Pobie Bank Reef MPA


Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


Pobie Bank Reef is located in the North Sea, approximately 20km east of Shetland, Scotland. The site is approximately 70km long and 21km wide with seabed depth ranging from 70m to 100m.


Click to link to the interactive map

The Pobie Bank Reef site lies across the 12nm territorial sea limit. Advice on this MPA is therefore jointly delivered with Scottish Natural Heritage.


The reef is composed of a combination of stony and bedrock reef and in the central section of the reef there are very large, rugged bedrock outcrops. The reef provides a habitat to an extensive community of encrusting and robust sponges and bryozoans, which are found throughout the site. These include encrusting coralline algae, cup sponges, and bryozoans in the shallower areas; and small erect sponges, cup corals and brittlestars in the deeper areas.


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: EU Habitats Directive 1992 transposed into UK law by the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended)
and Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations (Habitat Regulations) 2010 (territorial waters)


Protected features

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
1170 Reefs Annex I Habitat* Maintain or restore the feature in/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 Pobie Bank Reef.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation.


Pobie Bank Reef SAC timeline


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Pobie Bank Reef 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.





Last updated: October 2017


Information for this site summary was adapted from the SAC Selection Assessment and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced. Please refer to this document in the Relevant Documentation for further details and information sources.


Site overview

Pobie Bank Reef is located in the North Sea, approximately 20 km east of Unst, Fetlar and Whalsey in Shetland and is separated from Shetland by the Unst Basin. The cSAC is approximately 70 km long (crest running NNE to SSW) and up to 21 km wide. The depth within the cSAC ranges from 70 m to over 100 m; the average seabed depth within the site boundary is approximately 90 m. The reef is located on a bank of metamorphic and sedimentary rocks covered by a patchy veneer of sediment, ranging from sandy gravels to slightly gravelly sands. The bank overlays a flat plain of sedimentary rock, known as the East of Shetland Platform.  The reef is composed of a combination of stony and bedrock reef which meet the definition of the Annex I habitat type 1170: Reef, under the EC Habitats Directive.

In the central section of the reef, very large, rugged bedrocks outcrop from areas of sand and this represents the most topographically complex area. In most areas these outcrops are surrounded by large boulders and cobbles in a sandy matrix. Towards the north and south of the reef, bedrock outcrops are smoother and integrated with extensive areas of stony reef. The bedrock and boulders provide reef habitat for a variety of species. Bedrock reef is more widespread on Pobie Bank Reef above 100m depth where the rugged rocky outcrops occur. Stony reef appears to predominate around the eastern margins of the bedrock, particularly in lower-lying ground between outcrops. Much of the SAC is most accurately described as a mixture of these two reef types.

The reef provides a habitat to an extensive community of encrusting and robust sponges and bryozoans, which are found throughout the site. In the shallowest areas the bedrock and boulders also support encrusting coralline algae. Axinellid cup sponges (Axinella infundibuliformis) are common on the bedrock and stony reef at depth ranges of 70m to over 100m. The bryozoan Omalosecosa ramulosa is also common on these reefs, but this species is rare in inshore sites in this regional sea. In the deepest areas (>100 m), low-lying silty bedrock is commonplace, supporting small erect sponges, cup corals (Caryophyllia smithii) and the brittlestar Ophiura albida. 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:  966 km2

Site depth range:  58m below sea level on the top of the bank feature, down to 137m below sea level at its base.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea.


Site boundary description

The proposed boundary is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitat, As any bottom trawling that occurs in the area may pose a threat to the reef, the SAC boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface. The maximum depth of water around the feature is approximately 100m; assuming a ratio of 3:1 fishing warp length to depth on the continental shelf, the boundary is defined to include a margin of 300m from the bedrock and stony reef feature.
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.




Last updated: October 2017


The full overview of the various data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the Pobie Bank Reef SAC 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

  • JNCC survey of the Pobie Bank Reef SAC (2013) - JNCC commissioned a survey of The Pobie Bank Reef SAC in 2013 to collate further ground-truthing data on the presence and extent of the Annex I reef feature. This JNCC survey was carried out in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Surveys (2005 & 2006) - The SEA surveys (SEA5 and SEA SAC 2006) were commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)). These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, acquired multibeam and sidescan sonar data, Groundtruthing data (seabed imagery and biological/sediment samples) was also collected.  Although full coverage multibeam and sidescan data was not present for all locations where potential Annex I reef was indicated the available data has provided a good indication of the nature of Annex I reef habitat present within Pobie Bank Reef cSAC.

Data analysis reports

  • Interpretation of Pobie Bank East of Shetland for Annex I Reef (2009) - Foster-smith et al. (2009) analysed the data collected through the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) 5 2005 and SEA SAC 2006 surveys to identify areas of Annex I reef in the Pobie Bank Reef SAC. The results support the presence of three rocky biotopes: (1) Faunal and algal crusts on exposed to moderately wave-exposed circalittoral rock (CR.MCR.EcCr.FaAlCr), (2) Phakellia ventilabrum and Axinellid sponges on deep, wave-exposed circalittoral rock (CR.HCR.DpSp.PhaAxi) and (3) Caryophyllia smithii, sponges and crustose communities.
  • Geological Data Interpretation of the Reef East of Shetland (Pobie Bank) (2008) - Green et al. (2008) undertook a review of historic geophysical data to provide a more accurate determination of the spatial extent of Annex I reef habitat within the area of Pobie Bank Reef. 


Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Selection Assessment Document. 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, or the Pobie Bank 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 feature(s) of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the Pobie Bank Reef 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 Pobie Bank 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; 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 is:
subject to natural change, maintain or restore the reef in/to favourable condition, such that:

  • the natural environmental quality and processes supporting the habitat;
  • the extent of the habitat on site;
  • the physical structure, community structure , function, diversity and distribution of the habitat and typical species representative of the reef in the Northern North Sea regional sea;

maintained or restored, thereby ensuring the integrity of the site and also making an appropriate contribution to favourable conservation status of the Annex 1 habitats.


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 and Regulation 33(2) of Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended in Scotland) which apply to Scotland’s inshore waters, the advice on operations for the protected feature of the Pobie Bank Reef 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 and Scottish Natural Heritage’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 and Scottish Natural Heritage 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 here.


Activities and Management


Last updated: October 2017


Management status: Progressing towards being well managed


Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission. Directed 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 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 Pobie Bank 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 feature of the site is considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and ‘licensable’ activities.



  • There is evidence of mobile demersal and pelagic fishing activity 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 Pobie Bank Reef 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
Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. Further information will be made available under the monitoring tab in due course.


Assessment of progress towards conservation objectives
No long-term condition monitoring data is available to determine whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives. Further information will be provided under the assessment tab as it becomes available.




Last updated: 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.




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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