Sparse fauna on highly mobile sublittoral shingle (cobbles and pebbles)

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

Description

Sublittoral clean shingle and pebble habitats with a lack of conspicuous fauna. Unstable, rounded pebbles and stones (as opposed to sub-angular cobbles, which are often found lying on or embedded in other sediment) that are strongly affected by tidal steams and/or wave action can support few animals and are consequently faunally impoverished. The species composition of this biotope may be highly variable seasonally and is likely to comprise low numbers of robust polychaetes or bivalves with occasional epibiota including echinoderms and crustacea such as Liocarcinus spp. and Pagurus spp. In more settled periods there may be colonisation by anemones such as Urticina felina and small populations of hydroids and Bryozoa. (Information from JNCC, 2015, 2022).

Depth range

5-10 m, 10-20 m, 20-30 m, 30-50 m

Additional information

-

Listed By

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Sensitivity characteristics of the habitat and relevant characteristic species

The biotope description is taken from JNCC (2015). Sublittoral clean shingle and pebble habitats with a lack of conspicuous fauna. Unstable, rounded pebbles and stonesthat are strongly affected by tidal steams and/or wave action can support few animals and are consequently faunally impoverished. The species composition of this biotope may be highly variable seasonally and is likely to comprise of low numbers of robust polychaetes or bivalves with occasional epibiota including echinoderms and crustacea such as Liocarcinus spp. and Pagurus spp. In more settled periods there may be colonization by anemones such as Urticina felina and small populations of hydroids and Bryozoa.. The sensitivity assessments are therefore largely based on the abiotic (non-living) habitat.

Resilience and recovery rates of habitat

This biotope is subject to high levels of abrasion resulting from sediment mobility. The species that are present (if any) are robust animals that can withstand some physical disturbance and/or recover rapidly, or migrate as adults into the biotope. The biotope is primarily identified by the type of the substratum rather than the biological community, which may be absent, or if present, occur in extremely low abundance. Therefore the substratum type has been used primarily to indicate the sensitivity of this biotope and no species indicative of sensitivity were chosen.

Resilience assessment. As this biotope is characterized by the absence, rather then the presence of species, recovery is assessed as 'High' for any level of impact. The biotope would be considered to be sensitive to pressures that allowed the establishment of a permanent, species rich biological assemblage as low abundances and low species richness are characteristic of the biotope.

Hydrological Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Temperature increase (local) [Show more]

Temperature increase (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C increase in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species resulting from sediment mobility and abrasion (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: changes in temperature will therefore not alter the biotope (based on the abiotic habitat). Resistance to an increase in temperature is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
Help
Temperature decrease (local) [Show more]

Temperature decrease (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C decrease in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species resulting from sediment mobility and abrasion (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: changes in temperature will therefore not alter the biotope (based on the abiotic habitat). Resistance to a decrease in temperature is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Salinity increase (local) [Show more]

Salinity increase (local)

Benchmark. A increase in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species resulting from sediment mobility and abrasion (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: changes in salinity will therefore not alter the biotope (based on the abiotic habitat). Resistance to an increase in salinity is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
Help
Salinity decrease (local) [Show more]

Salinity decrease (local)

Benchmark. A decrease in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species resulting from sediment mobility and abrasion (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: changes in salinity will therefore not alter the biotope (based on the abiotic habitat). Resistance to a decrease in salinity is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
Low
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Water flow (tidal current) changes (local) [Show more]

Water flow (tidal current) changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in peak mean spring bed flow velocity of between 0.1 m/s to 0.2 m/s for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

Changes in water flow at the pressure benchmark are considered unlikely to lead to alterations in the biotope as wave exposure would still result in sediment mobility, preventing the establishment of a more species rich biotope.  Resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) so that the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’. 

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Emergence regime changes [Show more]

Emergence regime changes

Benchmark.  1) A change in the time covered or not covered by the sea for a period of ≥1 year or 2) an increase in relative sea level or decrease in high water level for ≥1 year. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure is 'not relevant' to sublittoral biotopes.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Wave exposure changes (local) [Show more]

Wave exposure changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in near shore significant wave height of >3% but <5% for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is found on shores that are judged to be extremely exposed or exposed (JNCC, 2015). The presence of this biotope across these two categories is considered to indicate (by proxy) that increases or decreases in wave exposure at the pressure benchmark are unlikely to lead to alterations to the biotope.  Resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) so that the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
Help

Chemical Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Transition elements & organo-metal contamination [Show more]

Transition elements & organo-metal contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure is Not assessed but evidence is presented where available. As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species, exposure to contaminants will not result in significant impacts.

Not Assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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NR
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Not assessed (NA)
NR
NR
NR
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Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination [Show more]

Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure is Not assessed but evidence is presented where available. As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species, exposure to contaminants will not result in significant impacts.

Not Assessed (NA)
NR
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Synthetic compound contamination [Show more]

Synthetic compound contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure is Not assessed but evidence is presented where available. As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species, exposure to contaminants will not result in significant impacts.

Not Assessed (NA)
NR
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Radionuclide contamination [Show more]

Radionuclide contamination

Benchmark. An increase in 10µGy/h above background levels. Further detail

Evidence

No evidence was found.

No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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Introduction of other substances [Show more]

Introduction of other substances

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure is Not assessed.

Not Assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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De-oxygenation [Show more]

De-oxygenation

Benchmark. Exposure to dissolved oxygen concentration of less than or equal to 2 mg/l for one week (a change from WFD poor status to bad status). Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species, de-oxygenation will not result in significant impacts. Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as 'High', and resilience as 'High' (by default) and the biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Nutrient enrichment [Show more]

Nutrient enrichment

Benchmark. Compliance with WFD criteria for good status. Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species present due to sediment mobility, nutrient enrichment will not result in significant impacts. Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as 'High', and resilience as 'High' (by default) and the biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Organic enrichment [Show more]

Organic enrichment

Benchmark. A deposit of 100 gC/m2/yr. Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the lack of species, organic enrichment will not result in significant impacts. Organic deposits are likely to be removed rapidly by wave action although in periods of calm an organic deposit may be rapidly colonized by oligochaetes or amphipods. Biotope resistance is assessed as 'High' as enrichment is likely to be very short-lived, and resilience as 'High' (by default), the biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Physical Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat) [Show more]

Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat)

Benchmark. A permanent loss of existing saline habitat within the site. Further detail

Evidence

All marine habitats and benthic species are considered to have a resistance of ‘None’ to this pressure and to be unable to recover from a permanent loss of habitat (resilience is ‘Very Low’).  Sensitivity within the direct spatial footprint of this pressure is therefore ‘High’.  Although no specific evidence is described confidence in this assessment is ‘High’, due to the incontrovertible nature of this pressure.

None
High
High
High
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Very Low
High
High
High
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High
High
High
High
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Physical change (to another seabed type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another seabed type)

Benchmark. Permanent change from sedimentary or soft rock substrata to hard rock or artificial substrata or vice-versa. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by pebbles and shingle (JNCC, 2015). A change to a hard or artificial substratum would significantly alter the character of the biotope. The biotope is therefore considered to have 'No' resistance to this pressure (based on a change to a sediment habitat), recovery is assessed as 'Very low', as the change at the pressure benchmark is permanent. Biotope sensitivity is therefore assessed as 'High'.

None
High
Medium
NR
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Very Low
High
High
High
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High
High
Medium
Low
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Physical change (to another sediment type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another sediment type)

Benchmark. Permanent change in one Folk class (based on UK SeaMap simplified classification). Further detail

Evidence

The benchmark for this pressure refers to a change in one Folk class.  The pressure benchmark originally developed by Tillin et al., (2010) used the modified Folk triangle developed by Long (2006) which simplified sediment types into four categories: mud and sandy mud, sand and muddy sand, mixed sediments and coarse sediments.  The change referred to is therefore a change in sediment classification rather than a change in the finer-scale original Folk categories (Folk, 1954).  The change in one Folk class is considered to relate to a change in classification to adjacent categories in the modified Folk triangle.  For shingle habitats a change in one folk class may refer to a change to gravels, mixed sediments or muddy sands, sandy muds and muds. A change in sediment type would result in reclassification of the biotope (JNCC, 2015) and a change to mixed or fine sediments would likely result in the establishment of a species rich and more diverse community (depending on other habitat factors). Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘None’ and resilience as ‘Very low’ as the change at the pressure benchmark is permanent. Sensitivity is therefore ‘High’.

None
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Medium
Low
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Very Low
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High
High
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High
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Low
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Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction) [Show more]

Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction)

Benchmark. The extraction of substratum to 30 cm (where substratum includes sediments and soft rock but excludes hard bedrock). Further detail

Evidence

The process of extraction will remove the abiotic habitat; therefore a resistance of ‘None’ is recorded. As the shingle is mobile where small areas are impacted infilling is likely to be rapid following sediment redistribution by wave action. For instance, at Village Bay on St Kilda, an island group far out into the Atlantic west of Britain, an expanse of sandy beach was removed offshore as a result of winter storms to reveal an underlying rocky shore (Scott, 1960). Yet in the following summer the beach was gradually replaced when wave action was less severe. In view of such observations, that many sandy beaches disappear in winter and reappear in spring, it is likely that recovery would occur in less than a year or six months.  As a result, resilience is assessed as ‘High’, and sensitivity as ‘Medium’.  Recovery where large volumes of shingle are removed over wide areas may lead to slower recovery if sediments are not available and/or water transport is limited. 

None
High
Low
NR
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High
Low
NR
NR
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Medium
Low
Low
Low
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Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed [Show more]

Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed

Benchmark. Damage to surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species through sediment mobility (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: abrasion will therefore not alter biotope character. The highly mobile or robust species present occasionally in this biotope may only be found in extremely low abundance and are not specifically dependent on this biotope. Resistance to this pressure is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface [Show more]

Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface

Benchmark. Damage to sub-surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species through sediment mobility (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: abrasion will therefore not alter biotope character. The highly mobile or robust species present occasionally in this biotope may only be found in extremely low abundance and are not specifically dependent on this biotope Resistance to this pressure is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Changes in suspended solids (water clarity) [Show more]

Changes in suspended solids (water clarity)

Benchmark. A change in one rank on the WFD (Water Framework Directive) scale e.g. from clear to intermediate for one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope occurs in scoured habitats and it is likely, depending on local sediment supply, that the biotope is exposed to chronic or intermittent episodes of high-levels of suspended solids as local sediments are re-mobilised and transported by wave action. This biotope is characterized by the absence of species through sediment mobility (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: changes in suspended solids will therefore not alter the biotope. Resistance to an increase or decrease in suspended solids is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
Help
Smothering and siltation rate changes (light) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (light)

Benchmark. ‘Light’ deposition of up to 5 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species through sediment mobility (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: the addition of a single deposit of fine sediments which will be removed by wave action or currents will therefore not alter the biotope. Resistance to this pressure is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy)

Benchmark. ‘Heavy’ deposition of up to 30 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is characterized by the absence of species through sediment mobility (JNCC, 2015), rather than the presence of typical species: the addition of a single deposit of fine sediments which will be removed by wave action or currents will therefore not alter the biotope. Resistance to this pressure is therefore assessed as 'High' and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and this biotope is considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
High
Medium
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Low
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Litter [Show more]

Litter

Benchmark. The introduction of man-made objects able to cause physical harm (surface, water column, seafloor or strandline). Further detail

Evidence

Not assessed.

Not Assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Electromagnetic changes [Show more]

Electromagnetic changes

Benchmark. A local electric field of 1 V/m or a local magnetic field of 10 µT. Further detail

Evidence

No evidence

No evidence (NEv)
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
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No evidence (NEv)
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Underwater noise changes [Show more]

Underwater noise changes

Benchmark. MSFD indicator levels (SEL or peak SPL) exceeded for 20% of days in a calendar year. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Introduction of light or shading [Show more]

Introduction of light or shading

Benchmark. A change in incident light via anthropogenic means. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
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NR
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Not relevant (NR)
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Barrier to species movement [Show more]

Barrier to species movement

Benchmark. A permanent or temporary barrier to species movement over ≥50% of water body width or a 10% change in tidal excursion. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Death or injury by collision [Show more]

Death or injury by collision

Benchmark. Injury or mortality from collisions of biota with both static or moving structures due to 0.1% of tidal volume on an average tide, passing through an artificial structure. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant’ to seabed habitats.  NB. Collision by grounding vessels is addressed under surface abrasion.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Visual disturbance [Show more]

Visual disturbance

Benchmark. The daily duration of transient visual cues exceeds 10% of the period of site occupancy by the feature. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Biological Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species [Show more]

Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species

Benchmark. Translocation of indigenous species or the introduction of genetically modified or genetically different populations of indigenous species that may result in changes in the genetic structure of local populations, hybridization, or change in community structure. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is not characterized by any typical species, those that are present, such as Bathyporeia spp. are not translocated and this pressure is therefore considered 'Not relevant'.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species [Show more]

Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species

Benchmark. The introduction of one or more invasive non-indigenous species (INIS). Further detail

Evidence

The high levels of abrasion resulting from the movement of shingle and the subsequent sediment instability will limit the establishment of all but the most highly scour-resistant invasive non-indigenous species (INIS) and no direct evidence was found for the effects of INIS on this biotope.  The low levels of water and organic matter retained by this biotope, are considered to additionally inhibit permanent colonization by invasive species. Crepidula fornicata was reported from 'rough sediments' subject to strong tidal streams in the English Channel (Hinz et al., 2011). However, this biotope is characterized by unstable, mobile, cobbles and pebbles whose scour due to wave action and in winter storms removes most of the resident fauna on a seasonal basis, so Crepidula is unlikely to become established. 

Sensitivity assessment. Overall, there is no evidence of this biotope being adversely affected by non-native species.  As scouring of this biotope by mobile coarse sediments limits the establishment of all but robust species, resistance to INIS is assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) so that the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
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NR
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Introduction of microbial pathogens [Show more]

Introduction of microbial pathogens

Benchmark. The introduction of relevant microbial pathogens or metazoan disease vectors to an area where they are currently not present (e.g. Martelia refringens and Bonamia, Avian influenza virus, viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia virus). Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the absence of a biological assemblage apart from occasional and ephemeral presence of robust polychaetes, encrusting bryozoans or anemones (JNCC, 2015), this pressure is considered to be Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Removal of target species [Show more]

Removal of target species

Benchmark. Removal of species targeted by fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the absence of a biological assemblage apart from occasional and ephemeral presence of robust polychaetes, encrusting bryozoans or anemones (JNCC, 2015), this pressure is considered to be Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Removal of non-target species [Show more]

Removal of non-target species

Benchmark. Removal of features or incidental non-targeted catch (by-catch) through targeted fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope is characterized by the absence of a biological assemblage apart from occasional and ephemeral presence of robust polychaetes, encrusting bryozoans or anemones (JNCC, 2015), this pressure is considered to be Not relevant.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Bibliography

  1. Bird, E.C.F., 1983. Factors influencing beach and accretion: a global review. In Sandy beaches as ecosystems(ed. A. McLachlan & T. Erasmus), pp. 709-717. The Hague: Dr W. Junk Publishers.

  2. Connor, D.W., Allen, J.H., Golding, N., Howell, K.L., Lieberknecht, L.M., Northen, K.O. & Reker, J.B., 2004. The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland. Version 04.05. ISBN 1 861 07561 8. In JNCC (2015), The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 15.03. [2019-07-24]. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough. Available from https://mhc.jncc.gov.uk/

  3. Hinz, H., Capasso, E., Lilley, M., Frost, M. & Jenkins, S.R., 2011. Temporal differences across a bio-geographical boundary reveal slow response of sub-littoral benthos to climate change. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 423, 69-82. DOI https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08963

  4. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 2022.  The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 22.04. [Date accessed]. Available from: https://mhc.jncc.gov.uk/

  5. Long, D., 2006. BGS detailed explanation of seabed sediment modified Folk classification. Available from: http://www.emodnet-seabedhabitats.eu/PDF/GMHM3_Detailed_explanation_of_seabed_sediment_classification.pdf

  6. McLachlan, A., 1983. Sandy beach ecology - a review. In Sandy beaches as ecosystems (ed. A. McLachlan & T. Erasmus), pp.321-381. The Hague: Dr W. Junk Publishers.

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Tillin, H.M. 2023. Sparse fauna on highly mobile sublittoral shingle (cobbles and pebbles). In Tyler-Walters H. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 22-06-2024]. Available from: https://www.marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/1080

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Last Updated: 29/08/2023