View over Scots pines and Loch Maree from the mountain trail, Beinn Eighe NNR, West Highland Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)

Special Areas of Conservation are part of the Natura network of protected sites and are designated under the Habitats Directive.

A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) protects one or more special habitats and/or species – terrestrial or marine – listed in the Habitats Directive.

Scotland has 251 designated SACs, including three that straddle the border with England, two which straddle the 12nm inshore/offshore territorial boundary and eight which are entirely in Scotland's offshore waters. Together they cover more than 3.84 million hectares (14,840 square miles) of land and inshore waters in Scotland and Scottish offshore waters.

In Scottish inshore and/or offshore waters there are also:

  • one candidate SAC submitted to the European Commission and
  • one candidate SAC that has been adopted by the European Commission as a Site of Community Importance.

This Site of Community Importance and the candidate SAC cover a combined area of almost 1.6 million hectares.

SACs can range in size from a small burn that’s vitally important to the freshwater pearl mussel to the 150,000-hectare Moray Firth marine SAC that’s important for bottlenose dolphins. Then there’s the Inner Hebrides and the Minches SAC, important for harbour porpoise, which covers 1.38 million hectares. Read more about how these sites are protected and managed.

Habitats and species protected in Scotland

Scotland’s terrestrial and marine SACs protect a variety of habitats and species:

Selection and designation

SACs are selected for particular habitats and species that are listed in Annexes of the Habitats Directive. Find out about the SAC designation process on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) website.

The European Commission (EC) has produced an interpretation manual for the Annex I habitats that occur in the European Union: Interpretation Manual of European Union Habitats

Before the Scottish Government may designate a new SAC, the EC must first adopt the proposed site. Natura site data forms are used to submit information about SACs to the EC as part of the adoption process.

To view site data forms for Scotland’s SACs:

  1. View SACs in Scotland on the JNCC website.
  2. Click on the ‘EU Code’ link to go to the site description page for your selected SAC.
  3. Click on the link to the ‘Natura 2000 standard data form’ for the site.

The official guide to completing Natura site data forms contains useful background notes to help explain their contents: Explanatory notes for Natura 2000 standard data forms

Find SACs in Scotland and the UK

Search for an SAC in Scotland on SiteLink:

  • by using the interactive map
  • by entering the site name or local authority
  • by designation type

Here you can find the Qualifying Interest List, conservation objectives and site map for individual SACs.

Search all UK SACs on the JNCC website:

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