UK risk fines if they do not designate SACs for harbour porpoise

20th Oct 2014

European Commission is asking the United Kingdom to designate protected areas for harbour porpoise, a marine mammal regularly found in UK waters. The EU legislation on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive) requires Member States to propose a list of protection sites for a number of species that are native to their territory, ensuring their protection from interventions which could seriously compromise their ecological character. Despite a large number of harbour porpoise in its waters, the UK has so far proposed only one small site in Northern Ireland, exposing some of the identified sites to the risk of offshore wind farm development. The Commission has repeatedly urged the UK to fulfil its key obligations for this species, but no further designations of sites have been proposed. Today's action, a reasoned opinion, follows a letter of formal notice sent to the UK government in June 2013. If the UK fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

From http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-589_en.htm

24 April 2014

IWDG have been informed the proposed Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for harbour porpoise in Northern Ireland has been forwarded to the EU. The site at Skerries and Causway SAC includes harbour porpoise as a qualifying interestas well as the marine habitats;  Reefs, Sandbanks and Submerged Sea Caves.

IWDG fully support this designation and congratulate the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for their hard work to get this important designation through the process. It is the only designated SAC for harbour porpoise in the UK. IWDG recording schemes, especially the effort related sighting scheme were instrumental in identifying this area as important for harbour porpoise. There are other important sites and an additional site off the coast of Co Down might provide a better range of protected sites in Northern Ireland waters.

IWDG look forward to assisting the NIEA in their long-term monitoring obligations to ensure favourable conservatioon status for this species in this new SAC.

15 January 2011

NIEA have proposed including harbour porpoise as a qualifying interest in the Skerries and Causeway SAC, Co. Antrim.

EU member states are legally obliged to declare Special Areas of Conservation for harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin under the EU Habitats Directive. To date there are two SACs for harbour porpoise in the Republic (Roaringwater Bay and the Blasket Islands) and one for bottlenose dolphins (Lower River Shannon). There are no sites designated in Northern Ireland or indeed for harbour porpoise in the UK as a whole.


The Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA) have recently sent out a proposal for public consultation regarding the designation of the Skerries and Causeway SAC and Maidens SAC. Included as a qualifying interest in the Skerries and Causeway SAC is the harbour porpoise. The data to support such a proposal was gathered largely through the IWDG and NIEA Sighting Schemes. It is gratifying to see the hard work carried out by volunteers informing policy and being used for tangible conservation benefits.

The IWDG strongly welcomes such inclusion of the harbour porpoise, as Northern Ireland does have important habitats for this species and there should be site designation in Northern Ireland in order to protect representative habitats for this species in the UK as a whole.

The IWDG have written to NIEA supporting this initiative and raising a few issues regarding conservation objectives and monitoring.

Dr Simon Berrow

IWDG Co-ordinator