Sites protected by European and international law

Sites protected by European and international law

Find out which areas of land and seas around Wales have been identified of European and international importance.


Some of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) of international importance are also protected through European Union law, others have been given special status through international conventions and organisations.

European sites - Natura 2000

The European Union have identified the most important sites for wildlife in Europe as the Natura 2000 sites. There are two types of Natura 2000 sites:

  • Special Protection Areas - designated because of rare or migratory birds and their habitats
  • Special Areas of Conservation - for a wide range of habitats and species other than birds

Special Protection Areas – (SPAS) in Wales

The Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in Wales are areas that have been designated specifically to conserve wild birds that are listed as rare and vulnerable in the Birds Directive. They also include the sites in Wales that migratory birds use as stop-off points on their journeys across the planet.

The rare birds on the SPAs in Wales include well-known species, such as red kite, merlin, osprey and golden plover.and Manx Shearwater.

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in Wales

The Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) have been chosen to make a significant contribution to conserving habitats and wildlife species that live there, named in the EC Habitats Directive.

Marine SACs  are also being developed to protect marine habitats and species, including otter, shad, lamprey, grey seals, harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin.

Where are the SPAs and SACs in Wales?

You can view which areas of land and coastline that have been identified by using our designated sites search.

How are SPAs and SACs managed?

SPAs and SACs sites in Wales on land are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which means that they have legal protection and guidelines for management.

See guidance on what managing SSSIs.

International sites

Ramsar sites

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance.

They are designated under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that aims to stop the loss of wetlands.

What are wetland sites?

Wetland sites can be areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water. They can be natural or artificial and either permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt. They can also include shallow sea areas.

They are especially important for waterfowl which gather here in winter from nearly every part of the northern hemisphere.

Many of these important habitats are under threat from agricultural drainage, pollution, industrial and commercial development, and watersports and other recreation.

How are they protected?

In general, Ramsar sites in Wales are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which means that they have legal protection and guidelines for management.

Wetlands of International Importance are identified by Natural Resources Wales, in collaboration with the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee.  Following consultation with landowners and others, they are then designated by the Welsh Government.

Where are they?

There are 10 sites in Wales that have been designated as Ramsar Sites.

  • Burry Inlet, near Llanelli
  • Cors Caron, in Ceredigion
  • Cors Fochno and Dyfi, near Machynlleth
  • Corsydd Môn a Llŷn / Anglesey and Llŷn Fens
  • Crymlyn Bog, near Swansea
  • Llyn Idwal, in Snowdonia
  • Llyn Tegid - Bala lake
  • Midland Meres and Mosses, on the Wales-England border
  • Severn Estuary, between England and South-east Wales
  • Dee Estuary, between the Wirral and North-east Wales

UNESCO biosphere reserves

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme is an intergovernmental science programme focused on sustainable development.

The UK Man and the Biosphere Committee oversees the activities in the UK.

There is one reserve in Wales, the Dyfi Biosphere.

Biogenetic Reserves

The Biogenetic Reserves network includes sites in many countries beyond the EU and aims to conserve examples of European flora, fauna and natural areas. This means that a wild ‘store’ of genetic material - the genes of plants and animals - is kept for the future, hence the term biogenetic.

Currently there is one Biogenetic Reserve in Wales – Rhinog, north west Wales.

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