1.6.3 Selection of terrestrial and inshore marine sites Stage 1 of the selection process

Following the adoption of the Habitats Directive in 1992, the conservation agencies began to draw up a list of potential SACs. In developing the process for selecting sites the agencies' initial planning considerations were:


a.    the timetable, principles and criteria for site selection set out in the Directive which should be followed, along with any interpretation developed by the EC Habitats Committee (established under Article 20 of the Directive);

b.    selection should be based upon current knowledge of the Annex I habitat types and Annex II species, as the timetable did not allow for large amounts of extra survey. Only where current knowledge was inadequate should selection be delayed to await the results of additional survey;

c.    there should be a consistent approach to selection, taking account of the distribution, abundance and range of variation of habitat types and species; and

d.    social and economic factors should not be taken into account8.

In order to ensure an effective UK approach to the selection of SACs an inter-agency team of senior staff was established. This team was chaired by the Chief Officer of the JNCC and co-ordinated the interaction of the various specialists, provided quality assurance and managed various working groups involved in the process.

As a first stage of site selection seven specialist working groups were established to provide advice relating to woodlands, coastlands, marine habitats and species, freshwater habitats and species, lowland habitats, upland/peatland habitats, and terrestrial plant and animal species. These groups were commissioned to produce initial ideas on high-quality sites for each of the Annex I habitat types and Annex II species by application of the criteria listed in Section 1.5.4.

The process of site selection involved repeated internal peer review of the developing ideas and advice on high-quality sites. Changes were made to the proposals for sites to take account of the comments from internal peer review, new knowledge as it came to light or was produced from new surveys, and the comments and suggestions that arose from public consultation. A range of professional groups and statutory committees have scrutinised and critically reviewed the lists of sites in various iterations, as follows:

a.    specialist working groups drew up the initial list of sites for evaluation and quality assured subsequent changes to the list recommended by other groups;

b.    local staff of the country agencies were required to ensure that sites selected were the ones in their area of geographical responsibility that best satisfied the selection criteria, particularly in terms of representation and the conservation of habitat structure and function;

c.    the management boards or project boards of the individual agencies have taken an overview of the representation of sites in their country to ensure an evenness of response and adequate representation of each habitat and species;

d.    the governing bodies of the country agencies have approved the proposals within their particular geographical areas of responsibility;

e.    the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has formally approved the proposals prior to providing formal advice to Government;

f.    Government departments and administrations have scrutinised the site selection process and the resulting list to satisfy themselves that agencies have acted in accordance with the requirements of the Directive.


Once areas suitable for selection as SACs have been formally advised to UK Government, they are known as draft SACs (dSACs). Once formally approved by government as sites for public consultation, they are known as possible SACs (pSACs). In March 1995 the JNCC published, on behalf of the UK Government, an initial list of 280 sites that had been recommended as pSACs (JNCC 1995). Public consultation on this list of pSACs was initiated in March 1995. For each site, owners and/or occupiers were contacted by the conservation agencies and notified of the location and boundaries of the site, the reasons for its recommendation as a pSAC, and a summary of the Directive and its implications. In general, consultees were given a period of six weeks in which to respond; for marine sites the consultation period was extended to 12 weeks.

At the same time, comments were also sought from a wide range of organisations, including Government departments and agencies, local planning authorities, NGOs, and industrial and/or commercial bodies. As well as NGOs with a wide conservation remit, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), specialist societies were also consulted. Many responses were received as a result of this consultation exercise. These were assessed by the conservation agencies, and, where appropriate, changes were made to the list of possible sites. For example, several sites were added to the UK list at this stage as a result of representations by NGOs, and in some cases, lists of qualifying features and/or site boundaries were amended on scientific grounds.

After 1995 further consultation with owner/occupiers was carried out, as amendments to the UK site list were formally advised to Government. A second major public consultation exercise commenced at the start of October 1997. Once again comments were received from a variety of organisations and considered by the conservation agencies.

Once consultation was completed satisfactorily, sites were submitted to the EC. At this stage, sites become known as candidate SACs (cSACs). For each site, a Natura 2000 standard data form was compiled from information supplied by the country agencies (following the guidance provided by the European Commission DGXI (1995)), and a digital map showing the site boundaries was produced. These data were submitted to the EC in both electronic format and hard copy. The first tranche of 136 candidate SACs was sent to the EC in June 1995. Over the next four years, eleven further tranches of sites were submitted, and by June 1999 a total list of 340 cSACs had been submitted. This completed Stage 1 of the selection process. The 340 sites were intended to represent a complete national list (with the exception of a small number of sites for which formal submission had been delayed), and were considered to represent a proper interpretation of the Directive's requirements. The rationale behind the selection of sites at this time was explained by Brown et al. (1997) and Hopkins (1995). Stage 2 of the selection process
Within the Atlantic Biogeographical Region Stage 2 of the SAC selection process ('moderation') was initiated at meetings held in Kilkee and Paris in autumn 1999.

While the site lists from all Member States considered at the meetings were found to be insufficient in some respects, the UK list of 340 cSACs was judged to provide insufficient representation of a relatively large number of features (37 habitats and 28 species). There was general agreement that the UK had approached the selection of SACs in a logical and scientifically robust manner, and had succeeded in identifying the best sites for each interest feature. However, three key issues were raised in relation to the UK site list:


a.    The proposed sites were judged to provide inadequate coverage of the geographical range or ecological variation shown by some habitats and species.

b.    For some interest features the proportion of the total national resource contained within the SAC series was considered to be too low.

c.    The UK had only listed selected habitats and species (i.e. those considered to be of outstanding European importance) as SAC interest features. The EC requires every significant occurrence of an Annex I habitat or Annex II species on each site to be treated as a qualifying interest feature.


In response to the conclusions of the Paris and Kilkee meetings, the UK Government asked the statutory conservation agencies to undertake a thorough review of the list of candidate SACs. This process was started in October 1999. This work involved listing additional interest features on existing sites, and identifying new sites.

During the moderation process, attention focused on enhancing the site lists for those features which were judged to be insufficiently represented in the UK list. The majority of new sites were therefore selected primarily for these under-represented interest features. In a few cases, new sites were also proposed for habitats and species which were not found to be insufficient but where additional high-quality examples were identified. High priority was given to finding sites which would fill geographical gaps in coverage. However, in a small number of cases no sites have been proposed in certain parts of the UK, either because there are no examples of sufficient size and/or quality, or because available survey data are not sufficient to allow suitable sites to be identified.

Effort was directed towards increasing the proportional representation of those interest features for which less than 20% of the national resource had been represented in the SAC series. Where appropriate, the assessment criteria previously applied were adjusted, for example to take account of the requirement to list every Annex I and Annex II feature on each site. Where necessary, existing site boundaries were amended to increase the representation of the principal features.

Provisional site lists were sent to JNCC in January 2000. JNCC then carried out a UK assessment of the proposals to check that a) a consistent approach towards site selection had been adopted across the UK, and b) the revised lists satisfactorily addressed the issues raised at the Kilkee and Paris meetings. This stage of the work relied heavily on input from inter-agency specialist working groups. Following discussion and resolution of any outstanding issues final amendments were made to the UK site list, and this was formally advised to DETR and devolved administrations in April 2000. Various minor amendments were made subsequently to the site list as additional information became available (e.g. addition/deletion of interest features and changes to site boundaries). Since October 2000, sites have been submitted or re-submitted to the EC in a series of tranches following consultation with site owner/occupiers and other interested parties.


Although the UK site selection process for the terrestrial environment and inshore marine waters is now largely complete, the consultation process has yet to be completed satisfactorily for a few new or amended sites, which have not been submitted to the EC. Some additions and changes to the national list of sites may arise as a result of further scientific work and public consultation. Any such changes are unlikely to significantly alter the fundamental composition of the SAC series.



Overview of SACs in the UK

Figure 1.4: Distribution of SACs, SCIs and cSACs in the UK.

8 The Lappel Bank judgement (ECJ C-44/96, 11 July 1996), established that selection of SPAs should be based on scientific, rather than socio-economic, criteria, and this policy has also been applied to SACs. It is currently being challenged in the European Court of Justice (ECJ C-371/98) in a case brought by First Corporate Shipping against the UK Government.