skip to main content

Marine SPAs

In recent years, the importance of the marine environment for birds which spend all or part of their lives around our coasts, has been the focus of a great deal of scientific work. This work has cumulated in SNH, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England (NE) carrying out a consultation in 2016 and 2017 on behalf of Scottish and UK Governments for a suite of 15 marine bird proposed SPAs (pSPAs).

Identifying specific areas at sea which may require special protection has many challenges - but much progress has been made over the last 15 years. The identification of sites that lie in inshore waters (within 12 nautical miles of the coast) is the responsibility of SNH, with scientific input from JNCC. Beyond these waters, in the offshore zone, JNCC leads on the selection of sites.  SNH and NE have jointly progressed the Solway Firth pSPA, which spans both Scottish and English inshore waters. 

Further information is available below...

There are four types of marine Special Protection Area (SPA):

Marine extensions to breeding seabird colonies

In September 2009, Scottish Ministers classified 31 marine extensions to existing seabird breeding colony SPAs around our coasts. These are the first truly marine areas in Scotland to be protected for seabirds under the Birds Directive. In addition to the land and cliffs on which the birds breed the SPAs now include the sea in front of the breeding cliffs that is essential for a variety of purposes such as feeding, loafing, preening and display.

The size of extension depends on how the birds use the sea next to the breeding cliffs. SPAs with razorbill, guillemot and puffin have been extended by 1km, SPAs with gannet and fulmar by 2km and the two SPAs with Manx shearwater as a qualifying interest by 4km.

Inshore aggregations of non-breeding waterfowl

These are areas at sea, within inshore waters, where groups of marine birds gather together outside the breeding season. They may be important feeding and moulting areas, or staging posts where non-breeding waterfowl - such as divers, grebes, and seaduck - gather together while on migration.

Scotland currently has no marine SPAs classified to protect these aggregations at sea. The draft marine SPA suite includes nine inshore aggregation sites.

Aggregations of seabirds

JNCC has been analysing survey data on aggregations of seabirds in the open sea to identify important hotspots for seabirds. These concentrations of birds can occur anywhere unconnected with the coast, including inshore waters, from the coast out to 200 nautical miles.

Other types of marine SPA

Some important areas for seabirds may not be captured by the other three categories and will be considered individually.

In Scotland marine areas used by red-throated divers, terns and shags during the breeding season are included in the draft marine SPA suite.


Last updated on Thursday 23rd February 2017 at 17:20 PM. Click here to comment on this page