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.

Managing European marine sites - legal responsibilities and requirements in the UK

Habitats Directive Requirements and the Regulations


Under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994, that transpose the requirements of the Habitats and Birds Directives into UK law, the statutory nature conservation agencies (ie. country agencies) have a duty to advise other relevant authorities, as soon as possible after a site becomes a European marine site, as to:

the conservation objectives for that site’ and ‘any operations which may cause deterioration of natural habitats or the habitats of species, or disturbance of species, for which the site has been designated.

[Regulation 33(2) (GB), Regulation 28(b) (NI)]

For marine sites that have been agreed by the UK Government and submitted to the European Commission, it is Government policy that these sites should be treated as if they were already designated as SACs. The same applies to sites acknowledged by Government to be potential SPAs. Furthermore, it is policy that voluntary management schemes should be set up as soon as possible after sites have been identified as being worthy of designation, but before the formal statutory obligations begin to apply.

Habitats Directive Requirements and the Regulations

The Habitats Directive has a number of major requirements. These are summarised below:

  • European marine sites should be managed in order to contribute to the maintenance or restoration at the favourable conservation status of their natural habitats and species.
  • In European marine sites steps shall be taken to avoid the deterioration of the habitats, the habitats of the species or the disturbance of species for which the site has been designated.
  • Activities, plans or projects, whether inside or outside the European marine site, that are likely to have a significant effect on the conservation status of the site’s features shall be subject to assessment. Generally, such plans and projects may proceed only when it has been ascertained that they will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned
  • A programme of monitoring will be undertaken at each site, to monitor the condition of conservation features of the site and to assess the effectiveness of management measures undertaken.
  • Any management of the site should take account of the economic, cultural, social and recreational needs of the local people.

The Regulations state that:

  • where required, only one management scheme may be established for each European marine site [Regulation 34 (GB), Regulation 29 (NI)].

The Regulations suggest that:

  • the relevant authorities should work together, ideally within a management group, to develop a suitable management scheme for each site;
  • any of the relevant authorities may take the lead in establishing a management scheme.

The Regulations include powers that allow the appropriate ministers to direct a particular relevant authority to take the lead in the establishment of a management scheme or to direct a management scheme once created [Regulation 35 (GB), Regulation 30 (NI)]. The management scheme should be incorporated in the appropriate statutory framework, e.g. local and regional plans, or supported by bye-laws as appropriate.

The management scheme should be informed by a series of site specific conservation objectives. It will be the duty of the statutory nature conservation agencies to identify the conservation features of the site and to advise the relevant authorities as to the conservation objectives for reach site [Regulation 33 (GB), Regulation 28 (NI)]. The Regulations also require the conservation agencies to advise relevant authorities as to any operations which may cause deterioration of, or disturbance to, the conservation features of the site. Any agreed management measures required to ensure that the conservation objectives are met should be undertaken by the appropriate relevant authorities.

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