Protection of European sites

In Scotland, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas are given legal protection by the Habitats Regulations.

EU Exit does not alter the standard of protection for these sites. Find out more on EU Exit information at NatureScot.

The term ‘European site’ is being used to refer to what were previously known as ‘Natura’ sites.  This recognises that Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) protect species and habitats shared across Europe and were originally designated under European legislation.

 

In Scotland, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are given legal protection by the Habitats Regulations.

The Habitats Regulations ensure that any plan or project that may damage a European site is assessed and can only go ahead if certain strict conditions are met. This process is known as the Habitats Regulations Appraisal, one part of which is the appropriate assessment (AA).

SACs and SPAs have a high level of protection as they’re designated for habitats and species of European importance.

This doesn’t mean that proposals affecting these protected areas are automatically turned down rather you must first show that they will not have a negative impact on the protected areas.

With proper consideration most developments and activities that affect European sites can be modified so as not to conflict with the special interests of these protected areas.

A shared responsibility

The Habitats Regulations places certain duties on Scotland in regard to European sites including avoiding:

  • deterioration of their qualifying habitats
  • significant disturbance to their qualifying species

Thus everyone in Scotland has a part to play in conserving the special nature of our protected areas.

In particular, any ‘competent authority’ that proposes to authorise, consent or carry out a plan or project that may affect a European site must first carry out a Habitats Regulations Appraisal.

Competent authorities include, among many others:

  • Scottish Ministers
  • local authorities
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
  • Forestry and Land Scotland
  • NatureScot

Find out more

Scottish Natural Heritage Natura booklet

Natura sites and the Habitats Regulations: How to consider proposals affecting SACs and SPAs in Scotland

Scottish Government Policy for proposed SACs and proposed SPAs

Legislative requirements for European sites

 

Last updated: