Guidelines for selection of biological SSSIs
Rationale, Operational approach and criteria, Detail guidelines for habitats and species groups
The guidelines are currently under revision

Guidelines for selection of biological SSSIs






The Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs provide a consistent rationale for the evaluation and selection of biological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) throughout Great Britain. (The guidelines for the Selection of Geological and Physiographical SSSIs are published separately by JNCC.) SSSIs are designated in accordance with the duties in law placed upon each of the statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs) to notify as a Site of Special Scientific Interest any area of land which in its opinion is of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, geological, geomorphological or physiographical features. The Guidelines are intended primarily to help SNCB staff in the selection of biological SSSIs, but they are also intended as a public statement of the selection principles for all interested parties.


The first part of the Guidelines sets out the general principles from which the evaluation and selection procedures have been developed. It also explains some of the background issues and concepts surrounding designation. It deals with the broad operational approach and the criteria for SSSI evaluation and selection as a whole. Part two then presents the detailed and specific guidance for each of the main habitat types and species groups.


In 2011, a process was started to update these guidelines to take account of changes in governance, legislation, wider approaches to nature conservation, and advances in knowledge of habitats, species and more general environmental and ecological issues. 


The former Parts A and B of the Guidelines have been revised and merged into a single section - Part 1: Rationale, Operational Approach and Criteria for Site Selection - as published in 2013 (see below). In addition, some changes have been made to the individual Part 2 habitat and species chapters to reflect organisational changes and minor technical issues.


A more comprehensive revision of all Part 2 chapters is currently underway. This is expected to result in a rolling programme of revised chapter publication. The table below shows the state of publication and progress with this programme of revision.


As part of the update, JNCC has assessed the consistency of the Part 2 chapter revisions. Several areas of inconsistency have been noted. Many of these are to be expected for a variety of reasons. The species groups and habitat types covered by the part 2 guidelines have different natural distributions, face different pressures and are managed and used in various ways. These differences lead to legitimate variation in the approach taken for the selection of SSSIs. Other inconsistencies between part 2 chapters would benefit from being considered more carefully and some can be dealt with through very minimal changes to the published guidelines. JNCC and the SNCBs will be looking at levels of consistency more closely in the future but are not sufficiently concerned about any possible implications to delay publication of the revised Part 2 chapters.


Minor changes to the updated chapters might be made in the future to deal with consistency issues and to take account of new information.


Part  1: Rationale, Operational Approach and Criteria for Site Selection (PDF, 768 kb)


Part 2: Habitat Chapters


No Name Revision

Coastlands (coastal saltmarsh, sand dune, machair, shingle, and maritime cliff and slopes, habitats) (PDF 620 kb)

Annex 1 Table of Coastal vegetation selection units (XLSX 65 kb)

1b Marine Habitats (including Intertidal) Revision underway
1c Saline lagoons Revision underway
2 Woodlands (PDF 686 kb) Revised
3 Lowland grasslands (PDF 608 kb) Revised
4 Lowland heathland (PDF 332 kb) Revised
5 Non-montane rock habitats Revision underway
6 Freshwater habitats (PDF 484 kb) Revised
7 Fens Revision underway
8 Bogs Revision underway
9 Upland habitats None needed
10 Artificial habitats None needed
Part 2: Species Chapters
No Name Revision
11 Vascular plants Revision underway
12 Bryophytes (PDF 551 kb) Revised

Lichens and lichenicolous fungi (PDF 1.2 mb)


14 Fungi (non-lichenised) (PDF 437 kb) Revised
15 Algae Revision underway
16 Mammals Revision underway
17 Birds (PDF 223 kb) Revised
18 Reptiles and amphibians Revision underway
19 Freshwater (PDF 309 kb) and estuarine fish Revised
20 Invertebrates (PDF 301 kb) Revised
Please cite as: JNCC, Guidelines for selection of biological SSSIs