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European Marine Sites (EMS)

In 1992, the European Community passed Council Directive 92/43/EEC, better known as the 'EC Habitats Directive'. The Habitats Directive aims to maintain biodiversity by conserving important habitats and species, whilst contributing to the sustainable development of designated sites. 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.

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

The main requirements for EMS sites are: