Strangford Lough European Marine Site
Strangford Lough’s nature conservation importance has been recognised by a host of both national and international designations. It is part of the Europe-wide network of Natura 2000 (N2K) and European Marine Sites (EMS), which aim to protect the range of important European habitats and species and to maintain the European Union’s overall biodiversity.
N2K sites include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are covered by the EC Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora) and Birds Directive (Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds), respectively. These designations are very significant because they place statutory responsibilities on public bodies to safeguard the nature conservation interests of Europe’s network of sites. Any developments within these sites should be environmentally sustainable. A European Marine Site is not a statutory site designation, but refers to the marine areas of both SACs and SPAs. Strangford Lough is covered by both SAC and SPA designation, as well as being a European Marine Site.
Strangford Lough EMS includes the intertidal areas of five Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI): Strangford Lough Parts 1, 2 and 3, Ballyquintin Point and Killard. The landward boundary of the EMS is the high water mark, and the seaward boundary extends out beyond low water mark to include the waters of the Lough.
Strangford Lough’s 1995 designation as a Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) has now been superseded by the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013: Strangford Lough MNR became Strangford Lough Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) when this legislation came into operation on 17 September 2013. Strangford Lough also qualifies as a Ramsar site because of its international importance as a wetland which supports important wetland features and internationally important numbers of wintering and breeding birds.
“These designations place statutory responsibilities on public bodies to conserve the nature conservation interests.”
Conservation Objectives and Responsibilities
The Conservation Objectives for the SAC and SPA were drawn up by the Department of the Environment (DOE), but all public bodies have a legal responsibility to help deliver these objectives when they are exercising their functions. This particularly applies to Marine Division, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Planning Division (which are all part of the Department of the Environment), Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and both Ards Borough Council and Down District Council. The majority of both the foreshore and the seabed of Strangford Lough are owned by the Crown Estate. In addition to public bodies, Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as the National Trust have an important practical role because of their extensive ownership within Strangford Lough, as well as their conservation and wildlife monitoring work.
The Department of the Environment is required to provide guidance to relevant competent authorities on the management of any activities or issues that might adversely affect the Strangford Lough European Marine Site (EMS). This assists those authorities in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities as set out by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995, better known as the Habitats Regulations, and other relevant legislation.
Monitoring and Review
A mechanism for monitoring and review enables the DOE to follow the condition of the EMS and use that information to inform future actions across the authorities.
The Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership provides the management structure for the Strangford Lough EMS, which includes the marine elements of the Strangford Lough Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA). The Heritage Management Strategy and Action Plan (see "Publications" incorporates the EMS Management Scheme which is not a statutory instrument, but a voluntary agreement between the statutory agencies that will implement the scheme and the local communities who use and have a vested interest in the area.
Many local people and landowners are already managing the area’s natural resources to the benefit of the EMS. The Heritage Management Action Plan has identified ways to support this and also to work with stakeholders to develop further initiatives and voluntary measures. Many activities are controlled through existing legislation such as ASSI, planning and fisheries legislation. The system is kept under review.
Where any action has the potential to have an impact on a designation feature of a European site, a Habitats Regulations Assessment shall be undertaken to determine whether that impact is potentially damaging, and if so, whether it can be mitigated. Where mitigation is not possible, the action shall not proceed.