Sites of Special Scientific Interest - SSSIs (NE54)

Public bodies

Public bodies such as local authorities, statutory undertakers and public authorities own about 20% of land designated as SSSIs.

Public bodies are defined as follows:

  • Any statutory undertaker (as defined in section 262(1), (3) and (6) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990). These include privatised utilities, such as water or electricity companies.
  • A person holding an office under the Crown (including government departments, agencies and local authorities).
  • Organisations created or continued under a public general Act of Parliament.
  • Any other public body of any description.

The SSSI legislation places a general duty on all public bodies to take reasonable steps, consistent with the proper exercise of their functions, to further the conservation and enhancement of the features for which an SSSI has been notified.

Public bodies must consult us before carrying out any operations which may damage an SSSI. This applies whether the operations are to take place within the SSSI boundary or outside it. They must take our advice into account before carrying out any operations. If they go ahead with an operation they must reduce, as far as possible, any damage caused and restore the site to its former condition.

Public bodies must also consult us before permitting anyone else to carry out an operation within or outside the SSSI boundary that may damage an SSSI.

Public bodies must show how they have taken account of our advice if they plan to go ahead with an operation, or issue a permission, against our advice. We may refer the issue to Ministers or aim to get a judicial review of the decision. We would only take this action in those cases in which we have serious concerns about the nature of the damage.

It is an offence for public bodies to carry out work on SSSIs or permit work on SSSIs without first consulting us. You can get more information on the duties of public bodies, including statutory timescales that must be followed, from our local offices. Also see page 13 Obligations of public bodies.

After a public body has consulted us and you have received permission for an operation, you do not need to get a separate consent from us to carry out the operation. This exemption only applies if the public body gives some form of formal authorisation. We will work closely with public bodies to make sure that the consultation process is as smooth as possible for owners and occupiers of SSSIs.

We expect planning authorities to make sure that they meet all conditions attached to planning permissions for nature conservation reasons, and to take appropriate enforcement action where necessary.


SSSIs do not only occur in the countryside. In urban areas they offer a valuable opportunity to enjoy wildlife. Peter Wakely/Natural England
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