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Natura sites

Natura sites – Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas – are designated under the European Habitats and Birds Directives.

Scotland is home to many amazing plants, animals and birds – some rare, endangered or vulnerable. By caring for these and other species, we can play an important part in conserving the world’s biodiversity.

Natura sites represent the very best of Scotland’s nature and are internationally important for threatened habitats and species.

Natura sites – Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – form a unique network of protected areas that stretches across Europe. The Natura network extends from Ireland’s rocky coasts in the west to Poland’s marshes in the east. It takes in the northern forests of Sweden and the volcanic lava fields of Tenerife in the south.

Natura sites are designated under two of the most influential pieces of European legislation relating to nature conservation:

The Birds Directive protects all wild birds and their nests, eggs and habitats within the European Union. SPAs are classified under the Birds Directive to protect birds that are rare or vulnerable in Europe as well as all migratory birds that are regular visitors.

SACs are designated under the Habitats Directive for habitats and non-bird species. The Habitats Directive also sets out how Natura sites should be protected and has a number of wider implications such as those relating to European protected species.

In Scotland, SACs and SPAs are given legal protection by the Habitats Regulations. The Habitats Regulations ensure that any plan or project that may damage a Natura site is assessed and can only go ahead if certain strict conditions are met. This process is known as Habitats Regulations Appraisal.

Scottish Natural Heritage works with owners and occupiers of Natura sites to ensure that natural heritage interests are managed appropriately. Designation as a Natura site usually won’t make a big difference to how a site is managed. But small changes are sometimes needed to protect its interests.

More information: Scottish Natural Heritage Natura booklet