How European offshore marine sites are protected


There are a number of mechanisms to protect European offshore marine sites under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 2007. These may have an effect on stakeholders as follows:


  1. Competent authorities must establish the conservation measures they consider necessary to enable the species or habitats for which a site is designated to achieve favourable conservation status. They must also ensure that appropriate steps are taken to avoid the deterioration of habitat, or the disturbance of species for which a site is designated, in so far as such disturbance could significantly affect the conservation of the species;
  2. Competent authorities which grant authorisations for activities (e.g. licences), such as Government departments, Devolved Administrations or any other body exercising public functions, have to ensure that Appropriate Assessments are carried out in respect of activities in the offshore marine area where they are likely to have a significant effect on Natura sites. If the competent authority is unable to rule out an adverse effect on the integrity of a European offshore marine site or European site (a terrestrial site or a site within 12 nautical miles), the activity can only be authorised when there is no alternative and if there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest. Should this be the case, compensatory measures must be taken to maintain the integrity of the Natura 2000 network of sites. Competent authorities must also review certain authorisations that were granted before a site was designated as a European offshore marine site or a European site i.e. where the integrity of the site might be affected by the authorised activity;
  3. Management schemes may be set up by competent authorities, which set out how they will carry out their functions, in a way that will provide protection to a site.
  4. Site specific guidance may be provided by JNCC or by competent authorities (about industry issues) to try to ensure that marine users do not cause damage or deterioration to a site;
  5. A site offence has been introduced which covers activities that would otherwise be unregulated, e.g. research activities, scuba diving, recreational activities. Under this offence, the disturbance of wild animals or wild birds for which the site is designated is prohibited. The disturbance must be such that it is likely significantly to affect the ability of any significant group of animals of that species to survive, breed, or rear or nurture their young, or likely significantly to affect the local distribution or abundance of that species.


It is also an offence under this provision to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy the habitat for which the site is being protected or a habitat upon which the protected marine species or wild bird for which the site is designated is dependent.


Information on European marine sites’ management status is available through JNCC.