North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA

 

Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

 

 

Click to link to the interactive map

 

The North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC includes a series of ten main sandbanks  and associated fragmented smaller banks formed as a result of tidal processes; as well as areas of Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef.

 

Located in the southern North Sea, the North Norfolk Sandbanks are the most extensive example of the offshore linear ridge sandbank type in UK waters.  The banks support communities of invertebrates which are typical of sandy sediments in the southern North Sea such as polychaete worms, isopods, crabs and starfish.  Areas of Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef are present within the site, consisting of thousands of fragile sand-tubes made by ross worms (polychaetes) which have consolidated together to create solid structures rising above the seabed.

 

Map displaying MPA boundary and associated protected

feature data. Visit the JNCC MPA Mapper to further

 view and explore data for this MPA.

 

The entirety of the MPA is considered a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time.  The whole SAC is designated and viewed as one integrated sandbank system, and reflects our current advice that its extent covers the entirety of the site. This physical delineation has been further validated by recent biological community analysis and is supported by the original Site Assessment. The North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef MPA overlaps with a candidate Special Area of Conservation/Site of Community Importance that has been identified for the protection of Harbour porpoise – the Southern North Sea cSAC/SCI. For more information on this MPA, please see the Southern North Sea MPA Site Information Centre.

 

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

 

Legislation behind the designation: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended)

 

Protected features:

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
1170 Reefs Annex I habitat* Restore to favourable condition
1110 Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all of the time Annex I habitat* Restore to favourable condition

*For the latest Annex I habitat resource figures, please see the link to the latest Habitats Directive Article 17 reporting in the Assessment tab.

 

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.

 

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 SAC 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 North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation listed below.

North Norfolk Sandbanks timeline


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC 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 SAC site selection process is available on the JNCC SAC pages.

 

 



Summary

 

Last updated: October 2017

 

Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment 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 North Norfolk Sandbanks are the most extensive example of the offshore linear ridge sandbank type in UK waters. They are subject to a range of current strengths which are strongest on the banks closest to shore and which reduce offshore.  The sandbank structures are maintained through offshore sediment transport, with each bank acting as a stepping stone, and the development of new sandbanks between existing banks. The designated boundary of the site encompasses the whole linear sandbank system rather than attempting to separate out individual banks.

 

The outer banks are the best example of open sea, tidal sandbanks in a moderate current strength in UK waters. Sandwaves are present, being best developed on the inner banks; the outer banks having small or no sandwaves associated with them. The sandbanks have a north-west to south-east orientation and are thought to be progressively, though very slowly, elongating in a north-easterly direction. They extend from about 40km (22 nautical miles) off the north-east coast of Norfolk out to approximately 110km (60 nautical miles).

 

The summits of the banks are in water shallower than 20m below Chart Datum, and the flanks of the banks extend into waters up to 40 m deep.  Areas surveyed in 2013 identified three EUNIS level 3 habitat types; Sublittoral Sands, Sublittoral Mixed Sediments and Sublittoral Coarse Sediments. Further biological community analysis of the 2013 survey data has been completed by JNCC (see evidence tab). The findings of this analysis confirmed that the biological communities associated with the topographic sandbanks occur across the MPA, including adjacent areas where the seabed is much deeper than 20m.  Sand is the dominant sediment type across the MPA, with patches of coarser and mixed sediment, which may then also be associated in places with Sabellaria spinulosa reef.  These results confirm JNCC’s earlier view set out in the SAC Selection Assessment Document, that the whole MPA should be considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time

 

The biological communities present on the sandbanks are representative of the infralittoral mobile sand biotope.  Species typical of this biotope include the polychaete worm Nephtys cirrosa and the isopod Eurydice pulchra.  The series of sandbanks within the SAC are very similar in terms of the biological communities present.  However, within the infralittoral mobile sand biotope, fewer species were recorded on the inner and eastern most end of the outer banks. Increasing species numbers were recorded on the outer most banks, particularly on the Indefatigables and the western-most end of the Swarte Bank, which is likely to be related to the change in hydrodynamic regime with increasing distance from the coast.

 

Sabellaria spinulosa biogenic reef consists of thousands of fragile sand-tubes made by ross worms (polychaetes) which have consolidated together to create a solid structure rising above the seabed. Reefs formed by S.spinulosa allow the settlement of other species not found in adjacent habitats leading to a diverse community of epifaunal and infaunal species. First discovered in 2002, the Saturn reef covered an area approximately 750m by 500m just to the south of Swarte Bank, varying in density over this area. More recent surveys have failed to identify the extensive areas of S.spinulosa reef previously identified. However, a 2013 survey identified reef to the west of Saturn reef and observed areas of low reef structure in the north and south of the site, with more extensive reef delineated in the centre of the site.  The previous extent of Saturn reef, in comparison to the more recently collated data highlights the ephemeral nature of this feature, and indicates the favourable conditions for S.spinulosa formation within the MPA. Further detail on the evidence for this SAC can be found on the Evidence tab.

 

Site location:  Coordinates for this SAC can be found in the Natura 2000 Standard Data Form listed in the Relevant Documentation.

Site area:  3,603 km2.

Site depth range:  The shallowest depth within the MPA is just 3m below sea level, and the deepest is over 60m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Southern North Sea.

 

Site boundary description
The boundary of this SAC is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitats, taking into account potential movement of the sandbanks, and also encompassing the area of Saturn reef and surrounding Sabellaria spinulosa reef. The boundary presented includes both “sandy sediments in less than 20m water depth” and the flanks and troughs of these banks which are also part of the sandbank feature but extend into deeper waters. The whole MPA is considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time.

 

Coordinate points have been positioned as close to the edge of these interest features as possible, rather than being located at the nearest whole degree or minute point. No margin to allow for mobile gear was applied given the shallow water depth at this site and the lack of a precise feature edge from which to add a margin. The boundary of the site has been defined to enable conservation of the structure and functions of the sandbanks and to include representation of both more disturbed (inshore) and more stable (offshore) sandbank biological communities. The sandbank structures are maintained through offshore sediment transport, with each bank acting as a stepping stone, and the development of new sandbanks between existing banks. Therefore, the boundary encompasses the whole linear sandbank system rather than attempting to separate out individual banks. The boundary allows for the potential elongation of banks in a north-easterly direction, and the coarse scale at which the underlying geological and bathymetric data are mapped.

 

Evidence

 

Last updated: October 2017

 

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 Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Selection Assessment Document.  JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to the JNCC Interactive MPA map in due course. Some of the data for this SAC 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 (2013) - This collaborative survey between Cefas and JNCC of the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC aimed to investigate the presence of Sabellaria spinulosa reef and consider sandbank community variability within the site. Acoustic data (multibeam echosounder and side scan sonar) and video, still and grab data were collected.
  • Entec/Envision survey  (2008) - This survey commissioned by Natural England collected data on the presence and extent of Annex I sandbanks in the Outer Wash area of the North Sea.
  • Conoco Phillips survey (2003) - Undertaken by Subsea 7 on behalf of Conocco Philips, this survey first identified the Saturn Reef Sabellaria spinulosa reef.  A visual survey of the area was undertaken using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to determine the extent of S. Spinulosa reef.  The reef was recorded as being 750m x 500m.
  • S/V Kommandor Jack Strategic Environmental Assessment 2 survey (2001) - Data collected as part of the North Sea SEA survey for DTI (Department of Trade and Industry).  Area 2 includes the majority of existing oil and gas fields in the North Sea, and data collected included multibeam acoustic data and grab samples.

 

Data analysis reports

  • JNCC Biological Community Analysis of North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef cSAC/SCI (2015) - Statistical analysis of the biological communities present within the MPA using data from grab and video samples collected in the 2013 Cefas/JNCC survey.  The results of this analysis confirmed that the biological communities associated with the topographic sandbanks occur across the MPA, including adjacent areas where the seabed is much deeper than 20m.  Sand is the dominant sediment type across the MPA, with patches of coarser and mixed sediment, which may then also be associated in places with Sabellaria spinulosa reef.  These results confirm JNCC’s earlier view set out in the SAC Selection Assessment Document, that the whole MPA should be considered as a representative functioning example of the Annex I feature Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time
  • Cefas/JNCC Survey CEND22/13 & 23/13 survey report (2015) - Analysis of this collaborative survey in 2013 was undertaken by Cefas. This report describes the findings of the dedicated survey with the aims of characterising the infaunal communities across the sandbanks in order to better understand their sensitivities to human pressures and confirm / identify the existence of Annex I Sabellaria spinulosa reef and characterising the associated fauna 
  • EUSeaMap (2016) - Provides supporting information on the presence and extent of the sandbank and reef Annex 1 features from a predictive seabed habitat map of European waters.
  • Analysis of Natural England survey data (2008) - Natural England. 2008. SAC Site Selection Assessment: Outer Wash Sandbanks. Contract FST20-18-030. Acquisition of survey data and preparation of site specific briefing statements for draft marine SACs. Report prepared by Entec UK Ltd.

 

Additional relevant literature
References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the SAC Selection Assessment Document available under Relevant Documentation. 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.

  • Collins, M.B., Shimwell, S.J., Gao, S., Powell, H., Hewitson, C. and Taylor, J.A. (1995). Water and sediment movement in the vicinity of linear sandbanks: the Norfolk Banks, southern North Sea. Marine Geology, 123: 125-142

 

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 Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Selection Assessment Document listed in the relevant documents section, please contact JNCC.

 

Conservation Advice

 

Last updated: October 2017

 

Conservation Objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected features of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected features of the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC have been set based on knowledge of the condition of the protected features at the time of writing. Further information on feature condition and conservation objectives is provided in the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef conservation objectives and advice on operations document.

 

This information is useful if you are:

  • Preparing Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) of proposed plans or projects that may affect the site;
  • Planning measures to maintain or restore the site and its qualifying features;
  • Monitoring the condition of the qualifying features; or
  • Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.

 

The conservation objectives for the protected features of the MPA are, subject to natural change, restore the sandbanks and reef to favourable condition, such that the:

  • Natural environmental quality is restored;
  • Natural environmental processes and the extent are maintained; and
  • Physical structure, diversity, community structure and typical species, representative of sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time, in the Southern North Sea, are restored.

 

JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objectives listed above. This supplementary advice will be posted here as and when it becomes available.

 

Advice on operations
In line with Regulation (18) of the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) which apply to the UK’s offshore marine area.  The advice on operations for the protected features of the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC outline current knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place which may have a significant impact on the features for which a site has been selected.

 

The advice on operations is based on JNCC’s scientific knowledge of the biological communities present at the time of writing and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about the biological communities present within the site and their spatial distribution, please see the Evidence tab. Sensitivity information for biological communities identified within the site can also be found on MarLIN’s website.

 

JNCC also provides a list of activities occurring within the site and information on activity management in the Activities and Management tab. This information is also useful when assessing an activity, plan or project which may affect the protected features and JNCC has provided this to aid the cumulative assessment of impacts of human activities within the site. While every attempt has been made to ensure this information is accurate and kept up-to-date, the list is not to be considered exhaustive or definitive. The list does not, for example, include activities occurring off-site which may also be capable of affecting the protected features.  

 

The information contained within the advice on operations, Activities and Management tab, evidence tab, and MarLIN’s sensitivity assessments are useful if you are:

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

 

Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying features and how activities can affect them may change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this and surveillance required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive.  Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available here.

 

Activities and Management

 

Last updated: April 2017

 

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

 

Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission.  Ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required to conclude with confidence the degree to which the site is moving towards its conservation objectives.

 

This site forms part of the UK's contribution to the OSPAR commissions network of MPA's, Europe’s Natura 2000 network and the Emerald network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a signatory to 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 North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC around each of the 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 feature of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing, ‘licensable’ activities, and telecommunication cables.

 

Fisheries

  • There is evidence of mobile demersal, static and pelagic effort within the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC. 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).
  • JNCC have produced a Fisheries Options Paper for North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC to support the MMO in developing management proposals.

 

Licensable activities

  • A considerable number of oil and gas developments take place within this MPA, including many fields, pipelines, wells, surface and subsurface infrastructure.  Extensive oil and gas decommissioning is also taking place within the MPA.
  • There are two areas licensed for aggregate extraction within the MPA.
  • Two dredge disposal sites are located within the MPA boundary, on the Ower and Leman Banks.
  • Several navigational aids are located within the MPA demarking the location of the sandbanks.
  • Our conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
  • 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

  • Three telecommunications cables currently cross 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 monitoring survey was undertaken within the site in 2016.  The data is currently being analysed and more information will be provided under the Monitoring tab as it becomes available.

 

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. The site has a ‘recover’ conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment (exposure to activities associated with pressures to which the protected features of the site are considered sensitive). Site condition monitoring data would improve our confidence in this assessment. Further information will be provided under the assessment tab as it becomes available.


Site Management

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

The MMO have assessed all European Marine Sites within their jurisdiction and created a strategic management table which summarises the overall level of risk facing this site and the management actions being taken forward.


Management Group: MPA Management National Steering Group.

Further information on activities and feature sensitivity to these pressures can be found under the Conservation Advice tab.

 

 

Monitoring

 

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.

 

Information on monitoring of this MPA will be provided when it becomes available.

 

Assessment

 

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.

 

Every six years, Member States are required under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive to report on the Conservation Status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species on the Habitats Directive.  The assessments should consider the habitat or species both within the Natura 2000 network and in the wider sea.  The latest report was submitted by the UK in 2013 and provided a second assessment of the conservation status of relevant habitats and species within UK marine waters during 2007-2012. The next report is for the period 2013-2018 and is due in 2019; information on the condition of features within SACs will make a contribution to this report. 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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