Natural England - Why are SSSIs important?

Why are SSSIs important?

SSSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. 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, remote uplands, moorland and peat bog.

It is essential to preserve our remaining natural heritage for future generations. Wildlife and geological features are under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsustainable land management. SSSIs are important as they support plants and animals that find it 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.

The unique and varied habitats of SSSIs have developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing and forestry; they need active management to maintain their conservation interest.

Natural England works with more than 26,000 separate owners and land managers, who work very hard to conserve these important sites. Maintaining goodwill and building upon the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of owners is vital to successfully manage these nationally important sites.

Why do we need to protect SSSIs?

It is essential to conserve our remaining natural heritage for both current and future generations. Wildlife and geological features are under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsympathetic land management. SSSIs are important as they support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside.

England's SSSIs hold some of our rarest and most threatened wildlife and geology, as described in our State of the Natural Environment 2008 Report. They include unique features for which England holds a large proportion of the world total, such as our peat bogs, maritime heathlands and limestone pavements. As well their obvious value for wildlife and geology, SSSIs provide many benefits to individual people and society as a whole.

This might be as simple as enjoying an encounter with rare wildlife or appreciating the beauty of landscapes and geological features. Many SSSIs also provide many opportunities for recreation. All of us derive benefits from SSSIs, even though we may never visit them ourselves. This is because of the vast range of functions performed by habitats in SSSIs, such as:

  • healthy peat bogs and woodlands locking up carbon, thus helping to tackle the effects of climate change;

  • naturally functioning rivers, wetlands and their catchments reducing the risk of flooding in our towns, cities and agricultural land; and

  • coastal habitats, like saltmarshes and sand dunes, providing effective natural defences against rising sea levels.

How are SSSIs protected?

SSSI’s are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.

This legislation gives Natural England powers to ensure better protection and management of SSSIs and safeguard their existence into the future. The Government's Public Service Agreement target is for 95% of SSSI land to be in 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition by 2010.

The unique and varied habitats of SSSIs have developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing and forestry, and need active management to maintain their conservation interest. We work with over 26,000 separate owners and land managers, who work very hard to conserve these important sites. Maintaining goodwill and building upon the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of owners is vital to successfully manage these sites.