Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are special sites designated under the EU
to protect rare, vulnerable and migratory birds. The
Directive came into force in April 1979. Marine SPAs
protect and manage areas that these birds use for
breeding, feeding, wintering or migration. Marine SPAs are also known as
European Marine Sites (EMS) and form part of the European network of Natura 2000
(also see here
The Birds Directive states
that conservation measures should be taken in both the land and sea areas. 106 UK SPAs include marine
components, defined as sites with “qualifying Birds
Directive Annex I species or regularly occurring migratory species that are
dependent on the marine environment for all or part of their lifecycle, where
these species are found in association with intertidal or
The Directive does not prescribe
the selection process for SPAs. Guidelines on the site selection process and marine
SPA identification were developed by the JNCC. Socio-economic considerations cannot be taken into
account when identifying site features or boundaries, rather,
site selection must be based entirely on
JNCC carries out research to assist in the identification of
marine SPAs in a UK context, including determining areas of UK waters where 44 species of marine birds aggregate.
There are four main types
of marine SPA:
- marine extensions to
existing seabird breeding colony SPAs
- inshore aggregations of
- offshore aggregations of
- other types of SPA
The relevant Statutory Nature
Conservation Body (SNH, NE, NRW, and DAERA for inshore waters up to 12
nautical miles from the coast, or JNCC for offshore waters from 12 to 200
nautical miles) then takes responsibility for
using the evidence to determine potential marine SPA areas to take forward for
public consultation. The Defra Secretary of State decides whether sites
should be classified. Defra informs the European
Commission once the Minister has classified an SPA. A full list of designated SPAs can be found on the JNCC website.
For information on consultations please look on the websites for JNCC for offshore areas, SNH for Scottish territorial areas, Natural
England for English territorial waters, and NRW for Welsh consultations.
Entirely intertidal SPA sites can be managed under SSSI/ASSI mechanism,
as most EMS (whole, or part, of a SAC or SPA) are also designated as
SSSIs/ASSIs. The relevant conservation agency provide management views and a
list of operations that require consent. Most subtidal EMS are managed under
the Habitats Regulations 2017 or Offshore Habitats Regulations 2017. Management schemes
are optional, but the relevant nature conservation body is required to
communicate the conservation objectives for the site, and must also advise of
operations which may cause deterioration or disturbance of the feature for
which the site has been designated.
For further information on site-specific management, look at
the MMO strategic
English SPAs with a marine component
For English inshore waters, Natural England is responsible
for recommending potential SPAs to Defra for classification, taking scientific
advice from JNCC. Beyond 12 nm, JNCC is responsible for site identification. The
Defra Secretary of State decides whether sites should be classified.
There are 44 SPAs with marine components in English inshore
waters, including four cross border sites and one straddling the inshore and
Natural England held consultations that closed in early 2017 on proposals to extend existing or create new SPAs to
protect the ideal feeding waters used by protected birds. These included Solway Firth pSPA,
Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay pSPA,
Greater Wash pSPA, Solent and Dorset Coast pSPA, and Liverpool Bay SPA extension.
In October 2017, SPA designations were made to extensions to four existing SPAs; Poole Harbour SPA, Liverpool Bay SPA, Outer Thames SPA and Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay SPA. A new marine SPA site was also designated, that of Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay SPA.
Welsh SPAs with a marine component
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) determine SPA sites in Wales. There are 12 SPAs with marine components in
Welsh waters, including three cross-border sites with England. Birds protected by SPAs in Wales
include common scoter, red kites, merlin, osprey, golden plover and Manx Shearwater.
Consultations on further SPAs in Welsh waters closed in May 2016,
with reports submitted to Government on 19 October 2016. Welsh Ministers classified the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of Anglesey
Morwenoliaid Ynys Môn SPA, Northern Cardigan Bay / Gogledd Bae Ceredigion SPA, and Skomer, Skokholm and the seas off Pembrokeshire /
Sgomer, Sgogwm a moroedd Penfro SPA in January 2017.
The Irish Sea Front SPA, an offshore site, was designated in October 2017, after consultation between the 23rd January and 20th April 2017.
Scottish SPAs with a marine component
Scotland has 45 existing
marine SPAs (one of which is a cross-border site with England), of which 31 are
extensions to seabird colony SPAs, to protect a range of vulnerable or
migratory bird species such as puffins and kittiwakes.
SNH and JNCC have submitted
formal advice to Scottish Ministers for 15 pSPAs used by 31 species of seabird,
including important foraging sites for both breeding seabirds and migratory
over-wintering birds. The consultation on those pSPAs in Scottish territorial
waters, and hence under exclusive responsibility of Scottish Ministers, ran
from July to October 2016, encompassing 10 of the 15 proposed sites.
Consultation (and see here) ran from 4 October 2016 to 17 January 2017 on four offshore pSPAs which need agreement
from both Scottish Ministers and the UK Government. These include the Seas off St
Kilda pSPA, the Seas off Foula pSPA, Pentland Firth pSPA and the Outer Firth
of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex pSPA. The final site, that of Solway Firth
pSPA, which has cross-border
components with England, and hence also requires UK Government approval, was also open for consultation at the same time.
Northern Irish SPAs with a marine component
The Northern Ireland
Environment Agency (NIEA) Natural Environment Division is
responsible for the designation and management of SPAs in Northern
Ireland, supported by DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division with provision of
expert knowledge and monitoring for the management of marine and coastal SPA sites.
There are 9 SPA sites with a marine component in
Northern Ireland, including Belfast Lough (the only entirely marine SPA in
Northern Irish waters), Carlingford Lough, Killough Bay, Larne Lough, Lough
Foyle, Outer Ards, Rathlin Island, and Strangford Lough, with further
information available on the DAERA website.
Consultations were held in 2016 for two marine SPAs in Northern Irish waters; East Coast (Northern Ireland) Marine pSPA and an extension to Carlingford Loch SPA.