Formal updated conservation advice is now available for West Shetland Shelf NCMPA under the conservation advice tab below.


West Shetland Shelf MPA


Status: Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA)Click to link to the interactive map


Lying to the north of Scotland in offshore waters, 70-150m deep, the West Shetland Shelf MPA overlaps with the windsock fisheries area that is managed for the recovery of cod stocks.


The MPA is designated for the wide variety of sand and gravel habitats present in the area. From fine-grained sands to coarse gravels, the different habitats provide conditions suitable for a diverse range of animals to thrive in and on the seabed.


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



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) transposed into Scottish law by the Marine Scotland Act (2010)


Protected features

Features Feature Type
Offshore subtidal sands and gravels Habitat


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, with the evidence underpinning available in the Evidence tab.


Site timeline

The diagram below summarises the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of West Shetland Shelf NCMPA.  More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation.

West Shetland Shelf Timeline

Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to West Shetland Shelf NCMPA were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date.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 West Shetland Shelf 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 this document for further details and information sources.


Site overview: Lying to the north of Scotland in offshore waters, the West Shetland Shelf NCMPA overlaps with the windsock fisheries area which is managed for the recovery of cod stocks. The NCMPA has been designated for the protection of the wide variety of sand and gravel habitats (habitats of priority importance) present in the area, providing an important example of the northern extent of their range on the continental shelf in Scottish seas.


Although a relatively common habitat in Scottish seas, the range of different types of sand and gravel habitats present within the MPA support a particularly rich diversity of wildlife. On the surface anemones, cup sponges (Axinella infundibuloformis) and several types of crustaceans including hermit crabs and squat lobster (Munida rugosa) can be found living between small rocks, whilst urchins and starfish (such as Porania pulvillus and Asterias rubens) are typical fauna living on the surface of sandier sediments. Bryozoans and encrusting sponges are often found growing on the surface of cobbles and pebbles. Sea snails and bivalves, such as scallops, keel worms and sand mason worms (Lanice conchilega), are adapted to living buried in the sand to avoid predators.


The area enclosed within the MPA is also important for several species of fish, including  the dragonet (Callionymus lyra), red gurnad (Aspitrigla cuculus), cod (Gadus morhua), plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and skate and rays (e.g. Raja naevus). Certain types of fishing are already managed within the overlapping windsock fisheries area to help cod populations recover.


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

Site area: 4,083km2, a similar size to the Cairngorms National Park (4,508 km2).

Site depth range: 70-150m.

Charting Progress 2 Biogeographic Region: Scottish Continental Shelf.


Site boundary description

The MPA boundary reflects the extent of the Windsock fisheries areas in Scottish offshore waters and encompasses the distribution of a range of offshore subtidal sand and gravel habitats present.




Last updated: October 2017


For a full overview of the data used to support site identification along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent see the West Shetland Shelf NCMPA Data Confidence Assessment. Data for this NCMPA have been primarily 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 MPA map in due course.

Survey and data gathering

  • RV Scotia Rona-Windsock Survey (2011) - This survey was a collaborative effort between JNCC and Marine Scotland Science to improve our understanding of the species and habitats present within the MPA.
  • Marine Scotland Science International Bottom Trawl Survey (2011) - This bottom trawl survey collected data on the fish populations in the MPA. Environmental information, including seabed samples and underwater imagery were collected to aid habitat classification and identify fauna present.
  • RRS Charles Darwin Cruise (112C; 1998) - This cruise formed part of the Atlantic Margin Environmental Survey (AMES) programme, surveying the continental slope to the north and west of Shetland. Seabed samples, acoustic data and underwater imagery including photographic images and videos were collected.


Data analysis reports


Additional relevant literature
Supporting information on the presence and extent of the offshore subtidal sands and gravels was provided from EUSeaMap, a predictive seabed habitat mapping report for European waters. 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:


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: March 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 March 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 SACO which is essential reading to support interpretation of these conservation objectives.


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


Please note our current understanding of whether the available evidence indicates that each attribute needs to be recovered or maintained is not provided here. However, links to available evidence for the site are provided and should you require further site-specific information for the site, please contact JNCC at:


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.
Feature Activity Sensitivity Tool (FeAST)

Provides an initial assessment of whether a proposed plan or project (or ongoing activity) may have an impact on a protected feature in the site.


FeAST identifies pressures associated with the most commonly occurring marine activities, and provides detailed assessment of feature sensitivity to these pressures. A human activity is considered capable of affecting a feature where the feature is known to be sensitive to associated pressures.


The sensitivity assessments provided in FeAST should be used at an early stage of a plan or project when considering potential impacts of an activity.




You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this document.


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 further our understanding of the degree to which the site is moving towards or achieving its conservation objectives.


This site forms part of the UK's 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.



  • The main fishing practices in the area involve creeling and potting. UK potting vessels operate widely across the West Shetland MPA. There is also evidence of Irish potting effort concentrated in the south-west of the MPA.
  • The West Shetland Shelf NCMPA overlaps with an area closed to certain mobile bottom contacting gears (known as the ‘windsock’) under common fisheries policy regulations for cod recovery. A partial closure was put in place in 2001 with an amendment for full closure in 2003 (transitional technical measures Annex IV, EC Reg. 2287/2003).
  • The site falls outside 12 nm and is exclusively managed under the EU common fisheries policy. Scottish government is aiming to have additional management measures in place by 2016. Marine Scotland will be the lead authority regarding implementation and compliance of those measures.
  • In support of the site designation process, a management options paper was prepared by JNCC. A management workshop involving national and international stakeholders will be held in March 2015. JNCC will provide a fisheries options paper to support these discussions. Following engagement with stakeholders, Scottish government will draw up management proposals to submit to the European commission.
  • In accordance with Article 18 of the revised common fisheries policy, requests for management will be developed jointly between the UK government and any member states with a direct management interest in the area. Once drafted, north-western waters advisory council will be consulted prior to submission of any final recommendations to the European commission.


Licensable activities

  •  A very small part of the north-east of the MPA overlaps with license blocks identified by the department of energy and climate change. Although no oil and gas activity takes place within the region, the license blocks may be subject to development in the future.
  • Existing licensed activities that take place or may take place in the future within West Shetland Shelf NCMPA will continue to be managed in line with relevant legislation and application processes by the competent authorities. For further information, please see Marine Scotland’s MPA management handbook. 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.


Telecommunications cables

  • Telecommunication cables currently crosses the MPA at the north-east boundary of the site.
  • 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 licence 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 West Shetland Shelf NCMPA are not considered likely to impact the protected features of the site.



  • Wrecks have been recorded by the UK Hydrographic Office within 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 NCMPA monitoring. For NCMPA's, 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 the 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 are based on observed data, and then measured against targets for predefined indicators. However, for MPA's in offshore waters the appropriate information is not always available particularly for seabed habitats, which are the main type of designated features within offshore MPAs. 


To address these challenges, JNCC has been an active partner in developing new approaches and tools for the assessment of habitats and species for a variety of national and international status reports. 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. The reports include the second cycle of the conservation status assessment reports under the EU habitats directivecharting 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 assessments, and contribute to the monitoring of marine biodiversity in UK waters.


Under the 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 NCMPA's have been achieved.  The Marine Act also requires a report every six years, from 2012, setting out how MCZ's have performed against their conservation objectives, as well as the effectiveness of the network. These assessments 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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