Special protection areas
Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are internationally important areas defined in the national planning policy framework as, ' Areas which have been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites, classified under the Birds Directive.'
Special Protection Areas, along with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), which are classified under the Habitats Directive, collectively form the Natura 2000 network. Designated rare and vulnerable birds are listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive.
Within the UK, the first Special Protection Area was designated in the 1980s and in 2014 there were 270 sites and one potential Special Protection Area (pSPAs). A map displaying the location of Special Protection Areas is available on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website and the MAGIC website.
Guidance for the designation of Special Protection Areas is not provided by the Birds Directive, and so the Joint Nature Conservation Committee have formulated guidelines for use within the UK. The guidelines have two stages. The first stage is intended to identify areas that are likely to qualify for SPA status. The second stage then provides criteria for selecting the best area for classification.
 Stage 1
- An area is used regularly by 1% or more of the Great Britain (or in Northern Ireland, the all-Ireland) population of a species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC as amended) in any season.
- An area is used regularly by 1% or more of the biogeographical population of a regularly occurring migratory species (other than those listed in Annex I) in any season.
- An area is used regularly by over 20,000 waterfowl (waterfowl as defined by the Ramsar Convention) or 20,000 seabirds in any season.
- An area which meets the requirements of one or more of the Stage 2 guidelines in any season, where the application of Stage 1 guidelines 1, 2 or 3 for a species does not identify an adequate suite of most suitable sites for the conservation of that species.
 Stage 2
- Population size and density: Areas holding or supporting more birds than others and/or holding or supporting birds at higher concentrations are favoured for selection.
- Species range: Areas selected for a given species provide as wide a geographic coverage across the species' range as possible.
- Breeding success: Areas of higher breeding success than others are favoured for selection.
- History of occupancy: Areas known to have a longer history of occupation or use by the relevant species are favoured for selection.
- Multi-species areas: Areas holding or supporting the larger number of qualifying species under Article 4 of the Directive are favoured for selection.
- Naturalness: Areas comprising natural or semi-natural habitats are favoured for selection over those which do not.
- Severe weather refuges: Areas used at least once a decade by significant proportions of the biogeographical population of a species in periods of severe weather in any season, and which are vital to the survival of a viable population, are favoured for selection.
- Status in the UK.
- Population data.
- Population structure and trends.
- Protection measures for the population in the UK.
- Classification criteria.
Any developments that are close to (or within) the boundary of a Special Protection Area may require a Habitat Regulations Assessment if they are likely to have an adverse affect on the site. An initial screening stage would be required, followed by an Appropriate Assessment.
Where it is considered that an adverse effect on the integrity of the site is likely, and no alternatives are available, the project can only go ahead if there are imperative reasons of over-riding public interest and if the appropriate compensatory measures can be secured.
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Designated sites.
- Habitat Compensation Programme HCP.
- Habitats regulations assessment.
- National nature reserves.
- National parks.
- National Scenic Area NSA.
- Natura 2000 network.
- Natural England.
- Protected species.
- Ramsar sites.
- Site of biological importance.
- Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI).
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
- Special Areas of Conservation.
- Special Nature Conservation Order SNCO.
- Types of land.
- World heritage site.