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About European Marine Sites

In 1992, the European Community passed Council Directive 92/43/EEC, better known as the 'EC Habitats Directive'. This represented a major contribution by the European Community towards their responsibilities under the Biodiversity Convention. The Habitats Directive aims to maintain biodiversity by conserving important habitats and species, whilst contributing to the sustainable development of designated sites. The earlier 1979 Birds Directive specifically addresses the conservation of wild bird populations and their habitats. The implementation of both the Habitats and Birds Directives is translated into English and Welsh legislation by the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, commonly known as the 'Habitats Regulations'.


The term 'European Marine Site' (EMS) (as defined by the Habitats Regulations) refers to those marine areas of both Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are protected under the EC Habitats and Birds Directives. An EMS can be an entire SAC or SPA, or only part of one (the SAC/SPA may also include terrestrial areas). However, ‘European Marine Site’ is not a statutory site designation; these areas are essentially management units for those parts of Natura 2000 sites which extend beyond the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) /Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) designations in the UK.

Intertidal European Marine Sites are often managed through underlying SSSI/ASSI designations as they lie above the low water mark and/or within local planning authority boundaries and can therefore be managed through the same protection systems as terrestrial European sites. Conversely, most subtidal EMS will be managed through measures under the Habitats Regulations or Offshore Habitats Regulations, and adjacent European marine sites may be grouped together for the purpose of management.

European Marine Sites are now commonly called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs); however the definition of MPAs is wider and also includes Marine Conservation Zones.

Aims of European Marine Sites

The main requirements for the sites are:

Management Schemes

Establishing management schemes is optional for relevant and competent authorities under the Habitats Regulations and Offshore Habitats Regulations. However, the Regulations place a general duty on all statutory authorities exercising legislative powers to perform these in accordance with the Habitats Directive. A European Marine Site management scheme can be the best means to achieve this through providing a framework for management and promoting cooperative working with other relevant/competent authorities, especially on large or complex sites. Experience has shown that many Relevant Authorities and bodies with an interest in managing MPAs and other natural assets are unable to deliver their statutory functions on their own. English Nature’s Estuaries Initiative and the European Marine Site ‘Management Schemes’ bear witness to this. At an individual level funds would not have been available either for employment of a co-ordinator, or for elements of monitoring or specific action. Yet, together, it has been possible to secure a range of tangible results and this is what has happened in the Solent with the establishment of the Solent European Marine Sites Management Scheme; the Solent Forum provides the Secretariat for this Scheme.

Examples of tanglible results from coordinated action: