European Marine Sites

European Marine SitesGuillemots and other wildlife at Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, are protected under European law (image: Richard Shucksmith)

European Marine Sites are areas at sea protected by European law for their special wildlife and natural habitats.

These include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which together form part of a Europe-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea (the ‘Natura 2000’ network) designed to safeguard the wildlife most at risk. In the UK Natura2000 sites include such iconic areas as Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, and Lyme Bay in Devon.

Both SACs and SPAs play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges for nationally threatened species and habitats. They are a key part of the network of Marine Protected Areas in UK waters.

What are Special Areas of Conservation?

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are areas which have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. They provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity.

Coastal and marine SACs in the UK include Cardigan Bay (Wales), Rathlin Island (Northern Ireland), the Darwin Mounds (Scotland) and Lyme Bay (in England). Further information about SACs is available on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) website.

What are Special Protection Areas?

SPAs are areas identified as of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites, classified under the ‘Birds Directive 1979’ which provides enhanced protection.

Coastal SPAs in the UK include Flamborough Head (Yorkshire), St Kilda (Scotland), Skomer (Wales) and Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland). Further information about SPAs can be found on the JNCC website.


Offshore marine SACs (those sites lying over 12nm from land) can be seen outlined in pink on the map. Blue areas show Inshore marine SACs and yellow areas are Inshore marine SPAs. Some of the sites overlap but all sites can be viewed on this interactive map with further information available on each site.




Better protection achieved within European Marine Sites!

The North Sea Wildlife Trusts, in partnership with ClientEarth and the Marine Conservation Society, sucessfully campaigned for better protection of European Marine Sites. Thanks to our efforts, the Government have committed to a revised approach to fisheries within sites protected under European law, thereby ensuring the most damaging fishing activities do not take place within their boundaries.