European marine protected species

Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) © Kevin Robinson, Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit

European marine protected species are those listed on Annex IV of the Habitats Directive whose natural range includes any area in Great Britain. In UK waters, these consist of several species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), turtles and the Atlantic Sturgeon.


The Habitats Directive is transposed into UK law under the Habitat Regulations (HR) for England and Wales (as amended) and the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended), which make it an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb European marine protected species.  Similar legislation exists for Scottish and Northern Irish inshore waters.


Monitoring of European marine protected species

The Habitats Directive contains measures requiring European Member States to: monitor the conservation status of species listed on the Habitats Directive; ensure measures are in place to prevent capture, killing or disturbance; and to monitor by-catch. The UK’s response to these measures are discussed in turn:


Monitoring conservation status

A UK cetacean surveillance and monitoring programme has been initiated and 2007 saw the completion of the first Favourable Conservation Status reports under the Habitats Directive. The programme collates data for all cetacean strandings around the UK coast, determines the cause of death and surveys the incidence of disease.


To enable the results of this surveillance to be used in future assessments of the conservation status of cetaceans, a web-based portal for effort-related sightings data – the Joint Cetacean Protocol – is being developed by JNCC and partners. This will enable our knowledge of the distribution and relative abundance of cetaceans to remain current.


Deliberate capture, killing or incidental disturbance/injury

It is an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb European Protected Species.  Good practice guidelines and protocols have been produced for marine industries on how to assess the likelihood of committing an offence to such species, how to avoid it and whether a licence to carry out activity might be required or not. This has resulted in the production of several sets of detailed guidelines covering seismic surveys, pile driving operations and the use of explosives. It is considered that adherence to these guidelines constitutes best practice and will minimise the risk of committing an injury offence.


Monitoring of by-catch

EU Regulation 812/2004 was implemented in 2005 under the requirements of Article 12 of the Habitats Directive. The regulation requires cetacean observers on-board commercial fishing vessels to minimise cetacean by-catch from fisheries. See Defra’s bycatch reports.