What's it all about? The most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe are protected by legislation known as the ‘Habitats Directive’ involving the creation of the a network of special sites called Natura 2000.
What is Natura 2000? In May 1992 the UK and other European Union governments adopted legislation to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. The EU legislation is known as the ‘Habitats Directive’ and involves the creation of a network of sites called Natura 2000 there are two directives. The bird Directive requires the establishment of species Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds. The Habitats Directive Similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designed for other species and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 series.
Protection Under The Law Under the Habitat Regulations, developments that might have a significant impact can generally only proceed where there is to be no adverse effect on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site. Only under the exceptional circumstances of over-riding public interest would an activity that would harm a Natura 2000 site be permitted. In such cases compensatory habitat must be provided to maintain the coherence of the Natura 2000 series.
How does a Government Protect Natura 2000 site in N. Ireland? The EU Habitats Directive was adopted into Northern Ireland legislation in 1995 in the form of the Habitats Regulations. These regulations build on the measures already in place to protect and manage areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs) and include new measures to protect marine sites.
Natura 2000 sites are part of a living landscape. Many of our Natura 2000 sites, including those in Mourne, reflect the influence of human activity now or in the past. Our approach in Northern Ireland is a work with owners and occupiers of these sites so that they are managed sensitively, while at the same time introducing the right degree of protection. This protection should recognise appropriate economic or social uses of the sites that are compatible with conservation of its wildlife interest.
Northern Ireland is contributing to the network 2000 by proposing 21 sites as SACs as well as the 10 SPAs already established for birds. In the Mourne AONB these are three sites. A large part of carling ford Lough has been classified as an SPA because it supports important population of breeding terms and over wintering Light –Bellied Brant Geese. The sand dunes at Murlough have been put forward as a candidate SAC. These dunes contain areas of distinctive dune heath habitat for which the site represents the best example on the side of the Irish Sea. Most of the high Mourne s are included within the Eastern Mourne candidate SAC. It has been put forward because of its extensive areas of dry heath habitat.
It is important to find sustainable ways of managing land and water sites designed through Natura 2000. This may require changes in current practices and if this is to be done, those affected must be involved from the start. Everyone can play a role in safeguarding wildlife and habitats, from the private citizen through to public institutions and business. However, if co-operations and partnership are not enough to protect a site, the habitats regulations provide strong legal measures that can be used.
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