English Nature study finds two-fifths of SSSI sites in need of improvement

tliouk office at tlio.demon.co.uk
Mon Dec 15 21:16:58 GMT 2003

England's natural jewels in need
BBC News Online 
Date: Monday, 15 December, 2003 
By Alex Kirby - Environment Correspondent  
Ref: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3314865.stm

Scarcely more than half of the most important conservation land and 
waters in England are in a good condition. A survey by the 
independent wildlife advisers to the government, English Nature, 
found more than two-fifths of the sites to be in need of improvement. 

The areas, protected for their wildlife or geological value, are 
known as sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). 

They are the jewels in the crown of the English nature conservation 
world, but many continue to undergo severe damage. 

A report by English Nature says 58% of SSSIs by area are in good 
condition, while 42% need improvement. 

Exhaustive study 

It found that 44% were in a "favourable" state, with another 
14% "unfavourable but recovering". "Unfavourable with no change" 
described another 25% of sites, while 16% were "unfavourable and 

The report, England's Best Wildlife And Geological Sites: The 
Condition Of SSSIs In England In 2003, is the fruit of the first 
complete national assessment of SSSI condition. 

Over the last six years English Nature staff have assessed the 
condition of every site at least once. The organisation says it is 
the first time a full national assessment of this kind has been 
undertaken anywhere in the world. 

It says: "SSSIs represent the very best of the rich variety and 
abundance of wildlife and geology that makes England's nature special 
and distinct from any other country in the world. 

"They can be small areas that protect populations of a single 
species, or large expanses of upland moorland or coastal mudflats and 

"The smallest is a roof space in a private building in 
Gloucestershire used as a roost by lesser horseshoe bats, while the 
biggest covers a vast 62,000 hectares (153,000 acres) of mudflats and 
marshes in the Wash." 

There are 4,112 English SSSIs, covering 1,050,708 ha (2,596,000 
acres), about 7% of England. 

English Nature's chief executive, Dr Andy Brown, said: "The 
government has made a commitment to ensure 95% of all SSSIs are in 
favourable condition by 2010. 

"Meeting this challenge will be a huge effort for everyone. We must 
recognise that improving and maintaining England's natural assets 
needs ongoing investment, alongside changes to legislation and the 
reform of environmentally-damaging policies." 

Too many mouths 

English Nature says SSSIs are important in several ways: increasing 
our understanding of wildlife, contributing to tourism, recreation 
and food production, and sustaining natural processes vital to air, 
soils and climate. 

The report identifies a number of threats to the sites, chiefly 
overgrazing, inappropriate moorland burning and coastal management, 
and problems with freshwater quality and quantity. 

It says it is essential to reduce the numbers of sheep that are 
causing overgrazing in the uplands, while deer are a problem in 
forests and need to be controlled. 

English Nature says one of the most severe problems is diffuse 
pollution (pollutants which originate from a variety of sources 
rather than one easily-identified one). 

Dr Brown said: "This survey reinforces recent research from which we 
have already identified 105 wetland SSSIs affected by or at risk from 
diffuse agricultural pollution. They are now a priority for urgent 

English Nature says diffuse pollution is a threat to a wide range of 
habitats, including rivers, lakes, bogs, fens and coastal areas. 

It says: "It is not only sites suffering from heavy enrichment that 
cause concern - habitats that naturally have low levels of dissolved 
nutrients, such as upland rivers and lakes and many mire habitats, 
are highly sensitive to relatively low-level diffuse agricultural 

"A proactive, well-resourced government action plan for dealing with 
it is desperately needed." 


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