Natural England - What involvement do Public Bodies have with SSSIs?

What involvement do Public Bodies have with SSSIs?

Public Bodies such as local authorities, statutory undertakers and public authorities own about 20% of land designated as SSSIs. When exercising their statutory functions on this land, the interest features of SSSIs may be affected.

Some Public Bodies (such as local planning authorities and bodies like the Environment Agency) are responsible for permitting operations that may affect SSSIs.

Who or What are Public Bodies?

Public Bodies include:

  • Any statutory undertaker (as defined in section 262(1), (3) and (6) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990external link). These include privatised utilities, such as water and electricity companies.

  • A person holding an office under the Crown; or created or continued by a public general Act of Parliament.

  • Public bodies which include government departments, agencies like the Environment Agency and local authorities such as County Councils and District Councils.

What are the duties of Public Bodies?

The 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 special features on SSSIs.

Natural England expects that public bodies will take full account of these responsibilities under this duty whenever their actions may affect SSSIs and more information can be found in the Defra publication: SSSIs: Encouraging Positive Partnershipsexternal link.

When should Public Bodies contact Natural England?

Public Bodies must consult Natural England, and request our assent, before carrying out any operations which may damage a SSSI. This applies whether the operations are to take place within a SSSI boundary or outside it.

Public bodies must also consult us before permitting anyone else to carry out an operation or activity within or outside SSSIs that may damage them.

Public bodies will find it useful to discuss their proposals with us, before they give formal notice of their intentions to undertake or permit potentially damaging operations on SSSIs

Page 9 of our publication Sites of Special Scientific Interest: A brief guide for land owners and occupiers (NE322)external link has a helpful summary of how the consultation process works.

When contacted by Public Bodies about operations affecting SSSIs, we will reply within 28 days. Public bodies must contact us again if they plan to go ahead with an operation, or issue permission, against our advice. They must state how they have taken account of our comments. They must also wait for a further 28 days before that operation can commence or 21 days before it can be permitted.

When Public Bodies go ahead with operations, they must make sure damage caused is minimised, and restore the SSSI to its former condition.

What happens when Public Bodies fail to consult Natural England?

It is an offence for public bodies to carry out, or permit operations on SSSIs that are likely to affect its special interest, without first consulting us. Failing to follow this process is a criminal offence which may result in a fine and a restoration order.

There are provisions that allow emergency works to be carried out or permitted without consulting Natural England first, as long as we are informed as soon as possible afterwards.

More information

For guidance on requirements of Public Bodies working with SSSIs see Defra’s Code of Guidance: 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest: Encouraging positive partnerships'external link