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Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are protected areas for birds in the UK classified 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.) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1995 (as amended) in Northern Ireland;
  • the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) in the UK offshore area.

SPAs, together with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), form the UK's national site network.

JNCC is responsible for advising the UK Government and the devolved administrations on aspects of the classification and management of SPAs from a UK perspective, including reporting on the implementation of the UK SPA programme and the status and trends of protected bird species. JNCC also has specific responsibilities for advising on the classification and management of SPAs in the UK offshore area. Further information on UK offshore SPAs and our Marine Protected Area (MPA) work can be found on our MPA webpages.

UK SPA network summary

Special Protection Areas in the UK as of 30 September 2022.

There have been no updates to the information which JNCC holds on the UK's network of SPAs since September 2022. 

Country

Number of sites1

Area (ha)2,3

England

824

972,335

England / Offshore

2

747,933

England / Scotland

1

135,750

England / Wales

2

38,811

England / Wales / Offshore

1

251,709

Northern Ireland

16

113,985

Offshore

1

17,999

Scotland

160

1,707,241

Scotland / Offshore

3

1,012,805

Wales

17

342,141

Wales / Offshore

 1

166,747

UK TOTAL

286

5,468,7965,6

Gibraltar

2

5,687

1 These statistics exclude 12 sites that were subsumed into larger sites and are no longer included in the UK list of SPAs. 

2 Site area figures for each country relate to both the terrestrial and inshore marine areas out to the 12 nautical mile boundary.

3 The figures have been calculated from GIS to allow for overlapping SPAs such as the Cairngorms Massif in Scotland. The calculation method has evolved throughout the time that these figures have been produced and changes to the methods mean that there may be slight discrepancies between the most up-to-date values and equivalent figures from earlier updates. 

4 The number of sites in England reflects that two sites (Duddon Estuary SPA and Morecambe Bay SPA) were merged to form a new site (Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA) in June 2017.

5 The UK total is calculated from GIS and does not reflect the sum of the totals in each country/offshore, due to overlapping sites in the different areas. 

6 UK values exclude two SPAs in the UK Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

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Latest changes to the UK SPA network

Information on the most recent changes to the UK SPA network relating to newly classified SPAs and amended existing SPAs are provided below, including new or amended Standard Data Forms. This includes information from the first National Site Network (formerly Natura 2000) database update since the UK's Exit from the European Union (EU) in December 2020.

Information on changes submitted prior to the end of the EU Transition Period and previous historical tranches is available on the previous changes to the UK SPA network webpage

JNCC coordinates an update to the UK SPA network on an annual basis, working with the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) based on any updates in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and offshore marine. This information is provided on these webpages in the spring each year.

Please note that the SNCBs may update SPA site boundary data in the intervening period between the annual updates on JNCC’s website. To access the latest UK National Site Network boundary data, please visit the relevant website.

 

20 April 2023

The most recent update to the national site network was in April 2023. There were no updates to the data JNCC holds on the UK's SPA site network because there we no changes to the UK SPA network since the previous update (30 September 2022).

For information on changes to the UK SAC network, visit the SAC webpage.

More information on the latest changes is also available in the change log spreadsheet.

 

30 September 2022

This is the first update to the UK's National Site Network subsequent to the Transition Period following the UK's exit from the EU.

This update has been carried out in the line with the process agreed by the Habitats Regulations and International Sites Management Group in September 2021. It covers 44 sites within the UK’s National Site Network and includes:

  1. Two new inshore SPAs.
  2. Amendments to thirty-six existing onshore/inshore SPAs.
  3. Corrections to Standard Data Forms where discrepancies were found in the area figures for six SPAs.

A summary of the changes is provided in the table below. An Explanatory Note and change log are also available, providing more information on the changes. 

Site Code Site Name Country Details of change
UK9020314 North Orkney S New site
UK9020321 Scapa Flow S New site
UK9004131 Cameron Reservoir S Amended site
UK9001231 Cape Wrath S Amended site
UK9003191 Castle Loch, Lochmaben S Amended site
UK9003031 Coll S Amended site
UK9002151 Copinsay S Amended site
UK9004291 Din Moss - Hoselaw Loch S Amended site
UK9002091 Fair Isle S Amended site
UK9004241 Fala Flow S Amended site
UK9002031 Fetlar S Amended site
UK9001021 Flannan Isles S Amended site
UK9002271 Fowlsheugh S Amended site
UK9004281 Greenlaw Moor S Amended site
UK9001241 Handa S Amended site
UK9003071 Kintyre Goose Roosts S Amended site
UK9003111 Loch Ken and River Dee Marshes S Amended site
UK9004061 Loch of Lintrathen S Amended site
UK9002261 Loch of Skene S Amended site
UK9002201 Loch Spynie S Amended site
UK9002121 Marwick Head S Amended site
UK9001121 Mingulay and Berneray S Amended site
UK9001691 Loch Flemington S Amended site
UK9001531 Loch Maree S Amended site
UK9002651 Lochs of Spiggie and Brow S Amended site
UK9002361 Mousa S Amended site
UK9002081 Noss S Amended site
UK9001131 Pentland Firth Islands S Amended site
UK9004271 St Abb's Head to Fast Castle S Amended site
UK9001031 St Kilda S Amended site
UK9002181 Sule Skerry and Sule Stack S Amended site
UK9002101 West Westray S Amended site
UK9002061 Foula S Amended site
UK9002021 Ramna Stacks and Gruney S Amended site
UK9002041 Ronas Hill - North Roe and Tingon S Amended site
UK9002381 Auskerry S Amended site
UK9001011 North Rona and Sula Sgeir S Amended site
UK9003171 North Colonsay and Western Cliffs S Amended site
UK9001511 Inverpolly, Loch Urigill and nearby Lochs S Corrections to Standard Data Form
UK9014062 Ramsey and St David’s Peninsula Coast W Corrections to Standard Data Form
UK9020289 Marazion Marsh E Corrections to Standard Data Form
UK9009101 Minsmere-Walberswick E Corrections to Standard Data Form
UK9020042 Larne Lough NI Corrections to Standard Data Form
UK9020271 Outer Ards NI Corrections to Standard Data Form

E – England; NI – Northern Ireland; S – Scotland; W – Wales

More information on the changes is provided in the change log spreadsheet.

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SPA site information

JNCC maintains site information for all SPAs in the UK.

The list of UK SPAs includes each site’s UK country location, area and classification status. The list also links to each SPA’s Standard Data Form. 

In addition, a spreadsheet of UK SPAs and their qualifying bird species, other published data relevant to SPAs, and a spatial layer of SPA site boundaries is available from the UK Protected Area Datasets for Download webpage. Site boundaries are not available for potential SPAs. JNCC also manages an online library of UK and EU case law relating to SPA classification and management.

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

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SPA classification

In the UK, the first SPAs were identified and classified in the early to mid-1980s. Classification has since progressed, and the regularly updated UK SPA network summary table (above) provides an overview of the number of classified SPAs.

JNCC, on behalf of the UK Government and devolved administrations, published SPA Selection Guidelines for use in the UK (summarised below).  Each SPA has been selected according to the principles laid out in the selection guidelines. At the time of classification two documents are produced: the citation and the Standard Data Form. Both are legal documents. The former is used within the UK to consult with the public at classification and lists the qualifying species for which a SPA has been selected and is managed. The latter is derived from the citation and is the standard way in which UK SPA network data are registered by the UK Government and devolved administrations.

SPA citations are available from the relevant country nature conservation body (CNCB) website (Natural England, NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), Natural Resources Wales, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland)), as can information on the Sites, or Areas, of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI or ASSI) that underpin most SPAs.

 

Selection guidelines for SPAs

The SPA site selection process involves two stages. Stage 1 is intended to identify areas which are likely to qualify for SPA status. These areas are then considered further using one or more of the judgements in Stage 2 to select the most suitable areas in number and size for SPA classification. 

Stage 1's fourth guideline gives consideration, using the Stage 2 judgements, to cases where a species' population status, ecology or movement patterns may mean that an adequate number of areas cannot be identified from Stage 1's first three guidelines alone. In addition, these Stage 2 judgements are particularly important for selecting and determining the boundaries of SPAs for thinly dispersed and wide-ranging species.

In the application of Stage 2 judgements, a preference should be given to those areas which contribute significantly to the species population viability locally and as a whole. The protection of the populations in these areas is considered alongside, and is complemented by, other non-site-based special measures designed to maintain populations.

 

Stage 1

  1. An area is used regularly by 1% or more of the Great Britain (or in Northern Ireland, the all-Ireland) population of a species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC as amended) in any season.
  2. An area is used regularly by 1% or more of the biogeographical population of a regularly occurring migratory species (other than those listed in Annex I) in any season.
  3. An area is used regularly by over 20,000 waterfowl (waterfowl as defined by the Ramsar Convention) or 20,000 seabirds in any season.
  4. An area which meets the requirements of one or more of the Stage 2 guidelines in any season, where the application of Stage 1 guidelines 1, 2 or 3 for a species does not identify an adequate suite of most suitable sites for the conservation of that species.

 

Stage 2

  1. Population size and density: Areas holding or supporting more birds than others and/or holding or supporting birds at higher concentrations are favoured for selection.
  2. Species range: Areas selected for a given species provide as wide a geographic coverage across the species' range as possible.
  3. Breeding success: Areas of higher breeding success than others are favoured for selection.
  4. History of occupancy: Areas known to have a longer history of occupation or use by the relevant species are favoured for selection.
  5. Multi-species areas: Areas holding or supporting the larger number of qualifying species under Article 4 of the Directive are favoured for selection.
  6. Naturalness: Areas comprising natural or semi-natural habitats are favoured for selection over those which do not.
  7. Severe weather refuges: Areas used at least once a decade by significant proportions of the biogeographical population of a species in periods of severe weather in any season, and which are vital to the survival of a viable population, are favoured for selection.

 

The SPA selection guidelines are provided within the second SPA review.

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SPA condition & reporting

The UK’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) are responsible for assessing the condition of SPAs. This is carried out through Common Standards Monitoring.

Every six years, the results of this monitoring within SPAs are used to inform a UK-wide assessment of the status and trends of birds 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 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, including some specific information on SPAs and their contribution to the national/UK site network.

The reports are available through JNCC’s Article 12 and Article 17 Reporting webpage.

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SPA reviews

The UK’s nature conservation agencies, including the JNCC, have undertaken three reviews of the UK SPA network undertaken at roughly decadal intervals. 

 

First review (1980s)

The First Review was undertaken by the Nature Conservancy Council and published in 1990.  This established the scope of the network in Great Britain and stimulated the progressive classification of these sites.  Species and habitat details from the sites listed in the first review were published in 1992. 

A complementary All-Ireland SPA review was commissioned from JNCC by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin and the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland), Belfast and published in 1993. 

 

Second review (1990s)

JNCC and the country nature conservation bodies were requested by the UK Government to undertake a further review of the network in the mid-1990s.  This Second Review – based on data from the 1990s – revised our understanding of the UK SPA network, both in terms of the number of sites selected and the species that qualify within these sites.  

At completion of the second SPA Review, government consulted widely with other stakeholders on the results. In response to this consultation the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) convened an advisory group to take forward further consideration of SPA network development – the UK SPA & Ramsar (Avian) Scientific Working Group (SPARSWG).

 

Third review (2000s)

A Third Review – based on data from the 2000s – was undertaken by the SPAR SWG and published by JNCC in 2016.  This assessed change since the 1990s and provided advice to government with respect to a range of issues related to the future development of the network. In particular, and given the rapidity of climate-related changes in bird distribution that are occurring, it recommended that further reviews be undertaken – at approximately decadal intervals – such that appropriate adaptation measures can be undertaken.

The data used to inform the report were derived from multiple monitoring schemes, some funded or co-funded by the statutory agencies, others funded or co-funded by non-governmental organisations. Below are some of the data sources with available links:

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