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Special Area of Conservation (1)

Special Area of Conservation are prime wildlife conservation areas in the country, considered to be important on a European as well as Irish level. Most Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are in the countryside, although a few sites reach into town or city landscapes, such as Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour. Conservation management plans are available for many SACs. The legal basis on which SACs are selected and designated is the EU Habitats Directive, transposed into Irish law in the as amended in 1998 and 2005. The Directive lists certain habitats and species that must be protected within SACs. Irish habitats include raised bogs, blanket bogs, turloughs, sand dunes, machair (flat sandy plains on the north and west coasts), heaths, lakes, rivers, woodlands, estuaries and sea inlets. The 25 Irish species which must be afforded protection include Salmon, Otter, Freshwater Pearl Mussel, Bottlenose Dolphin and Killarney Fern. The areas chosen as SAC in Ireland cover an area of approximately 13,500 sq. km. Roughly 53% is land, the remainder being marine or large lakes. Across the EU, over 12,600 sites have been identified and proposed, covering 420,000 sq. km of land and sea, an area the size of Germany.

Natural Heritage Areas (2)

The basic designation for wildlife is the Natural Heritage Area (NHA). This is an area considered important for the habitats present or which holds species of plants and animals whose habitat needs protection. To date, 75 raised bogs have been given legal protection, covering some 23,000 hectares. These raised bogs are located mainly in the midlands. A further 73 blanket bogs, covering 37,000ha, mostly in western areas are also designated as NHAs.

Proposed Natural Heritage Areas (3)

In addition to the designated NHAs, there are 630 proposed NHAs (pNHAs), which were published on a non-statutory basis in 1995, but have not since been statutorily proposed or designated. These sites are of significance for wildlife and habitats. Some of the pNHAs are tiny, such as a roosting place for rare bats. Others are large - a woodland or a lake, for example. The pNHAs cover approximately 65,000ha and designation will proceed on a phased basis over the coming years. Prior to statutory designation, pNHAs are subject to limited protection, in the form of: Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) plans which require conservation of pNHAs and operate for a period of 5 years; Forest Service requirement for NPWS approval before they will pay afforestation grants on pNHA lands; Recognition of the ecological value of pNHAs by Planning and Licencing Authorities. Under the Wildlife Amendment Act (2000) , NHAs are legally protected from damage from the date they are formally proposed for designation.

Special Protection Areas (4)

The EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) requires designation of SPAs for: Listed rare and vulnerable species; Regularly occurring migratory species, such as ducks, geese and waders; Wetlands, especially those of international importance, which attract large numbers of migratory birds each year. (Internationally important means that 1% of the population of a species uses the site, or more than 20,000 birds regularly use the site.) 121 SPAs have been designated since 1985. 25 other sites enjoy legal protection and will shortly by designated as SPAs. However, further designations are required pursuant to the Birds Directive. The Minister will be publishing his proposals for the designation of additional sites on an on-going basis in Autumn 2007 and Spring 2008. It should be noted that many existing and future SPAs overlap with SACs. The Irish SPAs join a total of around 3,000 sites across the European Union.

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