Some Questions You May Have

Natural Resources Wales is a non-departmental public body funded by the Welsh Government. One of our duties is to advise Welsh Government on the designation of areas of land and sea which are important for wildlife

Questions and Answers

Here are some general questions and answers about the proposed changes to these three Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

1. What is a Special Protection Area (SPA)?

A Special Protection Area (SPA) is an area classified under the European Union ‘Wild Birds Directive’, because it supports internationally important populations of wild birds. All EU member states must designate SPAs in their land and sea areas. Together with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated under the Habitats and Species Directive, SPAs form part of the ‘Natura 2000’ network of sites across the EU for the conservation of Europe’s biodiversity. There are more than 26,000 sites in the Natura 2000 network, covering nearly 1 million square km, an area roughly equivalent to the combined area of the UK, Ireland and France.

2. What protection do SPAs provide?

Special Protection Areas are intended to help conserve the populations of birds for which they have been classified. Protection is provided by the relevant authorities through the assessment and control of development proposals, adoption of appropriate policies and promotion of practices to address the specific needs of the species for which the sites are classified. The land areas within the existing SPAs are already notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which regulate the carrying out of activities that could be harmful to the birds or their habitat. The proposed new marine areas will not be designated as SSSIs, as SSSIs are not normally applicable in the sea.

3. Are these areas Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)?

No. A Special Protection Area is a specific measure to address the needs of one or more particular bird species, as required by EU law. Marine Conservation Zones are a different type of designation made under domestic (England and Wales) law. The recent proposals for Marine Conservation Zones in Wales have been withdrawn pending a review of the need for MCZs announced in July 2013 by the Minister for Natural Resources and Food.

4. What is Natural Resources Wales’s role in the SPA process?

Natural Resources Wales is the advisor to Welsh Government on the Birds Directive generally and specifically on the scientific basis for the identification of SPAs and their management. Competent authorities need to consult Natural Resources Wales over any plans or projects that could affect an SPA, and take Natural Resources Wales’s advice into account when they decide whether a proposal can go ahead. Natural Resources Wales will also be responsible for monitoring these areas on behalf of Welsh Government. Natural Resources Wales is also responsible for regulating activities which have the potential to damage Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) within SPAs.

5. What am I being consulted about?

Following scientific advice from Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government is proposing to change the designation of three existing Special Protection Areas, as part of Wales’s implementation of the EU Birds Directive. The existing Special Protection Areas concerned are:

  • Glannau Aberdaron ac Ynys Enlli / Aberdaron Coast and Bardsey Island SPA (in Gwynedd)
  • Skokholm and Skomer SPA (in Pembrokeshire)
  • Grassholm SPA (also in Pembrokeshire)

The proposed changes are:

  • Firstly, to extend the boundaries of all three sites to include the sea areas around them, to between 2km and 9km from the existing SPA boundaries. These sites are already SPAs in order to protect seabird breeding colonies but currently only the nesting areas are included. The purpose of the proposed marine extensions is to include the sea areas around the nesting sites which the birds also use, mainly for a behaviour known as ‘loafing’, an important activity for the birds during the breeding season
  • Secondly, to update the lists of bird species for which these sites are considered of international importance. This follows the findings of a scientific review of the UK SPA network published by the UK nature conservation agencies in 2001, and application of agreed UK guidelines for the identification of SPAs

The purpose of this consultation is to inform you about these proposals and to gather your views.

6. Why are the marine ‘loafing’ areas important?

Loafing areas are where the birds congregate or ‘loaf’ before and during the breeding season. They are important so that breeding birds can rest, bathe, preen and reach peak condition. In particular, Manx shearwaters will often use these areas to congregate (sometimes called ‘rafting’) before heading to land in the dark.

7. Why is it necessary to update the lists of species included in the designations?

Many existing Special Protection Areas were classified in the early 1980s. The UK review of SPAs was intended to ensure that all sites were classified on the basis of consistent and good quality data on numbers and distribution of relevant bird populations, and in accordance with nationally agreed guidelines. The review, published in 2001, indicates that a small number of changes are needed to the lists of species for which Glannau Aberdaron ac Ynys Enlli / Aberdaron Coast and Bardsey Island SPA and Skokholm and Skomer SPA are classified as SPA. There are no changes proposed to the species for which Grassholm SPA is classified.

8. How were the proposed areas and their boundaries identified?

Sites were identified from an analysis of data from various reports (see below) and from targeted surveys, including at Bardsey, Skokholm and Skomer, which demonstrate significant use and clear ecological dependence by certain seabird species on these waters. The analysis was done by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a UK agency which provides scientific and technical support to the statutory conservation bodies in different parts of the UK. The JNCC has developed guidelines on how far SPA extensions should be made into the marine environment, depending on which breeding species are present. The recommendations are:

  • the boundaries of breeding colony SPAs for Manx shearwater should be extended by at least 4 km, or further where site-specific data supports a larger extension;
  • the boundaries of breeding colony SPAs for puffin, guillemot or razorbill should be extended seaward by 1 km;
  • the boundaries of breeding colony SPAs for gannet should be extended seaward by 2 km;

For further information on the JNCC guidance please visit the JNCC web page on marine extensions to existing seabird breeding colony SPAs.

9. Do the areas of proposed extension have any protection now?

The decision by the Welsh Minister for Natural Resources and Food to request Natural Resources Wales to consult on this proposed extension confirms their status as proposed SPAs (pSPAs). It is Welsh Government policy that a pSPA should have the same protection as fully classified SPAs, until a decision is taken by the Welsh Ministers on whether to formally designate the SPA. However, these areas are already covered by the regulations protecting the existing SPAs from potentially damaging development.

10. Why is it proposed to designate SPAs in sea areas which are already designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)?

SPAs and SACs are separate designations required by different EU laws. SPAs are specifically to protect bird populations, while the marine SACs in these areas are there to protect specific marine habitats and marine species, including marine mammals. In practice however, the two designations work together, since the laws for how SACs and SPAs should be managed are very similar, and the same organisations are involved. In most cases looking after the habitats of an area will also help conserve all the species that depend on those habitats. Or to put it another way, conserving species usually requires looking after the habitats they depend on.

The whole of the proposed areas of marine extensions for Skokholm and Skomer SPA and Grassholm SPA lie within a marine SAC. Part of the proposed marine SPA extension for Glannau Aberdaron ac Ynys Enlli / Aberdaron Coast and Bardsey Island SPA lies within an existing marine SAC.

11. What effect will the proposals have?

The proposed marine extensions do not in themselves introduce any additional requirement for regulations, as the land areas are already SPAs. The marine areas are already subject to regulations to assess and control the impact of development proposals. The extension of the SPAs to include the marine areas does not make additional regulations or restrictions any more or less likely, but they should make it clearer and easier to manage the sites as well as recognising that the sea areas around these breeding colonies are in many ways as important to the birds as the nesting areas themselves.

Likewise, although the proposals also involve adding to the lists of species for which two of the three sites are classified, these additions are not expected to create a need for significant additional regulations or restrictions. This is because the management currently needed to protect the sites ought to meet most of the conservation needs of the proposed additional species.

12. Will access and recreation to these additional sea areas be restricted?

There are no plans for changes to the regulation of public access or navigation. Existing legislation already gives legal protection against intentional and reckless disturbance of nesting birds and against the birds being killed. There could be a future requirement for codes of conduct, for instance for powerboats or wildlife tour operators, but these activities when carried out responsibly are not considered to be a threat to the SPA at this time.

Most areas of the existing (terrestrial) SPAs are on privately owned land. The designation or redesignation of an SPA does not create or remove any right of public access. More information about access to land is available from the Outdoor Wales onLine map on the Natural Resources Wales website.

13. Are there any consequences for existing activities like fishing and farming?

All legal activities currently undertaken, which are not having a detrimental effect on the bird populations of the SPAs, can continue. There is no indication currently that such activities, including commercial and recreational fishing being carried out in accordance with current legislation, are posing a threat to the bird populations of these areas.

In some cases, existing land uses may have contributed to the presence of the qualifying species. For example, certain farming practices help create the right habitat conditions for the chough populations of the Llŷn Peninsula and coastal Pembrokeshire, and ‘cloddiau’ (stone-faced banks) can provide nest sites for Manx shearwater.

14. Who has the responsibility for planning and regulating activities and development proposals?

The designation or extension of an SPA does not change who is responsible for regulating land and sea use and determining development applications. The existing regulatory and planning functions of local authorities, Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government and the UK Government will remain the same.

15. Will the designation affect new development proposals including offshore wind farms or other energy schemes, coastal protection works, development of new fisheries?

The presence of an SPA does not automatically prevent development and change. However, there is a statutory procedure that must be followed when considering certain proposals that could affect SPAs, whether the proposals are located within the SPA or outside the boundary. If a proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the bird species of an SPA then the competent authority (ie the authority responsible for deciding whether a proposal should proceed) must carry out an assessment to establish whether the proposal will adversely affect the SPA. If it cannot be shown that the proposal will not adversely affect the site, and there are no alternative solutions, the proposal can only be allowed to proceed if there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest. This may mean that some proposals will need modifying in order to proceed or, in some cases, that the proposal cannot go ahead. These requirements already apply to developments that could affect these existing three SPAs.

16. What is the benefit of these proposals to the people who live near them?

SPAs represent some of our most important sites for wildlife and the environment. The three sites involved in these proposals include some of Wales's most beautiful and valued landscapes, seascapes and islands, attracting thousands of visitors every year and enhancing the quality of life for the people who live in and near them. Many of the visitors to these areas are drawn by the opportunities of seeing the seabird populations. These proposals are designed to ensure that the legal basis for protection of these areas, for the benefit of present and future generations, is clear, robust and up to date, reflecting their local, national and international importance.

17. Will these proposed changes to the SPAs definitely be made?

The Welsh Government believes there is sufficient scientific evidence in support of the proposals to ask Natural Resources Wales to consult over them. This is to help ensure that the decision on whether to confirm the changes is based on the best possible information. If the consultation process identifies scientific grounds for not making these changes to the SPAs, the Welsh Ministers may decide not to proceed with one or all of them, or they may ask Natural Resources Wales to develop alternative proposals. In making their decision, the Welsh Ministers will comply with the Birds Directive, and also take into consideration the rulings of the European Court of Justice on how EU member states should apply the Birds Directive. The final decision is made by the Welsh Ministers.

18. Is this only happening in Wales?

No. In Scotland, marine extensions of a similar nature have already been made to 31 existing SPAs for seabird breeding colonies. Work is also underway in England to identify a number of further SPAs – for further information please see Natural England’s web page on new marine Natura 2000 sites.

19. How will areas proposed as SPAs be managed?

In most cases the management and regulation currently in place will continue. The land areas of these SPAs are already subject to management for the benefit of the bird populations. In addition, there could be increased emphasis on provision for the wintering chough populations (Glannau Aberdaron ac Ynys Enlli / Aberdaron Coast and Bardsey Island SPA and Skokholm and Skomer SPA) such as the provision of winter stubble or out-wintering of livestock to encourage invertebrate prey. This may be pursued through targeted voluntary agri-environment schemes. In the marine areas, ’best practice’, such as responsible navigation practices around loafing seabirds and in close proximity to nesting sites, will be promoted and encouraged.

20. If the changes are made will the new areas need to be monitored?

Continued monitoring will be needed to re-assess the number of birds using the sites, to check that the populations are healthy and that the way in which the sites are being used and managed remains favourable to the bird populations. This work is part of a long term monitoring programme by Natural Resources Wales and partners.

21. What is the Welsh Government Impact Assessment?

In line with best practice, the Welsh Government has carried out an impact assessment of the proposed extensions and listing of additional species to understand the full range of possible impacts on all users. This will help inform the management options for each area. The Welsh Minister’s decision on whether to make the changes to the SPA designations is based on scientific evidence alone.

The Welsh Government will publish the impact assessment report. For further information please see marine section of the Welsh Government website.

22. How do I respond and what happens next?

The consultation period is from 31 January 2014 until 25 April 2014. You are invited to give your views on the proposals by midnight, 25 April 2014. If you want to make any written comments on the proposals, you can send them using the response form via email to: or post to International Sites Team, Natural Resources Wales, Maes-y-Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd, Bangor Gwynedd, LL57 2DW.

After the consultation period has ended, Natural Resources Wales will draw up a report on the representations and views received and submit it to the Welsh Government. Welsh Ministers will then take that information into account in deciding whether to confirm the changes to the SPAs. An anonymised summary of responses received will be published on the Natural Resources Wales website after the end of the consultation period. Natural Resources Wales will write to stakeholders to inform them of the Welsh Minister's decision.

Please be aware that we may receive a request for a copy of the full consultation response report under the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations and we may be asked to provide copies of individual responses, including the names and addresses of persons or organisations sending them. In such cases we have to decide whether to release that information or not, and if someone has asked for their name and address to be withheld we can take that into account in deciding whether to release that information.

Further information see Natural Resources Wales Freedom of Information policy.

If you would like further information on the proposals, please contact one of the Natural Resources Wales offices local to the SPAs. You are welcome to attend drop-in sessions arranged by Natural Resources Wales to discuss in person any queries you may have.