinus from Shetland waters and its significance to early growth and survivorship - 1996
    The growth and survival of sandeels was examined using otolith microstructure in this study. The study supports the extensive export of sandeel larvae from the MPA to sandeel grounds around Shetland and south of the Moray Firth.

Further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Data Confidence Assessment.

References and additional relevant literature
Please be aware that although these sources contain information which is of interest in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC:

  • Lynam, C.P., Pitois, S., Halliday, N.C., Van Damme, C., Wright, P.J., Edwards, M. (2013). Spatial patterns and trends in abundance of larval Ammodytidae from Continuous Plankton Recorder surveys of the North Sea: 1950 – 2005. ICES Journal of Marine Science doi:10.1093/icesjms/fst006.
  • Proctor, R., Wright, P.J. and Everitt, A. (1998). Modelling the transport of larval sandeels on the north-west European shelf. Fisheries Oceanography 7 (3-4): 347-354.
  • Wright, P.J. and Bailey, M.C. (1996). Timing of hatching in Ammodytes marinus from Shetland waters and its significance to early growth and survivorship. Marine Biology 126 (1): 143-152.

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 North-west Orkney MPA Data Confidence Assessment, please contact JNCC.


MPA Conservation Advice

Conservation Objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. As there is direct evidence to suggest the ongoing persistence of the MPA as being important for sandeel export, in line with the agreed policy approach the sandeels protected feature of the MPA has been allocated a conservation objective of ‘conserve in favourable condition’. The geodiversity features have the same conservation objective, but note there is uncertainty in the condition of the features.

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; 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 sandeels in favourable condition, such that:

  • the quality and extent of its habitat is stable or increasing; and
  • the population structure allows numbers to be maintained or increased.


Subject to natural change, conserve the sediment wave fields, sand banks and sand wave fields representative of The Fair Isle Strait Marine Process Bedforms Key Geodiversity Area in favourable condition, such that:

  • their extent, component elements and integrity are maintained;
  • their structure and functioning are unimpaired; and
  • their 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 North-west Orkney 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 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

The activities taking place within the North-west Orkney 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:

  • telecommunication cable; and 
  • licensed activities (renewables).

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; 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 on JNCC's conservation advice is available via our offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.



Activities known to be currently occurring within this MPA

(Activities information correct as of July 2014)


Licensed activities:

Renewables - The MPA overlaps with the OWN1 and WN2 areas identified in the Draft Sectoral Marine Plans that formed part of the Planning Scotland Seas consultation.

Existing licensed activities that take place or may take place in the future within the North-west Orkney NCMPA will continue to be managed in line with relevant legislation and application processes by the competent authorities. For further information, please see Marine Scotland's MPA Management Handbook Information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on our Offshore industries advice webpages

Fisheries - Although several different fisheries currently exist within the MPA, none of these fisheries are currently considered likely to affect the sandeel feature. Furthermore, the MPA overlaps the Sandeel Area 5 and 7 management units, for which a zero Total Allowable Catch (TAC) has been set and so no targeted sandeel fishery can currently take place within the region.

Marine Scotland is leading discussions regarding the development of management for Nature Conservation MPAs on a regional basis. A fisheries management workshop involving national and international stakeholders was held for the North Sea Nature Conservation MPAs in March 2015. JNCC have provided a Fisheries Options Paper for the North West Orkney Nature Conservation MPA to support these discussions. A Management Options Paper was produced in support of the Nature Conservation MPA designation process. Following engagement with stakeholders, Marine Scotland will draw up management proposals to submit to the European Commission.

Where they are required, Scottish Government is aiming for fisheries management measures for the North-west Orkney NCMPA to be in place by 2016. The site falls outside the UK’s 12 nautical mile limit and is to be exclusively managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. 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. Once drafted, there is a requirement to consult the relevant Advisory Council (North West Waters AC) prior to submission of any final recommendations to the European Commission. Marine Scotland will be the lead authority regarding implementation and compliance of any measures.


Additional information on management can be found in the North-west Orkney Management Options Paper.

 Other activities:

  • Cables - One telecommunications cable runs through the site.
    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 licence 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.
  • Shipping - Under international law, ships have a right of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPAs (unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an International Maritime Organisation measure). The pressures associated with shipping activity within this NCMPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.


Site management

Management group

None at present.

Management plan

JNCC is undertaking a review of management plan requirements for offshore MPAs. Further detail will be provided at a later date.



MPA Monitoring

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.


MPA Assessment

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.




Image Gallery

These images show examples of features that are present in the North-west Orkney NCMPA.




Return to Graphics version

| JNCC - Adviser to Government on Nature Conservation | Site Map | Search | Legal | Feedback | List Access Keys |