Natural England - Designations


The UK’s approach to conservation employs a range of different types of site and extensive area designations for landscape and nature conservation purposes.

Our Designations Strategy, first adopted in July 2012.

New designations

Main designations contributing to Natural England's purposes

Type of DesignationPurpose of Designation
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)Protection of the most significant sites for the conservation of wildlife (species & habitats) and/or geology.
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)Classification under the European Union’s Habitats Directive of areas of value for species, plants and habitats. Together with SPAs, SACs form part of the Natura 2000 system. Sometimes distinguished separately as Marine and Terrestrial SACs.
Special Protection Areas (SPA)Classification under the Birds Directive to protect internationally valuable populations of eligible bird species. Sometimes distinguished as Inshore Marine SPAs and Terrestrial SPAs.
National ParksExtensive tracts of countryside designated to both conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage as well as the opportunities they afford for open air recreation.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)Designation to conserve areas on account of their natural beauty. AONBs have equal status to National Parks within the planning system.
National Nature Reserves (NNR)Areas managed for either (or both) the preservation of flora, fauna, geological and physiological features of special interest or to provide opportunities to study fauna, flora and their physical conditions.
Ramsar SitesDesignation under the Ramsar Convention for wetlands of international importance.
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)A new designation under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. MCZs form part of a wider group of marine designations commonly known as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)1.
National TrailsA series of long-distance trails routed through some of our finest landscapes (National Parks/AONBs) with the intention of providing a high quality opportunity for people to experience and enjoy the natural environment.


  1. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): zones of our oceans, seas and coasts where species and habitats are protected from activities that are damaging or cause disturbance. MPAs span the whole area from the sea floor to the water surface.

  2. This list only identifies those designations specifically mentioned in the Designations Strategy. We also have responsibilities for other types of designations or registrations, e.g. Historic Environment.

Other designations contributing to Natural England’s purposes

We will continue to advise, support and positively influence the management of other sites of importance for nature where the primary and legislative responsibilities for these lie with others (this includes Local Nature Reserves, Country Parks and other non statutory local sites). All have the potential to support the aims of the Designations Strategy but we do need to balance expectations with the resources we have available over the lifetime of the strategy.

Type of DesignationPurpose of Designation
Heritage CoastsArea of coastline managed to conserve and enhance its natural beauty, facilitate and enhance their enjoyment, understanding and appreciation by the public, and to maintain and improve the environmental health of inshore waters affecting the wider area within the boundary. Account should also be taken of the needs of land based industries i.e. agriculture, forestry and fishing.
World Heritage SitesAn ICOMOS designation for places of international importance of the conservation of our cultural and national heritage. The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Coast was designated on account of its geological heritage.
Marine Nature Reserves
Local Nature Reserves (LNR)Places of special local wildlife or geological interest or significance identified by local authorities. Wide application spanning towns, cities, villages and countryside.
Local SitesSites of importance for their scientific, educational and historical value as well as their visual qualities. Several different titles including Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCS), Sites of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCIs) and County Wildlife Sites.
Global GeoparksAreas selected to co-ordinate the conservation of geological heritage and its enjoyment while supporting sustainable development. All Geoparks are part of the Global Geopark Network supported by UNESCO, proposals are appraised through this mechanism.
Biosphere ReservesNominated by national governments and designated under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. They seek to i) contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems & species, ii) foster economic & human development, iii) provide support for research, monitoring, education & information exchange.

Geographic information

The MAGIC mapping website offers facilities to download map based information on the areas covered by individual designations and/or to check the types of designation which might be present at a particular location.

  • MAGICexternal link - a range of designations including National Park, AONBs and Heritage Coasts

Further information