What is a Species?

A species is a population of plants or animals with common attributes & are designated a common name. Organisms of the same species are capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring.

What is a Priority Species?

The UK list of Priority Species (2007) includes 1150 species which require conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Northern Ireland Priority Species

In Northern Ireland, many species are under threat & require conservation action. In 1988 the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group identified Priority Species but due to new scientific information & refining of the selection criteria, this list has changed. Many of conservation action required for Priority Species is being achieved through the UK Species Action Plans, management of designated sites or as part of the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans. Some of the species, however, require Northern Ireland or All-Ireland Species Action Plans. The selection criteria used to identify a Priority Species is stated below. Species that meet any one of the 7 criteria are considered a Northern Ireland Priority Species:

  1. Listed as a UK Priority Species
  2. Rapid decline (2% per year)
  3. Decline (1%) with Northern Ireland being a stronghold consisting of either >50% Irish population or >20% UK population/range, or with the Irish or UK population restricted to Northern Ireland
  4. Rare: confined to a small population of one of two sites in Northern Ireland, with Northern Ireland being a stronghold consisting of >50% Irish population or >20% UK population/range, or with the Irish or UK population restricted to Northern Ireland
  5. At least 20% of international population of species or well-recognised subspecies occurring in Northern Ireland
  6. Irish Red Data Book species classed as ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’
  7. Red-listed species in either Ireland or the UK BOCC lists.

Northern Ireland SoCC

Species that fulfil any of the following criteria are considered Species of Conservation Concern (SOCC) in Northern Ireland:

  1. Northern Ireland Priority Species
  2. Declining (1% per year)
  3. Scarce & with Northern Ireland being a stronghold, consisting of either >50% of the Irish population or >20% of the UK population/range occurring in Northern Ireland
  4. Amber-listed species in either the Ireland or UK Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) lists
  5. Species listed as ‘rare’ in an Irish Red Data Book published with the last 15 years

Key Legislation



  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources (IUCN) maintains an international list of species, which is published as the Red Data Book. Species included on the lists are classified into different categories of perceived risk.
  • Each Red Data Book usually deals with a specific group of animals or plants & have been published in many different countries, hence the Irish Red Data Book.
  • The aims of Red Data Books are to record species at the greatest risk of extinction & identify critical factors responsible to enable action to be taken that will enhance survival of these species in the long-term.


  • The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife & Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) was adopted in Bern, Switzerland in 1979 & came into force in 1982.
  • It aims to ensure conservation & protection of wild plant & animal species and their natural habitat (listed in Appendices I & II of the Convention), to promote cooperation between contracting parties & regulate the exploitation of those species (including migratory species) listed in Appendix III.
  • Four appendices set out species for protection: Appendix I: strictly protected flora species, Appendix II: strictly protected fauna species, Appendix III: protected fauna species & Appendix IV: prohibited means & methods of killing, capture & other forms of exploitation [Further information: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1364]


  • These regulations came into force on 30 October 1994 & were amended in 1997.
  • They contain five parts & four Schedules and provide for the designation & protection of ‘European sites’ and ‘European protected species’.
  • The Regulations place a duty on the Secretary of State to propose a list of sites which are important for habitats or species (listed in Annexes I & II of the Habitats Directive) to the European Commission. If worthy of designation, they are identified as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) & EU Member States must then designate these sites as SACs within six years.
  • The Regulations require the compilation & maintenance of a register of European sites: SACs & SPAs, classified under Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the Birds Directive.
  • The Regulations make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb or trade in animals listed in Schedule 2, or pick, collect, uproot, destroy, or trade in the plants listed in Schedule 4. [Further information: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1379]


  • The EC Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats & of wild fauna and flora) is a European Union directive, adopted in 1992 as an EU response to the Berne Convention.
  • It aims to protect wild plants, animals & habitats that are considered to be of European interest, following criteria given in the directive.
  • The 189 habitats listed in Annex I of the Directive & the 788 species listed in Annex II, are to be protected by a network of sites: Natura 2000 (SACs & SPAs). A total of some 220 habitats & approximately 1,000 species are listed in Annexes II, IV & V.
  • The provisions of the Directive requires Member States to introduce measures including the protection of species listed in the Annexes, to undertake surveillance of habitats & species and produce a report every 6 years on the implementation of the Directive.
  • Measures for the protection of species listed in Annex IV of the Directive prohibit:
    – deliberate capture of killing of these species in the wild
    – deliberate disturbance of these species during breeding, rearing, hibernation & migration
    – deliberate destruction or taking of eggs from the wild- deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places
    – keeping, transport, sale or exchange, or offering to sale or exchange, of species taken from the wild
    – deliberate picking, collecting, cutting, uprooting or destruction of plants in their natural range in the wild
  • In the UK the Habitats Directive is implemented by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 [Further information: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1374]


  • The EC Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds) was the first European Union directive on nature conservation, which was adopted in 1979.
  • It aims to protect all European wild birds & the habitats of listed species, through the designation of SPAs.
  • It establishes rules that limit the number of bird species that can be hunted (listed in Annex II) & periods during which they can be hunted.
  • The main provisions of the Directive include:
    – Maintenance of the favourable conservation status of all wild bird species across their distributional range (Article 2), with the encouragement of various activities to that end (Article 3)
    – Classification of SPAs for rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex I, as well as for all regularly occurring migratory species, paying particular attention to the protection of wetlands of international importance (Article 4)
    – Establishment of a general scheme of protection of all wild birds (Article 5)
    – Restrictions on the sale & keeping of wild birds (Article 6)
    – Specification of the conditions under which hunting & falconry can be undertaken (Article 7)
    – Restrictions on the sale and keeping of wild birds (Article 6)
    – Prohibition of large-scale non-selective means of bird killing (Article 8)
    – Procedures under which Member States may derogate from the provisions of Articles 5-8 (Article 9) – that is, the conditions under which permission may be given for otherwise prohibited activities.
    – Encouragement of certain forms of relevant research (Article 10).
    – Requirements to ensure that introduction of non-native birds do not threatened other biodiversity (Article 11). [Further information: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1373]


The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 makes it an offence to:

  • Intentionally kill, injure, or take any wild birds, their eggs or nests. There are additional penalties for disturbing birds listed on Schedule 1, at their nests, or their dependent young. The Order also prohibits certain methods of killing, injuring, or taking birds, restricts the sale & possession of captive bred birds and sets standards for keeping birds in captivity.
  • Intentionally kill, injure, or take, possess or trade in any wild animal listed on Schedule 5 & prohibits interference with places used for shelter or protection, or intentionally disturbing animals occupying these places. The Order also prohibits certain methods of killing, injuring, or taking wild animals.
  • Pick, uproot, trade in, or possess (for the purposes of trade) any wild plant listed in Schedule 8, & prohibits the unauthorised intentional uprooting of such plants.
  • Establish species not native to Northern Ireland, which may be detrimental to native wildlife, & prohibits the release of animals & planting of plants listed on Schedule 9. The Order provides a mechanism to make the above offences legal by granting appropriate licences [Further information: http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-3175].


Species of European Conservation Concern (SPECs) are Priority Species, identified by Birds in Europe (2004) or BiE2, which reviews the conservation status of all wild birds in Europe so that conservation action can be taken to improve their status.

  • SPEC 1: European species of global conservation concern
  • SPEC 2: Unfavourable conservation status in Europe, concentrated in Europe
  • SPEC 3: Unfavourable conservation status in Europe, not concentrated in Europe


  • A total of 246 species have been placed onto one of three categories of conservation importance: red, amber or green.
  • The UK red list has been increased by 12 since 2002 & now includes 52 birds of the highest conservation priority, requiring urgent action.
  • Amber is the next most critical group (126 species), followed by green (68 species)
  • Further information on UK BoCC: http://www.bto.org/images/news/bocc3.pdf
  • Further information on Irish BoCC: http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/

Red-List Criteria

  • Globally Threatened
  • Historical population decline during 1800-1995
  • Severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or longer-term period (the entire period used for assessments since the first BoCC review, starting in 1969)
  • Severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over 25 years, or the longer-term period

Amber-List Criteria

  • Species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe [Species of European Conservation Concern (SPEC 1,2,3)]
  • Historical population decline during 1800-1995, but recovering; population size has more than doubled over last 25 years
  • Moderate (25-49%) decline in UK breeding population over last 2 years, or the longer-term period
  • Moderate (25-49%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period
  • Moderate (25-49%) decline in UK non-breeding population over last 25 years, or the longer-term period
  • Rare breeder; 1-300 breeding pairs in UK
  • Rare non-breeders; less than 900 individuals
  • Localised; at least 50% of UK breeding or non-breeding population in 10 or fewer sites, but not applied to rare breeders or non-breeders
  • Internationally important; at least 20% of European breeding or non-breeding population in UK (NW European & East Atlantic Flyway populations used for non-breeding wildfowl & waders)

Green-List Criteria

  • Species that occur regularly in the UK but do not qualify under any of the Red or Amber criteria