Designated sites for nature conservation

Designated Sites for Nature Conservation

The types of designated sites for nature conservation that can be found in the UK and Ireland are given the table below.

Table 6: Designated Sites

Site TypeInternational ProtectionNational ProtectionProtection TypeDescription
Ramsar Sites
Ramsar ConventionIn E & W, have the same protection as SPAs and SACs by policy.StatutoryWetlands of international importance supporting wildfowl and other important species.
Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
Birds DirectiveRegulations derived from the Habitats DirectiveStatutorySites that support rare, vulnerable or large numbers of regularly occurring migratory bird species. SPAs are part of a network
of European sites known as Natura 2000.
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
Habitats DirectiveRegulations derived from the Habitats DirectiveStatutoryHigh-quality conservation sites which make a significant contribution to conserving habitats and species threatened in Europe
as a whole. Part of the Natura 2000 Network.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
(E, W & S)
None, unless also designated Ramsar, SPA or SACWildlife & Countryside Act and CRoW ActStatutoryRepresentative samples of British habitats forming a national series aimed at maintaining the present diversity of wild plants
and animals in Great Britain.
Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs)
As aboveThe Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002StatutoryAreas of land that have been assessed as having the highest conservation value in Northern Ireland.
Natural Heritage Areas
As aboveWildlife Amendment Act (2000)StatutoryAreas of land which are considered important for the habitats present or which hold species of plants and animals whose habitat
needs protection.
National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
(E, W & S)
NoneNational Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949; Wildlife & Countryside Act and CRoW ActStatutoryAreas managed for study or research into flora, fauna, geological or physiographical interest, or for preserving features of
special interest. Owned or leased by Natural England, bodies approved by them, or managed under agreement with landowners/occupiers.
Statutory Nature Reserves (Nature Reserves (NR) & National Nature Reserves (NNR))
NoneThe Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985StatutoryTwo tiers of nature reserve; NNRs are the top tier, representing sites of national importance, and NRs, which are of lesser
importance but are primarily managed for nature conservation.
Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) (E, W, S)NoneNational Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949; local planning documents and policiesStatutoryConcentrated in or around urban areas where a policy of using LNRs to promote conservation education has been pioneered. LNRs
have local as opposed to national importance for nature conservation and the local authority must consult with the relevant
SNCO before designation.
Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) (NI)NoneThe Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985; Local planning documents and policiesStatutoryAn area of land, designated by a district council, for the purposes of nature conservation or the study of wildlife or both.
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) (E & W)NoneMarine and Coastal Access Act 2009StatutoryDesignated to protect areas of national importance for biodiversity within the marine environment.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
NoneMarine Scotland Act 2009StatutoryAs MCZs in England and Wales
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
NoneMarine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013StatutoryAs MCZs in England and Wales
County Wildlife Sites and other local designations
(E, W, S & NI)
NoneLocal planning documents and policiesNon-StatutorySites designated by Local Planning Authorities. They can be of significant value for nature conservation, especially in urban
areas, although they do not have the legal protection afforded by statutory designations described previously. The term
‘Local Sites’ is now most commonly used for such sites.
Proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA)
NoneLocal planning documents and policiesNon-StatutoryAs above but sites which were proposed as NHAs following a review in 1995. However, these sites have not yet received formal
statutory designation or protection.

E = England, W = Wales, S = Scotland, NI = Northern Ireland, I = Republic of Ireland


Our Covid-19
Business Response

Find out more