Annex IV protected areas: water dependent habitats and species and high status sites




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2.3. Birds Directive 79/409/EEC

This Directive aims to provide long-term protection and conservation of all bird species naturally living in the wild within the EU through the conservation, maintenance or restoration of the biotopes and habitats. Measures include the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for those species listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species. SPAs contribute to the EU – wide network of Natura 2000 sites. SPAs are subject to the same legal protection and provisions as SACs designated under the Habitats Directive (legal obligations under Article 4 of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) have been superseded by Article 6 of the Habitats Directive) and are included as Protected Areas under the Water Framework Directive.


Satisfactory water quality and hydrological regime are often essential factors in SPAs; as is the prevention of excessive disturbance due to human activity. Winter flooding is often an important feature of these sites, for example Lough Mask SPA, Lough Ree SPA, the Middle Shannon Callows SPA, and the Blackwater Callows SPA in Co. Waterford. Wetland habitats are often important components of inland SPAs designated for Annex 1 listed bird species and for internationally important concentrations of migratory waterfowl, for example wet grassland and marsh habitats which depend on seasonal flooding. These habitats are generally mesotrophic in character.

Many SPAs occur in transitional waters, including lagoons (e.g. Tacumshin Lake SPA and Lady’s Island Lake SPA in Co. Wexford), and estuaries and bays with extensive intertidal sand and mudflats (e.g. Dundalk Bay, Dublin Bay, Cork Harbour, and Inner Galway Bay SPAs), in which the habitats present are Annex 1 listed under the Habitats Directive.


Ireland’s SPA network has recently undergone a major review, and the roll out of the notification and subsequent designation of both old and new sites is underway. The majority of the SPAs will be designated for wintering waterbirds and for breeding seabirds. Both of these groups are water dependent, but a definitive list of water dependent species has not been compiled to date. Recent SPA designations for hen harrier and chough generally include water dependent habitats which are used by these species.

2.4 National legislation - Natural Heritage Area sites.

As of June 2008, there are 148 Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) fully designated by Statutory Instrument; all of these include bog habitats. An additional seven sites have been notified (all are sites important for birds), but have not yet been designated by S.I. These sites are designated, and notified as proposed for designation, under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act of 2000. A further suite of 1,135 sites were advertised in 1995 as proposed natural Heritage Areas (pNHAs) and await review and selection for full designation under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act. The process of NHA identification, notification and designation is on-going; all sites are subject to the requirements of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act from the time of first notification.


Many SAC sites are also covered by pNHA sites; it should be noted that the site boundaries do not always coincide, because SAC sites are designated principally for internationally important examples of Habitats Directive Annex listed habitats and species, whilst the NHA and pNHA networks also include nationally, regionally and locally important habitats and species. Currently, overlapping SAC and pNHA sites share the same site code, but it is the intention of NPWS to update the site code numbers for the pNHA network in future so that each site subject to a conservation designation has a unique site code and boundary.
Additional undesignated sites are under consideration by NPWS for listing as proposed Natural Heritage Areas. These are sites which have been reported by NPWS staff members or contractors, or which have been referenced by NPWS from site descriptions in scientific literature or in specific studies, or which have been reported directly to NPWS by professional and amateur biologists and by members of the public. Theses sites are referred to as new cNHAs, and have been assigned a Site Code and Site Name, with hard copy files of the relevant documentation for each site. Grid references have not yet been recorded digitally for these sites, but habitat and species data have been extracted where possible and included in the NPWS Habitats Assignment Database. Sites are referenced by County, and information held in these files can be accessed on request to NPWS.
Proposed and designated Natural Heritage Areas which include water dependent habitats and species should be considered under the Water Framework Directive, because they contribute to the national resource of Annex I and Annex II Habitats Directive listed habitats and species. As a result of this, NHAs will be included on a ‘shadow list’ to the Register of Protected Areas.


2.5 National legislation – Draft European Communities Environmental Objectives (Surface Waters) Regulations 2008

In 2008 the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published the draft European Communities Environmental Objectives Regulations for public consultation. These were developed to ensure the requirements of the following were fully met:



  • The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) which requires that all surface waters achieve ‘good status’ by 2015.

  • The Dangerous Substances Directive (2006/11/EC – formerly 76/464/EC) on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment.

  • A judgment of the European Court of Justice in June 2005 in relation to the Dangerous Substances Directive.

  • A proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on water quality standards (Common Position adopted in June 2008).

The draft Regulations give legal status to the criteria and standards to be used for classifying surface waters in accordance with the ecological objectives approach of the Water Framework Directive. They also establish environmental objectives for the protection of surface waters whose status is high or good (as classified by the EPA) and require the restoration of waters of less than good status to at least good status. The regulations set out a wide range of environmental quality standards (Schedules 5 and 6) to provide a more coherent and comprehensive system of quality objectives for all Ireland’s surface waters, including standards for 41 chemical substances (e.g. pesticides, heavy metals and other groups of substances such as flame retardants) established at EU level and also 16 chemical substances relevant in an Irish context (see Appendix 13). They also prohibit point and diffuse source discharges liable to cause water pollution except where such discharges are subject to prior authorisation or general binding rules. Discharge authorisations must lay down emission limits that aim to achieve the environmental objectives/quality standards specified in the Regulations.



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