Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are classified under the Birds Directive, which requires the Member States of the European Community to identify and classify the most suitable territories, in size and number, for certain rare or vulnerable species (listed in Annex I of the Directive) and for regularly occurring migratory species. SPAs are intended to safeguard the habitats of the species for which they are selected and to protect the birds from significant disturbance.
Situated at the north-west of Europe and possessing a wide variety of wild and semi-natural habitats, Scotland is internationally important for many species of wild birds. SPAs represent the most valuable sites for these species and are therefore of great importance in an international context. As of January 2016, 153 Scottish SPAs had been classified for 79 species, covering a total area of approximately 671,315 hectares. 62 provide protection to species of seabirds. In addition there are 3 SPAs which have been subsumed into larger sites since their initial classification.
Unlike the Habitats Directive, the earlier Birds Directive contains no specific criteria for site selection, so SPAs in the UK are identified using Selection Guidelines published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. These are based primarily on the number of birds of a given species or group of species which use sites regularly, for breeding and/or wintering. The guidelines also take into consideration factors such as population density, breeding success and history of occupancy by a given species. Many SPAs in Scotland are wetland areas, such as estuaries or lochs, which are also designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Addressing Opencast Coal Impacts on the Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands SPA