Marine SPA identification
How are SPAs selected?
For consistency the established UK SPA selection
guidelines developed for the terrestrial environment were also
applied in the marine environment. The Birds Directive
dictates that the selection process of marine SPAs is purely based
upon scientific criteria - socioeconomic, management, or political
considerations are not applied at this stage.
The UK SPA site selection process involves two
stages: The first stage identifies areas which are thought to
regularly hold important numbers of birds. The second stage
uses one or more of the ecological judgements such as species range
and multi-species areas, to identify the most suitable areas.
Marine birds in UK waters
A total of 106 species of bird are thought to use UK waters
of which 45 are thought to occur in numbers greater than 50 each
year. All of these 45 species except one (black guillemot)
are classed as a rare or vulnerable (Annex I) or regularly
occurring migratory species by the Birds Directive, which means
that there are 44
species for which the JNCC have undertaken surveys and analysis
in UK waters to identify important aggregations which are suitable
for consideration as part of a network of marine SPAs. These
species have differing ecologies, behaviour, distribution and
abundance and occur in UK waters at different times of the
year. In order to facilitate analysis across these differing
ecologies, seven main strands of survey and analysis were
identified which would capture the most important seasons for the
The survey and analysis methods are described fully within
reports which are part of the JNCC report series. Methods used by
JNCC are summarised very briefly below. More detail can
be found in a series of documents which can be accessed from
the relevant paragraphs below (which describe the data collection
and analysis methods but without the detail or extensive results
sections contained within the JNCC reports).
Marine extensions to existing seabird breeding colony
all species of seabird that breed in the UK have some of their
breeding sites protected via a network of breeding colony SPAs
(the only exception is black guillemot, as it is not
considered migratory in the UK, nor is it listed on Annex I).
Such protection is largely limited to land above mean low
water (or mean low water springs in Scotland). To identify
those areas of the sea adjacent to breeding colonies that are
important to seabirds for essential resting and maintenance
activities, JNCC carried out
spatial analyses of survey data collected around selected
seabird colonies. This allowed JNCC to make recommendations
for generic marine extensions that could be applied for
six species. Further information is available in JNCC
reports 329 and 406.
Inshore wintering waterbird aggregations
aggregate at specific coastal areas such as bays, firths and
estuaries during the winter. Areas that could potentially
contain qualifying aggregations of waterfowl in the non-breeding
season were identified from the ornithological literature and
existing survey data, in order to focus survey effort. More
information can be found in the Marine
Natura 2000 SPA network paper. These areas are termed
‘Areas of Search’ (AoS). An extensive programme of visual
aerial surveys with support from shore-based and boat counts has
been undertaken within these AoS around the UK to identify the most
important of these aggregations, covering a total of 17 species.
Further information is available in JNCC reports 374, 388, 498,
555, 567, 574, 575 and 576.
analysis used the extensive European Seabirds at Sea (ESAS)
database, which stores observations of seabirds from boat or
aircraft in seas across Europe (Pollock and Barton 2006). It
identified hotspots of seabirds out to the British Fishery Limit
for seasons covering the key stages in the species annual cycle
where they occur in UK waters (such as summer, breeding or
winter). This analysis covered 31 species of seabirds.
For species not adequately covered in these two types of
analysis, targeted surveys were carried out to capture suitable
data, as described below. Further information is available in JNCC
reports 431, 461 and 537.
Foraging areas for breeding larger Terns
Terns are seabirds and as such were analysed as part of the ESAS
analysis. However insufficient data was available in the ESAS
database because these birds are small and difficult to identify to
species level when surveyed by aircraft or from boat. JNCC
collected visual tracking data as a
means to identify the most important at-sea foraging areas around
important tern breeding colonies. This
analysis covered four species of tern which breed in the UK:
Arctic, common, roseate and Sandwich terns. Further information is
available in JNCC report 500.
Foraging areas for breeding little terns
Based on available literature, little terns do not forage far
from the breeding colony and do not travel more than 5km out to
sea. JNCC undertook
shore-based and boat surveys to assess the rate at which little
terns were found at increasing distances along the shore and out to
sea from the colony.
Further information is available in JNCC report 548.
Foraging areas for breeding red-throated
Red-throated divers breed close to small lochans around
Scotland’s coastal areas and islands. They forage in inshore
waters with limited foraging ranges. Boat-based surveys
collected data which was used to
identify the most important at-sea foraging areas around
important red-throated diver breeding areas. Further information is
available in JNCC report 541.
The European shag feeds relatively close inshore both during the
breeding season and non-breeding seasons. It has therefore
not been detected sufficiently by offshore boat surveys as part of
ESAS database. Additionally, JNCC aerial surveys have tended
to exclude it as a target species because of difficulties in
distinguishing between great cormorant and European shag. The
approach taken for shag was to
identify important areas based on existing data from a variety of
sources. Areas have been identified based on the seabird
aggregations analysis described above (where surveys were
undertaken sufficiently close to the shore), visual aerial survey
(described above) where observers were able to identify the
species, and tracking data collected by the Centre for Ecology and
Hydrology (CEH). Further information is available in JNCC report
used a high speed boat to follow the bird’s path from the colony to
the foraging areas during the breeding season.