SPA / RAMSAR in short

You’ve heard mention of SPA and Ramsar but what are they and what do they mean in terms of the proposals to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.

First off “SPA” stands for Special Protection Area !

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Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) are areas which have been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites and protected under European Law. (Read in more detail)

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance.

The Ramsar Convention is an international agreement signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, which provides for the conservation and good use of wetlands. The UK Government ratified the Convention and designated the first Ramsar sites in 1976.

Why so important: Sadly, in addition to surviving storms and bad weather, exhaustion and other natural obstacles, migrating birds are increasingly face human threats. Habitat destruction that affects staging posts handicap their ability to re-fuel. These include draining wetlands, cutting down forests. Pollution of the sea, water and air also affects them. Migrating birds are also distracted and killed by lit-up skyscrapers, lighthouses and other unnatural man-made formations that mislead them. Sadly, many migrating birds are also hunted, for food, and for sport or superstitious reasons.

SPA’s In and around the Thames Estuary (view)

Thames Estuary and Marshes.

Outer Thames Estuary

Medway Estuary and Marshes.

Benfleet and Southend Marshes.

The Swale.


What Protection do they have??

In order to build an airport on a SPA the proposer would first have to prove to the EU that:-

  • It is in the National interest.
  • There is no suitable alternative site.

If it could be proved it was in the National interest and no other alternative could be found the proposer would then have to:-

  • Create another SPA to replace the one that would be lost.
  • Prove that it is up and running.

All this must take place before building work can start.


The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires that all airport operators manage the bird

populations on and around their

airfields to reduce the risk of bird strike. They recommend controlling a radial area of 13Km from the airfield.

The 5 SPA’s listed above all lie within 13Km of the 3 proposed airports.

The Thames, Medway and Swale Estuaries are unique because of their geographic position in the centre of one of the most important migratory routes in the northern hemisphere.

Finding the position for and building another SPA to equal and replace those in and surrounding the Thames Estuaries would be an impossible task.

Further reading on Special Protection areas can be found here







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