Nature in perpetuity: how does the law protect wild spaces? #actfornature

This is the seventh week of our general election blog series, and our theme is Nature in Perpetuity. Against the pressures of housing, growth and development, nature often needs legal protection to ensure its survival. Reserves and Community Engagement Officer Karl explains how this all works…

Some of the UK’s most special and fragile sites in regards to wildlife and geology are protected by a number of statutory designations under international and national law implemented through government policy.  These range from National Nature Reserves (NNR’s), which is a landscape scale approach to protection; Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s), where species and habitats are the focus; through to Local Nature Reserves (LNR’s), where areas of biodiversity of high value are recognised and protected by local authorities.  There are also local non-statutory designations such as Local Wildlife Sites (LWS’s), which highlight sites of county importance in specialness for nature conservation and are designated by a panel which includes the Wildlife Trust, the local authority and other key stakeholders.

Elmdon Manor Nature Reserve - copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015
Elmdon Manor Nature Reserve – copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015

In relation to Warwickshire, the highest legal protection afforded to sites is SSSI status, of which many are in Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s care and management. They cover around 0.7% of the county and 6.8% of land nationally across the UK.  Designated under the Countryside and Wildlife Act of 1981, these sites preserve the best of our wildlife, geology and physiographical heritage. By law owners are required to maintain these sites in a favourable condition. Stipulated are potentially damaging operations (PDO’s) that can only occur by consent through Natural England (the regulating body).

Ryton Wood SSSI carpeted in bluebells - copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015
Ryton Wood SSSI carpeted in bluebells – copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015

However, whilst this is one of the highest levels of protection, even SSSI’s are not safe from development.  Recently Rampisham Down SSSI in Dorset, a 76 hectare site of nationally important lowland acidic grassland was subject to a planning application for a solar farm.  Currently we are waiting to see if Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State, calls in the council’s decision for a public enquiry. In our eyes as a nature conservation organisation, development on such special and fragile sites should not permitted under any circumstance and cases such as Rampisham Down could lead to a dangerous precedent being set for other SSSI sites.  While we appreciate the need for development and growth, this should never be at the cost of some of our small island’s most special and rare habitats and species.

Draycote Meadows SSSI in late summer - copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT) 2015
Draycote Meadows SSSI in late summer – copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT) 2015

Locally, many local authorities have identified and designated LNR’s.  These have local importance for people by being rich in biodiversity or geologically significant.  They are often managed by Wildlife Trusts and play a key role in the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape agenda of providing bigger, better, and more areas managed for wildlife in key landscape areas.  These LNR’s do have some statutory protection but perhaps are not immune from the inevitable future pressures of development and economic expansion. So it is essential that local communities engage and support their local green spaces to defend them where we can.

Ufton Fields Nature Reserve in summer - copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015
Ufton Fields Nature Reserve in summer – copyright Emma Richmond (WWT) 2015

A further step on from LNR’s is the designation of Local Wildlife Sites or Local Geological Sites. This designation is given to local areas that are important for wildlife and geological features but not perhaps do not provide public access.  Data collected through surveying can identify if these sites are being managed positively for conservation and guidance is provided on how to best manage these for wildlife via a panel made up of the local Wildlife Trust, the local authority, the Natural England representative and other county experts.  Local Wildlife Sites and Local Geological Sites make up a much larger area of the county here in Warwickshire: approximately 3%, with over 500 individual sites designated. While there is no statutory protection, this area is nearly five times that of the SSSI’s so these important sites fill in the gaps amongst the urban and arable voids across our landscape, and help to connect habitats for wildlife.

Harvest Hill - home to wild daffodils in springtime - copyright Ian Jelley 2015
Harvest Hill – home to wild daffodils in springtime – copyright Ian Jelley 2015

Whilst legal designations are absolutely important and should afford our most important wildlife sites some protection against mismanagement and expanding development, they only make up a small proportion of the county area.  This means that it is vitally important that any policy affecting land use or development recognises the value and benefits of well managed green space for wildlife, our wellbeing and the economy and that there is a provision for nature in every case.  With this in mind and considering that the squeeze on our countryside and wild places is ever increasing, it is imperative that the government and local authorities ensure that nature is at the heart of their decision making and that designating further sites for wildlife and geology in future is given as much significance as those safeguarded already.


Do your bit to protect wildlife by casting your vote for nature – sign The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition urging MPs to pledge their support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Follow the campaign on social media using #actfornature and inspire your friends and family to do their bit for nature too!

Remember to return to this blog next Thursday at 8pm for the next installment in our General Election series, when Chief Executive of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Ed Green will be posting. Or click the “Follow” button on the right of this post to follow our blog and receive a notification whenever we post.


1 thought on “Nature in perpetuity: how does the law protect wild spaces? #actfornature”

  1. Reblogged this on The Wildlife Wanderer and commented:
    A brilliant summary of the UK’s designations on wild spaces, their importance for our wildlife, and their fragility when faced with housing and development.


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