Report 348
Report on the identification of nationally important marine features in the Irish Sea
Lieberknecht, L.M., Vincent, M.A., & Connor, D.
This report outlines work on developing and testing criteria for the identification of nationally important marine features (species, habitats and marine landscapes), carried out under Defra's Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC).

Executive Summary

The rationale behind identifying threatened, rare or otherwise exceptional features for priority conservation attention is that, unless urgent action is taken, such features could be driven to extinction or suffer severe decline. Examples of this approach to conservation are to be found in numerous existing international and national conservation mechanisms, but the marine environment poses special challenges to these mechanisms. One of the tasks identified by the RMNC was the need to determine how to select nationally important marine features for the UK, and how to conserve such features in practice.
Draft criteria for the identification of nationally important marine features were developed, covering features for which the UK has special responsibility, features which are rare, and features which are declining or threatened. Their application and the process for identifying nationally important features were tested within the framework of the Irish Sea Pilot.
Criteria were tested by selecting a set of 25 "test" features from a shortlist proposed as meriting consideration for "nationally important" status, and applying the criteria to them by compiling readily available information on each test feature in a series of 25 "dossiers". The test features were selected so as to cover all levels of feature (species, habitats and marine landscapes), and species were selected to cover a broad range of taxonomic groups and life forms. The result of this work was that 18 of the 25 test features qualify as nationally important features, one feature was borderline, one feature met none of the criteria, and there was insufficient information to reach a conclusion on a further four. The features which qualified should be included on a list of nationally important marine features. The dossiers on the test features can be downloaded below
Given the time constraints on this work, there was insufficient time to carry out a full assessment of more than the test features. The features from the test list which qualify as nationally important, therefore, fall far short of a comprehensive list of nationally important marine features. A provisional list of nationally important features was compiled from features which are currently considered to be of conservation concern by other fora, e.g. species listed on the SoCC (Species of Conservation Concern) list and priority features listed under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) and Biodiversity Action Plans (BAP). Expert opinion suggested some modification of the list, but no formal assessment of the features was carried out against the criteria. The provisional list was used in lieu of a list of nationally important features for other aspects of the Irish Sea Pilot work. Features on this provisional list should, after some degree of prioritisation, be tested against the criteria in future and be placed formally on the "nationally important" list if the criteria are met.
As a result of testing the criteria, suggestions have been made as to how to improve the draft criteria. The modifications to the criteria attempt to simplify the process of applying the criteria, resulting in an outcome which meets conservation requirements and is consistent with current conservation practice. The main problem encountered during the testing was a lack of information in the right format. Therefore, it is the criteria should be worded openly enough to allow consideration of all available evidence and use of best judgement, rather than requiring strict thresholds to be met, or hard scientific evidence for threats and declines. In addition to modifications to the criteria, guidance for applying the criteria has been developed, a process for formally establishing a full list of nationally important marine features is suggested, and practical considerations for approaches to management and conservation of nationally important marine features are outlined.
Further to the main Irish Sea Pilot data collation work carried out by Lumb et al. (2004a), a data collation exercise was carried out by the MarLIN programme at the Marine Biological Association (MBA), targeted at 48 specific species and habitats. The aim was to test whether, after the main Irish Sea Data Collation, there were still significant numbers of existing records for these species and habitats which had not yet been collated. marine database collated. An attempt was made to collate all existing records from the scientific literature, grey literature, and research institutions. It was concluded that this approach to data collation is not cost-effective, and that data collation should target specific datasets and/or institutions known to hold significant amounts of data, rather than targeting individual features. The outcome of this attempt to collate data highlights some of the problems that have been encountered in other data collation work, especially the lack of resources to access existing datasets held at marine research institutions and consultancies.



Test Case Dossiers

In order to test the practical applicability of the criteria, information was compiled for 25 test features in a series of "dossiers". Full details on this testing process are given in the complete report downloadable above. Sixteen of the dossiers were compiled by L. M. Lieberknecht (JNCC), and a further nine were compiled by MarLIN/MBA under contract for JNCC. The dossiers were compiled from readily accessible information available at the time and may not be comprehensive.
Download dossiers compiled by JNCC (part 1)  (PDF, 614 kb)

Test features covered:

Axinella damicornis (Sponge)
Balanophyllia regia (Scarlet and Gold Star Coral)
Eunicella verrucosa (Pink Seafan)
Funiculina quadrangularis (Tall Sea Pen)
Palinurus elephas (European Spiny Lobster)
Cetorhinus maximus (Basking Shark)
Gadus morhua (Cod)
Lophius piscatorius (Sea Monkfish)
Puffinus puffinus (Manx Shearwater)
Halichoerus grypus (Grey Seal)
Callophyllis cristata (Red Seaweed)
Ostrea edulis beds (Native Oyster beds)
Limaria hians beds (File Shell beds)
Sabellaria spinulosa reefs (Ross Worm reefs)
Modiolus modiolus beds (Horse Mussel beds)
Download dossiers compiled by MarLIN / MBA (part 2) (PDF, 691 kb)

Test features covered:

Alosa alosa (Allis Shad)
Anotrichium barbatum (Bearded Anotrichium)
Atrina fragilis (Fan mussel)
Dipterus oxyrinchus (Long-nosed Skate)
Deep sponge communities
Tide-swept kelp and seaweed communities
Intertidal mussel beds
Deep -water mud basins
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ISSN 0963-8901
Please cite as: Lieberknecht, L.M., Vincent, M.A., & Connor, D., (2004), Report on the identification of nationally important marine features in the Irish Sea, JNCC Report 348, ISSN 0963-8901