Biodiversity & Conservation

Marine Conservation Conventions and Legislation

International conventions

Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats


The Bern Convention aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats and to promote European co-operation in that field. The convention covers most of Europe and some of Africa. It emphasises endangered and vulnerable species, including migratory species. The Convention provides for the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats in general and for special protection of species listed in Appendix I (strictly protected plants), Appendix II (strictly protected animals) and Appendix III (protected animals). The requirements of the Bern Convention are mandatory on its contracting parties. Britain is a party to this convention and ratified its provisions in May 1982.

Further details: Council of Europe - Bern Convention

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - CITES


The CITES Convention aims to protect endangered plant and animal species from illegal trade and over-exploitation. It was initiated at an IUCN General Assembly in 1963 and concluded at Washington in 1973 and came into force in 1975. It has been ratified by well over 100 countries world-wide, including the UK in 1976. Commercial trade in endangered species listed in Appendix I is forbidden. Controlled trade is allowed for species which, although not currently threatened with extinction, may become so unless restrictions are applied, listed in Appendix II.
Where a Party to the Convention protects one of its native species from over-exploitation and seeks the assistance of other Parties in implementing these controls, it can list such species in Appendix III.

Further details: CITES

Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic - OSPAR Convention


The OSPAR Convention aims to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. It came into force in 1998 and merged the 1974 Oslo Convention (Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft) and the 1978 Paris Convention (Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources). The OSPAR Convention includes the following Annexes:

Under Annex V of the convention, OSPAR developed a Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Ecosystems and Biological Diversity of the Maritime Area. The stategy states that the OSPAR Commission will assess which species and habitats need to be protected. Therefore, the OSPAR Commission developed a set of criteria for the selection of such species, habitats and ecological processes, called the Texel/Faial Criteria. An initial list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats was developed and ratified in 23 June 2003.

Further details: OSPAR Commission

IUCN Red Data Lists

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red Data list catalogues and highlights those animals and plants at high risk of global extinction. Animals and plant species are categorized as 'Critically Endangered', 'Endangered', or 'Vulnerable' according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. It also includes information on species that are 'Extinct' or 'Extinct in the Wild' or where there is not enough data to make a decision.

Further detail: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

European Directives and Regulations

Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora - the 'Habitats Directive'

Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (The 'Habitats Directive')

This Directive aims to conserve biodiversity across the area of the European Union through a coherent network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). The EU Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora came into force on 21 May 1992. Seven marine habitat types are listed in the Directive and nine of the species listed are marine or spend part of their life in the sea and have breeding populations in the United Kingdom. SACs together with 'Special Protection Areas' (SPAs) identified under the 'Birds Directive' create a network of sites described as 'Natura 2000'.

Further detail: Habitats Directive

United Kingdom Legislation and initiatives

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended in 1985)

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

This Act provides the cornerstone to nature conservation in Great Britain. Major provisions relating to marine conservation are noted below.

The Act was recently amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Further detail: The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Northern Ireland Legislation and Policy Documents

Northern Ireland Legislation and Policy Documents

The 'Wildlife and Countryside Act' and' Habitats Directive' were enacted into Northern Ireland legislation by the following instruements.

Further detail: Northern Ireland Legislation

UK Biodiversity Action Plan

UK Biodiversity Action Plan

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan is the UK's response to the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This Convention was signed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in connection with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Its objectives are:

Each contracting party must develop national strategies, plans or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

A UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) was published in 1995 (UK Biodiversity Steering Group, 1995). It identified a list of Species of Conservation Concern, from which priority species were identified together with priority habitats within the UK. Species Action Plans, Species Statements, or Habitat Action Plans were prepared for priority species and habitats, and published in 1999 (see UK Biodiversity Group, 1999).

A revised list of priority species and habitats was approved in June 2007. The 2007 UK BAP Priority Species and Habitats list contains 1149 species and 65 habitats, and is available from the UK BAP website

Further detail: UKBAP and Convention on Biological Diversity


MarLIN, 2005. Marine life protection. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: <>