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Marine Natural Heritage Designations

Protected areas represent the best of the firths landscapes, plants and animals, rocks, fossils and landforms. Their protection and management will help to ensure that they remain in good health for all to enjoy, both now and for future generations.  They may be designated to meet the needs of international directives and treaties, national legislation and policies or more local needs and interests.

There are four key natural heritage designations in the Moray Firth with marine components:

Special Area of Conservation
A Special Area of Conservation (or SAC) is a site designated under the Habitats Directive. These sites, together with Special Protection Areas (or SPAs), are called Natura sites and they are internationally important for threatened habitats and species. Natura sites form a unique network of protected areas which stretch across Europe.  SACs are selected for a number of habitats and species, both terrestrial and marine, which are listed in the Habitats Directive. There are 13 SACs in the Moray Firth area read more.... 

The inner Moray Firth, west of a line from Helmsdale to Lossiemouth was designated a Special Area of Conservation for the resident bottlenose dolphin population in 1996 with subtidal sandbanks added in 2001.  More information on the management of the Moray Firth SAC can be found in the Natural Heritage section. To view all Moray Firth SAC publications, including the latest Management Group meeting minutes, revised Management Scheme and Action Programme and related research/reports click here.

To locate all SACs in the Moray Firth area you can use the simple interactive map on the SNH SAC Scotland page. The figures shown in red circles indicate the number of sites concentrated in one area - zoom in for more detail.

Special Protection Area
A Special Protection Area (or SPA) is a site designated under the Birds Directive.  As already noted above, SPAs form Natura sites. SPAs are selected for a number of rare, threatened or vulnerable bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, and also for regularly occurring migratory species.  There are 9 SPAs around the Moray Firth.  Read more....

To locate SPAs in the Moray Firth you can use the simple interactive map on the SNH SPA Scotland page. The figures shown in red circles indicate the number of sites concentrated in one area - zoom in for more detail.  To search for an SPA in Scotland use SNH's Sitelink interactive map.

Ramsar Sites
Ramsar is the name of the town in Iran where the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance was adopted in 1971. The UK Government signed up to the Convention in 1976.  The mission of the Convention is "the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world".  Currently 159 countries have signed up as Contracting Parties to the Convention with 1871 wetland sites designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The Ramsar website has lots more background information about the international network of Ramsar sites.  There are 5 Ramsar sites in the Moray Firth.  Read more....

Sites of Special Scientific Interest
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are those areas of land and water (to the seaward limits of local authority areas) that Scottish Natural Heritage considers to best represent the natural heritage - its diversity of plants, animals and habitats, rocks and landforms, or a combinations of such natural features.  There are currently 55 SSSI's around the Moray Firth.  Read more....

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas
On 24 July 2014, 30 MPAs were designated under the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. These will be incorporated into the National Marine Plan and represented in National Marine Plan interactive alongside existing protected areas.  There are no MPAs in or adjacent to the Moray Firth.

Of the 30 MPAs, 17 fall under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 in Scottish territorial waters and 13 in offshore waters under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. These 30 have been recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for inshore waters and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for offshore waters. These designations fulfil duties in both the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well as furthering commitments to form part of the wider UK contribution to the OSPAR North-East Atlantic MPA network. A map that shows the new Nature Conservation MPAs is also available.