Natural England - Guidance for SSSI owners and occupiers

Guidance for SSSI owners and occupiers

Every SSSI in England is registered as a local land charge, so anyone buying land will be able to discover if it is notified as a SSSI. We will advise and help you to make sure that these sites are managed in the best possible way.

How will I know if my land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)?

Every SSSI in England is registered as a local land charge, so anyone buying land will be able to discover if it is notified as a SSSI. You can see a map of SSSIsexternal link on the Magic website.

Read our publication Sites of Special Scientific Interest: A brief guide for land owners and occupiers (NE322)external link.

How can Natural England help me to manage my SSSI?

We will advise and help you to make sure that these sites are managed in the best possible way. Effective management is essential to conserve the special wildlife and geological features of SSSIs and includes:

  • grazing animals at particular times of year
  • woodland management
  • controlling water levels
  • managing scrub on species rich grasslands

Many SSSI owners and occupiers already carry out suitable management, which has contributed to the special interest of the land. Our local advisors can provide advice on appropriate management, they will also be able to advise on what sources of funding may be available.

Informing Natural England of changes in ownership or occupation

If you own an SSSI, you have a legal duty to inform us within 28 days of any changes in ownership or occupation of the site, including leases, easements and rights. Please write to or email the adviser for your SSSI or contact us on 0845 600 3078 (local rate) or email enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk.

Giving notice
The SSSI notification package includes a list of operations requiring Natural England's consent (formerly known as operations likely to damage the special interest). None of the listed operations can be carried out without Natural England’s consent, or the consent of another public body (provided that the other body has formally consulted us).

Therefore, if operations are not already consented, you need to submit written notice: (139kb)word document containing the details of the operations you wish to carry out to your local Natural England office. This applies if you wish to undertake any of these operations yourself or you plan to allow others to carry them out.

How do I apply for consent to carry out activities on my SSSI?

Guidance as to how to give Natural England notice can found in our publication Sites of Special Scientific Interest: A brief guide for land owners and occupiers (NE322)external link and a notice template: (139kb)word document is available. An informal discussion with the local advisor is recommended before a formal notice is submitted. You can search for SSSI detailsexternal link including the list of operations likely to damage the special features.

Gaining consent
On receipt of your notice, Natural England must consider the likely impact on the special features of a SSSI. The legislation provides us with four months to decide whether to, issue consent, issue consent with conditions or refuse consent. Notices for an operation that will not damage the special interest, are likely to be consented. In some circumstances conditions or time limits may need to be attached to our consent to make sure that a notified operation is not undertaken in such a way, that damages an SSSI.

If consent is refused to an operation that may damage the special features of a SSSI, that operation may not legally go ahead. We may also review existing consents, and withdraw or modify them if we consider that they are damaging to the SSSI. If you are unhappy with conditions that have been applied to a consent, modifications or refusals you can appeal to the Secretary of State.

What will happen if my SSSI is in 'unfavourable condition' and not managed properly?

If your SSSI is suffering as a result of a lack of positive management or neglect, and we cannot reach a voluntary agreement with you, we may pursue more formal legal methods, such as serving management schemes and management notices.

In the most extreme cases, powers of compulsory purchase may be used as a last resort when all other options to maintain the special interest of the SSSI are impractical.

What will happen if the special interest feature of my SSSI is damaged?

It is an offence for any person to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy any of the features of special interest of an SSSI, or to disturb wildlife for which the site was notified.

It is an offence for owners and occupiers to carry out or allow to be carried out, operations listed in the notification without our consent.

If you own or manage a SSSI that is being damaged by other people, our local conservation staff will be pleased to advise you on what can be done to resolve the situation.

Enforcement

Natural England has enforcement responsibilities and powers to ensure the conservation of SSSIs, see our approach to enforcement. In addition to this Natural England also works in partnership with other enforcement agencies to tackle wildlife crime.