Welcome to Protected Areas Week 2018

All this week we are celebrating our most special places for nature by bringing you a series of exciting blogs about Scotland’s amazing protected areas. We’re kicking off with Natura 2000 Day. Today, nature fans all across Europe will be celebrating what this wonderful network has achieved for wildlife and for people. Isobel Mercer, RSPB Scotland Policy Officer, tells us about the European Natura 2000 Network and why it is so important for conserving our iconic species and habitats.

There’s nothing like getting a bunch of experts in a room to come up with a dull name for something that’s actually really incredible. You’d be entirely forgiven for thinking that Natura 2000 is the latest high-end vacuum cleaner, or an outdated shampoo brand.

In reality though, Natura 2000 is as far from ‘boring’ as it gets. It is a network of 27,000 special nature sites across land and sea of the 28 countries of the EU. This system of protected areas, which is the largest in the world, provides a haven for around 450 wild bird species and over 1200 rare, threatened or endemic wild animals and plants. The total area of Natura 2000 is around 1.1 million km2, the size of Egypt.

If you were to fly over the entire network, you would see some of the most superb landscapes in the world, from the dense boreal forests of Scandinavia and the Baltic Countries, the Mediterranean Sea teeming with marine life, the vast wetlands of the Danube Delta, and of course the evocative landscapes of Scotland, from the rolling highlands and mountain tops to the striking coastline and vibrant seas.

Isle of Coll. Credit: James Duncan.

Natura 2000 is much more than a signposting exercise, although it does help point us towards the best places to get out into the wild and up close to wildlife. The network is made up of two different types of nature site – Special Protection Areas, or SPAs, which are classified to protect wild birds, and Special Areas of Conservation, or SACs, which conserve other important and threatened habitats and wildlife. These sites provide vital connections for European wildlife. For migratory species like ospreys Natura sites in Scotland offer a safe haven for nesting and breeding, and then as they make their way to Africa they use the network of sites across Europe as ‘stepping stones’, helping see them safely to their winter home.

Osprey, Scottish Highlands. Credit: Chris Gomersall

Evidence has shown that these laws, where they have been properly put into action, are working extraordinarily well to achieve their goal of protecting nature. The Natura network is leading to measurable improvements in the status and trends of protected species and habitats where targeted actions have been taken in these sites and in the wider countryside. Scientific evidence also shows that Natura sites create a ripple effect, benefitting wildlife in the landscapes around them. The laws also provide much needed stability for businesses and developers. This means that development and other economic activity is steered to the right place, leaving nature unharmed.

It doesn’t always mean setting up shop away from the network, many Natura sites are home to a wide range of activities - from farming to forestry - which have been developed to work in harmony with the special nature interests there. The network also brings in between €50 - €85 billion a year in wildlife tourism. In short, it is doing a whole lot for nature and is also contributing to our collective social, economic and cultural wellbeing.

This year may ultimately be the last year that the UK will be part of this momentous conservation effort, with 29th March 2019 set as the official date when the UK plans to withdraw from the European Union. Much remains to be seen: the governments in the UK could continue to voluntarily ‘opt-in’ to the Natura 2000 network, the EU 27 could require it as a red-line in their negotiations, or any of the UK nations could decide to go their own way with their respective parts of the network, delivering even more for nature in these areas or, worryingly, opening the door to a weakening of protections and loss of some of our unique and vital natural spaces.

A recent report found that the nature laws in the UK are particularly at risk of being weakened as a result of Brexit. The Scottish Government has promised to maintain the high environmental standards set by the EU, but recent decisions do not always reflect this rhetoric. Perhaps the Scottish Government will demonstrate its continued commitment to the world’s largest system of protected areas, by celebrating Natura 2000 day in 2019?

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it is absolutely vital for Scotland’s wildlife and people that our Natura Network continues to be looked after and given strict legal protection. Only then will it endure and grow in years to come, ensuring that future generations of Scots and visitors to Scotland can continue to enjoy our most precious wildlife in our mountains, moors, rivers, seas and shores.

Eurasian otter, Isle of Mull. Credit: Louise Greenhorn.

To celebrate Natura 2000 Day this year, why not visit a Natura site close to you? Use #Natura2000Day to tell nature enthusiasts across Europe about the wildlife you find.

Natura sites are not the only kind of protected area. In fact, in Scotland we have over 1,500 special nature sites, including Natura sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves and Ramsar wetlands. These all help to deliver protection for different types of wildlife in different ways. We want to help you to understand what all of these labels mean and why they are so important. This week we will be bringing you a series of blogs spotlighting on some of Scotland best protected areas and the wonderful species and habitats that they provide homes to.

Find out more about protected areas in the rest of the blogs from the week:

Life on the Firth of Forth

Springtime at Airds Moss Nature Reserve

Scotland’s growing network of cetacean Marine Protected Areas

The call of the corncrake and the magic of the machair

Protecting special sites to save the curlew

The Shiant Isles: a safe haven for Scotland’s seabirds

Re-invest in Scotland’s most precious nature sites

  • Hi BOB, Thanks for your comments. Our local office in Glasgow is aware of the development pressure in this area and should the proposal that you mention be progressed further, please feel free to contact them for advice. Here are the details:

    South and West Scotland Regional Office

    10 Park Quadrant


    G3 6BS

    Telephone: 0141 331 0993

    E-mail: glasgow@rspb.org.uk

  • Continuing my comment. Sustainable Development (Landscape) have commented that the Park has already been designated as a Wildlife Site and it adjoins an SSSI site. It is the only remaining open vista to the sea on the South side of Ayr and it provides a corridor for birdlife from the sea through to Cunning, Belleisle and Roselle Parks. Whenever developers once again attempt to obtain planning permission for further house building and they surely will is there any possibility of assistance from RSPB..

  • Hi Jess. I live next to Cunning Park in Ayr and have with other Ayr people been successful so far, in stopping house building on most but not all of it. Houses have been built on the South side of the Park. During and just after that house building project the curlews virtually stopped visiting the site and the skylarks disappeared completely. However, the curlews seem to have returned this year although probably not as much as was previously the case. I will continue my comment later.