North West Rockall Bank MPA

 

Status: Special Area of Conservation  (SAC)

 

Rockall Bank is an offshore bank situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400km west of the Outer Hebrides. Rockall Bank is potentially one of the most extensive areas for biogenic reef formed by cold-water coral species in UK waters.

 

The North West area of the Rockall Bank has been included as a SAC for two types of Annex I reef habitat – biogenic and stony. The site includes iceberg ploughmarks, which are a type of Annex I stony reef habitat that consist of lines of cobbles and boulders with a sediment-filled furrow between. The associated biological communities are dependent on this mixed sediment and stony substratum, rather than on the underlying bedrock. Notable species include erect bryozoa Reteporella sp., solitary corals Caryophyllia sp, serpulid worms and many types of sponges including globose, tubular, cup and encrusting varieties. Interdispersed with the stony reef throughout the site are sizeable patches of Annex I biogenic reef comprised primarily of Lophelia pertusa and associated species. Madrepora oculata (another cold-water coral species) are also present.

 

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

Click to link to the interactive map

 

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: 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

* 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. 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 West Rockall Bank SAC.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation.

North West Rockall Bank SAC timeline


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North West Rockall Bank 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

 

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

Rockall Bank is an offshore bank situated in the North-East Atlantic, approximately 400 kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides. It is oriented northeast to southwest, and is approximately 450 kilometres in length and 200 kilometres wide. Depth ranges from over 1000m at the base of the Rockall Bank, to 200m across much of the top. The centre of the bank breaks the surface forming a rocky island outcrop around 25 metres wide and 20 metres high. On account of their sheer size, oceanic banks such as Rockall cause deviation of ocean currents along their flanks. This facilitates the colonization of habitat-forming corals which depend on a consistent supply of current-transported organic matter and zooplankton. Rockall Bank is potentially one of the most extensive sites for biogenic reef formed by cold water coral species in UK waters.

 

The North West area of the Rockall Bank is covered in a layer of fine sediment, gravel, cobbles and boulders of glacial origin, some of which is shaped into characteristic ‘ploughmark’ formations by icebergs during the last ice age. These iceberg ploughmarks are a variant of Annex I stony reef and consist of lines of cobbles and boulders with a sediment-filled furrow between. The associated biological communities are dependent on this mixed sediment and stony substratum, rather than on the underlying bedrock. Notable species include sessile fauna such as erect bryozoa e.g. Reteporella sp., solitary corals e.g. Caryophyllia sp, serpulid worms and many types of sponge including globose, tubular, cup and encrusting varieties. Squat lobsters (Munida rugosa), sea cucumbers (Parastichopus tremulus) and the bluemouth red fish (Helicolenus dactylopterus) are also present.

 

Included within areas of stony reef are sizeable patches of Annex I biogenic reef comprising the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa and associated species, including erect sponges and the pencil urchin Cidaris cidaris. Stands of Madrepora oculata, another cold water coral species, are also present. Evidence from the 1970s suggests that areas of Lophelia pertusa reef up to 30m in diameter existed on the North West Rockall Bank, though more recent surveys (albeit at different locations in this region) have recorded reefs smaller in size. Cobble rubble surrounds the living reefs in many places, and supports fauna such as the squat lobster Munida rugosa, the holothurian Parastichopus tremulus, brittle stars and encrusting yellow sponges.

Further detail on the evidence for this cSAC/SCI 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:  4,365 km²

Site depth range:  Depth of the site ranges from 428m below sea level at the base of the bank feature, to 102m below sea level along the top of the crest of the bank.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faeroe/Shetland Channel.

 

Site boundary description
The boundary is a relatively simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitats, and is defined by whole degrees, minutes and seconds. The boundary definition guidelines indicate that where interest features are at risk from bottom trawling, a margin should be included in the proposed boundary to ensure their protection. It is notable that the site boundary follows, for the most part, the boundary of the EU Common Fisheries Policy and North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission demersal fishing closure (EC Regulation No 40/2008, NEAFC Recommendation IX-2008) (see Activities and Management tab for updates).

 

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 West Rockall Bank cSAC/SCI Selection 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 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 

  • Deep-water surveys off north and west Scotland (2011) - JNCC contributed to a survey by the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) to areas of conservation interest (including North-West Rockall SAC) in deep waters off north and west Scotland.  The overall objectives of the survey were to investigate the response of deep-sea benthic ecosystems to spatial and temporal variability in environmental parameters.
  • Mapping seabed habitats and Annex I Reef (2011) - JNCC joined a Marine Scotland Science survey of the Haddock stock of the Rockall Plateau. Video and acoustic surveys mapped seabed habitats and coral reef within North-West Rockall.
  • Broadscale habitat survey and Mapping of Annex I reef habitat at Rockall Bank (2005-2008) - JNCC and the University of Plymouth opportunistically joined four Marine Scotland Science fisheries research cruises, in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, to collect video footage and stills. The aim was to confirm the presence and map the distribution of Annex I reef habitat on Rockall Bank and to propose a possible boundary for a Marine Protected Area.

 

Data analysis reports

  • Deep-water surveys off north and west Scotland (2011) - JNCC commissioned Plymouth University and the National Oceanography Centre to analyse the biological data from the 2011 survey, and information is available in Howell et al (2014). This analysis will contribute to the provision of advice on the condition and long-term monitoring plans for North-West Rockall Bank SAC.
  • Broadscale survey and Mapping of Annex I reef habitat at Rockall Bank (2005-2008) - The 2005-2008 JNCC and University of Plymouth survey data was analysed by Howell et al (2009). The aim of the study was to confirm the presence and map the distribution of Annex I reef habitat on Rockall Bank and to propose possible boundaries for SACs. 

 

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

  • Robert, K., Jones, D.O.B., Huvenne, V.A.I. (2014). Megafaunal distribution and biodiversity in a heterogeneous landscape: the iceberg scoured Rockall Bank, NE Atlantic. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 501: 67-88. Examines the heterogeneity of deep sea environments and their consequent biodiversity. The authors find that biodiversity increases as environmental variability increases. Seafloor heterogeneity is proposed as a proxy for biological diversity where evidence is limited as it is more easily surveyed (using acoustic techniques).
  • Masson. D., Bett. B.J., Billett. D.S.M., Jacobs. C.L.,Wheeler. A.J. and Wynn. R.B. (2003).The origin of deep-water, coral-topped mounds in the northern Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic. Marine Geology, 194: 59-180. Examines the origin of sea mounds and their relationship with cold-water coral distribution in the northern Rockall trough. The study concludes that the elevation of the mounds is key to colonisation by cold-water corals.

 

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: October 2017

 

Conservation objectives
Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the North West Rockall Bank SAC has been set based on knowledge of the condition of the protected feature at the time of writing. Further information on feature condition and conservation objectives is provided in the North West Rockall Bank SAC Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations.

 

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; and/or
  • Developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.

 

The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the MPA issubject to natural change, restore the reef to favourable condition, such that the:

  • Natural environmental quality is maintained;
  • Natural environmental processes are maintained; and
  • Extent, physical structure, diversity, community structure and typical species representative of stony and biogenic reef in the Rockall Trough and Bank Regional Sea are restored.

 

JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the relatively broad, high level conservation objective 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 feature of the North West Rockall Bank SAC outline current knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place which may have a significant impact on the feature 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; and/or
  • 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. Conservation advice for sites which straddle the 12nm boundary will continue to be developed jointly with the relevant country nature conservation body. Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available via our offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.

 

Activities and Management

 

Last updated: October 2017

 

Management status: Progressing towards being well managed

 

Fisheries are subject to regulation under the EU Common Fisheries Policy within this site.

There is evidence to suggest that some damage to the biogenic reef might have occurred in areas of the site as large coral rubble fields, which could be the result of trawling activities, have been observed (Howell et al., 2014). No visible signs of recovery from this damage was apparent. As long-term condition monitoring data are not available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards its conservation objectives, ongoing site condition monitoring work will be required in order to make these conclusions.

 

This site forms part of the UKs contribution to the OSPAR commissions network of MPAs, 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-West Rockall 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 feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and ‘licensable’ activities.

 

Fisheries

  • Fisheries are subject to regulation under the EU Common Fisheries Policy within this site. It is prohibited to conduct bottom trawling or fishing with static gear including bottom set gillnets and bottom set longlines within the site, as prescribed in Regulation (EU) No. 227/2013 amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 850/98 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juvenile marine organisms.
  • This closure was imposed following recommendations from North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission for measures for the protection of vulnerable deep sea habitats (EC Regulation No 40/2008, NEAFC Recommendation IX-2008).  The most updated  recommendation is Recommendation 19-2014: Protection of VMEs in NEAFC Regulatory Areas as Amended by Recommendation 09:2015, available at https://www.neafc.org/rec/2014/19.
  • 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 North-West Rockall SAC at present, any future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by the offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats& c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended).
  • 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 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

 

Site condition monitoring

Fishing vessel monitoring data are used to monitor compliance with the management measure in place. Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available under the Monitoring tab.

 

Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives

No long-term condition monitoring data are available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives.  The site has a ‘restore’ conservation objective based on the findings of a vulnerability assessment which suggests the site is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives.

 

Howell et al., 2014, suggest that some damage to the biogenic reef (Lophelia pertusa) might have occurred as large rubble fields, which could be the result of trawling activities, were observed frequently in two video transects. Some trawl marks were visible in the video imagery and in the high-resolution sidescan sonar maps, but it was not possible to determine when the damage might have occurred.  The report states that ‘no visible signs of recovery from this trawling damage were apparent (e.g. recolonisation of coral rubble or boulders, signs of coral recruitment) which further support the ‘restore’ conservation objective set for this site’. Further information will be provided under the Assessment 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 and the OSPAR Quality Status Report. 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, which aims to achieve Good Environmental Status by 2020.

 

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