Continental shelf sediments are globally important for biogeochemical activity. Quantification of shelf-scale stocks and fluxes of carbon and nutrients requires the extrapolation of observations made at limited points in space and time. The procedure for selecting exemplar sites to form the basis of this up-scaling is discussed in relation to a UK-funded research programme investigating biogeochemistry in shelf seas. A three-step selection process is proposed in which (1) a target area representative of UK shelf sediment heterogeneity is selected, (2) the target area is assessed for spatial heterogeneity in sediment and habitat type, bed and water column structure and hydrodynamic forcing, and (3) study sites are selected within this target area encompassing the range of spatial heterogeneity required to address key scientific questions regarding shelf scale biogeochemistry, and minimise confounding variables. This led to the selection of four sites within the Celtic Sea that are significantly different in terms of their sediment, bed structure, and macrofaunal, meiofaunal and microbial community structures and diversity, but have minimal variations in water depth, tidal and wave magnitudes and directions, temperature and salinity. They form the basis of a research cruise programme of observation, sampling and experimentation encompassing the spring bloom cycle. Typical variation in key biogeochemical, sediment, biological and hydrodynamic parameters over a pre to post bloom period are presented, with a discussion of anthropogenic influences in the region. This methodology ensures the best likelihood of site-specific work being useful for up-scaling activities, increasing our understanding of benthic biogeochemistry at the UK-shelf scale.