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Landscape & wildlife Please note - A new body, Natural Resources Wales has taken over all functions and services previously carried out by Countryside Council for Wales. While the Natural Resources Wales website continues to be developed, some online services will continue to be provided on this web site.

About the Project

The HABMAP project has produced working habitat maps of the seabed of the southern Irish Sea using novel predictive modelling techniques.

HABMAP also undertook some survey work in four areas of the southern Irish Sea (Arklow Bank, Celtic Deep, St Georges Channel and Caernarfon Bay). For more information see the Cruises pages.

The seabed of the Southern Irish Sea contains a diverse range of habitats and species, from algae dominated rocky reefs to deep muddy areas inhabited by burrowing animals. To varying degrees all of these habitats can be utilised by mankind, through activities such as fishing, aggregate extraction and development of renewable energy resources offshore. In addition, some are priority habitats or contain listed species under EC and international legislation.

Attempts to manage the seabed are currently hampered by our relative lack of knowledge and lack of spatial data in the form of seabed maps, and the Irish Sea has been recognised as a priority in this regard. The need for habitat mapping has been identified by several organisations throughout Wales, Ireland and Europe (e.g. OSPAR, ICES, European Environment Agency) and habitat maps will be crucial in implementing a variety of different pieces of marine legislation including the Water Framework Directive, Habitats Directive and Common Fisheries Policy.

The initial three-year project synthesised existing information relating to seabed habitats for the southern Irish Sea. Relationships between the physical data and the biological data were analysed to develop a model to interpolate biological data to produce biotope maps. The final phase of the project involved validating this model.

The follow-up project extended the mapping to cover all of Welsh territorial waters.

The habitat maps will be used by coastal managers (conservation and fisheries), but also aim to disseminate the results to a wider audience. The following are a few practical examples of the ways in which the project outputs might be used:

  • Mapping the extent and distribution of habitats of conservation importance (e.g. Biodiversity Action Plan habitats, EU Habitats Directive Annex I habitats) and to fulfil obligations under EC Directives 92/43/EEC, 79/409/EEC and 2001/60/EEC and other international programmes (e.g. ICES, OSPAR).
  • Strategic planning. Habitat maps effectively create a resource inventory of the seabed. The biological information associated with the maps could contribute to the strategic planning of activities such as aggregate extraction, by identifying potentially sensitive or potentially exploitable areas of the seabed.
  • Decision making for offshore developments (e.g. offshore wind farms), biotope maps would help put site-specific survey data into context, i.e. to know if an area with biotope x is important for conservation, we need to know how much more of biotope x is out there.
  • Sensitivity mapping - i.e. mapping areas that are particularly sensitive to different impacts - either as contingency (e.g. oil spills) or for strategic planning (e.g. planning possible aggregate extraction areas)
  • Mapping essential fish habitat (i.e. habitat that commercially and recreationally important fish rely on for all or part of their life cycle) and quantifying the amounts of food available to them.

This project has built on previous INTERREG work, such as the SWISS project and other projects, such as BIOMAR and the Irish Sea Pilot project. The data from these projects was utilised and combined with physical data to produce habitat maps. The project also linked with other current or proposed INTERREG projects, such as the NW Europe benthic mapping project (MESH).

If you would like a hard copy of the original HABMAP project reports (BIOMOR 5a and 5b), or a project DVD containing survey data and images, please contact Andy Mackie at the National Museum Wales Andy.Mackie@museumwales.ac.uk.


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Contact the Team
Email address
Postal address
Habmap Team
C/O Enquiries
Maes Y Ffynnon
Ll57 2DW
Telephone number
0845 1306229
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