Natural England - Special Protection Areas

Special Protection Areas

A Special Protection Area (SPA) is an area of land, water or sea which has been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within the European Union. SPAs are European designated sites, classified under the European Wild Birds Directive which affords them enhanced protection.

Latest news

24 July 2014 -Update on Scottish marine Special Protection Area (SPA) workexternal link: Natural England is working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage on a review of the Upper Solway Flats and Marshes SPA.

14 April 2014 - Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay potential Special Protection Area (pSPA) - Natural England are providing an additional period of fourteen weeks to the formal public consultation relating to the Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay potential Special Protection Area (pSPA). The revised formal consultation period closed on the 21 July 2014.

Conservation Objectives

Natural England launched its refreshed Conservation Objectives for Natura 2000 sites in June 2013, which set out the high level objectives for Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation.

Find a
Conservation Objective

What is the Birds Directive?

The Wild Birds Directive first came into force in April 1979 (EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC)) and was updated in 2009 (Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds). It covers the protection, management and conservation of all species of naturally occurring wild birds in the European territory of member states. In particular it requires Member States to identify and give special protection to areas for the rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex 1 of the Directive and for regularly occurring migratory species.

What is the process for designating Special Protection Areas (SPAs)?

The Wild Birds Directive provides no formal criteria for selecting SPAs, so JNCC, on behalf of the statutory country conservation agencies and government, have published SPA selection guidelines for use in the UK.

These criteria are:

  • If the area is used regularly by 1% or more of the Great Britain population of a species listed in Annex 1 of the Directive.

  • If the area is used regularly by 1% or more of the bio-geographical population of a regularly occurring migratory species (other than those listed in Annex 1) in any season.

  • If the area is used regularly by over 20,000 waterfowl or 20,000 seabirds in any season.

  • Various combinations of criteria involving considerations such as population size and density, species range, breeding success, history of occupancy, multi-species areas, naturalness of site, severe weather refuges.

SPAs are also designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

How might Special Protection Areas (SPAs) affect you?

The legal requirements relating to the designation, protection and management of SPAs 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 SPAs in England are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The additional SPA designation is recognition that some or all of the bird species within a SSSI are particularly valued in a European context and are subject to additional protection.

Designation of an SPA is normally unlikely to have a major effect on how the underpinning SSSIs are already managed to conserve their biodiversity. We will work in partnership with those who own, use and manage land to make any necessary changes in the way in which it is managed. Where necessary, we may be able to help costs of any special management by entering into an agreement with owners or occupiers.

In addition to the provisions of the SSSI legislation, the Habitats Regulations require that any proposed plans, projects or activities which may affect a SPA and require a consent or permission of some kind from a public body must be subject to special scrutiny and first require a detailed ‘appropriate assessment’. The decision-making body may only permit or undertake the proposals if the assessment concludes that there would no adverse effect on the integrity of the SPA. 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 SPA to proceed. Natural England provides advice to authorities and managers of SPAs on how proposed activities can avoid adverse impacts on a SPA.

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 SPA requires further approval before being undertaken.

As the statutory nature conservation body in England, Natural England is duty bound to ensure that SPAs are protected and managed favourably for conservation in line with the requirements of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. Our experience is that it is usually possible to find mutually acceptable solutions where sustainable land use and wildlife can flourish.

How to find out more

The information set out here is only very general. We are always happy to discuss any concerns and to offer advice and guidance. Contact your local Natural England office. Related links are listed below: