North East of Farnes Deep MPA


Status: Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)Click to link to the interactive map

(Formerly known as ‘Rock Unique’)

The North East of Farnes Deep is located approximately 55km offshore from the north Northumberland coast, in the northern North Sea.  The MCZ is located in an area of predominantly sandy sediment, and also includes patches of gravelly sand and mud.


The habitats within the MCZ are relatively stable and support a diverse range of marine flora and fauna such as anemones, worms, molluscs echinoderms and fish species. 

Additional features were designated within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ in January 2016. These include the broad-scale habitats Subtidal mixed sediments and Subtidal mud, and the species Feature of Conservation Importance (FOCI) Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica).  

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



Map displaying the MPA boundary

View and download spatial data for this MPA

on the JNCC UK MPA interactive map.


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


Protected Features:

EUNIS Code: Protected Features Feature Type General Management Approach
(to achieve conservation objective)
A5.1: Subtidal coarse sediment Broad-Scale Habitat    

Maintain in Favourable Condition

A5.2: Subtidal sand Broad-Scale Habitat

Maintain in Favourable Condition

A5.4: Subtidal mixed sediments Broad-Scale Habitat Maintain in Favourable Condition
A5.3: Subtidal Mud Broad-Scale Habitat Maintain in Favourable Condition
Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) Species Feature of Conservation Importance Maintain in Favourable Condition


Conservation Objectives
The overarching conservation objectives for the designated features of all protected sites in UK offshore waters is to ensure they either remain in, or reach favourable condition. The ability of a designated feature to remain in, or reach favourable condition can be affected by its sensitivity to pressures associated with activities taking place within or in close proximity to a protected site.

Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this MCZ 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 the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ.  More detail can be found within the relevant documentation listed below.

North East of Farnes Deep MCZ designation Timeline

Relevant documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ 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.

Further information about the Marine Conservation Zone site selection process and historic MCZ advice is available on the JNCC MCZ pages.



Site overview

The North East of Farnes Deep MCZ includes an area of mixed sediments, predominantly consisting of subtidal sand interspersed with areas of subtidal coarse sediment and gravels.  Subtidal mud is also present; the mixture of sediment types within the MCZ creates a dynamic seabed environment that hosts a diverse ecosystem. The site depth ranges between 50m to 100m below chart datum; the deepest section of the site runs parallel to the western boundary and the shallowest section is in the south-east quarter. 

Formerly known as Rock Unique, much of the data used to originally identify the site came from maps based on habitat models, primarily UK SeaMap 2010.  However, a survey led by Cefas and JNCC in 2012 designed to verify the presence of the predicted habitats, recorded a somewhat different distribution of habitats present from the modelled maps.  This resulted in some changes to the features found in the site, notably the absence of low energy circalittoral rock resulted in the change of site name to North East of Farnes Deep MCZ.  Further inspection of the modelled data indicates that the rock could be buried by a layer of sediment, explaining its apparent absence from survey data. 

An updated habitat map has been prepared as a result of the 2012 survey, revealing that subtidal mixed sediments occupy almost half of the MCZ, and subtidal sand and subtidal coarse sediment each occupy approximately a quarter of the total site area, with a small area of subtidal mud present in the west of the site.  A total of 410 infaunal and 39 epifaunal species were recorded during the 2012 survey, including the long lived Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) which is a species Features of Conservation Importance (FOCI) listed in the Ecological Network Guidance

During the first tranche of MCZs (2013) two features were designated in North East of Farnes Deep MCZ; A5.1 Subtidal coarse sediment and A5.2 Subtidal sand. Using information obtained within the 2012 survey, JNCC advised Defra on additional features which could be designated within this MCZ. In the second tranche of MCZs (2016) some of the additional features were designated. These included the broad-scale habitats Subtidal mud and Subtidal mixed sediments, as well as  the species FOCI Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica).

Data collected from within the MCZ boundary provides a comprehensive overview of the species present.  Several species of sponge were identified on the coarse sediment habitats, as well as hydroids, species of anemones, and different types of polychaete (worms). A range of crustacean species including barnacles (Verruca stroemia), amphipods (Atylidae and Paraphoxus sp), and squat lobsters (Galathea intermedia) were present in relatively large numbers across the extent of the MCZ.  Several species of fish were also observed in video samples taken from across the MCZ, including Dragonets (Callionymus lyra), Hagfish (Myxine glutinosa) and flatfish.

The North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is included in the MPA network for its contribution to the conservation of broad-scale habitats. Although not designated features of the site, geological/geomorphological features are also present in the form of depositional glacial features and topographic features of the North-East Bank seabed mound or pinnacle.

Further detail on the evidence for this MCZ/can be found on the Evidence tab.

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

Site area:  492 km2

Site depth range:  The site depth ranges between 50m to 100m below chart datum; the deepest section of the site runs parallel to the western boundary and the shallowest section is in the south-east quarter. 

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Northern North Sea

Site boundary description
The boundary of the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is a simple rectangle, with the longest boundaries aligned broadly north-south.  The site boundary is the same as that proposed by the Net Gain Project, and includes broad-scale habitats that encompass coarse and sandy sediment ecosystems.

The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Evidence tab. Please refer to this section for further details and information sources.



Site specific data
There are a range of data that underpin this MCZ. The full overview of these data used to support site identification, along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in the JNCC advice on offshore Marine Conservation Zones proposed for designation in 2013, as well as the JNCC pre-consultation and post-consultation scientific advice for Tranche Two offshore Marine Conservation Zones proposed for designation in 2016.

JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MCZ to the JNCC interactive MPA map in due course.

Some of the data for this MCZ 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

  • North East of Farnes Deep MCZ Verification Survey - 2012
    JNCC collaborated on an MCZ verification survey with Cefas to North East of Farnes Deep MCZ funded through the MB0120 Defra data collection programme (reporting is underway and will be made available in due course).  Video, images and acoustic data were collected across the site.
  • EUSeaMap - 2011
    Cameron, A. and Askew, N. (eds)., 2011. EUSeaMap - Preparatory Action for development and assessment of a European broad-scale seabed habitat map final report. A predictive seabed habitat mapping report for European waters, offering supporting information on the presence and extent of sedimentary features within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ.
  • British Geological Survey Particle Size Analysis (PSA) Data Points
    Particle Size Analysis of historical data was collated and used to identify habitat type within the MCZ.


Data analysis reports
Further analysis of data gathered as part of teh surveys listed above are available via the following reports:

  • Analysis of 2012 North East of Farnes Deep MCZ survey data - 2012
    Cefas undertook analysis of the data collected on the 2012 survey of the North East of Farnes East MCZ.  The data, analysed as part of the MB0120 Defra contract, led to the creation of a revised habitat map that has been used to inform the presence of broad-scale habitats and habitat FOCI within the MCZ.  This report is not yet published. 
  • Community analysis of North East of Farnes Deep MCZ data - 2014
    JNCC contracted Seastar Survey Ltd to complete a community analysis of offshore MCZ grab and video data to establish biotopes. The following European Nature Information System (EUNIS) biotopes were assigned after mutlivariate analysis of the 2012 survey data. The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland (version 15.03, JNCC 2015) has been provided in brackets.

                EUNIS Level 4 habitats                    

                         A5.15: Deep Circalittoral coarse sediment (SS.SCS.OCS)

                         A5.27: Deep circalittoral sand (SS.SSa.OSa)

                         A5.44: Circalittoral mixed sediments (SS.SMx.CMx)

                         A5.45: Deep circalittoral mixed sediments (SS.SMx.OMx)

                 EUNIS Level 5 biotopes

                          A5.251: Echinocyamus pusillus, Ophelia borealis and Abra prismatica in circalittoral fine sand (SS.SSa.CFiSa.EpusOberApri):

                          A5.272: Owenia fusiformis and Amphiura filiformis in deep circalittoral sand or muddy sand (SS.SSa.OSa.OfusAfil)

                          A5.451: Polychaete-rich deep Venus community in offshore mixed sediments (SS.SMx.OMx.PoVen)

                          A5.27x: Seapens and burrowing megafauna in fine deep circalittoral sand (SS.SSa.OSa.SpnMac) This is a new biotope identified within this study, it closely resembles SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg, however the associated sediment had a more significant sand contribution and was therefore assigned a new biotope for consideration.


A more detailed account of the biotopes found within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is available in the published report.


References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the annexes of our advice.


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 East of Farnes Deep Site Summary Document, or the annexes of the MCZ advice documents, please contact JNCC.



MPA Conservation Advice

Conservation Objectives

Conservation objectives set out the desired state for the protected feature(s) of an MPA.

The conservation objectives for the protected features of an MPA are useful if you are:

  • planning measures to conserve the site and its protected features;
  • monitoring the condition of the protected features; or
  • developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the protected features of the site.

The Conservation Objectives for the protected features of the MCZ are:

Subject to natural change, the Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments and Subtidal mud features are to remain in or be brought into favourable condition, such that:

  • its extent is stable or increasing; and
  • its structures and functions, its quality, and the composition of its characteristic biological communities are such as to ensure that it is in a condition which is healthy and not deteriorating.

Subject to natural change, the Ocean quahog feature is to remain in or be bought into favourable condition, such that:

  • the quality and extent of its habitats is stable or increasing, and
  • the population structure allows numbers to be maintained or increased

More information regarding the conservation objectives for the protected features of the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is available in the site Designation Order. In addition to the conservation objectives above, General Management Approaches (GMAs) have been set by JNCC for each feature which provide a view as to whether a feature needs to be maintained in or be brought into favourable condition i.e. recover, based on our knowledge about its condition. For more information on the General Management Approach for MCZs see Defra’s MCZ Designation Explanatory Note.

The GMAs for the protected features of the MPA are:

Subtidal coarse sediment: Maintain in favourable condition
Subtidal sand: Maintain in favourable condition
Subtidal mixed sediments: Maintain in favourable condition
Subtidal mud: Maintain in favourable condition
Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica): Maintain in favourable condition

More information on the GMA for the features in the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is provided in JNCC’s Tranche One post-consultation advice and the Tranche Two pre-consultation and post-consultation scientific advice to Defra.


Advice on operations 

Section 127 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) states that JNCC may provide advice and guidance regarding matters capable of damaging or otherwise affecting the protected features of an MCZ.

JNCC has published the following advice on activities which are capable of damaging or otherwise affecting protected features in MCZs:

JNCC provides a list of activities occurring within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ and information on management within the activities and management tab. 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.

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 the protected features within the site can be found in a Technical Report (Tillen et al., 2010) commissioned by Defra to support the MCZ designation process.

The information contained within the data and evidence tab, the activities and management tab, the above Technical Report report and the advice listed above on activities which are capable of damaging or otherwise affecting the protected features in Tranche 1 MCZs are useful if you are:

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

Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the protected features of the site and how activities can affect them may change over time. Similarly the activities taking place within the site may also change over time. JNCC’s conservation advice will be kept under review and will be periodically updated to reflect this. Further information on JNCC’s conservation advice work is available here.



Activities known to be currently occurring within this MPA

(Activities information correct as of December 2015)


Licensed activities:

  • Oil and gas – although there is not currently believed to be any oil and gas activity taking place within the MCZ at the current time, the site does overlap DECC licensed blocks and so may be subject to oil and gas activity in the future. 

Existing licensed activities that take place or may take place in the future within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ will continue to be managed in line with relevant legislation and application processes by the competent authorities.  Information on JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on the offshore industries advice webpages


  • At present, otter trawling, beam trawling, seine and set netting, purse seine, pelagic trawls and long-lining takes place within the MCZ. Defra is leading discussions with both UK and non-UK stakeholders regarding management options for fishing activity within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ. 

Fisheries operating within the site are subject to all fisheries management under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). However there is no site-specific fisheries management currently in place to protect the designated features of this site. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is leading discussions regarding the development of management for sites on a regional basis. A workshop involving national and international stakeholders was held for North Sea sites in August 2014.  The workshop was attended by industry representatives from the UK and Netherlands and environmental NGOs. Additional workshops will be held in 2015 to engage with further stakeholders. JNCC have provided a Fisheries Options Paper  for North East of Farnes Deep MCZ to support these discussions. Following engagement with stakeholders, MMO will draw up management proposals to submit to the European Commission.

Where they are required, Defra is aiming for fisheries management measures for North East of Farnes Deep MCZ to be in place in 2016. The site falls outside the UK’s 12 nautical mile limit and is to be exclusively managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. In accordance with Article 18 of the revised CFP, requests for management will be developed jointly between the UK Government and any Member States with a direct management interest in the area affected. Once drafted, there is a requirement to consult the relevant Advisory Council (North Sea AC) prior to submission of any final recommendations to the European Commission. MMO will be the lead authority regarding implementation and compliance of any measures.

Other activities:

  • Shipping – Low density shipping routes overlap the MCZ, however, considering the location of the site, it is unlikely that vessels with anchor within the MCZ. 

Under international law, ships have a right of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPAs (unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an International Maritime Organisation measure).  The pressures associated with shipping activity within the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.

  • Ministry of Defence (MoD) activity - Low level military activity may take place within the MCZ. 

The MoD have incorporated all designated MPAs into their Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) and wider Marine Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool. These guidelines are used to manage MOD activity to minimise the associated risks to the environment.


Site Management

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

Management Group: MPA Management National Steering Group

Further information on conservation advice relating to the North East of Farnes Deep MCZ is available under the Conservation Advice tab




MPA Monitoring

JNCC is currently leading on the development of a strategy for biodiversity monitoring across all UK waters, to include MPA monitoring. For MPAs, data and evidence collected from monitoring activities will aim to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Enable assessment of the degree to which management measures are effective in achieving the conservation objectives for the protected features;
  • Support the identification of priorities for future protection and/or management; and,
  • Enable Government to fulfil its national and international assessment and reporting commitments in relation to MPAs and help identify where further action may be required.

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



MPA Assessment

Assessments of the condition of designated features in offshore MPAs are required to report against our legal obligations. Ideally these assessments should be based on observed data, and then measured against targets for predefined indicators. However, for MPAs in offshore waters we do not always have the appropriate information to be able to do so. This is particularly true for seabed habitats, which are the main type of feature designated for protection in offshore MPAs. 

To address these challenges, JNCC has been an active partner in the development of new approaches and tools for the assessment of habitats and species for a variety of national and international status reports. They include the second cycle of the Conservation Status Assessment reports under the EU Habitats Directive, Charting Progress 2 (CP2) and the OSPAR Quality Status Report (QSR). JNCC continues to develop and pilot tools for the assessment of marine habitats and species in offshore waters to improve the quality and transparency of our offshore MPA assessments, and contribute to the monitoring of marine biodiversity in UK waters. These tools cover methods for producing interim assessments of site features and their responses to pressures, as well as developing more robust indicators for determining condition of the features.

Under the UK Marine & Coastal Access (2009), JNCC is required to report to Ministers on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have been achieved.  Every 6 years from 2012, the Marine Act requires a report setting out how MCZs have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network as a whole. 

The assessments of features within MPAs will also feed into six yearly reports on the state of the marine environment under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020.




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