What are habitats?
The word habitat was first used to mean a place where an animal
or plant species lives. Now its use is extended to include many
species together (known as a community or assemblage) rather than a
single species. It is also used to mean both the physical and
environmental conditions that support a particular biological
community, together with the community itself. For example, an
underwater seagrass bed on shallow sand is considered to be a
different habitat from a rocky reef that supports kelp and other
Habitat classification schemes define habitats in a consistent
way. They allow similar data to be consistently assigned to
particular habitat types so that one habitat can be compared with
There are different habitat classification schemes and they
often allow broadly-defined habitats to be sub-divided into finer
and finer units to suit the needs of users. We have developed and
manage the Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and
Ireland, a classification system that aids the management and
conservation of marine habitats. It is one of the most
comprehensive marine benthic classification systems in use and
provides a common language for describing biological character.
Habitats in the seas around the UK are protected under
international conventions, European
legislation and UK legislation.
The EC Habitats Directive sets out a framework of
protected sites within Europe that is called Natura 2000. Annex I
of the EC Habitats Directive lists UK marine habitats whose
conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of
Conservation (SACs). We provide advice and assistance to Government
to help it to meet its obligations to conserve habitats under this
The UK is a Contracting Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The
Government is meeting its commitment to the agreement through the
UK Biodiversity Action
Plan (UK BAP). Under the UK BAP, JNCC has assisted in the
selection of priority habitats (and species), which
include a number of marine priority habitats.
Marine habitats are also protected under the Convention for the
Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic
(OSPAR Convention). We play an active role in providing advice to
Government to support OSPAR commitments, particularly on
implementation of Annex V on Biodiversity Strategy. JNCC takes the
lead role for OSPAR in the mapping of habitats on the OSPAR List.