Strangford Lough SAC

Status: Designated


Site overview

This site is situated on the east coast of Northern Ireland, and is a large shallow sea lough which is home to a wide variety of marine and intertidal habitats. There are two different protected areas here; a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation. Both are designated to protect different habitats and animals found here.  This site was designated to protect the mudflats and sandflats here, some of which are home to meadows of eelgrasses and tasselled pondweed. Such large beds are rare in the British Isles.  The coastal lagoons here are also protected, the Dorn is a silled lagoon on the eastern side of the site which connects several exceptionally sheltered bays to the main area of the lough. Near the mouth, rock barriers or sills hold back water as the tide falls, creating saltwater rapids, unique in Ireland. These rocks are also covered in sea anemones and sponges and are home to creatures such as the purple sun-star, sting winkle, king scallop and light-bulb sea-squirt.  Many different types of bird use this area as a foraging and nesting ground.

MPA Type

Special Area of Conservation

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under European legislation. They contribute both to the UK MPA network and set up to protect habitat types and species considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds).

Designation date

1 January 1996

Surface Area

153.84 km2 (59.40 mi.2)


227.67 km (141.47 mi.)

  • Common seal (Phoca vitulina)

    Mammals that feed on fish at sea but regularly haul out on to rocky shores or inter-tidal sandbanks to rest, or to give birth and to suckle their pups. Though called ‘common’ they are actually less numerous than the grey seal, which is the other species f

  • Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae)

    Areas with specially adapted plants found in the upper reaches of saltmarshes that are not always reached by the tide. The habitat is used for grazing, but is also very important for birds.

  • Intertidal mudflats and sandflats (Mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide)
  • Lagoons (Coastal lagoons)
  • Shallow inlets and bays (Shallow inlets and bays)
  • Glasswort and other annuals colonising mud and sand (Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand)

    Specialised plants able to thrive in the lower reaches of saltmarshes where the vegetation is frequently flooded by the tide. It is important as it can help the development of more stable saltmarsh.

  • Annual vegetation of drift lines

    Plants that last mostly only for one growing season on fine shingle shorelines that tend to shift and change.

  • Reefs

    Areas where the bedrock, stable boulders and cobbles or structures created by animals arise from the surrounding seabed. They attract and provide a home to a huge variety of plant and animal life.

Did you know?…

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas

Over 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers