Marine SAC Selection Process and Guidance


Marine SACs are selected on the basis of the selection criteria contained within the Habitats Directive Annex III, and EC Guidance on implementation of the Natura 2000 network in the marine environment. It takes several years for an area to progress from being an Area of Search to being submitted to Europe and becoming a candidate SAC/Site of Community Importance.

UK Government then have six years from the site being made a Site of Community Importance to designate it as a SAC with appropriate conservation measures in place. A pdf of the various stages in the offshore SAC designation process is available here.

At present the network for the UK is considered largely complete, with all sites now submitted to the European commission or approved, except for the NW Anglesey Area of Search. More details on the progress of the network towards completion can be found here.


SAC Selection Methodology

JNCC and the country conservation agencies developed detailed guidelines on the practical application of the Annex III selection criteria on land and in coastal areas in 1997. Since then additional guidance has been produced on the application of Annex III selection criteria in waters away from the coast. SACs and their boundaries are selected on a scientific basis only and socio-economic factors cannot be taken into account (Case C-371/98).


The Annex III selection criteria for habitats are:

  • The degree of representativity of the natural habitat type on the site.
  • The area of the site covered by the natural habitat type in relation to the total area covered by that natural habitat type within the national territory.
  • Degree of conservation of the structure and functions of the natural habitat type concerned and restoration possibilities.
  • Global assessment.

Boundary Delineation around SACs

SAC boundaries are drawn to be as simple in shape as possible, whilst enclosing the minimum area of non-Annex I habitat possible. These boundary guidelines were amended in 2008, in light of responses received from the 2007-2008 public consultation on the selection of the first seven offshore SACs.

Feedback from JNCC’s 2011 consultation on new offshore pSACs resulted in the SAC Boundary Guidelines being amended further. The guidelines now state that the maximum water depth should be applied for calculations of buffer margin widths, and that in the case of highly variable depths across a site, multiple site region maximum depths may be applied.

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