EU Protected Areas
The cultural and natural heritage of the European landscape has been shaped over the centuries by the people living there. However, more recent human pressures such as invasive species, climate change, fragmentation of the natural landscape and increasing demand on natural resources threaten this diverse heritage. As a means of preserving natural heritage, the European Union has established networks of protected areas, such as Natura 2000, the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and the EU Freshwater Fish Directive. Each country within the EU is responsible for meeting the requirements set out by the various regulations.
Natura 2000: SACs and SPAs Salmonid Waters Biogenetic Reserves

Some 42,000 natural heritage areas in Europe covering 14.15% of the land surface and 2.71% of the sea area are designated for protection. The establishment of these protected areas helps in preserving ecosystems, species, genetic varieties and ecological processes. They have been developed under the Natura 2000 network for European Union (EU) countries, the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Berne Convention), and the Emerald network for European countries that are not members of the EU. In Ireland protected areas are identified, designated and conserved to establish a network of nationally important sites (NHAs, ASSIs) and, under the Natura 2000 network, sites that are important within the European Community (SACs and SPAs). In many cases an area gains additional protection status if it is considered important on both a national and European level.

Natura 2000: SACs and SPAs

Low Tide Machair, a SAC at Omey Island, County Galway
A SAC on Omey Island, Co. Galway, seen here at low tide, is a place where machair can be found.
The Natura 2000 network contains protected areas that are designated for their flora and/or fauna that are considered of European importance. It consists of sites that are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EU Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EU Birds Directive. This system comprises green corridors and areas that enhance ecological connectivity between protected areas in order to support
movement of flora and fauna that may be essential for their survival. The ecological network should facilitate maintaining and/or restoring listed natural habitat types and the habitats for the listed animal species to a favourable conservation status. Over 10% of the Republic of Ireland is designated as Natura 2000 sites.

Who is responsible? Coastal Natura 2000 Sites, by County
In the Republic of Ireland the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) as part of the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) designates and manages SACs and SPAs.

In Northern Ireland, the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) as part of the Department of the Environment administers SACs. Before an area is considered as a SPA, it is usually designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
Total: 107
Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland

The designation of sites is a time consuming and complex procedure. Essentially the designation of a site requires notifying landowners and advertising through local media near the site under consideration. Objections to the designation have to be on scientific grounds and must be formally transmitted within three months of publication. The Minister must then consider the objection before deciding to enact the designation or not.

Special Areas of Conservation

Ballyvaughan salt marsh, Co. Clare
Salt marshes in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare are part of a SAC and a SPA.

The EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) was transposed into Irish law in 1997 through the European Communities Regulations on Natural Habitats. In Northern Ireland the Directive was implemented in 1995 with the Conservation Regulations on Natural Habitats for Northern Ireland.

The Directive requires EU Member States to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect habitats and species that are listed in the Annexes of the Directive. Ireland contains sixty of the listed habitat types, sixteen of which are on the priority list. Twenty-five species are listed. Four hundred and twenty SACs are proposed for designation in the Republic of Ireland and 53 sites in Northern Ireland.

Fanore Dunes, Co. Clare
The dunes at Fanore, Co. Clare, are part of a designated SAC.
The following coastal habitats have been identified as priority for conservation in Ireland:

  • Fixed Coastal Dunes with Herbaceous Vegetation (Grey Dunes);
  • Decalcified Fixed Dunes with Empetrum nigrum;
  • Atlantic Decalcified Fixed Dunes;
  • Machair.

Special Protection Areas

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).
The EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) obliges EU Member States to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds that need conservation attention.
The bird species are listed in the Annexes of the Directive, which was transposed into Irish law in 1985. In Northern Ireland SPAs are protected under national legislation as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) before they are classified as SPAs.

Many SPAs are coastal and freshwater wetlands. Several sites are seabird colonies. Under the Directive, SPAs are designated when:
  • Species found there are listed in Annex 1 of the Directive;
  • Species found there are listed as rare and vulnerable;
  • Species found there are regularly migratory;
  • Wetlands attract large numbers of migratory birds each year, making them of international importance.

Approximately 3000 SPAs have been designated across Europe. Up to now 110 sites have been designated in the Republic of Ireland and a further 25 potential SPA sites have been notified to landowners. In Northern Ireland 10 sites are classified as SPAs and a further four areas are holding potential SPA status.

Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)
Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii).

Salmonid Waters

The EU Freshwater Fish Directive (78/659/EEC) designates surface waters for protection and improvement to support fish populations. The Directive was transposed into Irish law in 1988 through the European Communities Regulation on Quality of Salmonid Waters (S.I. No. 293/1988). The Regulation designates waters in order to protect and improve “Salmonid Waters.” Salmonid waters must be able to sustain Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), trout (Salmo trutta), char (Salvelinus) and whitefish (Coregonus).

Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar)
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar).
Water is sampled and analysed regularly to ensure certain quality standards are met. Salmonid waters fall under the responsibility of the local authorities, who must give an explanation if the quality standards are not reached and impose measures that reduce pollution so that set criterion can be achieved. The Central and Regional Fisheries Boards identified 261 salmonid water systems in a national assessment of waters in the Republic of Ireland. Overall, 22 rivers have been designated under the EC Regulations on Quality of Salmonid Waters (see table below).

Salmonid Waters
in the Republic of Ireland
River Aherlow Main channel
River Argideen Main channel
River Blackwater (Munster) Main channel
River Boyne Main channel
River Bride Main channel
River Brown Flesk Main channel
River and Lough Corrib
Main channel and lake
River Dargle Main channel
River Feale Main channel
River Fergus Main channel
River Finn Main channel
River Glashagh
Main channel
River Lee Main channel from source to Cork City waterworks at Lee Road
River Leannan Main channel
River Lurgy Main channel
River Maggisburn Main channel
River Maine Main channel downstream of confluence with the River Brown Flesk
River Moy Main channel
Tributaries of the River Moy: Owengarve, Mullaghanoe, Spaddagh, Trimoge, Glore, Yellow, Gwesstion, Manulla, Castlebar, Deel and Corry.
River Nore Main channel
River Slaney Main channel
River Swilly Main channel
River Vartry Main channel

In Northern Ireland more than 50 hectares have been designated as either salmonid (suitable for game fish) or cyprinid (suitable for coarse fish) waters under the EU Freshwater Fish Directive. This area includes 20 standing waters and approximately 4300km of rivers and canals.

Designated Waters, NI
Designated Waters in Northern Ireland.
Biogenetic Reserves

Lough Hyne
Lough Hyne, Co. Cork, a Coastal Biogenetic Reserve.
The idea of Biogenetic Reserves was conceived in 1973 at the European Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Vienna, Austria. These reserves should hold representative examples of European heritage that are important for nature conservation. The programme began in 1976 and provides a framework for both EU members and non-members to cooperate in the establishment of protected area networks. Biogenetic Reserves are designated by the Council of Europe to add to, guard and reinforce the biological diversity of Europe. There is no Irish legislation reinforcing the Biogenetic Reserve Programme, however selected reserves are all protected under national legislation and/or EU designation as SACs or SPAs. In the Republic of Ireland 14 Biogenetic Reserves are listed including two coastal reserves, which are Lough Hyne, Co.Cork, and Ballyteige Burrow, Co. Wexford.

Spatial Data Sources
The following are suggested sources for geospatial data related to the topic:

MIDA: For viewing the distribution of SACs and SPAs in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

National Parks and Wildlife Service: Find downloadable GIS-ready data for Protected Areas in the Republic of Ireland here, available by county.

Environment and Heritage Service: Find downloadable GIS-ready data for Protected Areas in Northern Ireland here.

Related Links
Visit the following links to find more information concerning EU protected areas:

Protected Areas (NPWS): This link gives information on the protected areas in the Republic of Ireland provided by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

SPA Information (EHS): This link connects to the Environment and Heritage Service website and gives information on the Special Protection Areas in Northern Ireland.

SAC Information (EHS): This link connects to the Environment and Heritage Service website and provides information on the Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland.

Natura 2000 Information (Teagasc): This link leads to information on Natura 2000 sites in Ireland from Teagasc - the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority.

NCTE on Nature: The National Centre for Technology in Education provides useful information on EU legislation and designation of protected areas in Ireland.

IUCN on EU Protected Areas: This links to information on EU protected areas given by the World Conservation Union.

The Convention on Biological Diversity: View national reports regarding the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Irish Statute Book - Salmonid Waters: This link connects to the Irish legislation on Salmonid Waters.

Environmental Information Service: This link presents information on Biogenetic Reserves in Europe.
Page References
The following references were used to create the atlas pages on this topic:

Zupancic-Vicar, M., The Heritage Council, Policies and Priorities for Ireland's Landscape, Paper 2. Protected Landscapes And Parks For Life - Action Plan For Protected Areas in Europe. [site visited 21/10/2005]

World Conservation Union, Protected Areas In Europe: IUCN’s programme for 2005-2008. [site visited 21/10/2005].

National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. Chapter 7 Legislation. [Site visited 21/10/2005]

United Nations Environment Programme, 1972 to 2002. Fact Sheet: Global Environment Outlook - 3, Europe. [Site visited 24/10/2005]

Mapture: NATURA 2000 Database for the Irish Sea INTERREG IIIA Region. [Site visited 24/10/2005]

Keena, C., Teagasc, NATURA 2000 - Sites in Ireland. [Site visited 24/10/2005]

Irish Statute Book, 1988, European Communities (Quality of Salmonid Waters) Regulations. [Site visited 26/10/2005]

Ó Riain, G., Duff, K. and Long, M., Environmental Protection Agency, 2005, Water Framework Directive – Water Status: Identification and Ranking of Nature Conservation Designated Areas - Final Report. [Site visited 26/10/2005]

Environmental Information Service, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2005, International Conventions and Agreements on the Environment - The European Network of Biogenetic Reserves (1976). [Site visited 26/10/2005]

Environment and Heritage Service, Special Protection Areas, Northern Ireland. [Site visited 26/10/2005]

Environment and Heritage Service, Special Areas of Conservation, [Site visited 26/10/2005]

National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004, Special Protection Areas. [Site visited 26/10/2005]

National Parks and Wildlife Service,2005, Special Areas of Conservation. [Site visited 26/10/2005]