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Within the UK the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the UK Government's wildlife adviser on national and international conservation issues, has been given the task of identifying areas in the UK offshore environment (beyond 12nm) for possible notification as Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) under the EC Habitats Directive.
The location and extent of areas of possible Annex I habitat in offshore waters were mapped using existing British Geological Society (BGS) geological seabed map interpretations. Biological and other data available for potential Annex I habitat in UK offshore waters were collated and reviewed. Following this process it became apparent that limited biological data were available for a number of areas of potential Annex I habitat, and for some areas there were no biological data available.
In 1992 the European Community adopted Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (EC Habitats Directive). The provisions of the EC Habitats Directive require Member States to introduce a range of measures including the protection of habitats and species listed in the Annexes; to undertake surveillance of habitats and species, and produce a report every six years on the implementation of the Directive. Each Member State is required to prepare and propose a national list of sites for evaluation in order to form a European network of Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). Once adopted, these are designated by Member States as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and along with Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified under the EC Birds Directive, form a network of protected areas known as Natura 2000. Selection of SACs and SPAs in the UK was, in the first instance confined to terrestrial sites and within UK territorial seas (6nm). However, as a result of a UK court judgement in 1999, the UK Government is now taking steps to implement the Habitats Directive in offshore waters (and has also agreed to take parallel steps to apply the requirements of the Birds Directive to all relevant marine waters).
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