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Special Areas of Conservation

Morecambe Bay

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Cumbria, Extra-Regio, Lancashire
Centroid* SD371697
Latitude 54.11916667
Longitude -2.961666667
SAC EU Code UK0013027
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 61538.23
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Morecambe Bay SAC

General site character

  • Marine areas, Sea inlets (99.1%)
  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (0.8%)
  • Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (0.1%)

Download the Natura 2000 standard data form for this site as submitted to Europe (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1130 Estuaries

    Morecambe Bay in north-west England is the confluence of four principal estuaries, the Leven, Kent, Lune and Wyre (the latter lies just outside the site boundary), together with other smaller examples such as the Keer. Collectively these form the largest single area of continuous intertidal mudflats and sandflats in the UK and the best example of muddy sandflats on the west coast. The estuaries are macro-tidal with a spring tidal range of 9 m. The significant tidal prisms of the estuaries result in the Bay being riven by large low-water channel systems. The Kent, Leven and Lune estuaries have been modified variously by railway embankments, flood embankments and training walls but support extensive intertidal areas. Although cobble ‘skears’ and shingle beaches occur at their mouths, the estuaries consist predominantly of fine sands and muddy sands. The estuaries support dense invertebrate communities, their composition reflecting the salinity and sediment regimes within each estuary. Extensive saltmarshes and glasswort Salicornia spp. beds are present in the Lune estuary, contrasting with the fringing saltmarshes and more open intertidal flats of the Leven and Kent estuaries. Most of the saltmarshes are grazed, a characteristic feature of north-west England. In the upper levels of the saltmarshes there are still important transitions from saltmarsh to freshwater and grassland vegetation. Water quality is generally good.

  • Morecambe Bay in north-west England is the confluence of four principal estuaries, the Leven, Kent, Lune and Wyre (the latter lies just outside the site boundary), together with other smaller examples such as the Keer. Collectively these form the largest single area of continuous intertidal mudflats and sandflats in the UK and the best example of muddy sandflats on the west coast. At low water, large areas of sandflats are exposed, and these range from the mobile fine sands of the outer Bay to more sheltered sands in the inner areas. With increasing shelter in the Bay’s adjoining estuaries, finer sediments settle out and form extensive mudflats, supporting a particularly rich and diverse range of infaunal species.

  • Morecambe Bay in north-west England is the second-largest embayment in the UK, after the Wash. It is a large, very shallow, predominantly sandy bay bordered on the south by the channel of the Lune estuary and on the north by Walney Channel. At low tide vast areas of intertidal sandflats are exposed, with small areas of mudflat, particularly in the upper reaches of the associated estuaries. The sediments of the bay are mobile and support a range of community types, from those typical of open coasts (mobile, well-sorted fine sands), grading through sheltered sandy sediments to low-salinity sands and muds in the upper reaches. Apart from the areas of intertidal flats and subtidal sandbanks, Morecambe Bay supports exceptionally large beds of mussels Mytilus edulis on exposed ‘scars’ of boulder and cobble, and small areas of 1170 Reefs with fucoid algal communities. Of particular note is the rich community of sponges and other associated fauna on tide-swept pebbles and cobbles at the southern end of Walney Channel.

  • Morecambe Bay represents Perennial vegetation of stony banks in north-west England. Walney Island on the shores of Morecambe Bay is a barrier island fringed by shingle with a partial sand covering. Two areas of exposed vegetated shingle occur at the extremes of the barrier. The southern area has been highly modified by eutrophication from a large gull colony, resulting in communities that are unusually species-rich for pioneer shingle vegetation. Perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne, common chickweed Stellaria media and biting stonecrop Sedum acre are constant elements, with dove’s-foot crane’s-bill Geranium molle an unusual and important feature.

  • Two types of pioneer saltmarsh are represented at Morecambe Bay in north-west England. Pioneer glasswort Salicornia spp. saltmarsh occurs intermittently along the coastline of the bay, forming a transition from the extensive intertidal sand and mudflats to the distinctive saltmeadows at this site. The sea pearlwort Sagina maritima community occurs in open pans on the upper marsh.

  • Morecambe Bay is characteristic of saltmarshes in north-west England, with large areas of closely grazed upper marsh. The mid-upper marsh vegetation is strongly dominated by the saltmarsh-grass/fescue Puccinellia/Festuca communities, of which over 1,000 ha occur here, and by smaller areas of saltmarsh rush Juncus gerardii community. NVC type SM18 Juncus maritimus community is also more strongly represented here than elsewhere in England. The plant species include both southern elements, such as lesser centaury Centaurium pulchellum, and northern elements, such as saltmarsh flat-sedge Blysmus rufus and few-flowered spike-rush Eleocharis quinqueflora.

  • Shifting dune vegetation forms a major component of the active sand dune systems at the entrance to Morecambe Bay on Walney Island and the Duddon Estuary at Sandscale Haws. A small area is also present at the entrance to the Wyre. Sandscale Haws supports a mosaic of shifting communities, which form a continuous block around the seaward edge of this site. There are transitions to 2110 Embryonic shifting dunes. The prograding shingle spits at either end of Walney Island support dune systems at South End and North End Haws. Species associated with these shifting dunes include sea holly Eryngium maritimum, sea spurge Euphorbia paralias, Portland spurge Euphorbia portlandica and sea bindweed Calystegia soldanella.

  • Sandscale Haws at the entrance to the Duddon Estuary supports the largest area of calcareous fixed dunes in Cumbria, which contrast with the acidic dunes at the adjacent North End Haws on Walney Island. South End Haws on Walney Island supports a smaller area of fixed dunes. North Walney and Sandscale in particular show well-conserved structure and function. The fixed dunes support a rich plant diversity including wild pansy Viola tricolor, lady’s bedstraw Galium verum, common restharrow Ononis repens and the uncommon dune fescue Vulpia membranacea and dune helleborine Epipactis dunensis.

  • Dune slacks are particularly well-represented at Sandscale Haws, the largest calcareous dune system in Cumbria. The slacks support a good range of vegetation communities and are very species-rich. Several uncommon species including marsh helleborine Epipactis palustris, dune helleborine Epipactis dunensis and coralroot orchid Corallorhiza trifida occur.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1166 Great crested newt Triturus cristatus

    The site, located on the southern shore of the Duddon estuary in north-west England, consists of a large sand dune complex containing both permanent and ephemeral waterbodies and man-made scrapes. Breeding colonies of great-created newts are known in approximately 20 of these ponds, and are believed to utilise 200 ha of the 282 ha site, foraging widely over foreshore, yellow dunes, dune-heath and scrub.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

  • Not Applicable

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