All change for SSSI guidelines


Beck Hole SSSI, North Yorkshire © Peter Wakely_Natural EnglandThe statutory nature conservation bodies in England, Scotland and Wales have a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended, to notify any area of land which in their opinion is 'of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features'. Such areas are known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). In Northern Ireland there is an equivalent designation: Areas of Special Scientific Interest.


In November 2011 the inter-agency Chief Scientists’ Group commissioned a revision of Parts A and B of the Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs, which had not been revised since 1989.  Parts A and B comprise the rationale and overview chapters of the Guidelines. An editorial group was established, comprising a member of staff from each of the statutory nature conservation bodies, chaired by Dr Ian Bainbridge of Scottish Natural Heritage, with support from JNCC.  The group was asked to complete a light-touch revision to modernise and update Parts A and B. 


The changes being applied are largely at operational level – taking into account the ecosystem approach to biodiversity conservation, European responsibilities, climate change issues and a number of other changes in knowledge andEdmonstons chickweed on Keen of Hamar SSSI , Shetland understanding that have developed in the last twenty-five years. These include enhancing site selection considerations in respect of non-native invasive species, and recognising that species which are natural new arrivals should be welcomed as part of the UK’s biodiversity. The revised Guidelines also emphasise that a site would not be selected for reasons of ‘recorded history’ alone, instead adding to the ‘recorded history’ selection criterion to recognise the value of a long-recorded history of land use (e.g. in parklands and historic woodlands) as well as the value of a long history of scientific ecological recording.


The revision has no immediate policy implications, in that it provides updated working guidance to staff in the statutory nature conservation bodies, rather than introduces changes in policy related to SSSIs. 



Contact File


Richard Ferris

Head of Biodiversity Information and Advice

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866813


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