2. The identification of the UK's SPA network


2.1 Implementation of Article 4 by the UK


The UK has had an active programme of SPA identification and classification since the Birds Directive came into force. The programme has evolved over time, with the progressive development of processes and procedures related to the identification of sites and their classification.
Progress has been hampered, however, by the absence of formally agreed criteria or selection guidelines at EU level. The accession of additional Member States has resulted in revision of the lists of species in the annexes to the Directive (Appendix 2). In the context of the current review, the revisions of 1985 and 1992 were significant, adding to Annex I several species that occurred in the UK.
In implementing Article 4, the UK has had regard to conservation measures taken by other European Union Member States. However, published data on the content of other national SPA networks are not easily available. This has limited the practical extent to which the selection of SPAs by the UK has been influenced by similar activity in other countries.
Throughout the implementation process, the UK government has periodically published lists of qualifying SPAs in Hansard and elsewhere. The total number of sites has varied from one listing to another, with an underlying upward trend, reflecting progressively better survey information (see table). Simple comparison of site-lists can be very misleading however, since a number of small sites identified separately in early lists have since been subsumed in larger composite SPAs. These subsumed sites still exist as legal entities although they are not used for reporting purposes, as explained in Appendix 8. The true comparison is the area identified as qualifying for SPA status. This has increased significantly since the early 1980s and the SPA network now amounts to about 1,454,500 ha.
Year Coverage No. of Sites
In 1990, the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) published its recommendations regarding the proposed network of SPAs in Great Britain (Stroud et al. 1990a). This summarised the biological rationale for a national network of SPAs, gave locations of sites identified at that time and provided an assessment of the proportions of populations that would be covered by the then proposed national network. It also highlighted a number of species that were then inadequately covered by the proposed network. For some of these, further survey and census information has since been undertaken in order to identify additional sites.
In 1989, BirdLife International published a European list of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (a non-statutory listing maintained by BirdLife International – Grimmett & Jones 1989) which built on the earlier inventory of Osieck & Mörzer Bruyns (1981). For the UK, the list of IBAs was then effectively identical with the list of proposed Special Protection Areas identified by the NCC (Stroud et al. 1990a), as similar criteria had been used to draw up the two lists.
Details of each SPA proposed by the 1990 NCC review were published jointly by JNCC, the country agencies and RSPB in 1992 as the UK's Important Bird Areas (Pritchard et al. 1992). This site inventory was widely distributed to local government and other statutory bodies. It presented more detail on the sites identified in the 1989 European IBA inventory for the UK and the species for which they were important. (It did, however, include some species that were neither migratory nor listed on Annex I and thus were not relevant in the context of Article 4 of the Directive).
The Joint Working Party on Special Protection Areas and Ramsar sites (also acting as the UK's National Ramsar Committee) has routinely reviewed classification of SPAs and provided a valuable national forum that involves government departments, their agencies and non-governmental organisations. It has regularly discussed aspects of the UK's implementation of the Birds Directive.
In 1991, the Office of Public Works, Dublin, and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland asked JNCC to advise them with respect to the establishment of an all-Ireland network of SPAs. This review was published in 1993 and gave details of proposed sites and the proportion of all-Ireland populations that would be covered by the suggested network (Way et al. 1993).
Since 1992, there has been a range of new ornithological surveys undertaken throughout the UK, especially in the uplands and related to a number of species that were highlighted as being poorly represented in the national network proposed in the early 1990s. In view of new information and possible gaps, Government requested JNCC to review the UK SPA network with a view to recommending a definitive list of sites, identified against explicit selection guidelines.
After a period of consideration and consultation with non-governmental organisations represented on the UK Joint Working Party on SPAs and Ramsar sites, JNCC published the UK's SPA selection guidelines in 1999 (JNCC 1999). The background to the derivation of these guidelines is outlined in section 3.1 and the overall review presented in this document.
In March 2000, BirdLife International published a two-volume updated inventory of IBAs in Europe (Heath & Evans 2000). This again presents a list of IBAs for each European country including the UK. BirdLife International has recently developed uniform global criteria for IBA selection which differ from those previously used in the UK (Pritchard et al. 1992). Accordingly, the list of IBAs published by BirdLife in the current review (Heath & Evans 2000) is no longer identical to the UK SPA network presented here.
Notwithstanding the minor differences, there is, however, a broad degree of similarity between the SPA and IBA lists for the UK. Indeed, data from the draft IBA inventory for the UK were used in preparatory work for this SPA review.
The minor differences between the IBA and SPA lists for the UK are unsurprising and to be expected since different selection guidelines, criteria, time-periods and priorities have been used to identify the respective site networks. In cases where there are significant differences between boundaries of IBAs and SPAs, the reasons for these differences are always clearly justified in the context of the requirements of the Birds Directive.

2.2 Geographical scope of this review


This review presents the national network of SPAs in the terrestrial environment of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There has been a long tradition of cross-border co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland regarding nature conservation matters. As often as possible, the biogeographic entity of the whole of Ireland is used as the context for conservation priority setting (e.g. Whilde et al. 1993). Indeed, the previous review of SPAs in Ireland was jointly commissioned by government departments in both the Republic and Northern Ireland (Way et al. 1993).
The Directive's obligations cover all the territory of Member States and therefore include the marine environment. This review has considered terrestrial sites that extend partly into marine or intertidal areas, for example, in estuaries. It has not, however, considered the requirements of birds using the wholly offshore environment, and proposed marine SPAs are not presented here. The protection requirements of birds in the offshore marine environment (with respect to Article 4) are outside the scope of this review.

2.3 Data-handling issues


The site and species data used in this review have come from a wide variety of sources. The overall aim was to obtain the best-available 'snapshot' of information about sites and species in the mid-1990s to enable the resulting site series to sit in a uniform context. Because of the periodic nature of national surveys, data for different groups of species have not always been derived from exactly the same years. Generally, however, data mostly relate to the five-year period 1991/92 to 1995/96, unless there have been compelling reasons to use earlier or later data. These were the most current data available at the commencement of the review.
At an early stage, definitive reference population sizes were agreed for relevant breeding, passage and wintering populations, and geographical scales (Great Britain, all-Ireland and international). The reference populations for each species – which were taken from published sources available at the commencement of the review – are set out in Appendix 4 (PDF, 113 kb).
A large number of issues surrounding data sources, and qualifying species, arose during the production of this review. These are explained in more detail in Appendix 5 (PDF, 39 kb).