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Sites of Special Scientific Interest
The designation process
Parasol mushroom growing in heather on Thetford Heath SSSI - Paul Glendell

Notification as a SSSI gives legal protection to the best sites for wildlife and geology in England. The first SSSIs were identified in 1949 when the then Nature Conservancy notified local authorities of SSSIs, so their conservation interest could be taken into account during the planning process. Natural England now has responsibility for identifying and protecting the SSSIs in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000).

By law, we must notify all owners and occupiers of any land that we consider to be of special interest because of any of its flora, fauna, or geological and physiographical features. We must also inform the local planning authority, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and certain public bodies, such as the Environment Agency, water and sewerage companies and internal drainage boards about SSSIs.

An SSSI is also registered as a local land charge, which means that all future owners and occupiers are also bound by the laws protecting SSSIs.

Owners and occupiers are given four months to make objections and representations about the notification of a new SSSI. When we notify owners and occupiers, we send them a package of information to explain the legal implications of a notification, including:

  • a citation detailing the reasons for notification
  • a statement of Natural England's views on the management of the SSSI. These views may closely reflect the current management of the site, especially if this has contributed to developing its wildlife value
  • a list of operations requiring Natural England's consent for the SSSI
  • a map showing the SSSI.

Any objections or issues the owners and occupiers raise within the four month period are then considered by Natural England's Board before they decide whether to confirm or withdraw a notification.

Recent notification packages for notifications can be viewed on the new notifications page.


The Board of Natural England decides whether or not to confirm a notified SSSI. Members of the Board are appointed by the Secretary of State, and are independent of Natural England staff and the Executive Committee. The Board will use their own personal and expert judgement on the issue, and will carefully consider all concerns and objections.

Changes to the SSSI

If the special scientific interest of a SSSI changes, we may change the details of the notification. We may also extend the SSSI if land nearby is found to be of scientific interest. Proposals to vary or extend SSSIs are treated in the same way as new notifications.

If SSSIs, or parts of SSSIs, lose their features of special interest and there is no prospect of the interest being restored, the SSSI designation may be withdrawn, a process called 'de-notification'. Sites are only denotified in exceptional cases. Sites that have been illegally damaged, or suffered from neglect, will not be denotified.

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