Strangford Lough’s nature conservation importance has been recognised by a host of both national and international designations, which aim to protect the range of important habitats and species.
Strangford Lough’s 1995 designation as a Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) has now been superseded by the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013: Strangford Lough MNR became Strangford Lough Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) when this legislation came into operation on 17 September 2013. Strangford Lough also qualifies as a Ramsar site because of its international importance as a wetland which supports important wetland features and internationally important numbers of wintering and breeding birds.
“These designations place statutory responsibilities on public bodies to conserve the nature conservation interests.”
Conservation Objectives and Responsibilities
The Conservation Objectives for the SAC and SPA were drawn up by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), but all public bodies have a legal responsibility to help deliver these objectives when they are exercising their functions. This particularly applies to the Marine and Fisheries Division, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and both Ards and North Down Borough Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. The majority of both the foreshore and the seabed of Strangford Lough are owned by the Crown Estate. In addition to public bodies, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as the National Trust have an important practical role because of their extensive ownership within Strangford Lough, as well as their conservation and wildlife monitoring work.
DAERA is required to provide guidance to relevant competent authorities on the management of any activities or issues that might adversely affect the Strangford Lough European Marine Site (EMS). This assists those authorities in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities as set out by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995, better known as the Habitats Regulations, and other relevant legislation.
Monitoring and Review
A mechanism for monitoring and review enables the DAERA to follow the condition of the MPA and use that information to inform future actions across the authorities.
The Strangford Lough Management Steering Group provides a mechanism for monitoring and management of the Strangford Lough MPA, which includes the marine elements of the Strangford Lough Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA). The draft Strangford Lough Management Plan and Action Plan (see “Publications” is not a statutory document, but a voluntary agreement between the statutory agencies that will implement the plan and the local communities who use and have a vested interest in the area.
Many local people and landowners are already managing the area’s natural resources to the benefit of the MPA. The Management Action Plan has identified ways to support this and also to work with stakeholders to develop further initiatives and voluntary measures. Many activities are controlled through existing legislation such as ASSI, planning and fisheries legislation. The plan will be kept under review.
Where any action has the potential to have an impact on a designation feature of a designated site, a Habitats Regulations Assessment shall be undertaken to determine whether that impact is potentially damaging, and if so, whether it can be mitigated. Where mitigation is not possible, the action shall not proceed.