Introduction

 
This review represents the UK's contribution to the Natura 2000 network for terrestrial Special Protection Areas. It draws on an extensive background of ornithological surveys undertaken over many years, and previous lists of important sites. It distils best available information concerning species' conservation requirements as stated by Article 4 of the Directive as well as knowledge of internationally important sites for birds in the UK.
 
The carefully selected network resulting from this review is of large size, contains a wide variety of habitats and includes sites spread throughout the UK. It is logically and scientifically derived, collectively robust, and therefore able to make an enduring contribution to conserving Britain's birds. We recognise, however, the need to be aware of and respond to major biological changes, in particular those consequent upon climate change, or to the availability of significant new data.
 

1.1 The 'Birds Directive' and Special Protection Areas

 

In 1979, the European Community adopted the Council Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC). This Directive (see Appendix 2) is usually referred to as the Birds Directive. It provides for the protection, management and control of naturally occurring wild birds within the European Union through a range of mechanisms. One of the key provisions is the establishment of an internationally co-ordinated network of protected areas.
 
Article 4 of the Birds Directive requires Member States to identify and classify in particular, the most suitable territories in size and number for rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex I (Article 4.1), and for regularly occurring migratory species (Article 4.2). Member States are also required to pay particular attention to the protection of wetlands, especially wetlands of international importance. These sites have become known throughout the Member States as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Within SPAs, Member States are obliged to take necessary steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and disturbance of the species, where this disturbance would be significant having regard to the objectives of the Directive.
 
The Directive envisages that the classification of SPAs by all Member States will result in a European network of protected sites. This SPA network, together with Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive, is known as 'Natura 2000'.
 

1.2 The UK avifauna – features of outstanding international importance

 

The UK's geographic position – a north temperate island close to a major continental land-mass – results in its particular European importance for a number of groups of birds. Whilst many species or populations occur in internationally important numbers, there are various groups of birds that are of outstanding importance.
 
  • The UK is exceptionally important for many populations of breeding seabirds. Together with Ireland, the UK holds over half the relevant biogeographic (and in some cases, the world) populations of Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Gannet, Great Skua, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Puffin (Lloyd et al. 1991).
  • Britain is the wintering area for many waterbirds (ducks, geese, swans, waders) breeding throughout Arctic and sub-Arctic areas. Birds visiting the UK come from as far afield as the central Canadian Arctic (110o W) and central Siberia (110o E). Most of these waterbirds nest at very low densities over extensive areas of the arctic but gather in winter in UK wetlands in dense aggregations. The UK thus has significant international responsibility for high proportions of total populations.
  • For many other waterbirds, the UK is not their final destination but is a stepping-stone on their migratory flyways to ultimate winter destinations in Africa. For many waders – such as Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin and Knot – the coast of the UK is of crucial importance during the spring and autumn passage periods.
  • The British uplands have a unique and characteristic bird community (Ratcliffe 1990, 1991; Brown & Bainbridge 1995). Species such as Golden Plover and Merlin probably nest at higher densities in the British uplands than anywhere else in Europe (Ratcliffe & Thompson 1988), whilst several Arctic breeding birds, such as Red-throated Diver, are at the southern edge of their breeding range.
  • The ancient Caledonian pine-forests of the central Scottish Highlands contain Britain's only endemic bird species, the Scottish Crossbill.

 

Other Sections

The identification of the UK's SPA network

Selection guidelines for Special Protection Areas