Introduction to the guidance manual
8. Complex Sites/Reconciling potential conflicts between interest features
Although some sites are designated for a single interest feature, many sites have more than one. Inevitably, the management requirements of each interest feature will not be the same. For example, on upland sites the ideal grazing regime for different habitats may vary considerably, ranging from moderately heavy grazing for grasslands, to light grazing for heathlands, to no grazing at all for tall-herb vegetation. Similarly, on lowland heathland sites the management required to maintain high-quality vegetation may be at odds with that needed to sustain populations of scarce reptiles or invertebrates.
These issues must be resolved during the preparation of conservation objectives. Ideally, this should be done by developing a management plan for the whole site, based on a sound knowledge of the site's ecology and the management constraints and opportunities. On some large sites, especially in the uplands, it may be possible to implement an ecosystem management approach.
It may be necessary to consider prioritisation of interest features, e.g. by placing greater emphasis on Natura 2000 or BAP interests. On larger sites it may be possible to accommodate different management treatments on different parts of the site. There may be benefits in taking a wider view of conservation priorities and adopting different approaches on different sites. For example, rather than trying to restore small areas of woodland on all upland sites within a particular region, it may be better to attempt woodland regeneration on an extensive scale on only one or two sites. Such an approach may deliver significant nature conservation benefits, but can only be achieved within the context of a regional/national strategy.
Of particular concern with respect to the integration of features are those situations which have for a variety of reasons been described as 'complex'. These fall into the following categories:
  • Where there are many features on a single site. These may be independent ecologically.
  • Where there is one feature, but it comprises a mix of habitats (for invertebrates the juxtaposition of microhabitats can be very important).
  • Where the feature is very large.
  • Where there are interacting features (i.e. a change in one feature will lead to a change in another).

In all these cases, care will need to be taken to ensure that the perceived complexity is appropriately addressed in the conservation objectives. This is best done by being explicit about decisions which have been taken – i.e. what is being assessed and why.
  • Principles to consider when dealing with features in these circumstances:
  • Consider the priority of the individual features – which is the higher priority?
  • Favouring one feature over another must only take place if there is a detailed rationale and clear safeguards to ensure the coherence of the site and of the site network.
  • Non-notified features should not be favoured over notified, qualifying ones.
  • Consider the effects of features on each other – are they interlinked ecologically.
  • Be explicit about the judgements being made for each feature and upon what they are based.
  • Allow sufficient time for gathering information upon which the features will be assessed – large features may take more time.


Local decisions will need to be taken on these principles if conflict is encountered. These will need to be justified in a national or at least regional context and signed off by an Area Manager or equivalent after consultation with relevant specialists.