Wester Ross NCMPA

Status: Designated


Site overview

This area is home to a huge variety of sea creatures including flame shell beds, maerl beds and northern feather star aggregations. Norway lobsters can be seen guarding the entrances to their burrows amongst dense forests of seapens. Maerl beds are really delicate, they grow as little as 2.5cm per year. The structure of the maerl beds provides a sheltered habitat for many other species, including juvenile fish and shellfish.

At risk It has been recognised that the maerl beds here need to be allowed to recover from damage that has already occurred. Maerl beds are highly sensitive to heavy bottom-towed fishing gears and other impacts caused by humans, such as chemical pollution. In Wester Ross there are a number of patchy areas where maerl has been found, but it is in poor condition in these areas and needs a permanent rest and plenty of space from damaging fishing methods in order to have any chance of recovery.

MPA Type

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs) are designated under UK legislation (Marine Scotland Act 2010) and have been established around Scotland to contribute to the UK MPA network by protecting a range of important habitats, species and features of the seabed.

Designation date

24 July 2014

Surface Area

599.39 km2 (231.43 mi.2)


433.72 km (269.50 mi.)

  • Northern feather star aggregations on mixed substrata (Leptometra celtica)

    Areas where these amazing creatures, related to starfish and sea urchins, are found on mixed seabed. They can be found on hard and soft bottoms.

  • Burrowed mud

    Burrowed mud is a surprisingly important marine habitat which supports a rich community of animals.   There are the burrow-making animals that live within the mud itself, including fish, worms, brittlestars, crabs and shrimps.  Secondly, there are those a

  • Maerl beds

    Maerl beds include several species of red seaweed, with hard, chalky skeletons. Maerl is rock hard and grows, unattached to the seabed, in little nodules or branched shapes on the seabed. Each bit is quite small, but they can accumulate in large areas tha

  • Maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers

    Areas where the gravel sea cucumber (Neopentadactyla mixta) can be found in high densities within the gravel, maerl (several species of red seaweed with hard, chalky skeletons) and coarse sand along with lots of other species. 

  • Circalittoral muddy sand communities

    Muddy sand communities usually in depths of about 15-20m which are usually dominated by animal rather than plant life.

  • Kelp and seaweed communities on sublittoral sediment

    Kelp and seaweed communities where the parts closest to shore are only exposed to the air by the very lowest tides.

  • Flameshell beds (Limaria hians)

    Flame shells are animals with a pair of shells, like a mussel or scallop, that can form dense groups on the seabed. Large groups, or beds, of flame shells are very rare. They can attract and support hundreds of other species creating a very vibrant ocean

  • Slide scars

    Scarring on the seabed caused by the movement of large volumes of sediment

  • Pockmarks

    Tell tale marks that show that liquid or gas is making its way up through the seafloor from deeper layers below.

  • Banks of unknown substrate

    A feature of the seabed formed by the action of tides and currents

  • Glaciated channels/troughs, megascale glacial lineations, moraines

    Depressions in the seabed resulting from the scouring effect of grounded icebergs during the last ice age

Did you know?…

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over 500,000 records on undersea habitats and species have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers providing significant evidence for inshore ‘marine protected areas’

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas