Fingal has a number of natural heritage designation sites in its area. These include Specials Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs), Ramsar sites, Statutory Nature Reserves and Refuges for Fauna.
A list of these sites within Fingal is given in Part VIII of the Development Plan (page number 146) and the boundaries of the sites are indicated on Sheet No. 45 of the Development Plan maps . The Development Plan also contains further information in relation to the conservation of our natural heritage and the Council’s policy in this regard.
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) obliges member states to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect and conserve habitats and species of importance in a European Union context. The European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1997 set out how these sites are to be protected and managed. The Habitats (and Birds) Directive have been transposed into Irish law by Ministerial Regulation. Nationally, the designation of SACs is ongoing and involves a lengthy process which includes the Government (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government), landowners and the EU Commission.
Special Areas of Conservation in Fingal include Rogerstown and Malahide Estuaries, Baldoyle Bay, North Dublin Bay, Howth Head and coastal habitats on Lambay Island and Ireland's Eye. All sites in Fingal are now candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSAC) and full legal protection applies to these sites because the designation process has commenced. Planning authorities are obliged by law to ensure that these sites are protected and conserved.
Special Protection Area (SPA)
The Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds), adopted in 1979, is concerned with the long-term protection and management of all wild bird species and their habitats in the EU. All Member States are, therefore, responsible for protecting all wild bird species and their habitats. The Directive requires that Special Protection Areas (SPAs) be established to protect migratory species and species which are rare, vulnerable, in danger of extinction, or otherwise require special attention. SPAs are designated by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The protection and management measures for SPAs are exactly the same as the protection and management regime which is in place for SACs. Full legal protection applies to these sites once the designation process has commenced. SPAs and SACs form a pan-European network of protected sites known as Natura 2000. Planning authorities are obliged by law to ensure that these sites are protected and conserved.
The Fingal coast is especially important for its bird life and Special Protection Areas in Fingal have been designated at Baldoyle Bay, Broadmeaow Estuary, Rogerstown Estuary, Lambay, Rockabill, Ireland's Eye and Skerries Islands. Rogerstown Estuary holds internationally important numbers of Brent Geese and Lambay Island is internationally important for its breeding seabirds, such as Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. All SPA sites in Fingal have been designated and are fully protected by law.
Natural Heritage Area (NHA)
The Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 provides the legal basis for the establishment of a national network of sites known as Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). NHAs are designated by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and aim to conserve and protect nationally important plant and animal species, and their habitats. NHAs are also designated to conserve and protect nationally important landforms, geological or geomorphological features. Planning authorities are obliged by law to ensure that these sites are protected and conserved.
Depending on their quality and importance, NHAs may also carry other designations such as SAC, SPA, Ramsar site, Statutory Nature Reserve or Refuge for Fauna. At present, all proposed Natural Heritage Areas in Fingal carry another such designation, and it is the Council's policy to protect them, even though they have not been designated yet. It is expected that they will be designated during the lifetime of the Plan. Other proposed NHAs in Fingal include a range of coastal and other sites, such as Sluice River Marsh and sites of geological importance such as Feltrim Hill.
Ramsar Convention Wetland
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as waterfowl habitat was adopted at Ramsar, Iran in 1971, and is commonly referred to as the Ramsar Convention. The Convention provides a worldwide framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by shallow water. Wetlands are important ecosystems which improve water quality, provide storm protection, provide flood mitigation, stabilise shorelines, maintain biodiversity, and provide natural products such as fish and shellfish.
Ireland has designated 45 sites as Wetlands of International Importance pursuant to the Ramsar Convention. This includes four sites in Fingal, namely, Baldoyle Bay, Malahide Estuary, Rogerstown Estuary, the Bull Island and surrounding lands, Dublin Bay. In all cases the Ramsar Convention Wetlands lie within areas designated as Statutory Nature Reserves or Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Statutory Nature Reserve
Under the Wildlife Act 1976 and Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, Statutory Nature Reserves may be established for the conservation of wildlife habitats. Most Nature Reserves are on state owned lands. Designation provides for strict protection of habitats and wildlife within Statutory Nature Reserves and damaging activities can be legally prevented in them. There is an obligation to manage them in accordance with the objectives for which they were designated. There is an obligation on local authorities to take all practicable steps to avoid or minimise any possible damage to Nature Reserves when determining any matter, or doing anything, which is likely to affect them. There is also an obligation to consult with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in this regard.
Nature Reserves in Fingal include Baldoyle Bay and on lands around the Bull Island in Dublin Bay.
Refuge for Fauna
Under the Wildlife Act 1976 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may designate areas as refuges for certain species of wild birds or wild animals and impose restrictive measures in order to protect the species and their habitat. There is an obligation on local authorities to take all practicable steps to avoid or minimise any possible damage to Nature Reserves when determining any matter, or doing anything, which is likely to affect them. There is an obligation to consult with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in this regard.
There is one Refuge for Fauna in Fingal on Rockabill Island. The Refuge was established for the protection of the Roseate Tern, a small breeding seabird whose numbers are declining in Europe. Designation ensures that the birds, their nests, their eggs and their nesting habitat are protected from interference or damage.
What are the implications of these designations from a planning perspective?
In Fingal the most likely designations which will be encountered in the planning process are NHAs, SACs and SPAs. All Ramsar sites, Statutory Nature Reserves and Refuges for Fauna already lie within areas which are designated as NHAs, SACs or SPAs. NHA, SAC and SPA designation does not mean that development is precluded but it does mean that a proposed development that could have a significant impact on a designated site must be considered carefully in terms of any impacts on the habitats and species of interest at the site and be in accordance with the relevant legislation. This includes the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, and in relation to SACs and SPAs, the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997.
Any planning application for these sites must include an appropriate environmental assessment. In some cases an Environmental Impact Assessment may constitute an appropriate assessment for these purposes. This does not mean that an EIA will always be necessary. In many cases a more focussed ecological assessment may be more appropriate. This matter will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Prior to undertaking such an assessment, developers are advised to consult with the Council.