North Caithness Cliffs SPA

Status: Designated


Site overview

This site is located on the north coast of Caithness in northern Scotland and  comprises most of the sea-cliff areas between Red Point and Duncansby Head on the north mainland coast, and the western cliffs on the island of Stroma.Cliff ledges and stacks provide great nesting spots for important populations of seabirds, especially gulls and auks. During the breeding season, the area is home to 110,000 seabirds including puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and guillemots.  The seabirds nesting on the North Caithness Cliffs feed outside the site in the surrounding waters of the Pentland Firth, as well as further afield. The cliffs also provide important nesting habitat for Peregrine falcons.

MPA Type

Special Protection Area

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites designated uner European legislation. They are established to protect rare and vulnerable birds and for regularly occurring migratory species.

Designation date

1 August 1996

Surface Area

146.37 km2 (56.52 mi.2)


205.27 km (127.55 mi.)

  • Razorbill (Alca torda)

    A migratory bird that breeds on coastal cliffs and spends the rest of the year at sea feeding on small fish like sandeel, sprat and herring.

  • Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)

    Puffins are unmistakable and much loved birds. Sometimes referred to as the clown among seabirds they are one of the world’s favourite birds. With half of the UK population at only a few sites it is a Red List species.

  • Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

    Almost gull-like, this grey and white seabird is related to the albatrosses. It flies low over the sea on stiff wings.

  • Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

    A small cliff nesting seabird named for it its nasal “ki-ti-waak”” callnotes. The population is declining in some areas

  • Seabird assemblage (Seabird assemblage)

    Important areas where a number of seabird species occur in significant numbers.

  • Common guillemot (Uria aalge)

    One of the most common birds breeding on sheer, crowded cliffs known as ‘seabird cities’. This seabird only comes to land to breed and spends the rest of its life at sea.

  • Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)

    A large and powerful bird of prey which is a swift and agile hunter. Peregrines were at a low point in the 1960s due to human persecution and the impact of pesticides in the food chain but are showing signs of recovery.

  • Marine areas, Sea inlets

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

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’