Historic Marine Protected Area

Kinlochbervie Historic MPAHMPA3

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).


Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Secular: shipwreck
Local Authority
NC 18638 53993
218638, 953993

The marine historic asset located within the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA is the remains of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the seabed, objects formerly contained in the vessel and deposits or artefacts which evidence previous human activity on board the vessel.

Boundaries of Historic Marine Protected Area

The area of sea within a distance of 300 metres of position latitude 58° 26'.189 north, longitude 05° 06'.507 west, excluding any seashore lying above mean high water spring tide.


The Scottish Ministers are satisfied that designation of the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA is desirable for the purpose of preserving a marine historic asset of national importance which is located within the area. The identity of the wrecked vessel is unknown but the wreck is considered most likely to be that of a merchant ship, probably originating from the Iberian peninsula, lost during the 1590s or perhaps even after 1600. The wreck occupies an exposed coastal location on the SW and S sides of the islet of Sgeir Eorna, 4km SW of the fishing harbour of Kinlochbervie. The upper part of the site is located within a shallow lagoon at a depth of 4m-14m below chart datum. The main concentration of remains is located at the foot of an underwater cliff at a depth of between 25-30m below chart datum.

Statement of National Importance

The Kinlochbervie wreck is considered to be of national importance because the site has produced the largest group of Italian Renaissance pottery ever recovered from an archaeological site in Scotland, and the largest group of grotesque maiolica ever recovered from an archaeological site in Britain. These finds are in the care of the National Museums of Scotland but potential exists for further such discoveries at on the seabed. Whatever the ship's purpose, ports of origin and destination, its presence at the northernmost tip of Scotland may illustrate the extent of Iberian maritime trade in northern Europe, amidst the political uncertainties at the end of the 16th centuries. Such survivals are very rare in a Scottish and wider UK context. While there is considerable archaeological evidence of Spanish naval activity, particularly the 1588 Armada, little evidence of trade with Spain or Mediterranean countries in the early 17th century has been investigated systematically from northern waters.

Designation of the Kinlochbervie wreck can help by promoting the heritage value of this site and ensuring that any future investigations of this wreck take place in accordance with the highest archaeological standards.

Intrinsic characteristics

Divers identified pottery, guns and anchors indicating presence of a post-medieval-period wreck close to Kinlochbervie around 1998. Curators from the National Museums of Scotland identified an intact ceramic ewer recovered by the divers as grotesque Majolica ware of Italian origin, dating from the second half of the 16th century AD. The site was subject to detailed archaeological survey and rescue of threatened ceramic artefacts during the period 2000-2003. These investigations revealed two distinct concentrations of material. Two anchors and two guns were identified at about 4m depth within a shallow lagoon which steps down into a gully at the top of an underwater cliff at a depth of about 14m. This is a high-energy environment where only the most durable artefacts appear to have survived. A further two guns and anchors were identified together with the main concentration of ceramic finds at the foot of the underwater cliff at a depth of between 25 and 30m, scattered over an area of bedrock and rock crevices measuring about 22m by 8m. Mobile sand has accumulated in places within the crevices, while less mobile deposits of gravel and other materials are found in the deeper gulleys. A flat sandy seabed extends to the W at a depth of 34m. The recovered ceramic assemblage comprising 147 fragments of pottery and 33 of brick and tile is in the care of the National Museums of Scotland. The collection includes galley brick and tile, possible Beauvais stoneware, Seville coarseware (including one intact olive jar), Iberian Red Micaceous ware, and five or more types of Italian maiolica (e.g Grotesque; Montelupo; Ligurian berettino; Faenza; Deruta). Specialist study by art historians and archaeologists has indicated that the Italian maiolica pottery was probably manufactured between 1570 and 1610. The guns were probably manufactured in England or the Baltic countries during the late 16th or early 17th centuries while the anchors appear to be of two different sizes and of a design common at the time. This information suggests that the wrecking event took place during the 1590s or perhaps even after 1600.

The iron guns and anchors remain on the seabed and there may still be fragments of pottery embedded within thin sediment layers between the rock boulders or in the unexcavated sands at the foot of the sea cliff. No organic remains (e.g hull structure) have so far been identified and the burial environment may militate against survival of such materials. It is however possible that the recorded assemblage may only be a part of the remains of the wreck. The numerous offshore reefs located to the W of the wreck around Sgeirean Cruaidhe, may have caught the vessel as she was driven landwards leaving a debris trail. Alternatively, the major break-up may have occurred on the reef but with only a section of the ship settling into deeper water.

Contextual characteristics

The survival of historic wrecks of 18th-century date or earlier is relatively rare in Scottish waters and the survival of an example such as that at Kinlochbervie, particularly so. If the late 16th or early 17th century date and Iberian origin for this vessel are accepted, the only other known parallels in Scottish waters are the wrecks of the Spanish Armada vessels Gran Grifon (Fair Isle), and San Juan de Sicilia (Tobermory). While a possible connection with the Spanish Armada was initially considered for the Kinlochbervie wreck, the ceramic assemblage is different in character to that found on other Armada wrecks around UK and Irish coasts, and analysis of finds at Kinlochbervie suggests a terminus post quem later than 1588. In the apparent absence of documentary information, the Iberian associations of the brick, tile and pottery suggest that the remains represent the isolated loss of a merchant vessel sailing from the Iberian peninsula to northern Europe, possibly taking the Atlantic 'north-about route' around Scotland to avoid piracy in the Narrow Seas.

Associative characteristics

There is no known historical account relating to this wreck but after the wreck's discovery, the site was investigated as part of Channel Four's Time Team series (programme shown January 2002). Investigations on the site and specialist analysis of the ceramic assemblage have now been published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Preservation Objective

The preservation objectives for the Mingary Historic MPA and the marine historic asset are:

a) to maintain the extent of survival of the marine historic asset within the area;
b) to maintain site condition of the marine historic asset;
c) to prevent the removal, wholly or partly, of the marine historic asset from within the Mingary Historic MPA, except where the Scottish Ministers are satisfied that this is desirable for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection of the marine historic asset or to knowledge about marine cultural heritage;
d) to prevent the commercial exploitation of the marine historic asset for trade, speculation or its irretrievable dispersal other than provision of professional archaeological or public access which is consistent with preservation objectives a,b,c,e;
e) to ensure that the disturbance of human remains is avoided except for authorised research and subject to repectful treatment.

Preservation Objective Description

Preservation objectives guide the management of Historic MPAs according to the specific needs of individual areas. Objectives for the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA are focused around maintaining the extent of survival of marine historic assets in situ and maintaining site condition. Additional objectives set out instances where the recovery of marine historic assets (in whole or part) may be acceptable and to restrict commercial exploitation of marine historic assets for trade or speculation. To enable monitoring of progress against these objectives by Historic Scotland, information relating to the survival of marine historic assets and site condition is set out in the table below, based on archaeological investigations undertaken by undertaken by the Archaeological Diving Unit, University of St Andrews (1990-2001), and by Lochaline Dive Centre (Robertson 2003; Brown and Curnow 2003).

ObjectiveCurrent indicator status and descriptorDetail in relation to baseline position
To maintain site condition of the marine historic asset

Generally satisfactory but with minor localised problems – i.e. there may be some localised erosion or deterioration affecting up to 15% of an asset. However it does not constitute serious damage and is an acceptable feature in the circumstances.

The site is located on a very exposed Atlantic shore, open to the North Minch (to the W and SW) and to the Atlantic (to the NW). Remaining finds in the shallow lagoon will be particularly vulnerable to wave action. In general, the seabed environment appears to be chemically challenging to the large iron artefacts with chemical analysis of corrosion products in 2003 indicating that any remaining iron is unstable and corroding actively. These objects may therefore be in the final stages of decay. At the base of the cliff, sedimentary cover exists and low levels of biological activity and water movement have also been observed, indicative of a relatively low energy environment. This may explain how ceramics have survived in such an apparently exposed location.

To maintain the extent of survival of the marine historic asset within the area

Survival <20% - i.e. we estimate <20% extent of survival by comparing the quality and integrity of in-situ remains with what evidence exists relating to the marine historic asset in its original form.

After investigations concluded in 2003, four guns and four anchors remain visible on the seabed. The majority of exposed ceramic objects at the foot of the cliff were recovered but excavation of test pits in 2003 identified buried finds and there is significant potential therefore for more material to be buried where soft sediment cover exists. However, the depth of sediment cover is such that preservation of organics is unlikely.


Designation of the Kinlochbervie HMPA places a duty on public authorities with functions capable of adversely affecting marine historic assets to carry out those functions in a way that best furthers or, where this is not possible, least hinders the stated preservation objectives. To fulfil this duty, public authorities must consider and implement changes in the way they carry out their functions to deliver benefits for/ minimise adverse effects on the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA, taking advice from Historic Environment Scotland.

  • When preparing local development plans; marine plans; and fisheries management plans relevant to this location, as well as other programmes, policies and strategies, public authorities must take account of the preservation objectives for the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA.

  • Competent authorities with responsibilities for issuing authorisation for all developments and licensable activities (for example, through marine licensing; planning permission; issuing of seabed leases) within and outwith the boundaries of the protected area must consider impacts on the preservation objectives for the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA, taking advice from Historic Environment Scotland. Decisions must also be taken in accordance with the relevant marine plans and policies.

  • Where their functions or acts which they intend to undertake may significantly hinder the achievement of the preservation objectives for this Historic MPA, public authorities are required to notify Historic Environment Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland has 28 days to respond and public authorities must have regard to advice or guidance given by Historic Environment Scotland.



Operational Advice for the Proposed HMPA

The following advice is intended to enable sea-users and public authorities to prioritise beneficial management of activities that might otherwise hinder the preservation objectives for the Kinlochbervie Historic MPA. The seabed within this area preserves archaeological remains that represent a finite, non-renewable resource, the survival of which could be affected by a complex interplay of processes originating from sources that may be naturally occurring (e.g. chemical, biological or physical factors) or man-made (Historic Scotland 2012a, 8). Table 2 indicates which key pressures are known currently although there are additional pressures which could hinder the preservation objectives were they to occur.

In summary, this site is considered most vulnerable to the following impacts from man-made operations:

Direct Impacts

Physical damage/loss/alteration arising from: a) collision/abrasion by construction/extraction activities; commercial fishing operations which impact on the seabed (particularly demersal trawling – eg scallop dredging); anchoring/mooring of vessels within the protected area; and b) the selective removal of artefacts and/or excavation of sediments by diving/archaeological operations within the protected area.

Indirect Impacts

Alteration/loss of the marine historic asset arising from any construction/extraction/dumping at sea/commercial installation operations in the vicinity which might exacerbate erosion of sediments or result in significant changes to seabed biology/water chemistry within the protected area.


Historic Scotland's Strategic Heritage Management Team will be pleased to provide detailed operational advice where impacts are anticipated on a case by case basis. The basis for this advice is set out in the table below.


Operational advice following Historic MPA designation

Construction/ extraction/ dumping within the protected area

As the marine historic asset is considered highly vulnerable to such activities and the spatial footprint of this protected area is small, developers and sea-users will normally be advised to plan developments in a way that avoids the area, and any direct impacts, altogether. There may however be cases where carefully managed emplacement of sand-bags/other forms of geotextile membrane within the protected area or scientific monitoring equipment is desirable to support preservation objectives.

Construction/ extraction/ dumping at sea/ operation of commercial installations in the vicinity

Proposals for such activities in the vicinity should carefully assess likely impacts on hydrodynamic processes and any seabed biology/water chemistry over the protected area, and where appropriate, consider ways to mitigate the impacts concerned. This advice is likely to be relevant for activities not currently present nearby such as fin-fish and shellfish aquaculture (the nearest sites are currently in Lochs Laxford and Inchard). Impacts on 'setting' from shoreline/marine developments in the vicinity are not anticipated at this time.

Recreational diving, bathing, within the protected area

Responsible recreational diving is encouraged. Feel free to take photographs or video during visits but do not recover artefacts, damage or disturb a marine historic asset. Also, please do not displace sediments or remove weed as this is helping to maintain the stability of the wreck site. Any shot lines to aid diver access to the site should be carefully placed and not used as mooring lines for a dive vessel. Maintaining good buoyancy control also helps to minimise impacts to the site. Anyone diving within the protected area is encouraged to provide a brief report about their visit to Historic Environment Scotland, to assist in monitoring this important wreck.

Scientific and archaeological investigation within the protected area

Non-intrusive scientific/archaeological survey work is encouraged as is dissemination of the information and knowledge which results. However, intrusive activities, including archaeological excavation, sediment sampling, and recovery of objects of historic interest are subject to marine licensing, and you will need to apply to Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) who will take advice from Historic Environment Scotland about whether these activities should proceed, subject to conditions.

Boating, vessel traffic, including anchoring and laying of moorings

Boating is generally encouraged providing that no damage or disturbance of the marine historic asset occurs. For example, boat owners should avoid use of anchors within the protected area except in instances of maritime distress to save life or secure the safety of a vessel. Laying of moorings should be avoided within the protected area. However, there may be instances where laying of temporary seabed moorings is desirable to support sustainable access to the site. Where this is the case, care should be taken to place moorings away from the known extent of archaeological remains.

Commercial fisheries

There is no evidence that pelagic/demersal fishing (e.g scallop dredging) takes place over this site but it may take place nearby. Use of demersal techniques within the protected area must be avoided as damage is likely to be catastrophic. As there is a risk of snagging creel lines on exposed anchors/ cannon, and potentially too of destabilising sediment deposits, use of creels should also be avoided on the W and S sides of Sgeir Eorna.



Brown, D H and Curnow, C 2004, 'A ceramic assemblage from the seabed near Kinlochbervie, Scotland, UK', International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (IJNA) 33.1, 29.

Robertson, P 2004, 'A shipwreck near Kinlochbervie, Sutherland, Scotland, UK,' IJNA 33.1, 14.


Archaeological Diving Unit, report references 00-11; 01-18. Copies archived with RCAHMS.

Online resources

Historic Scotland 2012, Guidelines on the Selection, Designation and Management of Historic Marine Protected Areas. Copy available at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/historic-mpa-guidelines.pdf

Historic Scotland 2012a, Historic Marine Protected Areas, a guide for visitors, investigators and managers – copy available at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/historic-mpa-leaflet.pdf

Scottish Government, 2010, Making the most of Scotland's seas – copy available at www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/308833/0097196.pdf

Wessex Archaeology, 2010, Existing designated historic assets: transition to Historic Marine Protected Areas and identification of biodiversity/geodiversity value. Prepared by Wessex Archaeology for Historic Scotland, August 2010. Ref:73210.04. Copy archived with RCAHMS and available http://lmid1a.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000732.pdf

Wessex Archaeology, 2012, Characterising Scotland's marine archaeological resource. Prepared by Wessex Archaeology for Historic Scotland, January 2012. Ref: 76930.04 Copy archived with RCAHMS and available at http://lmid1a.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000720.pdf

About Historic Marine Protected Areas

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

Historic marine protected areas are the way that marine historic assets of national importance which survive in Scottish territorial waters are protected by law under Part 5 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

We advise Marine Scotland on the importance of marine historic assets and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate sites. We assess marine historic assets using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

The information in the historic marine protected area record gives an indication of the national importance of the site(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the site(s).

It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly remove, alter or disturb marine historic assets, or carry out activities which could damage or interfere with a marine historic asset or significantly hinder a protected area's preservation objectives.

The historic marine protected area record provides guidance about what activities can take place at each site.

Planning permission or a marine licence (or both) may be required for carrying out work inside a historic marine protected area. Enquiries about planning permission should be made to the planning authority. Enquiries about marine licences should be made to Marine Scotland's Licensing Operations Team.

Find out more about historic marine protected areas and our other designations at www.historicenvironment.scot/advice-and-support. You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at designations@hes.scot.


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