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Wildlife & Habitat Protection

There is a wealth of wildlife for the boating community to see and enjoy throughout the British Isles and off our extensive coastline, but a lot of these animals are vulnerable to disturbance if not approached in a responsible way that respects their wild nature.

A bottlenose dolphin
A common seal's head emerging from the surface of the water
A grey heron standing on a fence next to an inland waterway

Wildlife is under constant pressure from factors such as climate change, development and disturbance from human activity. Therefore boating clubs, training centres and marine businesses have a duty to minimise this pressure and help to protect wildlife and enhance the environment we rely on for our enjoyment and livelihoods.


We share the waters we use for our recreation and work with a wide range of birds, fish and cetaceans, many of which are protected, but the presence of boats should not necessarily have to mean disturbance to local wildlife and habitats. If boats and craft are handled with sensitivity there can be minimal or zero disturbance. Sharing environmental best practice amongst your members, customers and staff will help to ensure they understand how their boating activities can impact wildlife and habitats and what they can do to prevent or minimise any disturbance whilst out on the water.


As well as education, zoning of sensitive areas, speed restrictions, awareness of seasonal and geographical sensitivities can all be used to mitigate the impact of boating activities on wildlife.


Laws that protect particular species:

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects certain species from disturbance, injury, intentional destruction or sale. These include seabirds, dolphins, whales, basking sharks and porpoises. The European Habitats Directive and the national Regulations that implement it provide similar protections for ‘European protected species’. These include dolphins, porpoises and whales. Thus, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb a cetacean or basking shark, and ignorance of the law is no defence. All club members and instructors should be aware of what disturbance is and how to prevent it.


Laws that protect special habitats and areas:

Many clubs and centres are located within or near conservation designations. These may be international, national or local designations. The main designations that could affect you includes: Marine Protected Areas, Ramsar Sites, Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protected area and local nature reserves. Many of these sites will have management measures in place to help ensure that damage from activities is kept to an absolute minimum and that the area is maintained in a healthy or improving state. It is important that you are aware of designations near your club and what that means for your facilities and operations.


Laws that set the standard for the state of water bodies:

This includes legislation relating to the management, use and pollution of water bodies such as the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.


Find out more on wildlife and habitat legislation:


Wildlife & Habitat Protection Measures:

  • Find out what habitat designations e.g. SSSI or Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are in place locally and where they are located by using the interactive map on the JNCC website  and contacting your local Wildlife Trust to find out more details about these habitats and any protected wildlife they may support.  This will enable your club or centre to better understand what measures to put in place and identify which areas are most sensitive, where boating activities need to be undertaken with sensitivity.
  • However it is important to follow the precautionary principle – that there is likely to be wildlife in your area and you should do all that’s possible to avoid disturbance.
  • Ensure any race courses are set out to avoid passing through or close to sensitive habitats where possible to minimise disturbance and potential collisions with species in or on the water.
  • Avoid deploying race marks in areas where the seabed habitats are protected and most vulnerable to impacts caused by contact and abrasion from anchors and chains.
  • Set up a wild area within the grounds of your club or centre to encourage wildlife and increase biodiversity.
  • Appoint marine mammal observers on safety boats and onshore during events and weekly on water activities. If any mammal or group is spotted, then boaters on the water can be informed to slow down, stay vigilant and keep their distance to avoid any unwanted collisions or the separation of young from mothers.
  • Put in biosecurity measures to help prevent invasive species entering or leaving your waters on boats, equipment and clothing.
  • Pollution control measures will help improve local water quality not only for wildlife and habitats, but also for boaters and other water users.

Raise Awareness:

Encourage and raise awareness of environmental best practice amongst members, customers and staff:

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