A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is an area which has been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. SACs provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity.
January 2013 - Improvement Programme for England’s Natura 2000 Sites
June 2012 - Natural England has just launched its refreshed Conservation Objectives for Natura 2000 sites, which set out the high level objectives for Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation.
The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992) requires EU Member States to create a network of protected wildlife areas, known as Natura 2000, across the European Union. This network consists of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), established to protect wild birds under the Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979). These sites are part of a range of measures aimed at conserving important or threatened habitats and species.
Each EU Member State has compiled a list of its most important wildlife areas, following criteria set out in the Habitats Directive. As the statutory advisor to Government on nature conservation, English Nature led the work to identify and consult on areas qualifying for SAC status in England. All owners and occupiers of land affected were consulted by us during this period. Once the list of candidate SACs in England was approved by the Government, it was submitted to the European Commission.
On 7 December 2004, the European Commission formally adopted the UK’s list of candidate SACs so that they became Sites of Community Importance (SCI). Following this the 236 English sites on this list were formally designated as SACs by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 1 April 2005.
The SACs have been entered in the Register of European Sites, held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and are available for public inspection. Natural England ensures that copies of the relevant register entries, together with other supporting information, are sent to landowners, occupiers and other interested parties.
The legal requirements relating to the designation, protection and management of SACs in England are set out in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (SI No. 2010/490) (as amended), often referred to as ‘the Habitats Regulations’. All terrestrial SACs in England are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The additional SAC designation is recognition that some or all of the wildlife habitats and species within a SSSI are particularly valued in a European context and require additional protection.
Designation of an SAC is unlikely to greatly affect the way in which we work with SSSI managers to conserve their biodiversity. We will continue to work in close partnership with those who own, use and manage land to secure any necessary changes in the way in which it is managed. Where necessary, we may be able to make a contribution to the costs of any special management by entering into an agreement with owners or occupiers.
The Habitats Regulations require that any plans, projects or activities which are proposed and require a permission of some kind and may significantly affect a SAC must be subject to special scrutiny and first require a detailed ‘appropriate assessment’. The decision-making authority may only permit or undertake the proposals if the assessment concludes that there would no adverse effect on the integrity of the SAC. Where it cannot reach this conclusion, the project can then only proceed in particular circumstances. This process allows those proposals which clearly will not impact upon the special European wildlife interest of a SAC to proceed. Natural England is able to provide advice to authorities on how proposed activities can avoid adverse impacts on a SAC.
Under the Habitats Regulations planning authorities must also require that any permitted development normally carried out under a general planning permission but which may affect a SAC requires further approval before being undertaken.
As the statutory nature conservation body in England, Natural England is duty bound to ensure that SACs are protected and managed favourably for conservation in line with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. Our experience is that it is usually possible to find mutually acceptable solutions where sustainable land use and wildlife can flourish.
England's SACs can be found at sea as well as on land. Marine areas are not normally notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), except in intertidal areas and estuaries. Instead we work closely with the various maritime authorities to ensure that activities under their control are managed appropriately in ways which protect and conserve marine SACs.
The information set out here is only very general. We are always happy to discuss any concerns and to offer advice and guidance. Contact us.