Protective Measures for UK Coastal Habitats


Conventions and legislation

A number of International Conventions, European Directives and pieces of National Legislation apply to UK coastal habitats.  Amongst the most important are:

These have been instrumental in the design of the following biodiversity strategies, priority habitat lists, and site-based designations.


Biodiversity Strategies

The UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework sets out priorities for biodiversity conservation activities at a UK-level. Additional priorities are set out in the Country Biodiversity Strategies for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The main objectives of these strategies are to:

  • halt and reverse previous biodiversity loss through targeted actions
  • increase awareness, understanding, enjoyment and engagement with biodiversity conservation
  • restore and enhance biodiversity through better planning, design and practice
  • ensure biodiversity is taken into account in wider decision-making
  • ensure knowledge on biodiversity is available to policy makers and practitioners

These high-level strategies largely succeeded the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), which operated from 1992-2012.


Priority habitats

Statutory lists of habitats of priority or principal importance for biodiversity conservation exist for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  These are largely based on the UK BAP priority habitats list. This includes five coastal habitats:

  • Coastal sand dunes
  • Coastal saltmarsh
  • Coastal vegetated shingle
  • Machair
  • Maritime cliff and slopes


Site-based designations


Special Areas of Conservation

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EU Habitats Directive. They contribute to the Natura 2000 Network, which consists of a series of high-quality nature reserves spread across the European Union. A total of 95 SACs, covering an area of around 57,300 ha, have been designated to represent the 17 UK coastal habitat types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive. Information on individual UK SACs can be found in the UK SAC information spreadsheet. These were selected according to various SAC selection criteria and principles.


Sites/Areas of Special Scientific Interest

SSSI/ASSIs are the fundamental statutory mechanism for protecting sites of ecological and geological interest in the UK. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) apply in England, Scotland and Wales, whilst Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) apply in Northern Ireland. Legal responsibility for notifying and protecting such sites lies with the relevant statutory nature conservation agency in each country. The SSSI/ASSI series is intended to form a representative network covering the full range of wild flora and fauna, and especially those types and individual sites that are of greatest value to nature conservation. Detailed Guidelines for the selection of biological SSSIs are available specifically for coastal habitats.


The tables below shows the extent of coastal habitats in SSSIs in England and Wales only. Comparable data was not available for Northern Ireland or Scotland.


SSSIs in England


Area of habitat

within SSSIs (ha)

Total area of habitat


% of habitat within










Coastal vegetated shingle




Coastal and dunes




Maritime cliffs and slopes




(created Dec 2015 from data in Biodiversity 2020 England Indicators December 2014 Report)


SSSIs in Wales


Area of habitat within

SSSIs (ha)

Total area of habitat


% of habitat within


Maritime cliff & associated ledges & crevices

757 970 78%
Sand dunes




Coastal grassland 798 1,600 50%

Coastal heathland




Saltmarsh and intertidal habitats




Shingle/boulders above high water mark 129 1,300 10%

(created May 2010 from: (i) SSSI area data from CCW’s Features Database April 2010; (ii) total habitat area data from Blackstock, T.H. et al. (2010) Habitats of Wales: A Comprehensive Field Survey 1979-1997, University of Wales Press; and (iii) inter-tidal habitat area data from Brazier, P. et al. (2007) When the tide goes out – the biodiversity and conservation of the shore of Wales, results from a 10 year intertidal survey of Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, Bangor)