Marine Habitats


What are habitats?


The word habitat was first used to mean a place where an animal or plant species lives. Now its use is extended to include many species together (known as a community or assemblage) rather than a single species. It is also used to mean both the physical and environmental conditions that support a particular biological community, together with the community itself. For example, an underwater seagrass bed on shallow sand is considered to be a different habitat from a rocky reef that supports kelp and other seaweeds.


Habitat classification


Habitat classification schemes define habitats in a consistent way. They allow similar data to be consistently assigned to particular habitat types so that one habitat can be compared with another.


There are different habitat classification schemes and they often allow broadly-defined habitats to be sub-divided into finer and finer units to suit the needs of users. We have developed and manage the Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland, a classification system that aids the management and conservation of marine habitats. It is one of the most comprehensive marine benthic classification systems in use and provides a common language for describing biological character.


Habitat protection

Habitats in the seas around the UK are protected under international conventions, European legislation and UK legislation.


The EC Habitats Directive sets out a framework of protected sites within Europe that is called Natura 2000. Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive lists UK marine habitats whose conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). We provide advice and assistance to Government to help it to meet its obligations to conserve habitats under this Directive.


The UK is a Contracting Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Government is meeting its commitment to the agreement through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). Under the UK BAP, JNCC has assisted in the selection of priority habitats (and species), which include a number of marine priority habitats.


Marine habitats are also protected under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention). We play an active role in providing advice to Government to support OSPAR commitments, particularly on implementation of Annex V on Biodiversity Strategy. JNCC takes the lead role for OSPAR in the mapping of habitats on the OSPAR List.