Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with marine components
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designated to protect habitats and species listed on Annex I and Annex II of the European Habitats Directive.
SACs with ‘marine components’ protect Annex I habitats and/or Annex II species associated with the marine environment. Marine component habitats range from coastal, intertidal habitats such as coastal lagoons and mudflats and sandflats, to subtidal and deep-sea habitats such as reefs. There are currently 116 SACs with marine components covering approximately 14% of UK waters. SACs with marine components are displayed on JNCC's MPA mapper, and a list of these sites, the habitats and species they protect, and the site boundaries, is available on JNCC's Resource Hub.
In the offshore marine environment, SACs afford protection to the Annex I habitats submarine structures made by leaking gases, reefs, and sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time; and the Annex II species harbour porpoise.
JNCC is responsible for identifying and recommending SACs in the UK offshore marine area, which are designated under UK law through The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. (as amended). This includes waters beyond 12 nautical miles, within the Exclusive Economic Zone and the seabed within the UK Extended Continental Shelf claim. For areas within the UK Extended Continental Shelf claim but beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone, JNCC can recommend SACs for habitat features associated with the seabed only.
There are currently 116 SACs with marine components in the UK, of which 25 fall partly or wholly within UK offshore waters. Collectively, SACs with marine components cover approximately 14% of the UK marine area. An overview of the SACs that fall partly or wholly in UK offshore waters is provided in the table below, with links to further information on individual sites and their protected features.
Marine SACs are identified and recommended on the basis of the selection criteria contained within the Habitats Directive Annex III, and EC Guidance on implementation of the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment.
Once Areas of Search are identified using these criteria, the boundary is delineated following JNCC’s SAC boundary guidance. At this point sites are recommended to UK Government as draft SACs. Once approved for public consultation a site becomes a possible SAC (pSAC). After consultation if a site is approved by UK Ministers to be submitted to the European Commission it is at this point it becomes a candidate SAC (cSAC). The Commission then reviews the site and decides whether it should receive Site of Community Importance status. Once a site receives this status, the UK Government has 6 years to formally designate as an SAC with conservation measures established. More detail on the various stages in the offshore SAC designation process is available on JNCC's Resource hub.
After the end of the Transition Period following the UK's exit from the European Union (31 December 2020), UK Government and the devolved administrations may still designate SACs or classify additional SPAs as a contribution to MPA networks within the UK.
Management of offshore SACs
Management measures may be required in order to restore or maintain the conservation status of the protected features of SACs.
The Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland (in Scottish waters) are the lead authorities regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures implemented for the management of fishing activity.
Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration within SACs have to comply with The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended). JNCC's conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.
Information on the wider SAC network can be found on the SAC webpages.