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You are here: Home > Conservation & Environmental > Designated Sites

Designated Wildlife Sites on M.O.D. Land


(© Crown Copyright)



Much of the Defence Estate has been designated as internationally, nationally or locally important for nature conservation. This reflects the high quality of military land for wildlife. The international designations include Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EC 'Birds' Directive, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EC 'Habitats' Directive, Ramsar Sites under the UN Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and World Heritage Sites under the United Nations (UN) World Heritage Convention.

Nationally important sites include Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland (ASSIs), and National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Locally important sites, designated by planning authorities or non-governmental organisations, include Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), Sites of Interest for Nature Conservation (SINCs), and County Wildlife Sites (COWS).

It is Ministry of Defence (MOD) policy to comply with all environmental legislation. For nationally and internationally important sites, the legal requirements are set out in the UK 'Habitats' Regulations 1994, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (as amended), and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (for England and Wales).

The MOD owns, leases or uses all or part of nearly 200 SSSIs. These sites underpin most of the international designations (SPA, SAC and Ramsar sites) found on Defence Estates. The MOD owns all or part of over one hundred and seventy internationally protected sites.

Our Statutory Partners

The statutory nature conservation agencies English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, and the Environment and Heritage Service (NI) designate SSSIs/ASSIs and advise the UK Government and devolved administrations on international designations. The MOD works closely with these statutory bodies to ensure that legal requirements for environmental appraisal are fulfilled and that designated sites on the Defence Estate are managed in accordance with their conservation objectives.

'Declarations of Intent' between the MOD and the statutory bodies formally recognise the MOD as different from other landowners, in that the primary role for its land is to support the UK Defence Mission, "to defend the United Kingdom, and Overseas Territories, our people and interests; and to act as a force for good by strengthening international peace and security". The Declarations of Intent reaffirm the MOD's commitment to protect and, wherever possible, enhance the nature conservation value of its land.

The MOD has recently signed a revised Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Scottish Executive, and the Northern Ireland Office. This MoU reaffirms the MOD's commitment to internationally important wildlife sites, and sets out liaison procedures for plans and projects that may affect the habitats and species that make these sites special.

Examples of Designated Sites

Elegog Stacks at Castlemartin in Wales
Chough at Castlemartin

(Top) Elegog Stacks at Castlemartin in Wales; (Above) A Chough at Castlemartin
(© Crown Copyright)


The MOD owns some of the finest designated sites in the UK. For example, the Castlemartin Tank Firing Range runs along the rocky coastline with sea cliffs of Carboniferous limestone which are of national geological and biological interest. This site qualifies as a Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive, for supporting the Chough, a species of European Importance. The exposed sea cliffs and rough winter grazing by sheep and cattle maintains the maritime grasslands, important breeding sites for Chough. They depend upon the diverse mix of habitats present on the site and their continued low-intensity agricultural management. The limestone coast of South-west Wales SAC was selected for its vegetated sea cliffs, grey dunes, Greater Horseshoe Bats and Early Gentian, and the Pembrokeshire marine candidate SAC, designated for its estuaries, inlets, bays, rocky reefs and Grey Seals.

Salisbury Plain Training Area

Salisbury Plain Training Area
(© Crown Copyright)


Salisbury Plain Training Area is the largest Army Training Estate in the UK, covering 38,000 hectares. Salisbury Plain has been used for military training since the early part of the twentieth century, preventing the conversion of its ancient chalk grassland to arable farming that has been so prevalent elsewhere in England.

Burnt Tip Orchid

Burnt Tip Orchid
(© Audrey Summers)


The site is the best remaining example of lowland juniper scrub on chalk in the UK and believed to be the largest surviving semi-natural dry grassland within the European Union. It is for these reasons that the area has been selected as a Special Area of Conservation. The Plain supports the largest UK population of the nationally scarce Burnt-Tip Orchid together with significant populations of Green-winged Orchid and Frog Orchid. There is also a large sub-population of Marsh Fritillary Butterfly that breeds on the grassland. During the breeding season there are around twenty-two pairs of Stone Curlew. Twenty percent of the breeding records for Quail have been recorded on the Plain. There have been many other recordings of breeding bird species on Salisbury Plain making it extremely diverse for a British dry grassland site.

Read more about some of our important designated sites in Sanctuary Magazine.
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