Sites of Special Scientific Interest - SSSIs (NE54)


There are over 4,000 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) in England, covering about 7% of Englands land area. Over half of them, by area, are internationally important for their wildlife, and designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Ramsar sites. Many SSSIs are also National Nature  Reserves (NNRS) or Local Nature Reserves (LNRS).

If you are a new owner or occupier of an SSSI and you are reading this booklet for the first time, we would like to welcome you. If you are a longstanding owner or occupier, we hope you will find this booklet a helpful guide to the SSSI legislation. Our local advisors look forward to working with you, and will be pleased to offer practical advice about managing the plants, animals and geological features on your SSSI.

SSSIs are the country’s very best wildlife and geological sites, often standing out as the last remaining areas of natural habitat in our modern countryside. They include some of our most spectacular and beautiful habitats - large wetlands teeming with waders and waterfowl, winding chalk rivers, gorse and heather-clad heathlands, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland moorland and peat bog.

The stunning gorge at Castle Eden Dene near Durham is a unique landscape with a rich geological history. Peter Wakely/Natural England

It is vital that the natural heritage that we have left is saved for future generations. Wildlife and geological features are under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsympathetic land management. SSSIs support plants and animals, which find it more and more difficult to survive in the wider countryside. Protecting and managing SSSIs is a shared responsibility, and an investment for the benefit of future generations.

Wicken Fen is the last remaining part of the Great Fen Levels in East Anglia. Peter Wakely/Natural England

Most of these habitats have grown and developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing or forestry. The unique and varied habitats of SSSIs, and the wildlife that they support, need active management to maintain their interest. We work with over 32,000 owners and land managers, who work very hard to conserve these special sites. We believe that maintaining goodwill and building upon the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of owners is vital to successfully manage these nationally important sites.

The unimproved limestone grassland of Barnsley Warren SSSI contains one of the Cotswold’s largest populations of the rare pasque flower. Peter Wakely/Natural England

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