European Marine Sites

Critical sites for wildlife and people

European Marine Sites (EMS) are sites protected under European law and include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which together form part of a Europe-wide network (‘Natura 2000’) designed to safeguard the wildlife most at risk. Natura 2000 sites are a key part of the foundation upon which nature’s recovery at sea depends, and include such iconic areas as Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, and Lyme Bay in Devon. Both SACs and SPAs play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges. Supporting nationally threatened species and habitats they are a key part of our network of Marine Protected Areas.

What's a Special Area of Conservation?

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are areas which have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. They provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity.

Coastal and marine SACs include Dawlish Warren (Devon), Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly coast (Cornwall), Chesil Beach, Lyme Bay and Lizard Point in the South West.

Further information about SACs is available on the Natural England website.

What's a Special Protection Area?

SPAs are areas identified as of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites, classified under the ‘Birds Directive 1979’ which provides enhanced protection.

Coastal SPAs include Flamborough Head (Yorkshire), Morecambe Bay (Lancashire) and the Humber Estuary. Further information about SPAs can be found on the Natural England website.

Benefits of these sites

The benefits to society and to the economy are vitally important, as the UK National Ecosystem Assessment states: “The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.”

These economic benefits include supporting the natural processes we rely on, such as flood management, cleaning our water, storing carbon and regenerating urban areas. Management of sites provides jobs, and the tourists they attract can boost local economies. Further benefits to people include recreational opportunities, with studies consistently showing access to nature improves health and wellbeing.