Wildlife sites

Alan Parfitt made a good point in a comment here yesterday – SSSIs were originally meant to be good examples of fine habitats rather than a complete coverage of such habitats. Increasingly, they are the last remnants of those habitats and have remained largely because of their SSSI status.

This is good news (the designation worked to protect these sites) and bad news (where did all the other, equally good, but undesignated sites go?).

Site protection is a cornerstone of nature conservation – it can’t do everything but it can do a lot. And by the way, let’s not forget, particularly when it comes to May next year in the voting booth, how poor has been the coalition government’s record on implementing marine site protection.

The news, yesterday, of the continuing loss of local wildlife sites suggests that we need a rethink on site protection. Surely we need many of those local wildlife sites upgraded to SSSIs in order better to ensure their protection? It seems pretty obvious – why aren’t the NGOs banging on about this rather more?

Although there is a tendency for the rich and powerful to find a way around legislation that hems in the poorer weaker individual, it was, I think, good to see that the owner of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Philip Day, lost his appeals against sentence and fine in the London Criminal Appeals Court.  Mr Day, it seems, has enough money to take this fight further to the Supreme Court, as is his right.

The fine, of £450,000, is certainly a heavy one and the legal costs are of a similar order it seems.  But then, how do you value an ancient woodland that has been devastated to facilitate pheasant shooting?  You can’t bring back ancient woodland by signing a cheque, however rich you are. For reports of the case see here and here.

I’m not legally trained (I’m hardly house-trained, some say) but this case seems in stark contrast to that of Walshaw Moor where a rich bird shooter also carried out actions that appeared to Natural England originally seriously to damage an SSSI.  What, I wonder, is happening in the RSPB’s complaint to Europe over the Walshaw Moor case and its implications for burning on designated blanket bogs?

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14 Replies to “Wildlife sites”

  1. Alan Parfitt is not strictly correct in his assertion about SSSIs.

    There are now two types of "interest feature" for which SSSIs are designated: those which are still sufficiently widespread to require only the best examples to be designated. Then there are a growing number of "interest features" which are now so threatened that all remaining examples should be notified. As the SSSI selection guidelines (http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/sssi_consultation20120123.pdf) state

    "Any terrestrial habitat with a total area in Britain of less than 10,000ha (the area of one 10 km grid square) can be regarded as rare, and for these there should be a general presumption in favour of selecting all remaining areas."

    So, for example, lowland neutral meadows, which used to so common as to be not worth considering as special, are now so rare that all surviving examples should be designated. Currently a little over half of the remaining few are in SSSIs, while the remainder are slowly whittled away through agriculture, development and other causes. Natural England has bravely chosen to notify some contentious examples of these meadows over the last few years, but the backlash from the likes of MoD, NFU and CLA has been so hard that NE is currently licking its wounds. We need to be pushing NE from the other direction to notify the rest before they are all gone.

  2. SSSI's are not protected! They simply benefit from a requirement to consult before they can be damaged. There is pressure for SSSI's to accommodate development wherever possible. The series of sites was never completed, designation was stopped (except in exceptional cases) around 1990.... there was no science behind this decision, just political expediency. No doubt many LWS would have made it to SSSI status if the NCC had been allowed to do its work.
    The fashion is now to look at sites as barriers and to try to make us believe that moving our efforts to the Ecosystem Approach is better for biodiversity. There are laudable aspirations in this- however the truth is that the people who are pushing for the change see it as a tool to weaken the protection afforded to our best biodiversity hotspots.

  3. You make a good point that site protection is a cornerstone of nature conservation. And that SSSI designation is the legal expression of that cornerstone.
    But the weakness of this process is that management by designation – ie protection - is all too often mistaken for management for conservation.
    One can “protect” an inanimate object such as a historic house but in many instances the very different conservation interest of wildlife sites can only be protected by conserving the management (ie the systems) that originally created and now maintains that wildlife interest. All too often one has seen a botanically diverse piece of chalk downland or wildlife rich grazing marsh lose their conservation interest when they have been designated as SSSIs and the original management system is abandoned in favour of an over-prescriptive, over-institutionalised approach that removes any wildlife outcome focused enthusiasms.
    Of course SSSI designation and application of the accompanying legislation has largely prevented dramatic and destructive losses of wildlife. But all too often this protectionism has not been followed up with the maintenance of the original management that created the wildlife interest.
    It is now exactly 30 years since the Commons All Party Environment Committee came down to Elmley on the North Kent Marshes to see our approach to conservation and to hear me banging on about the missing element of positive conservation . An approach which, I am pleased to say, was picked up and promoted in their final Report which, through others, developed into the widespread introduction of agri-environment schemes which I am pleased to say have largely succeeded in their (all too often limited) objectives. Perhaps the next stage is to develop more outcome focused positive conservation measures (NELMS??) in the hope that realisation dawns that “protection” is only half the story.

    1. Philip - thank you. I'll try to reply at greater length later (am on train).

      Couple of points. Yes, management is very important- hence CROW Act under last Labour government.

      Just to nit-pick - we don't need to preserve the management that originally preserved the wildlife interest if there are other forms of management that can do the job. There is often a modern alternative.
      And I don't think objects are that different from habitats over all. Maintenance is often important for both. And you can't manage what is gone.

    2. Philip, you have a very good point, imo. Without wishing to detract from the work that Wildlife Trusts do do - they are massively overstretched and underfunded - in two different areas of England that I've lived now, I've been told by local conservationists that the Trust in their area has taken on too many sites (eyes bigger than their wallets and manpower, if you like) and can no longer manage all the sites properly. The option at that stage is to either a) manage them all inadequately and mediocrely, or b) concentrate on specific sites and manage them adequately while neglecting the rest. Option b of course then requires a triage process of deciding which will be the lucky sites to be managed well. Inevitably nowadays that often comes down to focusing on the honeypot sites, ie the ones nearer centres of population that get the footfall that commands grant-funding in these bums-on-seats times, and/or the bigger, better known sites, and/or the newest sites. Any which way it's a disaster for too many of our precious remaining wildlife habitats that inevitably slide into decline.

  4. Good to see that teh Great British Public increasingly supports curbing the selfishness and wanton vandalism of people like Philip Day. Going to look up more details of the story you refer to in your post, Mark, Daily Mail commenters seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of punishing Mr Day to the fullest extent of the law possible (and then some more!) and ending the current impunity for the wealthy. Amusing to see also that the only exceptions to the condemnation against the feral rich are commenters giving locations in the USA and other areas of WASP diaspora and colonialism like Australia. That says something as well.


  5. Poor Mr Day seems to be so busy making deals that he doesn't know what's going on. He didn't know that his SSSI woodland was being pillaged by yellow plant and then he didn't know the brain scan his daughter was having was scheduled not emergency. Perhaps if he checked in the pockets of his argyll cardigan more often he'll find the hankies he's tied knots in to remind himself.

    He should really try something more original like oh I don't know, how about "A big boy did it and then ran away"

    Its pathetic!

  6. What a mad world we live in! A man is fines £450,000 for damaging an SSSI and then Natural England allows this - http://www.geltgladiator.com/ I think this man may be getting his money back very soon!!

    1. I personally think its good to see people going into the woods and getting dirty. how can we expect the wider public to engage in wildlife conservation if they aren't allowed into the woods.

      1. That sounds so reasonable on the face of it, Peter, and it's very true that more people need to engage in wildlife conservation outdoors. However, I feel that it's being a little disingenuous. For a start, yes it would be great if they were going out to this wildlife area to peacefully enjoy it, but that certainly isn't the impression given by the publicity, which refers to 'gladiators'; encouraging participants to view themselves in a martial light as 'battling' nature and the environment around them. The other word that sticks out is 'mud', lots of, which suggests that the, erm, 'gladiators' will be churning up and destroying the structure of the soil and humus in the woods and generally pulverising and eroding the habitat and, as Richard mentions below, potentially ending up with quantities of material polluting the river as well.

        No, it looks from the promo that they are quite simply exploiting the place for a mud-fight, which no doubt will line the pockets of the landowner and provide a circus to temporarily entertain a loud crowd, but how does it help people to understand and appreciate wildlife and the natural world? If anything it looks like it does the exact opposite, encouraging people to see nature as something to use and abuse.

  7. 16th May is also the breeding season for birds like Dipper and Grey wagtail and many more which will be disturbed by this event!! I thought all birds nests were protected!!

  8. Mark et al.,

    Haven't got time to comment fully except to say that local wildlife sites and SSSIs have had their protection weakened by the National Planning Policy Framework. The outcome of the Lodge Hill planning application will have potentially significant ramifications regarding SSSI protection in England and Wales.

    In relation to the Gelt Gladiator event referred to by John Miles above, the woods are partially designated as a SSSI and the River Eden is a European Protected Site (Special Area of Conservation) - see this map http://www.magic.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx?chosenLayers=sssiPIndex,sssiIndex,sacPIndex,sacIndex,backdropDIndex,backdropIndex,europeIndex,vmlIndex,25kIndex,50kIndex,250kIndex,miniscaleIndex,baseIndex&box=351541:558179:353635:559146&useDefaultbackgroundMapping=false If the event is outside the footprint of the SSSI (event itself, car parking, access and view points) then there may be little scope in the context of the SSSI.

    However, regardless of this, as the River Eden is a SAC, there is potentially a requirement for an Appropriate Assessment under Regulation 61 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended). The local authorities are Carlisle City Council/ Cumbria County Council. They ought to be aware of the event and if not, made aware. And ask if a Habitat Regulation Assessment has been completed; at least to the scoping stage. Whilst the event may not access the SAC, indirect effects such as noise, siltation of the River arising from surface run-off etc would need to be considered.

    Breeding birds are not a component feature of the SAC so whether or not dipper etc are breeding within the River Eden is irrelevant (in law) in terms of the Appropriate Assessment - this would have to focus on habitat per se, fauna (excluding birds) or flora. The species mentioned are not Schedule 1 species so only protected from intentional killing, damage to nest etc (not disturbance). However, there may be scope under a recent amendment to the Habitat Regulations 2010 which requires local planning authorities (amongst others) to protect bird habitat, which I understand to include land outwith protected sites. Context would be everything in this and I would contact the LPAs to ask what surveys or mitigation has been provided to ensure the Regulations are being complied with. You may well find that a lot of work has been undertaken to support the event.


    1. It really worries me that there is an assumption that we always use the most narrow definition of habitat. The minute we started classifying habitats we started down the path that leads us to some strange narrow minded conclusions. Are there no rivers or water courses in a woodland? Do rivers not have banks? All habitats change according to natural circumstances and the transition zones between habitats are where some of our richest biodiversity can be found.
      Apparently under our current interpretation of "notified features" these transition zones, eg river bank are not as important as for example, "pure" woodland. However they are clearly a natural component of the broader suite of habitats and transitions within the site.
      Dippers are a key feature of the habitat. they interact with other species in the habitat and are an indicator of the quality of the habitat. To suggest that a dipper is not a natural component of a woodland which has a river running through it is nonsense.


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