Guidance

Protected or designated areas

Information on protection for local and international areas, such as nature reserves, AONB, SSSIs and SPAs.

England’s natural environment is unique. Our geology, soils, landscapes and their biodiversity along with our marine and coastal ecosystems are a rich inheritance. There are a number of statutory designations protecting England’s terrestrial natural environment under both national and international law and by way of government policy.

In England, protected areas also include protected landscapes – Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks.

Many of the sites are in private ownership. Government helps landowners meet the costs of restoring or managing protected areas through the Environmental Stewardship scheme.

Nationally protected sites

Sites of special scientific interest

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) conserve and protect the best of our wildlife, geological and physiographical heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. There are over 4,000 SSSIs in England, covering around 8% of the country.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) give legal protection to the best sites for wildlife and geology in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Read more about this legislation on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

You can find details, including location, reason for notification, condition and management team contact details, of all SSSIs in England via Natural England’s MAGIC interactive mapping website.

Natural England are responsible for notifying SSSIs, ensuring they are managed appropriately and assessing and monitoring their condition.

At the end of 2010 over 95% by area of English SSSIs were in favourable or recovering condition following 7 years of hard work by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in conjunction with Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors.

We now want to bring an increasing proportion of SSSIs into favourable condition, while seeking to maintain at least 95% of SSSI land in favourable or recovering condition. Defra is working closely with Natural England and a wide range of other organisations, including the voluntary sector, to achieve this, and ensuring the monitoring of sites to measure success.

Approximately 80% of SSSIs (by area) are internationally important for their wildlife and home to the rarest and most vulnerable habitats and species in Europe. These sites are designated as European Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, which form part of the European network of protected areas known as ‘Natura 2000.

Some are also Ramsar sites of international wetland importance, and many are also National Nature Reserves (NNRs) or Local Nature Reserves (LNRs). National Nature Reserves (NNRs) are areas of national natural interest and are generally all SSSIs, which also provide a resource for scientific research and recreation.

Defra is responsible for all SSSI policy. For more information please visit the Natural England website.

Benefits of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England and Wales

On 23 August a study commissioned by Defra on the ‘Benefits of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England and Wales’ was published. The study explores the range of valuable ecosystem services that our network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) provide us with. It also gives estimates for the monetary value of the benefits derived from protecting biodiversity, which significantly exceed the costs of delivering them. This illustrates the importance of valuing the benefits of nature’s services - an approach that the government has committed to through the recently published Natural Environment White Paper.

The study showed that SSSIs deliver a range of ecosystem services, including:

  • cultural services to people and the economy including tourism, education, sense of place and recreation as well as clear conservation benefits
  • regulating services including water purification, regulation of climate, air quality, water and natural hazards by protecting and enhancing natural processes
  • provisioning services that they produce,including goods such as food, timber, genetic resources and fresh water

Guidance for Sites of Special Scientific Interest owners and occupiers

Information for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) owners and occupiers to assist in the conservation and enhancement of these nationally important sites can be found on the Natural England website.

Code of Guidance

In accordance with Section 33 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) Defra has produced an SSSI Code of Guidance. This provides advice, recommendations and information on how the SSSI legislation should operate.

This code was published in 2003 and therefore does not cover changes made by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

Payments by Natural England under management agreements or in other circumstances are required to be made in accordance with guidance from ministers. The current guidelines on payments were published in 2001.

Planning Policy Statement 9

The government’s Planning Policy Statement 9 sets out planning policy as it relates to biodiversity and geological conservation and its accompanying circular provides detailed guidance on statutory obligations and their impact within the planning system. Both documents include SSSI policy and obligations. A copy of PPS 9, and the accompanying circular and good practice guide is available from the Planning Portal website.

Appeals against decisions made by Natural England about SSSIs

This section contains information on how to appeal against Natural England decisions on refusal of consent, imposition of conditions or the issue of management notices, relating to works on SSSIs. The Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981 contains the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against decisions made by Natural England in connection with SSSIs. Appeals may be made in relation to:

  • a refusal of consent or conditions imposed by Natural England, for operations included on the ‘operations likely to damage’ list for the SSSI
  • the issuing of a management notice by Natural England

The Sites of Special Scientific Interest (Appeals) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 and 2010

New regulations came into force on 1 March 2009 which detail appeal procedures in connection with a consent or management notice relating to an SSSI. Minor amendments were laid in August and came into force on 1 October 2010.

Detailed information about making and taking part in appeals can be found in the guidance booklets below.

In order to make a valid appeal certain information is required (details are in the guidance documents) to help in this process standard appeal forms are available below.

For further information please e-mail the SSSI appeals team at protectedareas@defra.gsi.gov.uk

National Nature Reserves

England’s National Nature Reserves represent many of the finest wildlife and geological sites in the country. They are created to protect important wildlife habitats, while also providing a resource for scientific research and recreation.

They are protected under:

More about National Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves are places with wildlife or geological features of special interest locally. They offer people the chance to study nature, or simply to enjoy it. They are designated by local authorities under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

More about local nature reserves, including :

Local authorities: making Local Nature Reserve byelaws

A local authority can apply byelaws, if necessary, to control activities that might damage plants or animals in a Local Nature Reserves.

To do this the local authority needs to agree proposed byelaws with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), then advertise them to the local community. Subject to any comments received, these byelaws are then confirmed by the secretary of state. See a Guide to making Local Nature Reserve byelaws.

Local Sites

Local Sites are sites of local importance for nature conservation but are not legally protected.

Local Geological Sites are usually selected by voluntary geoconservation groups. Local Wildlife Sites are usually selected by the relevant Wildlife Trust , along with representatives of the local authority and other local wildlife conservation groups.

Local authorities provide data on local biodiversity direct to Defra, so we can assess the proportion of sites under positive conservation management .

See guidance for Wildlife Trusts and local authorities on identifying, selecting and managing Local Sites.

More on Local Sites.

European sites

Natura 2000

Our best examples of habitats and species of birds that are either threatened or valuable within the EU are designated as:

These sites make up a network of sites across Europe called Natura 2000, protected under the EU Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora).

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) has made the EU Habitats Directive and Birds Directive into English and Welsh law.

In the UK, these European sites are often also SSSIs or a number of SSSIs joined together.

International sites

Ramsar sites: wetlands designated for their International Importance

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, and mainly provide habitats for waterbirds.

They are designated under The Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that aims to stop the loss of wetlands.

In the UK, many Ramsar sites are also Special Protection Areas and most have statutory underpinning as SSSIs.

More about Ramsar sites.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

The Man and the Biosphere programme is an intergovernmental science programme focused on sustainable development. The UK Man And the Biosphere (UK MAB) Committee oversees the activities in the UK under UNESCO’s MAB Programme.

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.