Living with Nature
The Designation of Nature Conservation Sites in Ireland

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The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible, through the National Parks and Wildife Service, for the designation of conservation sites in Ireland. Currently there are three main types of designation of protected areas.

NHAs - Natural Heritage Areas.
The basic designation for wildlife is the Natural Heritage Area. Many of these NHAs have overlapping designations of SAC and/or SPA. There are currently 802 proposed NHAs which are not SAC/SPA. They cover an area of about 113,000 hectares.

SACs – Special Areas of Conservation
These are prime wildlife conservation areas in the country, considered to be important on a European as well as Irish level. They are chosen from the pNHAs, although a number of known high quality sites which are not yet NHAs have also been included. The legal basis on which SACs are selected and designated is the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), transposed into Irish law in the European Union (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1997. Some habitats are deemed “priority” and have greater requirements for designation of sites and protection. Sites that meet criteria laid down by the EU Directive are identified by the Department and proposed for designation. To date, Ireland has transmitted 381 sites to the European Commission as candidate Special Areas of Conservation. These cover an area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres.

SPAs - Special Protection Areas These sites are primarily areas of importance for birds and are designated under the EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). Only certain species require protection, and some of the listed species conveniently occur in high numbers and densities. However, others such as breeding waders and birds of prey, occur at very low density where designation of sites is a more difficult, although necessary, exercise. To date, 110 SPAs have been designated. A further 25 sites have been notified to landowners. Approximately 25 SPAs are also designated SAC.