Formal updated conservation advice is now available for North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA under the conservation advice tab below.


North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)



Click to link to the interactive map


Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is the largest designated NCMPA.


The continental slope here plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including the fin whale (‘razorback’), and sperm whale. At depths of 400-600m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful nutrients are ideal for deep-sea sponges. Below 800m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms. The MPA also includes several features of geological importance, including a series of deep-water mud volcanoes known as the pilot whale diapirs.


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: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) transposed in to Scottish law by the Marine (Scotland) Act (2010).


Protected features

Protected Feature Feature Type
Deep-sea sponge aggregations Low or limited mobility species
Offshore deep-sea muds Habitat
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat
Continental slope Large-scale feature
A wide range of features representative of the West Shetland Margin Palaeo-depositional, Miller Slide and Pilot Whale Diapirs Key Geodiversity Areas Geological and geomorphological


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 at the top of the page and in JNCCs MPA mapper and the evidence underpinning the site available on the Evidence tab.


Site timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation.

Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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 North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA, and will reflect any additional information gathered since these documents were produced. Information about the NCMPA site selection process is available on the JNCC NCMPA pages.





Last updated: October 2017


This site summary was adapted from the NCMPA site summary and incorporates any information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to Relevant Document for further details and information sources.


Site overview: Located to the far north-east of Scotland, this MPA covers a large part of the north-eastern reaches of the Faroe-Shetland Channel in Scottish waters and is the largest designated NCMPA. The habitats found here are strongly influenced by a significant range of environmental conditions, from the upper continental slope to the depths of the channel, and include a dynamic mixing zone where warmer Atlantic waters flow over cooler arctic waters. The continental slope plays an important role in funnelling ocean currents that bring valuable food and nutrients to the region, which in turn support a wide diversity of life. The channel is believed to be a corridor for migrating marine mammals, including fin whales (‘razorback’) and sperm whales.


At depths of 400-600m, the combination of seabed type and plentiful supply of nutrients are ideal for the establishment of deep-sea sponges. Up to 50 sponge species can be found within the sponge fields, many of which are different to those found in the surrounding areas. Deep-sea sponge aggregations are an OSPAR threatened or declining habitat  and a NERC Act habitat of priority importance. The sponges provide shelter for a range of small sea life such as pencil urchins (Cidaris cidaris) and an elevated perch for animals such as brittlestars that filter food from the passing water currents. Below 800m, the muddy seabed is home to those species that can tolerate the cooler arctic-influenced waters, such as deep-sea worms.


The MPA includes several different features of geological importance, including the pilot whale diapirs. The diapirs are a series of seabed sediment mounds which measure 2km to 3km across and rise to more than 70m above the surrounding seafloor. Research has shown the diapirs are just a tiny fraction of more extensive subsurface features, covering more than 2,000km2. The pilot whale diapirs are unusual in that they are the only known example of diapirs found in UK waters that breach the seabed surface and provide scientists with a rare opportunity to directly sample mid-Cenozoic age sediments at the seabed. Further detail on the evidence for this NCMPA can be found on the Evidence tab.


Site location: Coordinates for this NCMPA can be found in the designation order .

Site area: 23,682km2, approximately the same size as the south-west of England (23,88km2).

Site depth range: The site ranges from 330m below sea level at the edge of the Faroe-Shetland channel continental slope, extending down the slope into the deep and cooler arctic influenced waters 2420m below sea level.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Atlantic North-West Approaches, Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel.


Site boundary description

The MPA boundary reflects the full extent of the records of deep-sea sponge aggregations on the continental slope in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the range of key geodiversity interests present. The north-east of the boundary tracks the extent of Scottish waters, and the west and north-western boundary follows the slide deposit feature representative of the Miller Slide key geodiversity area. The resulting shape also represents the diversity associated with the offshore subtidal sand and gravel and offshore deep-sea mud habitats in this part of the Faroe-Shetland Channel.




Last updated: October 2017


For a full overview of the data used to support site identification and information on confidence in feature presence and extent see the North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA data confidence assessment . Some of the data for this NCMPA has been collected through JNCC-funded or collaborative surveys with other data obtained through other data sourcing. The data gathered provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site. Additional survey data will be added to the JNCC interactive MPA map  in due course.


Survey and data gathering

  • North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA and Wyville-Thomson Ridge SAC Survey (2017)
    Live video footage and images from a camera will allow the team to explore North-east Faroe-Shetland Channel to inform how best to protect this unique area and the animals that live within it.
  • MV Franklin Survey (2006) - This survey was commissioned by the Department for Trade and Industry (now Department for Energy and Climate Change; DECC)  as part of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) survey programme. These surveys, in which JNCC collaborated, collected acoustic and underwater imagery data from areas off the north and west coasts of Scotland.
  • SV Kommandor Jack Survey (2002) - This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES). The cruise undertook a seabed environmental survey of the deep waters to the north of Shetland within the UK continental shelf. The cruise carried out seabed sampling and photography to investigate the seabed environment and fauna of the pilot whale diapirs and described and characterised ‘hard ground’ areas of the North-East Faroe Plateau.
  • RRS Charles Darwin Survey (2000) - This cruise was led by the National Oceanography Centre and formed part of the AMES programme. Seabed samples were collected and photographic and video observations of the seabed and its fauna were also undertaken.
  • White Zone Environmental Survey (1999) - This cruise formed part of the AMES programme to collect sidescan sonar, seabed samples and underwater imagery data. The survey also investigated areas of complex seabed topography, including the pilot whale diapirs. 
  • Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network Survey of the SEA4 Region (1996/1998) - The Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network (AFEN) undertook a regional assessment of the environment west of Shetland, collecting sidescan sonar, seabed samples and underwater imagery.

Data analysis reports


Additional relevant literature
References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in the Data Confidence 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:

  • Bett, B.J. (2001) UK Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey: Introduction and overview of bathyal benthic ecology Continental Shelf Research, 21: 917-956.
  • Holmes, R., Hobbs, P.R.N., Leslie, A.B., Wilkinson, I.P., Gregory, F.J., Riding, J. B., Hoult, R.J., Cooper, R.M. and Jones, S.M. (2003) DTI SEA4: Geological evolution Pilot Whale Diapirs and stability of the seabed habitat. British Geological Survey Commercial Report CR/03/082.


Knowledge gaps
If you are aware of any additional data or relevant scientific papers for this site not listed here, please contact JNCC.


Conservation Advice


Last updated: April 2018

Updated formal conservation advice is now available for this MPA.  Further information on the approach used to develop this advice is available on the Conservation Advice webpage along with a Glossary of Terms used in JNCC conservation advice and a short video explaining how to use the conservation advice packages. 


You must refer to this advice if you:

  • undertake an impact assessment for a plan or project that could impact the site;
  • provide information for such an assessment;
  •  respond to specific measures to further the conservation objectives for the site; and 
  • consider the need to put new or additional management measures in place.


You may also find it useful to refer to this advice if you:

  • Carry out any other activity that could impact the site.


We will engage with stakeholders to identify any lessons which JNCC can learn from customers who have used the advice, with a view to continuing to ensure it is fit-for-purpose.


The following table provides an overview of the components of the conservation advice, and provides hyperlinks to each of the products for this MPA. These elements together form JNCC’s formal conservation advice for this site and should be read in conjunction with each other. This advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by JNCC (correct as of April 2018). A zipped folder enabling these documents to be downloaded together is available at the bottom of this page. 


Document Overview
Background Information Explains the purpose of the advice and when it must be referred to.
Conservation Objectives


Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO)

The conservation objectives set out the broad ecological aims for the site. JNCC provide supplementary advice in the Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO), which is essential reading to support interpretation of these conservation objectives. It provides further detail and site-specific information for each feature within the site including which of the attributes need to be conserved and which ones recovered.


You can use these documents to assess the impacts of your planned activity on the important attributes of the site.
Conservation Advice Statements

These statements provide a summary of the Supplementary Advice on the Conservation Objectives (SACO).


  • Site condition presents our up to date understanding of the condition of features within the site;
  • Conservation benefits which the site can provide, these help you understand what is important about the site and why it needs protecting; and
  • Conservation measures which JNCC consider are needed to support achievement of the conservation objectives. These provide clarity around measures needed to support restoration or maintenance of the feature(s) within the site.
Advice on Operations

Provides information on the activities capable of affecting site integrity and therefore achievement of the site’s conservation objectives.


This is a starting point for determining potential management requirements. It does not take into account the intensity, frequency or cumulative impacts from activities taking place. It is simply to advise you of the possible adverse impacts that your activity can have on a MPA’s features.


Use the advice on operations to determine those pressures your activity causes that could harm the habitat and/or species features of the site.




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Activities and Management


Last updated: October 2017


Management status: Progressing towards being well managed


Progress is ongoing with baseline site condition monitoring work occurring in October 2017 to aid understanding of the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.


This site forms part of the UKs contribution to the OSPAR commission’s network of MPAs and the Emerald network established under the Bern Convention. As the UK is a member of 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 North East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA around each of these 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 features of the site. The protected features of the site are considered to be sensitive to pressures associated with fishing and ‘licensable’ activities.



  • There is evidence of mobile demersal effort within the MPA and UK and non-UK registered vessels have been active in the area. The main practises in the area include line fishing, set netting and otter trawling.
  • The site falls outside 12 nm 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.
  • 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

  • There is one well with suspended activity in the south-east of the MPA. Part of the MPA also overlaps with license blocks identified by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (formally the Department of Energy and Climate Change) and may be subject to further oil and gas development in the future. 
  • Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration and production taking place or that may take place within this MPA are managed in accordance with the clauses set out under Section 127 of The Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009). Under this clause, JNCC have a statutory responsibility to advise the regulator on developments that are capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of the MPA and that may hinder the achievement of the sites conservation objectives. JNCC consider the existing marine licensing process is sufficient to ensure the management of licensable activities taking place, or that could take place in the future, on the protected features of this MPA.
  • For further information, see Marine Scotland’s draft MPA management handbook and Marine Scotland’s guidance for marine license applications
  • Further information on the JNCC's role in the provision of advice for licensed activities in the UK offshore area is available on the JNCC's offshore industries advice webpage


Telecommunications cables

  • Telecommunication cables currently cross the MPA.
  • 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 that may be regulated. Any cable not directly associated with an energy installation does not require a marine license beyond 12 nm.
  • 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.



  • Under international law, ships have a right of passage at sea including in areas designated as MPA's unless management specifies the restriction of ship transiting as outlined through an international maritime organisation measure. The pressures associated with shipping activity within North-East Faroe-Shetland Channel NCMPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.


Site condition monitoring

A baseline site condition monitoring survey is planned to take place within this MPA in October 2017. 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 currently 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 and the OSPAR quality status report. 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 and Coastal Access Act 2009, JNCC is required to report to ministers on the degree to which the conservation objectives of the protected features of NCMPAs have been achieved.  Every 6 years from 2012, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires a report setting out how NCMPAs 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, which aims to achieve good environmental status by 2020.


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