Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
Fal and Helford 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: Fal and Helford
Site name: Fal and Helford SAC
Designation type: SAC
Site identification: UK0013112
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): 6387.8
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 20th March 2017

Background information and geography

The Fal and Helford SAC is located on the southern coastline of west Cornwall. The seaward boundary of the site is defined by a line that runs between Zone Point in the northeast of the site and Manacle Point in the southwest.

The site is complex comprising of the Fal and Helford ria systems (drowned river valleys) and Falmouth Bay. Both ria systems receive low freshwater input and therefore contain a notable range of fully marine habitats with a high diversity of species across the majority of the site. These habitats are highly influenced by the degree of exposure of the site which varies greatly from extremely sheltered mudflats in the upper Fal to more exposed rocky coastal areas around the mouth of the Helford. Furthermore, the south-westerly location promotes warmer seawater temperatures which allow species to occur that are usually more southerly in their distribution.

The majority of the shores of the upper Fal and Helford are fringed by sheltered intertidal sandflats and mudflats which are recognised for their important sediment dwelling species and communities. These mudflats and sandflats support a wide range of invertebrate and bird communities, which make a vital contribution to the structure and function of the Fal and Helford system.

In several areas of the upper reaches of the estuaries, Atlantic salt meadows are present. Salt meadow transition from mudflats through to woodland also occurs which is a rare occurrence in the UK.

In the lower Fal and Falmouth Bay, extensive beds of the unattached coralline red algae maerl are present which support a high diversity of flora and fauna, including large numbers of thornback rays Raja clavata. These maerl beds are classified as Habitats of Principal Importance/ Priority Habitats under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC) and are the most south-westerly examples in Britain. Other Priority Habitats within the site include subtidal seagrass beds Zostera marina, which are present in both the Fal and the Helford. These seagrass beds act as nursery areas for species such as bass Dicentrarchus labrax, and cuttlefish, and also important habitats for a variety of other species. Intertidal seagrass beds are present in the Fal Ruan. The site also supports a population of native oyster Ostrea edulis, which supports a traditional commercial fishery.

Both intertidal and subtidal rocky reef features are also present in the SAC. This includes circalittoral reef in Falmouth Bay which supports the nationally important pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa. Other rocky habitats include highly productive kelp forest communities, estuarine reef and littoral rocky shore communities.

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.

There are some instances where the feature, subfeature or supporting habitat name varies on MAGIC from the conservation advice. The alternative names are listed on

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: 20th March 2017

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 March 2020

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: