Some of our key areas for nature conservation have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation, or SAC for short. These are designated to protect special habitats or species of international importance, as listed in The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended), to ensure ‘the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.’ All of the SAC sites chosen under The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) are collectively known as the UK national site network which is a network of protected areas across the EU, which forms part of a wider international Emerald Network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest. The sites are chosen according to scientific criteria to ensure favourable conservation status of each habitat type and species. ‘Favourable conservation status’ means managing the site to ensure the special habitats and species are healthy.
Northern Ireland has 58 areas that have been designated as SACs covering terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats. Some of these are cross-border sites.
The habitats and species that occur in our SACs are called ‘features’ and they are of international importance. These SACs are vitally important as their purpose is to protect Northern Ireland’s biodiversity.
Important features of Northern Ireland’s SACs include freshwater pearl mussel, grey seal, bogs, otters, salmon, sand dunes, rivers and lakes, estuaries, heaths, mountains and woodland.
For a list of our SACs and their important features, please visit https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/protected-areas/type/sac
Unfortunately many of our SACs are not in good health. The reasons for this include climate change, inappropriate land management, water and air pollution, invasive non-native species and development. To help bring our SACs back into good condition, we need to establish key measures to address these pressures. With that in mind, we are preparing individual Conservation Management Plans for 57 of our SACs. These plans help figure out what is wrong in each SAC and propose ways of fixing the problems. Fixing the problem could be as simple as getting the site grazed more or blocking drains on a bog to make it wetter. Writing a Conservation Management Plan involves going out onto the site and looking at all the features and assessing what ‘condition’ they are in or how healthy they are and assessing any issues. Issues include things that are impacting the site and its features right now, known as pressures and things that may impact the site and its features in future, known as threats.
Stakeholder engagement is key to the success of the Conservation Management Plans. We expect the Management Plans to provide a mechanism for discussing and agreeing appropriate land use and management with land managers, farmers and other key stakeholders within the sites to develop practical measures and identify available funding sources.
It is intended that these Conservation Management Plans will meet the conservation requirements of the sites with community participation resulting in workable, sustainable plans.
For more information please email ConservationPlans@daera-ni.gov.uk
To view the 5 key things document click HERE