Phytoplankton underpin the marine food web in shelf seas, with some species having properties that are harmful to human health and coastal aquaculture. Pressures such as climate change and anthropogenic nutrient input are hypothesized to influence phytoplankton community composition and distribution. Yet the primary environmental drivers in shelf seas are poorly understood. To begin to address this in North Western European waters, the phytoplankton community composition was assessed in light of measured physical and chemical drivers during the ¿Ellett Line¿ cruise of autumn 2001 across the Scottish Continental shelf and into adjacent open Atlantic waters. Spatial variability existed in both phytoplankton and environmental conditions, with clear differences not only between on and off shelf stations but also between different on shelf locations. Temperature/salinity plots demonstrated different water masses existed in the region. In turn, principal component analysis (PCA), of the measured environmental conditions (temperature, salinity, water density and inorganic nutrient concentrations) clearly discriminated between shelf and oceanic stations on the basis of DIN:DSi ratio that was correlated with both salinity and temperature. Discrimination between shelf stations was also related to this ratio, but also the concentration of DIN and DSi. The phytoplankton community was diatom dominated, with multidimensional scaling (MDS) demonstrating spatial variability in its composition. Redundancy analysis (RDA) was used to investigate the link between environment and the phytoplankton community. This demonstrated a significant relationship between community composition and water mass as indexed by salinity (whole community), and both salinity and DIN:DSi (diatoms alone). Diatoms of the Pseudo-nitzschia seriata group occurred at densities potentially harmful to shellfish aquaculture, with the potential for toxicity being elevated by the likelihood of DSi limitation of growth at most stations and depths.