Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC

Natural England guidance

This site collection contains Natural England's conservation advice for this site. It fulfils Natural England’s responsibility under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended), to give advice on how to further the conservation objectives for the site, identify the activities that are capable of affecting the qualifying features and the processes which they are dependent upon.

Natural England's conservation advice for this site is made up of a number of components. You will need to consider: Additional information for consideration:

Site information

Overarching site: Plymouth Sound and Estuaries Marine Protected Area
Site name: Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC
Designation type: SAC
Site identification: UK0013111
Latest designation date: 1 April 2005
Qualifying features
(click to see site specific description):

General information on the site features:
The generic information on the qualifying features is useful for understanding the qualifying features, and should be used in conjunction with the site specific information.
Designated area (ha): 6402.03
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 20th March 2017

Background information and geography

Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC is located on the south coast of England and straddles the border between Devon and Cornwall. Plymouth Sound and its associated tributaries comprise a complex site of marine inlets. The high diversity of reef and sedimentary habitats, and salinity conditions, give rise to diverse communities representative of ria systems and some unusual features. These features include abundant southern Mediterranean-Atlantic species rarely found in Britain. It is also the only known spawning site for the Allis shad (Alosa alosa).

The extensive mudflats present throughout the SAC are a highly productive system, forming a critical part of the food chain. They contain extensive and varied infaunal communities, rich in bivalves and other invertebrates, and provide important feeding grounds for internationally important numbers of wildfowl.There are communities of slender sea pens (Virgularia mirabilis) in the subtidal muddy habitats north of the Breakwater, which is uncommon in the south of the country. Fan mussels (Atrina fragilis), a UK Priority species for conservation, have been recorded in the sediment around Plymouth Hoe. On the Yealm estuary at Cofflete creek the nationally scarce tentacled lagoon worm (Alkmaria romijni) has been recorded.

There are extensive and important areas of saltmarsh present, particularly on the Lynher Estuary, with natural transitions to reedbed and fringing woodland. Saltmarsh is an uncommon habitat in the south west and provides important roosting areas for birds. The triangular club rush (Schoenoplectus triqueter) is on the very edge of its range in the UK, with the Tamar having the only known population in England. The saltmarsh fringes act as nursery areas for juvenile bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and other fish species.

The site is of particular importance for its reef communities which are home to a number of species of note. The Devonian limestone reef is of particular importance because this is one of only two sites in the south west with coastal Devonian limestone. The limestone reef is heavily bored by marine worms and bivalves. The nationally rare sponge (Dysidea pallescens) and the Weymouth carpet coral (Hoplangia durotrix) are found on sublittoral reefs in the site. Nationally scarce species; pink sea fan (Eunicella verrucosa), trumpet anemone (Aiptasia mutabilis), latticed corklet anemone (Cataphellia brodricii), scarlet and gold star coral (Balanophyllia regia) and orange light seasquirt (Pycnoclavella aurilucens) have all been recorded on reefs in the site. The nationally scarce hydroid (Hartlaubella gelatinosa) forms clumps on mixed substrata in the upper Tamar estuary.

Intertidal reefs with rockpools at Wembury, Penlee, Hooe Lake Point and the mouth of the Yealm support a nationally uncommon sponge, seasquirt and red algae community. The intertidal underboulder communities at Jennycliff are of note for their species richness.The crevice dwelling brittlestar (Ophiopsila aranea) has been recorded as abundant around the Mewstone, but is nationally rare across the UK. Several nationally rare and scarce seaweeds are also found within the site including; Bornetia secundiflora, Carpomitra costata, Gigartina pistillata, Gracilaria bursa-pastoris and Schmitzia hiscockiana.

Intertidal reefs with rockpools at Wembury, Penlee, Hooe Lake Point and the mouth of the Yealm support a nationally uncommon sponge, seasquirt and red algae community. The intertidal underboulder communities at Jennycliff are of note for their species richness.The crevice dwelling brittlestar (Ophiopsila aranea) has been recorded as abundant around the Mewstone, but is nationally rare. Several nationally rare and scarce seaweeds are also found within the site including Bornetia secundiflora, Carpomitra costata, Gigartina pistillata, Gracilaria bursa-pastoris and Schmitzia hiscockiana.

Site maps

Use the MAGIC website to see site maps, including habitats, species and other marine designations.

These maps are based on best available evidence, there are some caveats associated with the maps on MAGIC.

The dynamic nature of habitat features and supporting habitats for mobile species is illustrated where data is available, as new evidence becomes available these maps will be updated with our current knowledge of their known extent.



Conservation objectives

The site’s conservation objectives apply to the site and the individual species and/or assemblage of species for which the site has been classified (the "Qualifying features" listed above).

The objectives are to ensure that, subject to natural change, the integrity of the site is maintained or restored as appropriate, and that the site contributes to achieving the Favourable Conservation Status of its qualifying features, by maintaining or restoring:
  • the extent and distribution of qualifying natural habitats and habitats of the qualifying species
  • the structure and function (including typical species) of qualifying natural habitats
  • the structure and function of the habitats of the qualifying species
  • the supporting processes on which qualifying natural habitats and the habitats of qualifying species rely
  • the populations of each of the qualifying species
  • the distribution of qualifying species within the site

Qualifying features

Refer to the site information table above for the list of features within this site.

This should be read in conjunction with the accompanying supplementary advice section, which provides more detailed information to help achieve the objectives set out above, including which attributes should be maintained and which restored.

The conservation objectives apply under the Habitats Regulations, and must be considered during a Habitats Regulation Assessment, including an Appropriate Assessment.

The conservation objectives and accompanying supplementary advice provide a framework to inform the management and measures needed to conserve or restore the European site, and the prevention of deterioration and significant disturbance of its qualifying features.

Where the objectives are met, the site will be considered to show a high level of integrity, and to be contributing to achieving the aims of the Habitats Regulations.

Supplementary Advice on Conservation Objectives

See supplementary advice on conservation objectives for this site, which aim to describe the range of ecological attributes that are most likely to contribute to a site’s overall integrity.

Last updated: 15th March 2019


Advice on Operations

See the advice on operations for this site to view information on the sensitivity of features in this site to the pressures exerted by different activities.

Last updated: 13th September 2019


Advice on Seasonality

See the advice on seasonality for this site, to view the months in which each mobile feature occurs in this site.

Last updated: 20th March 2017


Feature Condition

In 2016, Natural England trialled and rolled out a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) condition assessment methodology that provides robust results and information on the condition of marine features designated within MPAs in England. With guidance from National teams and using all available evidence and condition monitoring data, Area Teams conduct these assessments following a standardised approach that assesses if the feature and sub feature conservation targets set for each MPA have been met.

To date, condition assessments have been completed for a number of features in a range of marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) by the National and Area Teams. Further marine habitat features in SACs and other MPAs will continue to be assessed in the future. The new method can now also be applied to complete habitat and species condition assessments for other MPAs in England, whilst still meeting the different processes in place to report on the results of condition of features in Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Different processes are currently in place to decide and report on the condition of non-marine habitat and species features of SACs.

The main part of the assessment process is directly undertaken and stored here on Natural England’s Designated Sites View. The details for the most recent assessments of this site can be found here.

Management measures

If you are carrying out an environmental assessment, planning an operation or assessing an operation or proposal, it is important to consult with the following organisations where applicable. To find out if any management measures, byelaws or other restrictions apply to your activity see the management measure page or you can use the following links for more information.

The Marine Management Organisation license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England and Wales so that they’re carried out in a sustainable way.
Environment Agency are responsible for regulating major industry and waste, water quality and resources, fisheries, inland river, estuary and harbour navigations, conservation and ecology.
Offshore Petroleum Regulator for the Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) regulates oil and gas, CCS and gas storage activities in the marine environment.

Further information

For further information relating to this designated site you can refer to the following resources:
Site specific information: Other information:
For further information about this site contact: Natural England enquiries Telephone: 0300 060 3900. Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk


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