Wildlife Habitat in Britain’s Countryside Dramatically Improved

It has been reported by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs that over 95 per cent of England’s finest wildlife and geological sites, covering more than one million hectares of countryside, are now in favourable or recovering condition.

Favourable condition means that special habitats and features are in a healthy state and are being conserved for the future by appropriate management.  Recovering (or improving) condition means that all necessary management measures are in place to address the reasons for unfavourable condition; if these measures are sustained, the site will become favourable over time.

This is a major improvement since 2003, when only 57 per cent of these Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) were in the same condition. It follows seven years of hard work by Defra, in conjunction with Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Welcoming the achievement, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“These sites really deserve the title of special. They include spectacular and beautiful habitats from flower-rich meadows to remote upland peat bogs and give protection to wildlife that might not otherwise survive.

“This fantastic achievement is testimony to the hard work of everyone involved. People really do care about and value our natural environment and together we can safeguard our remaining natural heritage for future generations.”

As well as protecting wildlife, these sites also give opportunities for rural businesses, space for recreation and scientific research, and safeguard essential services such as clean water, flood management, carbon storage, pollination and food production.

Natural England is the body responsible for the day-to-day management  of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) legislation and for assessing and monitoring the condition of SSSI land in England.  Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England said:

“The turnaround in the fortunes of England’s SSSIs is one of the great conservation success stories of recent decades and owes much to the tireless efforts of an army of conservationists, landowners and volunteers. Thanks to their efforts, a host of rare species from sand lizards to golden plovers now have a greater prospect of flourishing; while much loved landscapes, such as the New Forest and the Yorkshire Dales, face a more secure future.”

A full inventory for each site is now publicly available, showing the reasons why it was designated, the management requirements needed to maintain its special features, and an up-to-date assessment of the condition of the site.

Further information about SSSI can be found on the Natural England website at:  www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/sssi/index.cfm

31st December 2010