What is a Habitat?

A habitat is the physical location & environmental conditions in which a particular organism or biological community (plant, animal, fungus or bacteria) lives (JNCC). It provides the organism with nutrients & shelter required for its survival.

What is a Priority Habitat?

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), published in 2004, lists habitats that are priorities for conservation action due to being threatened, rare or with a high decline rate. It sets out a programme to conserve biodiversity in the United Kingdom. The UK BAP priority list was reviewed in 2007, in which the number of Priority Habitats increased from 44 to 65. These habitats meet the selection criteria, outlined below:

  • Habitats that the UK has international obligations for
  • Natural & semi-natural habitats at risk, such as those with a high rate of decline or which are rare
  • Habitats important for key species
  • Habitats that are ‘functionally critical’ (i.e. those essential for organisms inhabitating wider ecosystems, may be used in some cases for support, but is unlikely to be a qualifying criterion on its own)

Northern Ireland Priority Habitats

Northern Ireland contains a variety of habitats, both terrestrial & water-based (freshwater, coastal & marine) which support a diverse range of species. To conserve biodiversity, the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Strategy (NIBS) has identified habitats to be protected by the development of individual action plans. Thirty seven Habitat Action Plans (HAPs) have been published for Priority Habitats that require conservation to ensure that they are protected & more are created, if possible. Twenty-nine of these Priority Habitats have been identified within the areas covered by this audit.

To qualify for a Northern Ireland Priority Habitat they must additionally satisfy at least one of the following criteria:

  • Habitats at risk in Northern Ireland or Ireland because of either rarity or a high rate of decline
  • Habitats for which Northern Ireland has a large part of either the UK or Irish total (10% of UK; 50% of Irish)
  • Habitats of particular importance for Priority Species

These are classified under the following habitat types:

To oversee conservation action of each of the Priority Habitats, implementation groups have been established: Farmland Biodiversity, Freshwater & Wetlands, Peatlands & Upland Biodiversity, Coastal & Marine Biodiversity and Northern Ireland Native Woodland Group.