North Channel MPA

Status: Candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC)Click to link to the interactive map

 

Roughly the size of County Fermanagh, the North Channel cSAC has been identified for the protection of harbour porpoise. This site includes locations where some of the largest groups of harbour porpoise have been observed around Northern Ireland.

 

Habitats within the site consist mainly of coarse or sandy sediments, with patches of rock and mud. Water depths reach a maximum of 150m along the eastern boundary, but much of the site lies between 10m and 40m. The site covers important winter habitat for harbour porpoise and extends from the coast into offshore waters.

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

 

 

 

North Channel boundary.

Click on the image to link to the

MPA mapper and boundary downloads

 

Harbour Porpoise ©Neil Golding

Legislation behind the designation: European Commission Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as the 'Habitats Directive'.

 

The EU Habitats Directive (1992) was transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) within 12 nautical miles (nm), and the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) between 12nm out to 200nm or the UK Continental Shelf.

 

Protected Features:

Features Feature Type Management Unit Conservation Objectives

Harbour porpoise

Phocoena phocoena

        Annex II Species        

Celtic and Irish Seas

Management Unit

Maintain site integrity

 

Conservation Objectives
To avoid deterioration of the habitats of the harbour porpoise or significant disturbance to the harbour porpoise, thus ensuring that the integrity of the site is maintained and the site makes an appropriate contribution to maintaining Favourable Conservation Status for the UK harbour porpoise.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of the North Channel cSAC.  More detail can be found within the relevant documentation or in the information tabs listed below.

HP SAC Timeline

 


Relevant documentation

Some documents linked below relating to the North Channel cSAC were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may not be updated from point of designation in January 2017. This Site Information Centre is the most up to date source of information for this site and will reflect any additional information gathered since our advice to Government in September 2016.

Site documents:

  • SAC Selection Assessment Document (2017) – a detailed overview of the cSAC, designated feature and rationale for site selection.
  • Draft Conservation Objectives, Advice on Activities and Management Options package - The package provides the conservation objectives for the site; the activities occurring within or close to the site with the associated level of risk to harbour porpoise; and consideration of management options for these pressures. This document is still in draft as it was produced for the public consultation and is currently under review. Updated documents will be posted here when available.
  • Draft Impact Assessment - a socio-economic impact assessment of the harbour porpoise cSACs designated in January 2017. This document is still in draft as it was produced for the public consultation and is currently under review. Updated documents will be posted here when available.
  • Natura Standard Data Form – official site information submitted to the European Commission.

Post-consultation report:

Identification and selection process:

Further documents relating to the evidence and analysis can be found on the Evidence tab, whilst documents published during the public consultation in 2016 can be found on the archived consultation page. Information about the SAC site selection process is available on the JNCC SAC pages.

Select the tabs below for further information:



 

Site overview
Located along the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, the North Channel cSAC has been identified as an important winter area for harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena, supporting an estimated 1.2% of the UK Celtic and Irish Seas Management Unit (MU) population.  Although small compared to most of the harbour porpoise cSACs, this site, with an area of 1 604 km2, supports areas where large groups of up to 100 harbour porpoise have been sighted and are considered to be the best porpoise watching locations in Northern Ireland.

Habitats within the site consist mainly of coarse or sandy sediments, with patches of rock and mud. Water depths reach a maximum of 150m along the eastern boundary, but much of the site lies between 10m and 40m. 85% of the site lies in Northern Irish inshore waters (0 – 12 nm from shore), hence, both the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), and JNCC are responsible for producing statutory advice for this site.

Survey data collated through the Joint Cetacean Protocol (JCP) were analysed to identify areas with persistently high harbour porpoise occurrence. The modelled outputs of this analysis demonstrate that the North Channel cSAC persistently contains densities of porpoises which are within the top 10% of those for the Management Unit during winter. .

Included within this site is a 2 x 8km strip, extending along the coast from Mew island in the south to Island Magee in the north. This section of the site was supported by land-based sightings data, validated and stored by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

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

Site location:

The boundary of this cSAC is available to view and download via the JNCC MPA Mapper. Coordinates for this cSAC are available from the Selection Assessment Document listed in the Relevant Documentation

Site area:

This site has an area of 1,604km2

Site depth range:

The site ranges from Mean Low Water to 150m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region:

Irish Sea region
 

Site boundary description
The North Channel cSAC boundary was defined based on predicted areas with high densities of harbour porpoise identified through data modelling over an 18-year period. As a general principle, site boundaries were drawn tightly around the qualifying feature. The seaward boundaries were drawn using straight lines where possible; however, a balance was needed between more-complex site shapes drawn tightly around the feature and simple square/rectangular boundaries, so that the area of ‘non-interest-feature’ within the boundary was reduced. Further boundary principles were developed due to the nature of the modelled output. The modelling approach used 5 x 5 km grids, and so the model output was “blocky”, and further boundary smoothing methods were applied to simplify the boundary, without altering the site area by more than 5%. Coastal edges were defined by the “Mean Low Water” (MLW) tide line.

The information for this site summary was adapted from documents listed in the Relevant Documentation section and incorporates any further information gathered since these documents were produced.

 

A range of data  underpin this cSAC as described below. Given the extensive range and mobility of harbour porpoise,  analyses to underpin site identification were completed at a UK scale; localised datasets were not used in isolation to define the boundaries of this cSAC.

Two types of data have been analysed to investigate harbour porpoise persistent densities in UK waters; these are effort-related sea-based data (collected from ships and aircraft) and effort-related land-based data (collect from coastal locations).

  • Sea-based data were collated through the Joint Cetacean Protocol (JCP), created in 2004, which is amongst the largest collation of standardised survey data on harbour porpoise in the world, comprising 39 data sources with data from at least 545 distinct survey platforms (ships and aircraft), representing over 1 million km of survey effort (coverage) over an 18-year period from 1994-2011. DHI (UK) Ltd. (DHI) were contracted by JNCC to undertake an analysis of these data in order to identify persistent areas of higher harbour porpoise density around the UK.
  • Land-based survey data were compiled from a wide range of UK sources; this was part of a contract with a consortium led by Sea Watch Foundation to analyse these data as an aid to identifying coastal areas of importance to harbour porpoises. Data for the analyses came from 678 locations and amounted to over 75,000 hours of survey effort and around 50,000 sightings over a 20-year period (1994-2014).

The survey data analysis outputs clearly identify the North Channel cSAC as an area of persistent high density of porpoises in relation to other areas, and therefore of importance to the species.

For further information on the data used and the process applied to identify the cSAC, please consult the North Channel Selection Assessment Document, and Section two of ‘The use of harbour porpoise sightings data to inform the development of Special Areas of Conservation in UK waters’ (JNCC report 565), linked below. Further documents are also listed below in support of the identification of the North Channel cSAC:

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the North Channel cSAC Selection Assessment Document. 

 

Additional relevant literature

  • Management Units for cetaceans in UK waters (JNCC report No. 547, 2015): Description of the Management Units (MUs) for the seven most common cetacean species in UK waters, including harbour porpoise. The Management Unit is the spatial scale defined as the most appropriate scale to apply management for a species considering abundance and distribution.

 

Knowledge gaps

If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site made available since 2011 that we may not be aware of, please contact JNCC . Please note that due to the process of identifying boundaries, data are unlikely to impact the boundaries of the site, but may be used to support management decisions.

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 Channel Candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) are available within the  Conservation Objectives, Advice on Activities and Management Options 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 feature;
  • monitoring the qualifying features, or;
  • developing, proposing or assessing an activity, plan or project that may affect the site.

 

The conservation objectives for the North Channel  cSAC are as follows:

The conservation objectives for the North Channel  cSAC are, to avoid deterioration of the habitats of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) or significant disturbance to the harbour porpoise, thus ensuring that the integrity of the site is maintained and the site makes an appropriate contribution to maintaining Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) for the UK harbour porpoise.

To ensure for harbour porpoise that, subject to natural change, the following attributes are maintained or restored in the long term:

  • The species is a viable component of the site.
  • There is no significant disturbance of the species.
  • The supporting habitats and processes relevant to harbour porpoises and their prey are maintained.

 

JNCC is working to provide more detailed advice on the interpretation of the conservation objectives listed above. Draft supplementary advice is available in the advice package (linked above) and updates will be posted here when available.

 

Advice on Activities  

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 35(3) of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended), which apply to Welsh inshore waters, the Advice on Activities for the protected feature of the Bristol Channel Approaches cSAC outlines knowledge of the nature and extent of activities taking place at the time of writing which may have a significant impact on the feature for which a site has been selected.

The Advice on Activities is based on JNCC and The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) knowledge of harbour porpoise at the time of writing, and their sensitivities to pressures. For the most up-to-date information about harbour porpoise within the site and the spatial distribution, please see the Evidence tab.

The Advice on Activities summarises ongoing activities occurring within or close to the site, with an assessment as to whether they pose a risk to harbour porpoise. This information is 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 Activities document and Evidence tab are useful if you are:

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

Our scientific understanding of the ecology of the site, its integrity and its qualifying feature and how activities can affect it may change over time. Conservation advice provided by JNCC and DAERA 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.

 

JNCC is undertaking a review of the activities and management plan requirements for the North Channel cSAC with other relevant CNCBs and Regulators. Further detail will be provided when available.

 

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

  • Enable assessment of the status 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 cSAC will be provided here when it becomes available.

 

Every six years, Member States are required under Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive to report on the conservation status of habitats and species listed under Annex I and II.

For harbour porpoise, the Article 17 assessments consider conservation status both within the Natura 2000 network and in the wider sea with particular emphasis placed on status and trends in terms of population size, range and habitat quality. These assessments 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.