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