SPA – Special Protection Area

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are special sites designated under the EU Birds Directive to protect rare, vulnerable and migratory birds. The Directive came into force in April 1979. Marine SPAs protect and manage areas that these birds use for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration.

SPAs are classified in accordance with European Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds, known as the Birds Directive. SPAs protect rare and vulnerable birds (as listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive), and regularly occurring migratory species.

SPAs along with Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) form part of the Natura 2000 and Emerald Network.  Both Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) may cover the same areas.

A list of all the Special Protection Areas can be found here. You can use DEFRAs MAGiC mapping system to locate the SPAs in your area.

SPA - special protection area


Development in SPAs? 

Some changes of use are allowed in Special Protection Areas (SPAs). 

Any developments that are close to (or within) the boundary of a Special Protection Area may require a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) if they are likely to have an adverse effect on the site.

An initial screening stage would be required, followed by an appropriate assessment.

Where it is considered that an adverse effect on the integrity of the site is likely, and no alternatives are available, the project can only go ahead if there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest and if the appropriate compensatory measures can be secured.

It is  quite possible that prior approval is obtained for a change of use, but cannot be occupied due to the SPA.

The closer you are to the SPA the less likely that development or occupation can take place. Especially if within it or within a 400m buffer zone. 

A clear presumption against any net increase in residential development within 400m of an SPA unless as an exception, the development and/or its use would not have an adverse effect upon the integrity of the site.

Similar restrictions also apply to Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) which might be one and the same areas.

SPA Page Updated: 18th July 2023