Devon Smeatharpe Village Landscape Design in Blackdown Hills

Environmental SSSI project

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Working alongside English Nature in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

The next few pages describe a 2003 project for a client whose large garden is within a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The site crosses the Devon border into Somerset and is administered by the Somerset English Nature team. The following outline of just what defines an SSSI is from the English Nature website which has a far more in-depth explanation as well as a number of examples and articles.

Introduction to the Site of Special Scientific Interests (SSSI)

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) represent our best sites for wildlife and geology. Well over half, by area, are internationally important and many play an important part in local culture and economies or provide wonderful opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife and landscape. The national wildlife and geological features of SSSIs are irreplaceable parts of our national heritage.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest are notified throughout Great Britain. However, English Nature is responsible for identifying and protecting these sites in England. We achieve this primarily in partnership with SSSI owners and managers, and as a result the majority are in good condition and well managed.

Notification as an SSSI is primarily a legal mechanism to protect sites that are of particular conservation interest because of the wildlife they support, or because of the geological features that are found there.


SSSIs can be found all over England, and together with those in Scotland and Wales, they form a national network of areas with the greatest value to wildlife or geological conservation

There are approximately 4,100 SSSIs in England, from the south-west tip of Cornwall to the northernmost edges of Cumbria. Some are very small - about 130 are less than half a hectare. Others cover thousands of hectares - the largest is The Wash, an area of intertidal mudflats of great importance for its waterfowl and wader populations, covering 66,050 hectares. The first SSSIs were identified shortly after the Second World War when, in 1949, one of English Nature's predecessors (The Nature Conservancy) was given a duty to notify local planning authorities of SSSIs so that wildlife and geological interest could be taken into account during the planning process. Their protection has increased gradually over the years through the following pieces of legislation:

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
The Wildlife and Countryside Amendment Act 1985
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

SSSIs are selected according to specific scientific criteria. The Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs, published in 1989 by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, set down the selection criteria for biological SSSIs. These include size, fragility and naturalness of sites and the rarity of the species or habitats they support.

When an SSSI is identified English Nature notifies the owners and occupiers of the land, the local planning authority, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Certain public bodies such as the Environment Agency, water and sewerage companies, internal drainage boards and any other public bodies whose activities could affect SSSIs are also informed.

The notification package explains to owners and occupiers of SSSIs, the site's location and the features of special interest, how the land should be managed to maintain that interest and a list of operations likely to damage those features.


Owners and occupiers are given an opportunity to make representations in response to the notification of a new SSSI. These are then considered by English Nature's Council before deciding whether to confirm a notification.

Owners and occupiers (ie landowners, tenants and commoners) of SSSIs must give English Nature written notice before initiating any operations likely to damage the site, or allowing someone else to carry out these activities. None of the operations listed in the notification documents may proceed without English Nature's consent.

English Nature provides advice, practical assistance and financial support which help owners and occupiers manage SSSIs for the benefit of conservation. In many cases management agreements have been negotiated with English Nature to ensure that the land is kept in the best condition for the wildlife it supports.

Conservation of wildlife in gardens - an introduction

Before we explain the work undertaken in connection with this garden, you might like to read a general introduction to gardening with wildlife conservation in mind - and who better to give it than the Chair of English Nature? One of the articles on this site is from an introduction to a CD produced by English Nature. It covers many of the concerns that relate to our client's garden as a part of an SSSI and so is reproduced here in full, with permission, by following this link.

© 2003 English Nature

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