Marine European sites

The seas around Scotland are rich in marine life. Some of our most important marine areas are marine European sites.

Some of our most important marine areas have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the European Habitats Directive and Birds Directive.

Marine SACs and SPAs are a type of Marine Protected Area. They’re also known as European Marine Sites.

Marine Special Protection Areas

Scotland’s seas support huge numbers of birds that spend all or part of their lives around our coasts. The 31 marine SPAs in our SPA network help to protect rare, vulnerable and regularly occurring migratory species that use our seas. These sites have been classified for their breeding seabird populations.

The extent of each SPA includes the:

  • land and cliffs on which the birds breed
  • water in front of the breeding cliffs – that is essential for a variety of activities, e.g. feeding, loafing, preening and display

In addition,15 marine SPAs have been proposed. These sites have been selected for:

  • inshore wintering waterfowl – such as sea ducks, divers and grebes
  • foraging areas for breeding terns
  • foraging areas for breeding red-throated divers
  • important areas for European shag
  • aggregations of true seabirds – such as gannet and guillemot

They will help to protect the birds themselves as well as the rich feeding grounds and sheltered waters on which they depend. See Overview of the Scottish marine Special Protection Area selection process

Following consultation in 2016/17, Marine Scotland commissioned NatureScot to carry out a Network Assessment of the 15 marine pSPAs. The assessment includes 53 species-season assessments. The Network Assessment formed part of the supporting information consulted on by Marine Scotland alongside their Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the pSPAs. 

In completion of NatureScot and JNCC’s advice to Scottish Government we have now published the following documents:

Marine Special Areas of Conservation

From stretches of coastline to the undersea cliffs around St Kilda, marine SACs showcase a range of stunning examples of marine biodiversity in Scottish waters. These sites protect threatened habitats and non-bird species listed in Annexes of the Habitats Directive.

See an overview of habitats and species protected in UK marine SACs on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) website.

Offshore marine SACs lie more than 12 nautical miles from Scotland’s coast. Find out more about offshore SACs on the JNCC website.

Management of Marine SACs and SPAs

Terrestrial and marine SACs and SPAs are protected in the same way. Protection provisions are outlined in the Habitats Directive and transposed into domestic law through the Habitats Regulations. Find out about the protection of Natura sites.

European Marine Sites (marine SPAs and SACs) have additional management arrangements, however.

Several of the Habitats Regulations refer specifically to European Marine Sites. Regulations 33 to 35 describe special provisions for protecting and managing these marine areas.

Where they have functions in relation to land or waters within or next to a European marine site, the following are considered ‘relevant authorities’:

  • nature conservation bodies
  • local authorities
  • water undertakers
  • navigation authorities
  • harbour authorities
  • lighthouse authorities
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
  • District Salmon Fishery Boards
  • National Park authorities
  • local fisheries committees

All relevant authorities are also competent authorities with regard to Habitats Regulations Appraisal.

Site information including Regulation 33 packages

Regulation 33 of the Habitats Regulations requires NatureScot to advise other ‘relevant authorities’ about:

  • the conservation objectives of a European marine site
  • any operations that may cause deterioration to the ‘qualifying interests’ (protected habitats and species) of the site

View a list of links to the regulation 33 packages that NatureScot has produced for marine SACs in Scotland.

You can also search by site name to view the conservation objectives and qualifying interests for all Scottish marine SACs and SPAs on SiteLink.

Management schemes

Regulation 34 allows for the creation of a management scheme for each European marine site.

A management scheme can be set up by either:

  • the relevant authorities
  • a Scottish Minister giving directions to the relevant authorities (regulation 35)

Not all European marine sites have management schemes – they’re only set up where there’s a need for them, usually because a site has many different users.

SAC management scheme examples include:

  • Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast
  • Firth of Lorn and Loch Creran

Find out more

Different types of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland

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