This is a static version of the conservation advice for this site, generated on 20/09/2019.
Please check the latest advice for this site at
Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
Start Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone 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

Site name: Start Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone SAC
Designation type: SAC
Site identification: UK0030373
Latest designation date: 29 September 2017
Qualifying features
(click to see site specific description):


The reefs are some of the most biologically diverse in the country and show excellent zonation (Natural England (NE), 2011), (Cork and Gaches, 2008).

Offshore the Eddystone reefs lie 20km south of Plymouth Sound. They consist of six distinct reefs extending from Hatt Rock at the most south-westerly point to the Eddystone in the east. The reefs here represent unusual features in that they lie in deep water and rise steeply, and in the case of the Eddystone, break the water’s surface (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Cork and Gaches, 2008), (Axelsson et al., 2006). The western sections of the inshore reefs begin at Plymouth Sound and continue to Bigbury Bay. The Plymouth Sound ‘drop off’, a submerged cliff line to the east of Plymouth Sound, is an interesting geological structure in this area. The eastern sections of the inshore reefs start slightly offshore from West Rutts and continue inshore and along the coast to Start Point (Ross, 2011), (Natural England (NE), 2011), (Cork and Gaches, 2008).

The Eddystone reefs, in particular Hatt Rock, support good examples of deeper water species. The inshore reefs are highly diverse and contain a range of communities dominated by kelps and red algae in the infralittoral and faunal communities in the circalittoral zone (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Cork and Gaches, 2008).

The reefs are known to support some species rarely encountered in south western waters such as the cushion star Porania pulvillus; slipper lobster Scyllarus arctus and the sea fan anemone Amphianthus dohrnii. The presence of relatively large numbers of warm water species, in addition to more typical English Channel fauna, indicates that the reefs constitute an important colonisation site for more southerly species. Examples include red sea fingers Alcyonium glomeratum, cotton spinner Holothuria forskali, and pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa which is at the northern extent of its biogeographical range (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Natural England (NE), 2011), (Axelsson et al., 2006).


Circalittoral rock

Circalittoral rocky reef habitats occur throughout the site in areas of deeper water and the communities present vary considerably between the different areas.

Around the Eddystone reefs, the circalittoral habitats are very similar and support notable faunal communities, with dominant fauna including the pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa and ross coral Pentapora foliacea (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Axelsson et al., 2006). On vertical bedrock walls and boulders, dense populations of jewel anemones Corynactis viridis are particularly common. In deeper water, erect branching sponges dominate (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Axelsson et al., 2006).

Inshore between Plymouth Sound and Bigbury Bay, where circalittoral reef occurs, it tends to be heavily encrusted with sponges, calcareaous algae and bryozoans (Ross, 2011). The Plymouth Sound ‘drop off’ has an exceptional abundance of rare and scarce species and supports forests of the pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa. Large populations of the nationally rare sunset cup coral Leptopsammia pruvoti can be found on overhangs and vertical rock faces here (Royal Haskoning, 2008).

Between West Rutts and Prawle Point many notable species such as the pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa, sunset cup coral Leptopsammia pruvoti, carpet coral Hoplangia durotrix and southern cup coral Caryophyllia inornata have been recorded (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Cork and Gaches, 2008). Thick brittlestar beds of Ophiothrix fragilis or Ophiocomina niger with the anemone Urticina feline amongst them form dense carpets in this area (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008).

The circalittoral reefs around Start Point are distinctly different hosting a diverse assemblage of scour-tolerant fauna (Ross, 2011). Mixed faunal turf communities are found along with hydroids and erect branching bryozoans (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008).

Infralittoral rock

Infralittoral rocky reef habitats occur throughout the site in areas of shallow water and the communities present vary considerably between the different areas.

The infralittoral zone around the Eddystone reefs is predominantly characterised by various kelp and red algae communities that are able to withstand exposed high energy conditions (wave and tide energy). The shallowest reefs (20–27m) around Hat Rock and Hands Deep are characterised by sparse populations of the kelp Saccorina latissimi (previously Laminaria saccharina) or Saccorhiza polyschides and red foliose seaweeds (Axelsson et al., 2006). Laminaria hyperborea kelp forests with foliose red seaweeds predominate around the Eddystone, Middle rock and Phillips rock (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008), (Axelsson et al., 2006).

The inshore reefs between Plymouth Sound and Bigbury Bay are primarily infralittoral. Between Plymouth Sound and Prawle Point the infralittoral reef is dominated by notable mixed red algae communities and the brown seaweeds Dictyota dichotoma and Dictyopteris membranacea (Ross, 2011), (Royal Haskoning, 2008). Abundant colonies of a Didemnid ascidian are attached to the algae and substrate (Ross, 2011). Kelp forests are also frequently found (Royal Haskoning, 2008).

The infralittoral zone between Prawle Point and Start Point is slightly different and contains a kelp community similar to the offshore reefs, Laminaria hyperborean forests with foliose red seaweeds. Red algae communities are predominant underneath the kelp zone (Ross, 2011).

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): 34076.13
Moderation/boundary changes: The site was designated as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) in November 2011. The status changed to a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) on 29th September 2017.
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 16th March 2018

Background information and geography

The Start Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone SAC lies off the south coast of England, off the counties of Devon and Cornwall. The site boundary extends across three separate geographical areas where reef is present:

  • The Eddystone reefs
  • Plymouth Sound to Bigbury Bay reefs
  • West Rutts to Start Point reefs

The reefs support a wide variety of plant and animal communities commonly showing excellent examples of zonation, from deep circalittoral to the shallow infralittoral. The site represents some of the most biologically diverse reefs in the country and supports many locally distinct and nationally rare or scarce species. Large dense beds of the protected pink sea fan (Eunicella verrucosa) and priority species such as the sea fan anemone (Amphianthus dohrnii) and the rare sunset cup coral (Leptopsammia pruvoti) have been recorded within the site.

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 the habitat features 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: 16th May 2016

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

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: