NATURA 2000 Sites
NATURA 2000 sites are amongst the most important ecological areas in Europe and as such are protected habitats for flora and fauna. They comprise Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), designated under the Habitats Directives and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), designated under the Birds Directive. The term Natura 2000 comes from the 1992 EC Habitats Directive; it symbolises the conservation of precious natural resources for the year 2000 and beyond. The Habitats Directive arises out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It is a major contribution by the EC to implementing the Biodiversity Convention agreed by more than 150 countries which aims to protect the variety of wildlife globally by focusing on Habitats and Species.
NATURA 2000 Network
Article 3 of the Habitats Directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes I and II of the Directive (as amended). The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level. The Natura 2000 Network is therefore a network of sites across the European Union comprised of SPAs and SACs.
Irish Natura 2000 Sites
In an Irish context, NATURA 2000 sites, give protection to those habitats considered to be of European importance. The total land and freshwater area within the Natura Network in Ireland is some 11, 644km2, over 10% of the country. The designation of an area as a site in the Natura 2000 Network does not mean the limitation of activities within the site and surrounding area if these activities are environmentally sustainable and do not affect the integrity of the area or its habitats, or the objectives of species conservation. The designation of an area has land use management implications for any farmer / land owner with Natura 2000 sites on their land. The implications can be positive in financial terms. Thus, Natura 2000 sites offer greater benefits to land managers and individual farmers, coupled with significant wider social, economic and environmental benefits for the local community and the national economy.
Irish Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
Special Areas of Conservation are prime wildlife conservation areas considered to be of significant importance on a European, as well as on an Irish, level. Most SACs in Ireland are in the countryside, although a few sites reach into town or city landscapes, such as Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour. Special Areas of Conservation are selected according to the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). The directive lists certain habitats and species that must be protected. Irish habitats include rivers, like the Mulkear which falls withi the Lower Shannon SAC, lakes, turloughs, sand dunes, heaths, woodlands, estuaries, raised bogs, active blanket bogs, etc. The 25 Irish species which must be afforded protection include: Altantic Salmon, Sea Lamprey, Otter (the three species which are the primary focus of Mulkear LIFE), Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Bottle-nosed Dolphin. To date, Ireland has contributed some 420 SACs to the Natura 2000 Network. These sites have been adopted as sites of European Community importance.
Relevant Information Dissemination
The Mulkear LIFE Project recognises that there is a great need for general public awareness about NATURA sites and the overall importance of such areas. The Project also recognises that the angling community and the local farming and non-farming community, like elsewhere in Europe, need to have access to user friendly information to have informed discussions on the conservation and agri-environmental implications of Natura 2000. Mulkear LIFE has from the outset recognised the tremendous interest that local anglers and Limerick and Tipperary farmers have in their local environment and in fishing and conservation issues generally. It is for this reason that the Project has tapped into the local knowledge of the community in the development its overall work programme and individual actions. Mulkear LIFE will continue to play a pro-active role in providing access to relevant information on the Natura 2000 Network and will continue to work with interested parties in interpreting the implications of site designations.