Belfast Lough SPA

Status: Designated


Site overview

Belfast Lough is a large, open sea lough located on the north-eastern coast of Northern Ireland. The inner part of the lough comprises mainly mud-flats and lagoons, which are important feeding and roosting sites for significant numbers of wintering waders and wildfowl. The outer lough is made up of rocky shores with some small sandy bays and beach-head saltmarsh. The site is of importance for a wide range of wintering waterbirds.  This area has two protected areas which have been designated, Belfast Lough Open Water and Belfast Lough, both of which are Special Protection Areas. There is a proposed Marine Conservation Zone in this area too. They are all types of Marine Protected Area, with each aiming to protect different features of the site.  This site aims to protect certain species of bird including the bar-tailed godwit, the redshank and the turnstone. Over winter, the area regularly supports 20,492 individual waterfowl birds including: goldeneye, redshank, turnstone, great crested grebe, cormorant, shelduck, mallard, bar-tailed godwit, eider, curlew, red-breasted merganser, oystercatcher, ringed plover, lapwing, knot, dunlin, black-tailed godwit and scaup.

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 1998

Surface Area

4.32 km2 (1.67 mi.2)


75.01 km (46.61 mi.)

  • Common redshank (Tringa totanus)

    As this bird’s name suggests, its’ most distinctive features are its’ bright orange-red legs.

  • Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins)

Did you know?…

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

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

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