Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation

A large part of the inner Moray Firth, west of a line from Helmsdale to Lossiemouth has been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).  Follow this link to view all Moray Firth SAC publications, including the latest Management Group meeting minutes and the revised Management Scheme and Action Programme.

Natura 2000
SAC's contribute to a network of sites, Natura 2000, set up in response to the EC Habitats Directive (one of the ECs major contributions to the Biodiversity Convention agreed by over 150 countries at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit). Natura 2000 aims to help maintain the diversity of wildlife across Europe, by conserving areas of land or sea for the protection of rare, endangered or vulnerable habitats and species in the European Community.

The Moray Firth: Dolphins and Sandbanks
The Moray Firth SAC was initially proposed for designation in 1996 to help protect the resident population of bottlenose dolphins, which is considered to be rare in a European context. Because the dolphins live a long time and reproduce slowly, and because the Moray Firth population is relatively small and isolated, it is extremely vulnerable.

In 2001 'Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water at all times' (subsequently referred to as 'sandbanks') were added to the designation. The sandbanks encompass a range of fine grained sediment types typically, but not exclusively, down to the 20m depth contour. Submerged sandbanks are ecologically and economically important; for example, they often support important nursery areas for fish, the animals associated with them provide a vital food source for birds, and the sandbanks can provide protection from coastal erosion.

Managing the SAC
The Moray Firth is a busy place. Many people live and work on its shores, many activities take place along the coast and in its waters. Some of these activities may affect the dolphins or subtidal sandbanks. The SAC aims to put in place measures that prevent deterioration to the sandbanks or the habitats that support the dolphins and to ensure that significant disturbance does not occur. Through the management scheme the SAC also aims to identify positive projects and proposals that help to improve the quality of the Firth, not just for the European interests but for all those that live and work in the area as well.

Responsibility for managing the Moray Firth SAC is shared by the 'relevant authorities'. These are organisations that have statutory responsibilities through licencing or consenting the various activities or developments that take place in the Firth. These Authorities are required to make sure that the well-being of the dolphins, the condition of their habitat and the condition of the sandbanks are protected when they carry out their every day work. To facilitate effective management of the SAC the relevant authorities came together through a Management Group and this group has published a Management Scheme.

The Management Group includes representatives from the following relevant authorities: The Cromarty Firth Port Authority, The Crown Estate, Dept of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Marine Scotland, The Highland Council, Inverness Harbour Trust, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Moray Council, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Water.

The Management Scheme
The SAC Management Scheme for bottlenose dolphins was developed during 1998-2001 as part of the Moray Firth LIFE Project. The MFP secured the funds for the Project Officer that coordinated this work and additional costs of consulting and publishing the scheme. We have since used the Scheme as an example of good practice in involving stakeholders and environmental management.

Since the LIFE project, sandbanks have been added to the SAC and the Management Scheme and Revision 1 was produced in 2003. The SAC Management Group have continued to implement and monitor progress on the Scheme and in 2006, acknowledged the need for a further revision of the actions and a much simpler Scheme. The Management Scheme no longer has a project officer and the MFP provide the administration of SAC Management Group meetings. Jim McKie, Fisheries Research Services Marine Lab, is the present Chair.

Following a period of fundraising by the MFP and the Management Group, funding was secured from Reach Petroleum, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, The Highland Council and Fisheries Research Services to undertake Revision 2.   The aim of the review was to ensure that an effective management scheme is in place for the Moray Firth SAC.

Public Consultation 2008
We invited comments on Revision 2 as part of a public consultation that ran for 12 weeks from July to October 2008. An invitation to take part in the consultation was issued electronically and was also be posted on the home page of the MFP website. News releases were issued to all the local papers around the Firth to ensure as wide a coverage as possible.  Many thanks to the 132 respondents who participated in the consultation exercise. The comments recieved have been used by the Management Group to inform and enhance the Scheme. Formal replies were sent to all the respondents and a Consultation Report has been produced.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is responsible for monitoring the condition of all sites designated for their natural heritage interest – this work is carried out under their Site Condition Monitoring programme. In order to assist in this process, SNH contracted the University of Aberdeen in November 2003 to develop detailed options for a strategy for monitoring and subsequent reporting of the status of the bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth SAC.

Useful addresses
For further information about Special Areas of Conservation and the Natura 2000 network visit the following:
UK Marine SACs Project
Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)
Scottish Natural Heritage

(The Moray Firth Partnership accepts no responsibility for the content or information contained in any of the sites listed. This list is provided for information only.)