Home  Contact  Site Map
About EMS  About SEMS  Contact  Publications  News

About European Marine Sites

In 1992 the Rio Earth Summit took place in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. At this summit the UK Government, along with more than 150 other countries, signed up to the Biodiversity Convention.

During the same year the European Community passed Council Directive 92/43/EEC, better known as the 'EC Habitats Directive'. This represented a major contribution by the European Community towards their responsibilities under the Biodiversity Convention. The Habitats Directive aims to maintain biodiversity by conserving important habitats and species, whilst contributing to the sustainable development of designated sites. The earlier 1979 Birds Directive specifically addresses the conservation of wild bird populations and their habitats. The implementation of both the Habitats and Birds Directives is translated into English and Welsh legislation by the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, commonly known as the 'Habitats Regulations'.

Defra have published guidance about the different marine species and how they are protected by EU and UK wildlife legislation.


The term 'European Marine Site' (EMS) (as defined by the Habitats Regulations) refers to those marine areas of both Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are protected under the EC Habitats and Birds Directives. An EMS can be an entire SAC or SPA, or only part of one (the SAC/SPA may also include terrestrial areas). However, ‘European Marine Site’ is not a statutory site designation; these areas are essentially management units for those parts of Natura 2000 sites which extend beyond the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) /Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) designations in the UK.

Intertidal European Marine Sites are often managed through underlying SSSI/ASSI designations as they lie above the low water mark and/or within local planning authority boundaries and can therefore be managed through the same protection systems as terrestrial European sites. Conversely, most subtidal EMS will be managed through measures under the Habitats Regulations or Offshore Habitats Regulations, and adjacent European marine sites may be grouped together for the purpose of management.

The government is aiming to protect habitats and species in our seas by contributing to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. The main types of marine protected areas in English waters are European Marine Sites, Marine Conservation Zones and SSSIs with marine components.

Aims of European Marine Sites

The main requirements for the sites are:

Management Schemes

Establishing management schemes is optional for relevant and competent authorities under the Habitats Regulations and Offshore Habitats Regulations. The Regulations place a general duty on all statutory authorities exercising legislative powers to perform these in accordance with the Habitats Directive. A European Marine Site management scheme can be the best means to achieve this through providing a framework for management and promoting cooperative working with other relevant/competent authorities, especially on large or complex sites. This is what has happened in the Solent with the establishment of the Solent European Marine Sites Management Scheme.