1.6.5 UK SACs and the Natura 2000 network Overview of the UK SAC series


Sites are distributed throughout the UK (see Figure 1.4). Concentrations of sites in certain parts of the UK (e.g. Scottish Highlands, north-west England, north Wales) reflect the presence of more extensive areas of semi-natural habitat and associated species in these regions. Individual sites vary considerably in size. The most extensive localities (e.g. The Wash and North Norfolk Coast, Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands) exceed 100,000 ha, while the smallest are less than one hectare.

There is considerable variation in the number of sites selected for each Annex I habitat and Annex II species. For very rare features with a restricted distribution (e.g. 1903 Fen orchid Liparis loeselii, 6520 Mountain hay meadows, and 4020 Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix), the selection of only a small number of localities has been sufficient to include a high proportion of the total UK resource within the SAC series. For habitats and species with a wider distribution in the UK, a larger number of sites have been selected to ensure adequate representation in terms of geographical coverage, ecological variation and the proportion of the national resource within the site network. The number of sites selected has also generally been greater for priority features (e.g. 7110 Active raised bogs), those for which the UK has particular responsibilities (e.g. 7130 Blanket bogs), and habitats which show a wide range of ecological variation (e.g. 4030 European dry heaths). Favourable conservation status - the relationship between SACs and the wider environment
For Annex I habitats and Annex II species with a very restricted distribution, all or almost all examples are included within the SAC series, and site-based measures (as described in Article 6 of the Directive) are therefore likely to be sufficient to achieve favourable conservation status. However, most habitats and species are more widely distributed, and only a proportion of the total national and Community resource will be protected within SACs. Examples of such habitats and species in the UK include 4030 European dry heaths, 1166 Great crested newt Triturus cristatus and 1355 Otter Lutra lutra. For these interest features, maintaining or achieving favourable conservation status will require a complementary mix of site-based conservation measures and actions to be taken outside the SAC network.

The importance of wildlife conservation outside designated sites is recognised in the Directive, e.g. in the measures required to protect species listed on Annexes IV and V (Articles 12 16). Article 10 acknowledges that the series of Natura 2000 sites should function as an ecologically coherent network, and stresses the importance of managing landscape features, such as river banks, hedgerows and ponds, to facilitate species migration and dispersal, and generally to provide an ecological infrastructure which supports the protected sites network. In March 2002, the European Commission's Environment Committee reaffirmed the role of protection of species protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives outside of Nature 2000 sites in biodiversity conservation.

Complementary site-based and wider environment measures are fundamental to the successful implementation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), and are likely to become increasingly important if the predicted impacts of climate change are realised. Mechanisms for protecting and enhancing Annex I habitats and Annex II species across the UK include national Habitat and Species Action Plans, local biodiversity action plans, agri-environment schemes, river basin management plans developed under Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (the 'Water Framework Directive'), forestry practice guidance, and planning policies.

In order to report on the conservation status of Annex I habitats and Annex II species (as required by Article 17 of the Directive) it will be necessary to develop monitoring and surveillance schemes. On SACs, this will be achieved through the Common Standards Monitoring programme (JNCC 1998). In the wider environment, some Annex II species are already monitored effectively, but suitable surveillance schemes for other species (e.g. most fish species) have yet to be developed. Work is ongoing to develop surveillance strategies for Annex I habitats; this is likely to be linked to the reporting requirements of priority habitats under the UK BAP. The Marine monitoring handbook (Davies et al. 2001) addresses the principles behind, and the procedures for, monitoring Annex I habitats, and selected Annex II species, within marine SACs in British waters to assess their condition in accordance with the relevant requirements of the Directive and the UK's common standards for site monitoring.