Last edited 07 Dec 2016

Sites of special scientific interest SSSI

There are more than 4,100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England. SSSI’s cover around 8% of England’s land area.

SSSI's were first established in 1949 by the Nature Conservancy so that the conservation of important sites of natural habitat, wildlife and geological heritage could be taken into account during the planning process. Today, Natural England has responsibility for identifying and protecting SSSIs in England under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

SSSI’s include sites such as:

  • Ancient woodlands.
  • Species-rich grasslands.
  • Heathlands.
  • Coastal marshes and mudflats.
  • Unique geological formations.

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage the features of special interest of an SSSI, or to disturb the wildlife for which the site is of special interest.

Sites are designated by a process of notification and confirmation. When Natural England believes …that an area of land is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features … it notifies the owners and occupiers of the land and informs the local planning authority, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a number of other statutory authorities such as the Environment Agency. It also registers the site as a local land charge.

There is then a four month consultation process, when owners and occupiers can make representations. The Board of Natural England then decides whether to confirm the notification.

Owners or occupiers are informed of operations that they may not carry out on notified sites without the consent of Natural England (or some other statutory authorities). An application for such consent can be refused, or consent may be given with conditions or time limits attached. Existing consents may be reviewed and withdrawn, or modified if there is new information, if circumstances change, or if the operations for which consent has been given are damaging to the SSSI.

Consent may not be required even though operations are listed in the notification; if emergency work is required, where planning permission has been granted for the operation (other than Permitted Development Orders) or if permission has been given by another statutory authority that has consulted Natural England.

If an SSSI is suffering from poor management or neglect Natural England may serve Management Schemes or Management Notices on the owner or occupier. Management Schemes set out how the SSSI should be managed. Management Notices require specified works. Failure to comply with a Management Notice is an offence.

In very extreme cases, compulsory purchase may be used.

Owners or occupiers must inform Natural England about any changes in ownership or occupation of the site.

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