Protected nature sites: background

The Scottish Government is responsible for policies that preserve marine habitats and the animals that are supported by them, including marine protected areas.


Natura 2000 is the European wide network of protected areas developed under the European Commission 'Habitats Directive' (Directive 92/43/EEC) and the 'Birds Directive' (Directive 79/409/EEC).

The Natura 2000 Network is made up of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) which support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species of plants or animals (other than birds) of European importance, and Special Protection Areas (SPA) which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats. SACs in Scotland are designated by Scottish Ministers under the Habitats Directive and SPAs are classified by Scottish Ministers under the Birds Directive.

In Scotland, as of August 2012, a total of 393 Natura 2000 sites have been designated. These comprise a total of 240 SACs and 153 SPAs, accounting for approximately 15% of Scotland's land surface. These sites protect 79 bird species, such as Golden Eagle and Capercaillie, 18 other types of animal species, including seal, dolphin, wild Atlantic salmon, and 56 types of habitat, including reefs, Scotlands rugged upland habitats and machair. Further information on individual Natura 2000 sites in Scotland can be found on the JNCC website.

The majority of SPAs and SACs are also underpinned by Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) legislation as part of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. There are currently around 1440 SSSIs designated in Scotland. Frequently asked questions on Natura 2000 sites and SSSIs.


OSPAR Commission

The OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment for the North East Atlantic plays a major part in safeguarding and conserving the habitats and species of the marine environment.

At the OSPAR Commission meeting in Bremen on June 25 2003, Ministers committed to the following work being undertaken by 2010:

  • Setting up a network of ecologically coherent OSPAR Marine Protected Areas
  • Analysis of listed human activities which are capable of causing adverse damage to the marine environment and the measures necessary to address this in the light of this analysis
  • Creation of an effective tool for integrating action across the whole marine environment via the North Sea pilot project which aims to produce a coherent suite of ecological quality objectives.
  • Taking measures to protect coral reefs.

The Scottish Government is currently working with SNH, JNCC, Defra and the other devolved government administrations to take forward these commitments. It reported 29 sites as an initial contribution to the OSPAR MPA network in 2006.


Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty that aims to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future.

It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971.

The Scottish Government has designated 51 Ramsar sites in Scotland, covering 326,719 hectares.


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