Wight-Barfleur Reef MPA


Status: Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


Wight-Barfleur Reef is an area of bedrock and stony reef located in the central English Channel, between St Catherine’s point on the Isle of Wight and Barfleur Point on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France.


The site is approximately 65km long (east to west) and up to 26km wide. The bedrock and stony reef areas support a diverse range of wildlife including sponges, tube worms, anemones and sea squirts. The south-eastern area of the site contains part of a large geological feature known as a palaeochannel, which forms a major channel running roughly in a north-east to south-west direction across the English Channel.


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 Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.


Protected features

Features Feature Type Conservation Objectives
1170 Reefs Annex 1 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 Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation.

Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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.





Last updated: October 2017


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
Wight-Barfleur Reef is an area of bedrock and stony reef located in the central English Channel, between St Catherine’s point on the Isle of Wight and Barfleur Point on the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France. The site is approximately 65km long (east to west) and up to 26km wide.


The large area of bedrock reef within the site is characterised by a series of well-defined exposed bedrock ridges, up to 4m high. The rock is generally sandstone, mudstone and siltstone, although different regions within the boundary can be distinguished on the basis of the different textures formed by different types of rock.


The southern area of the site is composed of flat, smooth, mudstone and sandstone, with overlying coarse sediment (gravels, cobbles and boulders) which in places forms stony reef.The south-eastern area of the site contains part of a large palaeochannel known as the Northern Palaeovalley, which forms a major channel running roughly north-east to south-west across the English Channel.  In this area the palaeovalley remains largely unfilled by sediment due to the strong currents in the area, and is characterised by a gravel, cobble and boulder substrate which in places forms stony reef.


The bedrock and stony reef areas support a diverse range of reef fauna. There are many types of sponges present, from encrusting sponges to larger branching types. Tube worms, anemones and tunicates (sea squirts) are also common on the large boulders and bedrock. 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: This site has an area of 1,373km2, just over three times the size of its namesake, the Isle of Wight.

Site depth range: The depth ranges from 25m to 100m below sea level, with the deepest areas to the south, and within the palaeovalley which runs along the south-east part of the site.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Eastern Channel.


Site boundary description
The site boundary for Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC has been defined using JNCC’s marine SAC boundary definition guidelines.  The SAC boundary is a simple polygon enclosing the minimum area necessary to ensure protection of the Annex I habitats.  The bedrock reef feature was derived from UKHO survey bathymetry, interpreted following detailed acoustic and biological surveys in the area.


The boundary has been chosen to include the bedrock types in the area that include Annex I reef, based on interpretation of digital survey bathymetric acoustic data and ground-truthing with video. Stony reef has also been recorded in the south-western part of the site, but due to the inherently patchy distribution of stony reef, it is not possible to precisely delineate the extent of reef area here.


The south-east section of the SAC boundary has been drawn along the southern edge of the palaeochannel, to include all recorded occurrence of reef within the channel. The boundary includes a margin to allow for mobile fishing gear on the seabed being at some distance from the location of a vessel at the sea surface. This buffer has been applied to the bedrock feature in the north of the site, and to the individual reef points in the south of the site.




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 Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC Selection Assessment.  JNCC will be adding relevant survey data to the 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/this survey provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.

Survey and data gathering

  • Monitoring Survey of Wight-Barfleur Reef and Bassurelle Sandbank SACs (2017) - This collaborative survey between Cefas and JNCC of Bassurelle Sandbanks SAC and Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC aimed to acquire monitoring data to contribute to the development of a monitoring time-series for these two sites. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course, in the meantime the survey blog is available.
  • Seabed survey of the central English Channel (2006) - As part of the ME1102 Defra contract, Cefas undertook survey work on behalf of JNCC in order to provide information on the distribution, extent and character of potential Annex I Reef habitat within the central English Channel. A 3-day pilot survey in May 2006 (CEND12/06) found widespread evidence of rock outcrops and a subsequent 12-day cruise in July/August 2006 (CEND14/06) conducted further acoustic surveys followed by directed ground-truth sampling using underwater video.


Data analysis reports

  • Characterisation of Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC (2013) - Conducted aboard the RV Cefas Endeavour by Cefas on behalf of JNCC in order to better understand the extent of Annex I reef (both bedrock and stony) within the area. Reporting is underway and will be made available in due course.
  • UKHO Digital Survey Bathymetry data (2006). Using bathymetry to identify basin inversion structures on the English Channel shelf. Geology, 34 (12): 1001-1004. Bathymetric data were available for an extensive part of the central English Channel clearly showing bedform features, and has been used, in combination with rock samples and seismic data, to delineate areas of different rock type.
  • Broadscale mapping of hard substrates in the central English Channel - provides an evidence base to support regional management of aggregate resources. 
  • Mapping Annex I Reefs in the central English Channel - provides evidence to support the selection of candidate 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:


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: February 2017


MPA Conservation Advice

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected features of an MPA. The conservation objectives for the protected feature of the Wight-Barfleur 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 Wight-Barfleur 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 objective for the protected feature of the MPA is subject to natural change, restore the reef to favourable condition such that the:

  • Natural environmental quality is restored;
  • Natural environmental processes are maintained; and
  • Extent, physical structure, diversity and community structure and typical species representative of stony and bedrock reef 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 (21) of the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 which apply to the UK’s offshore marine area. the advice on operations for the protected feature of the Wight-Barfleur 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 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 is available via our offshore MPA conservation advice webpage.


Activities and Management


Last updated: October 2017


Management status: Progressing towards being well managed


The vulnerability assessment conducted for this site suggests it is unlikely to be moving towards its conservation objectives, but directed site condition monitoring data are required to improve our confidence in this assessment. Progress is ongoing with the recommendation of fisheries management proposals to the European Commission.


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 Wight-Barfleur 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.



  • Both mobile and static gears are used in the site. UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area, mainly using pots/traps and pelagic trawls, respectively.
  • The site falls outside the UKs 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.
  • The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures to manage fishing activity. Further information on progress is available via MMO webpages.  


Licensable activities

  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production do not take place within Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC at present, however, there are three plugged and abandoned wells within the site.
  • Any activities or future proposals would have to comply with Article 6(3) of the EU Habitats Directive 1992, which is transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

    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



  • There is one operational submarine cable which runs through the site from east to west.
  • 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. 



  • A major English Channel shipping lane runs through the site longitudinally, plus various cruising routes traverse the site.
  • Under international law (UNCLOS, Article 17), ships have a right of innocent passage at sea, including in areas designated as MPAs. The pressures associated with shipping activity within Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC are not considered likely to impact the protected feature of the site.


Site condition monitoring

Site condition monitoring surveys are yet to take place within this MPA. A research and development monitoring survey will be undertaken in 2017 to conclude with confidence whether the MPA is moving towards or has reached its conservation objectives, 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 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. 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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