Caithness Field Club

"NATURA 2000": Protecting Europe's Best Habitat & Species
EC DIRECTIVE 79/409 on the Conservation of Wild Birds

In May 1992, member states of the EEC adopted the EC Habitats & Species Directive which recognises the value of Europe's rich and varied natural habitats and species and sets out measures to protect them. The Directive provides for the establishment of a network of especially important sites throughout Europe, to be known as Natura 2000 - so named because it is hoped to have sites in place by the year 2000. The Natura 2000 network will include Special Protection Areas, designated under the EC Wild Birds Directive. In the U.K. Natura 2000 is being implemented by the Government through the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994. These came into force on October 30th 1994.

Scotland can take great pride in the fact that it contains some of the very best of Europe's natural heritage. Under Article 4.2 of the EC Wild Birds Directive 79/409 the North Caithness Cliffs (Highlands) qualify as a Special Protection Area. It includes areas of the north coast of Caithness between Red Point (western boundary of Caithness and Sutherland) and Duncansby Head. Successful conservation of birds depends upon sustained land management and goodwill of owners and occupiers and other interested parties. Presently views are being obtained about how Natura 2000 will affect land before final designations are made.

The Caithness cliffs regularly support, in summer, internationally or nationally important breeding populations of four seabird species. These comprise fulmar Fulmarus glacialis (14,700 pairs: 3% of the British and EC breeding populations); kittiwake Rissa tridactyla (13,100 apparently occupied nests, 2% of EC and 3% of British); guillemot Uria aalge (38,300 individuals on breeding ledges, 1% of western Europe, 3% of EC and 4% of British); and razorbill Alca torda (4,000 individuals, 2% of EC and 3% of British).

In addition to its importance for individual seabird species, the North Caithness cliffs proposed Special Protection Area is also of strong scientific interest for the overall assemblage of breeding seabirds it supports. These include, in addition to those listed above, shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, arctic skua Stercorarius parasiticus, the great skua S. skua, herring gull Larus argentatus, great black-backed gull Larus marinus, black guillemot Cepphus grylle, and puffin Fratercula arctica.

{Ed; The information in this Note was extracted from leaflets recently issued by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Scottish Natural Heritage}.

Published in 1995 Bulletin