Protected sites designations directory

 
JNCC collates information on protected sites in the UK and Overseas Territories designated under international Conventions and European Directives – principally Ramsar Sites, SACs and SPAs.  However, a range of other international and national nature conservation and landscape designations exist in the UK.
 
This directory covers the main designations which exist in the UK, split into those that confer some form of statutory protection, and other designations.  For each designation there is a short description outlining its purpose and the level of protection afforded to it, along with details of who is responsible for establishing the sites, and further sources of information.
 

Site designations that protect the UK's natural heritage through statute

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
(in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve natural beauty – which by statute includes wildlife, physiographic features and cultural heritage as well as the more conventional concepts of landscape and scenery.  Account is taken of the need to safeguard agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and the economic and social needs of local communities.  AONBs have equivalent status to National Parks as far as conservation is concerned.

AONBs are designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, amended in theEnvironment Act 1995. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 clarifies the procedure and purpose of designating AONBs.

Originally designated in Northern Ireland under the Amenity Lands Act (Northern Ireland) 1965, AONBs are now designated under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands Order (Northern Ireland) 1985.

In Scotland, National Scenic Areas are broadly equivalent to AONBs.

Countryside Council for Wales
Northern Ireland Environment Agency

See:
National Association of AONBs 
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
UK National Park links
Areas of Special Protection (AoSP) (in England, Scotland and Wales) and Wildlife Refuges (in Northern Ireland)
Sanctuary Areas, originally designated under the Protection of Birds Acts 1954, were amended to AoSPs under theWildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  Designation aims to prevent the disturbance and destruction of the birds for which the area was identified, by making it unlawful to damage or destroy either the birds or their nests and in some cases by prohibiting or restricting access to the site.

Wildlife Refuges are equivalent to Areas of Special Protection in Northern Ireland.  The statutory provision of an area as a 'Wildlife Refuge' is a protection mechanism under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.  It was intended that this provision would replace that of Bird Sanctuary, established under the Wild Birds Protection Act 1931.  There are several coastal Bird Sanctuaries in Northern Ireland but as yet no Wildlife Refuges have been established.

UK Government

Country Parks
Country Parks are statutorily declared and managed by local authorities in England and Wales under the Countryside Act 1968 and in Scotland under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 (in Northern Ireland Country Parks exist as a non-statutory designation).  They are primarily intended for recreation and leisure opportunities close to population centres and do not necessarily have any nature conservation importance. Nevertheless, many are in areas of semi-natural habitat and so form a valuable network of locations at which informal recreation and the natural environment coexist.

Local authorities

See:
Northern Ireland Environment Agency

Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes
Significant historic gardens and designed landscapes identified by Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland for their natural heritage and cultural importance. Inclusion in the Inventory confers a measure of statutory planning control in relation to the sites concerned and their setting through the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Scotland) Order 1992 (GDPO) and SDD Circular No 6/1992.

Statutory country nature conservation agencies

See:
English Heritage
Natural Resources Wales  formally Countryside Council for Wales

Limestone Pavement Orders
Limestone Pavement Orders afford statutory protection for limestone pavements under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. An Order, created by the relevant local government authority, prohibits the removal or damage of limestone within the designated area, after notification of its importance by English Nature, the Countryside Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.  Limestone pavements are identified as a priority habitat in Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive.

Local authorities

See:
Limestone Pavement Action Group

Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) (in England, Scotland and Wales)/ Local Authority Nature Reserves (LANRs) (in Northern Ireland)
Under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 LNRs may be declared by local authorities after consultation with the relevant statutory nature conservation agency.  LNRs are declared and managed for nature conservation, and provide opportunities for research and education, or simply enjoying and having contact with nature.

Local authorities

See:
Natural England (formally English Nature)
Scottish Natural Heritage
Natural Resources Wales
(formally Countryside Council for Wales)


Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
Marine Conservation Zones can be established to protect nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology and can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh inshore and UK offshore waters. They are established under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009). Marine Conservation Zones will be one of six designations contributing to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
See:
Marine Conservation Zones
Marine Protected Area Network


Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs)

The purpose of MNRs is to conserve marine flora and fauna and geological features of special interest, while providing opportunities for study of marine systems.  They are a mechanism for the protection of nationally important marine (including subtidal) areas.  Their designation requires the agreement of statutory and voluntary bodies and interest groups. There were three designated MNRs: Lundy Island (in England), Skomer Island (in Wales) and Strangford Lough (in Northern Ireland). The introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009)  has meant that MNRs in England and Wales are to be replaced by Marine Conservation Zones.  Current Lundy Island is the only MNR to have changed to MCZ and Strangford Lough remains Marine Nature Reserves for the time being. Elsewhere, a number of voluntary marine nature reserves (vMNRs) have been established by agreement between non-governmental organisations, stakeholders and user groups. These have no statutory basis.

Statutory MNRs are established under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for England, Scotland and Wales.  In Northern Ireland they are designated under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

Statutory country nature conservation agencies

See:
Lundy Field Society

Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Natural Resources Wales  formally Countryside Council for Wales


National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
NNRs contain examples of some of the most important natural and semi-natural terrestrial and coastal ecosystems in Great Britain. They are managed to conserve their habitats or to provide special opportunities for scientific study of the habitats communities and species represented within them.

NNRs are declared by the statutory country conservation agencies under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  In Northern Ireland, Nature Reserves are designated under the Amenity Lands Act (Northern Ireland) 1965.

Statutory country nature conservation agencies
See:
via Natual England website (formally English Nature)
Scottish Natural Heritage
Natural Resources Wales - (formally Countryside Council for Wales)
Northern Ireland Environment Agency

National Parks
In England and Wales, the purpose of National Parks is to conserve and enhance landscapes within the countryside whilst promoting public enjoyment of them and having regard for the social and economic well being of those living within them.

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 established the National Park designation in England and Wales. In addition, the Environment Act 1995 requires relevant authorities to have regard for nature conservation.  Special Acts of Parliament may be used to establish statutory authorities for their management (e.g. the Broads Authority was set up through the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988).

The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 enabled the establishment of National Parks in Scotland.  In addition to the two purposes described above, National Parks in Scotland are designated to promote the sustainable use of the natural resources of the area and the sustainable social and economic development of its communities.  These purposes have equal weight and are to be pursued collectively unless conservation interests are threatened.

Countryside Council for Wales
Scottish Executive

See:
Association of National Park Authorities
Natural Resources Wales - (formally Countryside Council for Wales)
Scottish Natural Heritage
UK National Park links

Natura 2000
Natura 2000 is the name of the European Union-wide network of nature conservation sites established under the EC Habitats and Birds Directives.  This network will comprise Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Marine Natura 2000 sites contribute to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.

European Commission

See:
EUROPA - The European Union on-line
Marine Protected Area Network


Natural Heritage Areas (in Scotland)
Natural Heritage Areas are intended to be special large discrete areas of the countryside of outstanding natural heritage value containing a wide range of nature conservation and landscape interests where integrated management will be encouraged taking account of recreational use and wider socio-economic activities.  Powers to designate NHAs are set out in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991. None have been designated.

Scottish Ministers

Ramsar sites
Ramsar sites are designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, agreed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. Originally intended to protect sites of importance especially as waterfowl habitat, the Convention has broadened its scope over the years to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognizing wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation in general and for the well-being of human communities. The Convention adopts a broad definition of wetland, namely "areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres". Wetlands "may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands". Ramsar sites will be one of six designations contributing to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
The UK's ratification of the Convention extends to its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
UK Government / Governments of Overseas Territories / Crown Dependencies

See:
Protected Sites (Ramsar)
Marine Protected Area Network

Regional Parks (in Scotland)
Regional Parks are extensive areas of the countryside where existing land uses continue but are managed by agreement with the landowners to also allow for public access and informal recreation and to protect local landscapes.  Local Authority proposals for the establishment of Regional Parks are designated upon the confirmation by Scottish Ministers under the Wildlife and Countryside (Scotland) Act 1981.

Scottish Ministers

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) (England, Scotland and Wales) and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) (Northern Ireland)
The SSSI/ASSI series has developed since 1949 as the national suite of sites providing statutory protection for the best examples of the UK's flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features.  These sites are also used to underpin other national and international nature conservation designations. Most SSSIs are privately-owned or managed; others are owned or managed by public bodies or non-government organisations.  The SSSIs/ASSI designation may extend into intertidal areas out to the jurisdictional limit of local authorities, generally Mean Low Water in England and Northern Ireland; Mean Low Water of Spring tides in Scotland. In Wales, the limit is Mean Low Water for SSSIs notified before 2002, and, for more recent notifications, the limit of Lowest Astronomical Tides, where the features of interest extend down to LAT. There is no provision for marine SSSIs/ASSIs beyond low water mark, although boundaries sometimes extend more widely within estuaries and other enclosed waters. Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 there is the ability to de-designate an area of a SSSI in England or Wales that is below the low water mark if it would be more appropriately managed as a Marine Conservation Zone. SSSIs will be one of six designations contributing to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.

Originally notified under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, SSSIs have been renotified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Improved provisions for the protection and management of SSSIs were introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (in England and Wales) and the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

ASSIs are notified under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) 1985.  Measures to improve ASSI protection and management are contained in the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

Statutory country nature conservation agencies

See:
via Natual England website (formally English Nature)
Scottish Natural Heritage
Natural Resources Wales - (formally Countryside Council for Wales)
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Marine Conservation Zones (Guidance Note 4)
Marine Protected Area Network
Sites of Special Interest (SSI) (Jersey) and Proposed Sites of Special Interest (SSI ) (Jersey)
SSI are sites of local and national importance containing important botanical and/or zoological populations.  Sites are diverse in nature, ranging from dune to woodland and maritime heathland.  These SSIs are protected under Island Planning (Jersey) Law 1964 (as amended).  Sites with protected species are protected under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 (as amended).

Proposed SSIs are currently owned by various organisations and are protected under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 but are not protected by Island Planning Law (Jersey) 1964 (as amended).

Sites administered and managed by the Island (Jersey) Government, National Trust for Jersey and private land owners.

See:
Jersey Government, Environmental Services Unit

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Sites of Community Importance (SCI)

SACs are designated under the EC Habitats Directive. The Directive applies to the UK and the overseas territory of Gibraltar. SACs are areas which have been identified as best representing the range and variety within the European Union of habitats and (non-bird) species listed on Annexes I and II to the Directive. SACs in terrestrial areas and territorial marine waters out to 12 nautical miles are designated under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).   and beyond 12 nautical miles are designated under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended). SACs will be one of six designations contributing to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.

Sites which have been submitted to the European Commission by Government, but not yet formally adopted by the Commission, are referred to as candidate Special Areas of Conservation (cSACs). Sites which have been adopted by the EC, but not yet formally designated by governments of Member States are known as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). In the UK, designation of SACs is devolved to the relevant administration within each country. In UK offshore waters JNCC is responsible for identification and recommendation to Government of SACs.

SACs, together with SPAs, form the Natura 2000 network

UK Government; Defra; Devolved administrations; Government of Gibraltar


See:
Protected Sites (SAC)
SACs with marine components
Marine Protected Area Network

Special Protection Areas (SPA)
SPAs are classified by the UK Government under the EC Birds Directive. The Directive applies to the UK and the overseas territory of Gibraltar. SPAs are areas of the most important habitat for rare (listed on Annex I to the Directive) and migratory birds within the European Union.  SPAs in terrestrial areas and territorial marine waters out to 12 nautical miles are classified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and beyond 12 nautical miles are designated under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended). SPAs will be one of six designations contributing to our ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
SPAs, together with SACs, form the Natura 2000 network.

UK Government; Defra; Devolved administrations; Government of Gibraltar

See:Protected Sites (SPA)
SPAs with marine components
Marine Protected Area Network


World Heritage Sites
World Heritage Sites are designated to meet the UK's commitments under the World Heritage Convention. The UK's ratification of the Convention also extends to its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. These sites are designated for their globally important cultural or natural interest and require appropriate management and protection measures. Natural properties may be terrestrial or marine areas.

UK Government / UNESCO World Heritage Committee

see:
Department for Culture, Media and Sport


Other natural heritage conservation designations in the UK

Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLVs) in Scotland
The requirement to designate AGLVs is set out in SDD Circular 2/1962. They are defined by local authorities in development plans with a view to safeguarding areas of regional or local landscape importance from inappropriate developments.  A number of other regional and local landscape designations are also used by local authorities in Scotland, including Regional Scenic Area.

Local authorities
Biogenetic Reserves Network
Biogenetic reserves act as 'living laboratories' and are representative examples of various types of natural environment in Europe.  They can consist of natural or semi-natural habitats and their selection is based on their value for nature conservation and protected status based on four criteria: 'typical', 'unique', 'rare' and/or 'endangered' which can be applied to habitats or species.  The protected status must be adequate to ensure the conservation or management of the sites in the long term in accordance with fixed objectives.

UK Government / Council of Europe

Biosphere Reserves
Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting the conservation of biodiversity with sustainable use.  Biosphere reserves serve to demonstrate integrated management of land, water and biodiversity.

UK Government / UNESCO


European Diploma Site (Category A) and European Diploma Site (Category C)
The European Diploma is an award established by the Council of Europe under Regulation (65) 6 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 6 March 1965 for certain landscapes, reserves and protected national features, and Resolution (73) 4 of 19 January 1973 on the Regulations for the European Diploma (amended and revised by Resolution (88) 39 of 5 December 1988, (89) 12 of 19 June 1989 and (91) 16 of 17 June 1989).

By awarding the European Diploma, the Council of Europe recognises that the area is of particular European interest for natural-heritage and that the area is properly protected.  The Diploma can be awarded to national parks, nature reserves or natural areas, sites or features.  The award is for a five-year period.  Annual reports are required for each area, and the renewal of the award at 5 years is only made after independent assessment of the site.  The Diploma can be withdrawn at any time if the area comes under threat or suffers serious damage.

UK Government / Council of Europe

see:
EUROPA - The European Union On-line

Geological Conservation Review sites (England, Scotland, Wales) & Earth Science Conservation Review Sites (Northern Ireland)
Geological Conservation Review (GCR) and Earth Science Conservation Review (ESCR) sites are non-statutory sites identified by the statutory nature conservation agencies as having national or international importance for earth science conservation on the basis of their geology, palaeontology, mineralogy or geomorphology.  Although GCR/ESCR identification does not itself give any statutory protection, many GCR/ESCR sites have been notified as SSSIs/ASSIs.

Statutory country nature conservation agencies

see:
Earth heritage
Earth Science Conservation Review

Geoparks
Geoparks are internationally-recognised areas encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance in which the geological heritage is safeguarded and sustainably managed, with strong local involvement.

UK authorities / UNESCO

see:
International Network of Geoparks

Heritage Coasts (in England and Wales)
A Heritage Coast is a section of coast exceeding one mile in length that is of exceptionally fine scenic quality, substantially undeveloped and containing features of special significance and interest.  The designation is agreed between local authorities and (in England) the Countryside Agency or (in Wales) the Countryside Council for Wales, as an aid to local authorities in planning and managing their coastlines.

Local government authorities/ Countryside Agency/ Countryside Council for Wales.

see:
Natural Resources Wales - (formally Countryside Council for Wales)

Marine Consultation Areas (in Scotland)
Marine Consultation Areas are identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as deserving particular distinction in respect of the quality and sensitivity of the marine environment within them.  Their selection encourages coastal communities and management bodies to be aware of marine conservation issues in the area.

Scottish Natural Heritage

National Scenic Areas (in Scotland)
National Scenic Areas (NSAs) are designated by Scottish Ministers as the best of Scotland's landscapes, deserving special protection in the nation's interest.  Special development control measures for the 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland were introduced by the Scottish Development Department through SDD Circular No 20/1980.  National Planning policy for NSAs is set out in SPP (Scottish Planning Policy) on Natural Heritage.

NSAs are broadly equivalent to AONBs in England and Wales.

Scottish Ministers

see:
Scottish Natural Heritage

National Trust / National Trust for Scotland properties
The National Trust (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the National Trust for Scotland are independent charities which conserve the cultural, built and natural heritage of the UK. Both National Trusts own or have protective covenants over land of historic interest or natural beauty. Under the National Trust Act (1907) and the National Trust for Scotland Order Confirmation Acts 1935 and 1938 their holdings are inalienable and cannot be sold or mortgaged. The Trusts have powers to create bylaws relating to access and management of land.
Comparable independent bodies exist in a number of the UK's Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, for example the National Trust of Guernsey and the National Trust for Jersey.  

The National Trust / The National Trust for Scotland

see:
National Trust
Natural Trust for Scotland

NGO properties
A variety of non-governmental organisations such as the John Muir Trust, Plantlife, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust own or manage nature reserves or other areas of land that are important for biodiversity. These sites may be intended primarily for nature conservation, or for other purposes such as protection of landscape features or the provision public access to the countryside. These areas of themselves have no statutory basis, but a large number are also designated SSSIs / NNRs / SPAs / SACs / Ramsar sites, etc.

NGOs

Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS)
Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS) are the most important places for geology and geomorphology outside statutorily protected land such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Sites are selected under locally-developed criteria, according to their value for education, scientific study, historical significance or aesthetic qualities. Whilst not benefiting from statutory protection, RIGS are equivalent to local Wildlife Sites, and ''...consider­ation of their importance becomes integral to the planning process'".

Local government authorities

See: www.ukrigs.org.uk   

Sensitive Marine Areas (in England)
Sensitive Marine Areas (SMAs) are non-statutory marine areas notable for their marine animal and plant communities or which provide ecological support to adjacent statutory sites.  A further aim is to raise awareness and disseminate information to be taken into account in estuarine and coastal management planning.  These areas rely on the co-operation of users and local communities for sustainable management.

Natural England (formally English Nature)

Wildlife Sites
Local authorities for any given area may designate certain areas as being of local conservation interest.  The criteria for inclusion, and the level of protection provided, if any, may vary between areas.  Most individual counties have a similar scheme, although they do vary.

These sites, which may be given various titles such as 'Listed Wildlife Sites' (LWS), 'Local Nature Conservation Sites' (LNCS), 'Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation' (SINCs), or Sites of Nature Conservation Importance' (SNCIs), together with statutory designations, are defined in local and structure plans under the Town and Country Planning system and are a material consideration when planning applications are being determined.

Local government authorities

Woodland Parks / Forest Parks
Woodland Parks are similar to Forest Parks but are smaller in scale and located near to centres of population.  Forest Parks, Forest Nature Reserves or Woodland Parks are identified and managed by the Forestry Commission primarily for recreation purposes.

Forestry Commission

see:
Forestry Commission
Northern Ireland Environment Agency