The Northern Ireland Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has just announced two new marine Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in Northern Ireland including the first in the UK to protect the harbour porpoise: The Skerries & Causeway SAC. This site includes numerous sea caves as well as sandbanks and reefs – and now protection for the harbour porpoise.
The Environment Minister said:
It has long been recognised that the waters off our North Coast are important for harbour porpoise and this designation confirms that their numbers in this area are significant throughout the year. I hope this encourages people to visit the area to get a glimpse of these beautiful animals.”
WDCS congratulates the Northern Ireland Executive, The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, and all others concerned in this landmark decision.
WDCS International Director of Science, Mark Simmonds, comments: ‘This is very welcome news and the Northern Ireland site is a great start. We have been campaigning for UK SACs for porpoises for the better part of two decades. Earlier this year, we sent a letter from a large number of international experts to the UK government calling for these sites to be established here as they have been in neighbouring countries. We also released a report in March about cetacean conservation in UK waters and this highlighted the lack of SACs for harbour porpoises. In fact, SACs are required for porpoises and bottlenose dolphins by European law and intended to be a protective network across Europe. We now look forward to the designation of more such sites elsewhere in UK waters to help form this network and thereby ensure the conservation of healthy populations of harbour porpoises.’
The bottlenose dolphin and the harbour porpoise and the only cetacean (whale and dolphin) species that qualify for SACs under European law and currently there are SACs that protect the bottlenose dolphin in Cardigan Bay and the Moray Firth but, prior to this announcement, no site had been declared for the porpoise.
The full WDCS report on conservation in UK waters is available