Sites of Special Scientific Interest - SSSIs (NE54)

Notification of SSSIs

Notification as an SSSI gives legal protection to the best sites for wildlife or geology in England. The first SSSIs were identified shortly after the Second World War in 1949, when the Nature Conservancy, was given a duty to notify local planning authorities of SSSIs, so that the wildlife and geological interest could be taken into account during the planning process. We now have the responsibility of identifying and protecting SSSIs in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).


SSSIs conserve species vulnerable to extinction, such as the marsh fritillary butterfly. Robert Goodison/Natural England

By law, we must notify all owners and occupiers of any land that we consider to be of special interest because of any of its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features. We must also let the local planning authority, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and certain public bodies, such as the Environment Agency, water and sewerage companies and internal drainage boards know about SSSIs. We send copies of notifications to other public bodies if their activities could affect SSSIs. You can find details about SSSI notifications on our website (www.naturalengland.org.uk).

We may consider sites for notification after biological or geological surveys are carried out. Sites may be identified for survey when someone contacts us to tell us about their nature conservation interest. We will always speak to you before carrying out surveys, so we can get access permission. We will let you know about the results of any survey.

We will assess the information we gather against guidelines for selecting biological and geological sites. Our Executive Board then decides whether a site should be notified as an SSSI. The site is legally protected as soon as we have sent you the notification papers.

When we notify you, we will send you a map, a 'citation' that explains the features of special interest, a list of operations which need our consent before you may carry them out, and a statement of our views on how the site should be managed. You may find that this statement closely reflects the current management on the site, especially if this has contributed to developing its wildlife value.

You have four months in which to make objections and representations in writing about the notification of a new SSSI. You should make any objections to your local Natural England office. We can usually sort out any worries over the implications of the SSSI notification through discussion at this stage.

The Natural England Board decides whether or not to confirm the notification. Members of the Board are appointed by the Secretary of State, and are independent of our staff and the Executive Board. As a result, they will use their own personal and expert judgment on the issue. The Board carefully considers all concerns and objections, which have been raised and have not yet been settled. You have an opportunity to speak to the Board in person to explain your objection. If we confirm a notification, we must do so in writing within nine months of the notification.

If the special scientific interest of an SSSI changes, we may change the details of the notification. We may also extend the SSSI if land nearby is found to be of scientific interest. We treat proposals to vary or extend SSSIs in the same way as new notifications. If SSSIs, or parts of SSSIs, lose their features of special interest and there is no prospect of the interest being restored, we may withdraw the SSSI designation. We call this process 'denotification'. We only do this in exceptional cases. We would not denotify sites which had been illegally damaged, or had suffered from neglect.


Scar Close is one of the finest examples of limestone pavement in England. Peter Wakely/Natural England

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