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Sites of Special Scientific Interest


1  Nature conservation

The wild plants and animals of Britain and the places, or habitats, in which they live are part of our national heritage. So too are the rocks, minerals and landforms that underlie or make up the surface of the land.  To safeguard plants, animals and geological features we must protect and maintain the most important areas where they occur.  These areas are called Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

2  The selection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

The SSSI system comprises biological and geological sites selected by the Nature Conservancy Council after scientific survey and evaluation.  These include the best examples of particular habitats, e.g. woodlands, heathlands or meadows, and or the localities of rare or endangered species or important concentrations of animals or plants.  Many geological sites are the standard reference locality for their type of rock or land formation.

3  Notification

The Nature Conservancy Council have a statutory duty to notify an SSSI to every owner and occupier, to the local planning authority, to the appropriate Secretary of State and, in England and Wales, to the appropriate Water Authority and Internal Drainage Board.  Notifications to owners and occupiers include a map of the site, a statement explaining why it is of special interest and a list of operations likely to damage the special interest.

4  Registration

In England and Wales notification of land as an SSSI must be registered as a local land charge by the local planning authority.  In Scotland the local planning authorities will receive copies of all notifications in their district, and make them available at their principal office for public inspection.

5  Development

Local planning authorities have a statutory requirement to consult with the NCC before granting permission for a development .application on an SSSI.  Panning authorities are required to take into account any representations the NCC may make in relation to the development application, but the decision to give or refuse planning emission rests with the planning authority.

6  Access

Notification of land as an SSSI does not give the NCC or anyone else any right of access other than along existing rights of way.

7  Management agreements

The NCC may enter into management agreements with owners or occupiers of SSSI’s in order to safeguard or enhance the special interest of the site.

An agreement may be provided for payment to the owner or occupier for refraining from carrying out one or more damaging operations or for work aimed at safeguarding or improving the special interest of the site.

NCC's substantive management agreements will normally be registered as a land charge.

8  Capital taxation relief’s for owners of Heritage Land

SSSI’s will normally qualify for conditional exemption from Capital Transfer Tax.  In addition beneficial tax arrangements can apply if a maintenance fund is established for the benefit of such land.  A tax concession is also available if SSSI land is accepted by the Government in lieu of Capital Transfer Tax or if SSSI land is sold to the NCC or any other approved body.

9  Grant aid

The NCC may give financial assistance to any person to do anything which, in the NCC's opinion, fosters the understanding of or is conducive to nature conservation. Priority is usually given to SSSI’s. Financial assistance may, in certain circumstances, be given towards the purchase of land of SSSI quality for management as a nature reserve.  In all cases the NCC may impose conditions.

10  Purchase or lease of SSSIs

In some cases the NCC may be able to purchase or lease SSSI land, or offer to introduce the owner to a (non-governmental) conservation body which may be interested in purchase or lease of the land.

11  Further information

The NCC's Regional or local office will be pleased to provide further information and advice concerning SSSIs.  The address can be found in your local telephone directory.

12  Further reading

a) Statutes:

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) A, 1985

The Wildlife and Countryside (Service of Notices) Act 1985

The Capital Transfer Tax Act 1984

The Countryside Act 1968

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949

The Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977

The Town and Country Planning (General Development) ( Scotland) Order 1981

b) Government circular:

"Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Financial Guidelines foJ: Management Agreements" '

Department of Environment Circular 4/83 Welsh Office Circular 6/83

c) Explanatory memorandum:

"Capital Taxation and the National Heritage" (published by The Treasury. July 1983)

The Nature Conservancy Council is the government body which promotes nature conservation in Great Britain. It gives advice on nature conservation to government and all those whose activities affect our wildlife and wild places. It also selects, establishes and manages a series of National Nature Reserves. This work is based on detailed ecological research and survey.

This is one of a range of publications produced by Interpretive Services Branch.  A catalogue listing current titles is available from Dept. SI, Nature Conservancy Council, Northminster House, Peterborough



Standard Ref No•           Type of Operation

1          Cultivation, including ploughing, rotovating, harrowing and reseeding.

2          Grazing.

3          Stock feeding.

4          Mowing or other methods of cutting vegetation.

5          Application of manure, fertilisers and lime.

6          Application of pesticides, including herbicides (weed killers).

7          Dumping, spreading or discharge of any materials.

8          Burning.

9          The release into the site of any wild, feral or domestic animal*, plant or seed.

10         The killing or removal of any wild animal*, including pest control.

11         The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including tree, shrub, herb, hedge, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus, leaf-mould, turf.

12         Tree and woodland management including afforestation, planting, clear and selective felling, thinning, coppicing, modification of the stand or under wood, changes in species composition, cessation of management.

13a       Drainage (including moor-gripping and the use of mole, tile, tunnel or other artificial drains).

13b       Modification of the structure of water courses (e.g. streams, springs, ditches, dykes, drains), including their banks and beds, as by re-alignment, re-grading and dredging.

13c       Management of aquatic and bank vegetation for drainage purposes.

14         The changing of water levels and tables and water utilisation (including irrigation, storage and abstraction from existing water bodies and through boreholes).

15         Infilling of ditches, dykes, drains, ponds, pools or marshes. Freshwater fishery production and management including sporting fishing and angling.

16         Extraction of minerals, including peat, sand and gravel, topsoil, sub-soil, chalk, lime and spoil.

20         Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground.

21         Storage of materials.

22         Erection of permanent or temporary structures, or the undertaking of engineering works, including drilling.

23         Modification of natural or man-made features (including cave entrances), clearance of boulders, large stones, loose rock or scree and battering, buttressing or grading cuttings, infilling of pits.

26         Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest.

27         Recreational or other activities likely to damage features of interest.

28         Game and waterfowl management and hunting practices.

* "animal" includes any mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird, fish or invertebrate.