Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI): Protecting England's natural treasures Sites of Special Scientific Interest (NE306)

What are SSSIs?


England's first Sites of Special Scientific Interest were established by Act of Parliament in 1949, with a purpose to protect the best of England’s natural habitats, wildlife and geological heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. In the 60 years since its creation, the network of SSSIs has been periodically extended and legislation governing its protection has been strengthened, most significantly by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000. As a result, SSSIs are subject to stricter controls to protect wildlife, habitats and geological formations than most other types of designated area. Almost 30 per cent of the area of SSSIs is in the care of private landowners, most typically being part of a working farm. The remaining area is owned by conservation organisations, local authorities, government agencies and public utilities.

Today, a total of 4,119 individual SSSIs cover more than a million hectares (8.1%) of the land surface of England. They represent the entire range of habitat and geology types found in the country and vary as much in size as they do in character. The smallest, Sylvan House Barn in Gloucestershire, is a space of just 4.5 square metres and home to 200 lesser horseshoe bats. Amongst the largest, and possibly the busiest, is the Humber Estuary at 37,000 hectares. It drains a fifth of the country’s freshwater, has one of the largest grey seal breeding colonies in the UK and is home to almost 50,000 golden plovers. It is also the site of the UK’s largest port complex at Grimsby and Immingham.

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