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Conservation Designations 


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In this page you can read descriptions of the main conservation designations used to categorise sites for conservation.  These have been copied from web sites where you can find fuller descriptions and also in some cases list of sites and their conditions etc.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. 
The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and the Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet. 

The Ramsar mission

The Convention's mission is "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world".

The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

The Wise Use concept

At the centre of the Ramsar philosophy is the “wise use” concept. The wise use of wetlands is defined as "the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development". "Wise use" therefore has at its heart the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind. 

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)


Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive. Article 3 of the Habitats Directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes I and II of the Directive (as amended). 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.


Details of the process of SAC selection and designation are available on JNCC's SAC selection pages.  Also provided is a full list of sites within the UK or each country within the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales), with links to site descriptions including details of qualifying features for designated SACs, SCIs or candidate SACs, and summary information for possible SACs. Downloadable data available includes a summary spreadsheet, GIS boundary data and copies of site documentation for designated sites.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs)


Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds (as listed on Annex I of the Directive), and for regularly occurring migratory species. The European Commission's website hosts a full copy of the EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC), within which all the Articles and Annexes (including amendments) are given, along with useful interpretation information. JNCC has prepared an Index to key rulings of the European Court of Justice relating to the selection, classification and management of SPAs under Article 4 of the EU Birds Directive.


Classification of SPAs

In the UK, the first SPAs were identified and classified in the early to mid 1980s. Classification has since progressed and a regularly updated UK SPA Summary Table provides an overview of both the number of classified SPAs and those approved by Government that are currently in the process of being classified (these are known as potential SPAs, or pSPAs).


A full list of UK SPAs is also available, which gives the site name, site code, area, and location and its classification status. This has also been split into lists for each individual country in the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)



Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

 SSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. They include some of our most spectacular and beautiful habitats - large wetlands teeming with waders and waterfowl, winding chalk rivers, gorse and heather-clad heathlands, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote uplands moorland and peat bog

t is essential to preserve our remaining natural heritage for future generations. Wildlife and geological features are under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsustainable land management. SSSIs are important as they support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside. Protecting and managing SSSIs is a shared responsibility, and an investment for the benefit of future generations.

The unique and varied habitats of SSSIs have developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing and forestry, and need active management to maintain their conservation interest. Natural England works with over 26,000 separate owners and land managers, who work very hard to conserve these important sites. Maintaining goodwill and building upon the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of owners is vital to successfully manage these nationally important sites.




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