West Coast of the Outer Hebrides SPA


2020 wasn’t all bad. In fact, for Scotland’s seabirds, it was a pretty tremendous year. In December 2020, the Scottish government ratified 12 new Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are designed to help protect Scotland’s declining seabird populations. This included one on our very own doorstep: the West Coast of the Outer Hebrides Special Protection Area. 

Common Eider Ducks. Photo: Hebridean Adventures/Paul Sharman

Where is it?

Located along the western seaboard of the archipelago of the Outer Hebrides, the West Coast of the Outer Hebrides SPA spans from the north of Harris down to the island of Sandray at the very bottom of the Uists below Barra (1,321.7 square kilometres).

The coastline’s rocky crags and inlets are ideal for Scotland’s breeding seabirds, homing a significant proportion of the UK's breeding bird population. Including: 

Great northern diver (52% of the UK population)

  • Common eider (8.5%)
  • Long-tailed duck (7.5%)
  • Black-throated diver (7.2%)
  • Slavonian grebe (4.6%)
  • Red-throated diver (4.5%)
  • Red-breasted merganser (2.8%).

Sanderlings, Dunlins, Ringed Plovers, Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Curlews are also frequent visitors. Often spotted on a Hebridean Adventures Scottish Wildlife Cruise.

SPAs in Scotland

UK SPA creation began in 1979 thanks to the adoption of the EU Wild Birds Directive* — and for good reason. Scotland’s marine environment is a source used for multiple industries: energy, food, tourism and transport, among others. As a result, numbers of breeding seabirds in Scotland have declined by 38% since the late 1980s. Some birds are more affected than others: Kittiwake numbers, for example, dropped a whopping 72%. Given that one-third of Europe’s breeding seabirds breed in Scotland, finding the balance between conservation and Scotland’s other industries has never been more critical.

Today, Scotland now has 153 designated SPAs; covering 12,300 square kilometres of land and inshore waters — from Dumfries and Galloway to the waters of Orkney.

Interested to find an SPA near you? Click the link here.

An artic skua glides through the sky. Photo: Hebridean Adventures/Paul Sharman

*Brexit will not affect the standard of these SPA sites.

For further reading, head to the links below: