Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are designated and legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (England and Wales) and the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 improved provisions for the protection and management of SSSIs in Britain. Sites in Northern Ireland, designated under The Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002,are known as Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs).
SSSIs are designated as areas "of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, or geological or physio-graphical features"1. SSSIs are primarily land-based, but some sites extend below the low water mark. It is an offence for any person to intentionally or recklessly damage the protected natural features of an SSSI.
Notice is made to the Secretary of State, local planning authorities, owners and occupiers, with any objections considered by the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Body (SNCB) before a decision to confirm the notification is made.
Selection criteria vary between Earth Science SSSIs and Biological SSSIs. For biological sites designation is based on a set of criteria including naturalness, diversity, typicalness, size, fragility and rarity. ASSIs have their own selection guidelines published by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Coastal ASSIs were designated after a 1980s survey of Northern Ireland’s coast and consultation with landowners and statutory bodies.
Some activities in SSSIs/ ASSIs need consent from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot or DAERA. For ASSIs, these are known as ‘Notifiable Operations’. The relevant SNCB will seek a way of managing the operation to prevent damage to the designated features.