The UK Marine SACs Project website was a vehicle for communicating and distributing the learning, knowledge and outputs from the UK Marine SACs Project to its wider audience. Since the project was completed in 2001, this website has been closed and all its documents and background information can now be accessed through the UKMPA Centre.

Introduction to managing European marine sites

Habitats Regulations

Management schemes

In May 1992, the member states of the European Union adopted the ‘Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora’. This is more commonly referred to as the Habitats Directive. The main aim of the Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity and, in particular, it requires member states to work together to maintain or restore to favourable conservation status certain rare, threatened, or typical natural habitats and species. These are listed in Annex I and II respectively.

One of ways in which member states are expected to achieve this aim is through the designation and protection of a series of sites, known as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

The Birds Directive (‘Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds’) complements the Habitats Directive by requiring member states to protect rare or vulnerable bird species through designating Special Protection Areas (SPA’s). Together, the terrestrial and marine SPAs and SACs are intended to form a coherent ecological network of sites of European importance, referred to as Natura 2000.

Habitats Regulations

The requirements of the Habitats Directive have been transposed into UK legislation through the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) (Northern Ireland) 1995, known as the Habitats Regulations.

Unlike on land where SACs and SPAs are underpinned by Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), there is no existing legislative framework for implementing the Habitats Directive in marine areas. Therefore the Regulations have a number of provisions specifically for new responsibilities and measures in relation to marine areas.

The Regulations place a general duty on all statutory authorities exercising legislative powers to perform these in accordance with the Habitats Directive. The term European marine site is defined to mean any SPA and SAC or part of a site that consists of a marine area, including intertidal areas. The new duties in connection with the management of marine sites are summarised below.

Management schemes

In the UK, management schemes may be established on European marine sites as a key measure in meeting the requirements of the Habitats Directive. Each scheme will be prepared by a group of authorities having statutory powers over the marine area - the relevant authorities (i ). The Regulations set out which authorities have responsibilities for managing these sites and how they are to be managed, as described below:

  • Relevant authorities are those who are already involved in some form of relevant marine regulatory function and would therefore be directly involved in the management of a marine site, and may include the following:
  • country conservation agencies,
  • local authorities,
  • the environment agencies,
  • water or sewerage undertakers,
  • navigation authorities,
  • port and harbour authorities,
  • lighthouse authorities,
  • river purification boards,
  • district salmon fisheries boards, and
  • sea fisheries committees.
  • A scheme may be established by one or more of the relevant authorities. It is expected that one will normally take the lead. Once established, all the relevant authorities have an equal responsibility to exercise their functions in accordance with the scheme.
  • Each site can have only one management scheme.

Whilst only relevant authorities have the responsibility for establishing a management scheme, government policy (DETR & Welsh Office guidance on "European marine sites in England and Wales") strongly recommends that other groups including owner and occupiers, users, industry and interest groups be involved in developing the scheme. To achieve this, it suggests the formation of advisory groups and a process for regular consultation during the development and operation of the scheme.

Within the Regulations, the nature conservation bodies have a special duty to advise the other relevant authorities as to the conservation objectives for a site and the operations that may cause deterioration or disturbance to the habitats or species for which it has been designated. This advice forms the basis for developing the management scheme.

The scheme will encourage the wise use of an area without detriment to the environment, based on the principle of sustainability. European marine sites have been selected with many activities already taking place and it is recognised that these are normally compatible with the conservation interest at their current levels. Only those activities that would cause deterioration or disturbance to the features for which a site has been designated need to be subject to restrictions under a management scheme. It is not the aim to exclude human activities from European marine sites, but rather to ensure that they are undertaken in ways that do not threaten the nature conservation interest (i ).

The primary focus of a management scheme is to manage operations and activities taking place within a European marine site, promoting its sustainable use. However, it may also provide guidance for the assessment of plans and projects, particularly those of minor or repetitive nature. A plan or project is any operation, which requires an application to be made for a specific statutory consent, authorisation, licence or other permission. Not all types of plan or project fall within the statutory functions of relevant authorities, but are consented or authorised by other statutory bodies, termed competent authorities (e.g. central government departments).

A Model Process for developing a Management Scheme for a European Marine Site

Habitats and species specified in the Habitats and Birds Directive and occurring in the UK