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Special Areas of Conservation – overview

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are protected areas in the UK designated under:

  • the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) in England and Wales (including the adjacent territorial sea) and to a limited extent in Scotland (reserved matters) and Northern Ireland (excepted matters),
  • the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) in Scotland,
  • the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) in Northern Ireland, and
  • the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 in the UK offshore area.

Under these Regulations, the UK Government and Devolved Administrations are required to establish a network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the habitats and species identified in Annexes I and II, respectively, of European Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, known as the Habitats Directive. The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds). Of the Annex I habitat types, 78 are believed to occur in the UK. Of the Annex II species, 43 are native to, and normally resident in, the UK.

SACs, together with Special Protection Areas (SPAs), are the UK’s contribution to the Bern Convention’s Emerald Network of protected areas, known as Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs).

JNCC is responsible for advising the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on aspects of the designation and management of SACs from a UK perspective. JNCC also has specific responsibilities for advising on the designation and management of SACs in the UK offshore area. Further information on UK offshore SACs and JNCC’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) work can be found on our MPA pages.

SAC network summary

Special Areas of Conservation in the UK as of 26 March 2019. UK figures exclude two SACs which have been submitted in the UK Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

Country

Special Area of
Conservation
(SAC)1 No.

Sites of
Community
Importance
(SCI)2 No.

Candidate
SACs (cSACs)3 No.

All submitted
SACs
(SAC, SCI
and cSAC) No.

Area ha4

England

242

 

 

242

1,068,558

England / Scotland

3

 

 

3

112,770

England / Wales

7

 

 

7

95,182

England / Offshore

3

 

 

3

3,795,179

England / Wales / Offshore

1

 

 

1

584,989

Northern Ireland

57

 

 

57

85,871

Northern Ireland / Offshore

1

 

 

1

160,367

Scotland

238

1

 

239

2,288,674

Scotland / Offshore

2

 

 

2

182,232

Wales

85

 

 

85

590,915

Wales / Offshore

2

 

 

2

1,062,562

UK Offshore Waters

14

1

1

16

4,712,596

UK TOTAL

655

2

1

658

13,485,177

Gibraltar

2

 

 

 

5,687

1 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are sites that have been adopted by the European Commission and formally designated by the government of each country in whose territory the site lies.

2 Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) are sites that have been adopted by the European Commission but not yet formally designated by the government of each country.

3 Candidate SACs (cSACs) are sites that have been submitted to the European Commission, but not yet formally adopted.

4 Site area figures have been calculated using GIS and rounded to the nearest whole hectare. Please note that site area figures for each country relate to both the terrestrial and inshore domain. Where an extension to a designated SAC or SCI is pending, different parts of the site can have different statuses – so, for example part of the site may be SAC, and the remainder cSAC. In this case the site would only appear once in the table, with the whole site shown as SAC.

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Latest changes to SAC network

New candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSACs) for designation or updates to existing Special Areas of Conservation are submitted in tranches. Information on the latest changes to the UK SAC list in the most recent tranche are provided below. Information on changes within historical tranches is available in the National Archives.

Tranche 58 – submitted 26 March 2019

EU code

Site name

Country

Main reason(s) for inclusion in Tranche 58

UK0030364

East Mingulay

S

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030393

Inner Hebrides and the Minches

S

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030396

Bristol Channel Approaches / Dynesfeydd Môr Hafren

EWO

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030398

North Anglesey Marine / Gogledd Môn Forol

WO

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030399

North Channel

NIO

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030395

Southern North Sea

EO

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

UK0030397

West Wales Marine / Gorllewin Cymru Forol

WO

Change in site status from SCI to SAC

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SAC site information

JNCC maintains site information for all SACs in the UK.

The list of UK SACs links to individual SAC site webpages that present summary statistics, descriptions of the constituent protected species and habitats, a location map, and the site’s Standard Data Form (see Approach to SAC selection). Individual UK country and offshore lists are also available for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as for UK offshore. 

The lists of species and habitats protected by UK SACs link to individual species and habitat webpages that describes the ecological characteristics and UK/European distribution of the protected feature.

In addition, a spreadsheet of UK SACs and their qualifying habitats and species, other published data relevant to SACs, and a spatial layer of SAC site boundaries is available through the UK Protected Area Datasets for Download webpage. JNCC also manages an online library of UK and EU case law relating to SAC designation and management.

Site information for SACs designated in the UK Overseas Territory of Gibraltar is available on the Protected Areas in Gibraltar webpage.

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SAC selection

JNCC has produced an explanation of the UK’s approach to selecting Special Areas of Conservation for designation.

Each UK Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area has its own Standard Data Form containing site-specific information about the designation. Information from these Standard Data Forms is managed centrally by JNCC in a UK-wide database for SAC and SPA designations.

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SAC condition & reporting

The UK’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) are responsible for assessing the condition of habitats and species protected the designated SACs. This is carried out through Common Standards Monitoring.

Every six years, the results of this monitoring within SACs are used to inform a UK-wide assessment of the status and trends of species and habitats for which these sites are protected. This is undertaken by the five country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs) on behalf of UK Government and the Devolved Administrations. This feeds into a broader assessment of the status and trends of these species and habitats across their whole UK distribution (i.e. both inside and outside sites). There is also a general implementation report that summarises the main work and achievements in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and UK offshore on the implementation of the Habitats Directive, including some specific information on SACs and their contribution to the national/UK site network.

The reports are accessed through JNCC’s European Reporting webpage.

The primary objective of management is to achieve the Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) of protected habitats and species. The UK’s CNCBs have produced a common statement setting out the concept of FCS within a UK and UK country context.

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