SSSIs are great, let’s have more

Two of the amazing trees at Hatfield House

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee recently asked for views on their revised guidance for designation of SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). The Ancient Tree Forum, supported by the Woodland Trust, took the opportunity to highlight once again that wood pastures and parkland and areas of abundant veteran trees are poorly represented by SSSIs and SACs (Special Area of Conservation). It means that even sites of international importance are extremely vulnerable and owners are excluded from funding streams. The Forum says that although good guidance will help, without greater government commitment and specific resources to address the problems, there will be little change.  The administrative bottleneck to SSSI and SAC/SPA designation should be addressed and stakeholders should be invited to participate more in the process.

The Forum, the Woodland Trust and the Tree Register of the British Isles have made a start to build more comprehensive information about ancient and veteran trees across the UK through the Ancient Tree Hunt to show where they are most abundant. However without government support for initiatives like this and commitment to the development of an inventory of wood pasture and parkland and other priority habitats, appropriate habitats may easily remain underrepresented. The Forum says that an even greater emphasis on seeking expert knowledge is necessary as a way of overcoming gaps in survey information.

The guidance goes as far as it can to in broadening the SSSI designation process to address the landscape scale issues highlighted in the Lawton Review. Protection and care of these core sites is vital, however it doesn’t go far enough and the Government needs to look at ways of recognising the value within the wider ecological network and how to re-create value, where it will have greatest significance, for long term sustainability of biodiversity.

Jill Butler, Conservation Adviser (Ancient Trees)


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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17 Responses to SSSIs are great, let’s have more

  1. anon says:

    the rule you cant build a residential home within 400mtrs of an SSSI is insane. Esp on the grounds that it increases the chances of dogs fouling etc. totaly retarded!!

    • Antony Croft says:

      I agree with Anon, 400mtrs is nothing, just the presence of infrastructure and the increasing foot traffic would be an immense pressure to a SSSI system.

      • The Woodland Trust and Ancient Tree Forum have lobbied hard for a greater root protection areas around ancient trees in relation to construction during the consultation on BS5837 Trees in relation to construction. Your voices would be welcome in future consultations as currently for all trees the Root Protection Area is capped at a radius of 15m from the trunk of the tree. Its not just SSSI’s that need some sort of buffer.

    • It’s an interesting point Anon. Do you have an idea of how far away you’d like new homes to be in relation to SSSIs? The subject of buffering SSSIs did get mentioned in the consultation document, so it will be interesting to see what is proposed when JNCC publish their results and comment on the consultation responses.

      • Antony Croft says:

        Whilst i can understand a limit with regards to 15mtrs in BS5837 in reality that is farcical because it allows a tree to be retained in for example a traffic island as long as its trunk is centred in a 30 mtr roundabout. just the shift in water regimes would kill it in the longer haul. developers arent to blame, its their job to squeeze these homes in to an ever decreasing amount of available land. Its the planning bods with NO IDEA about trees or ecology that are to blame for allowing development to occur near ancient trees or woodland. Beck Row in suffolk will be an interesting case to follow, a mimi Staverton that has had a housing estate built on its fringe, already arson is occurring, littering etc.

  2. Antony Croft says:

    Thanks Kay, maybe i will take that advice and remind Natural England of the obligations they have and try one last time. This kind of disappointing interaction with such bodies is why I do not bother anymore, Your thoughts however hint at there being a way to give them a kick up the proverbial into acknowledging! lets hope that they do not then try to tell me im unqualified to handle such affairs and need an eco degree or to go away until I have one!

  3. Antony Croft says:

    SSSI doesn’t seem to offer that much protection if you ask me, I’ve just seen the widespread clearance of all vegetation from around a cluster of ponds (chorleywood common) designated for crested newts, sure the ponds are given protected status but the vegetation including the deadwood on the floor and scrub which protected these LAND animals is now gone, exposing them at a critical time when they must enter and leave the ponds to predators as they cross what must be to them a vast tract of desert! The woodland is being opened up to “select” the “preferred acid grasses” what a joke, sorry but all this sssi and conservation is just talk, ask ecologists on the ground whats going on in these areas and its a different story.

    PR is hollow

    • jillbutleratf says:

      Managing habitats is challenging – what suits some species may have implications for others. In principle the SSSI designation is intended to draw out the features that make the habitat very special so that management can focus on keeping it special. The UKs biodiversity would be much poorer without the SSSI designation, however we would agree it is not the whole answer. In the case of pond management it is usual not to clear the whole area all at once, but there maybe special circumstances in the case above. The Woodland Trust believes in stakeholder consultation on the management of sites – have you discussed your concerns with the owners of Chorleywood Common or Natural England?

      • Antony Croft says:

        Jill without a qualification to my name I am at all enquiries just a busy body making one of those pain in the butt calls/complaints that go unanswered and that includes natural England who fail to reply to several enquiries over the years. I have zero faith in conservation bodies

        • jillbutleratf says:

          The Woodland Trust were at the forefront of the development of the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme that is a voluntary, audited scheme allowing owners to demonstrate the sustainable management of woods. One of the commitments is to listen to stakeholder comment, that could come from anyone, especially at the time the management plan is reviewed – every 5 years. While SSSIs do not automatically fit into a scheme like this, I would not underestimate the value of a well written letter to the owners of the site asking if input would be welcomed and if so the timing of the management review period – the moment when your input would be best lodged. However you do need to do the homework and quote any published good practice in the management of ponds.

          • Antony Croft says:

            Jill they dont reply to me! I contacted natural England regarding a tree I wanted to reduce hosting Hericium erinaceus (BAP) priority species, NOTHING! Not that this is the time and place to be ranting. just wanted to say as far as “the authorities” go I gave up.

          • Kaye Brennan says:

            Anthony, how disappointing! Our campaigners have similar experiences often, not necessarily with agencies like Natural England alone but with MPs and Government departments, local decision-makers and so on, too. I know myself, as someone active in the community outside of my day job, how frustrating and disheartening this can be – and you know I’m going to say ‘keep it up!’. It’s my advice to everyone. Not only because agencies and Gov departments have a duty to respond! Maybe there is another person or group or organisation who can help as a ‘champion’… maybe using platforms like local media can help. Many voices make an issue much harder to ignore. Reminding them of their own policies and standards, like community engagement and so on, can help too. They will come round, sometimes with compromises – but even better you can help others to realise the benefits of or sense in what you’re saying, they could start to say it too!

            When it comes to qualifications, or lack of – one of the main things we know from our Woods under Threat work is that local, whether that be resident, visitor or worker, is the voice which really counts – in fact we set up our WoodWatch campaign based on that knowledge. When it comes to decisions that affect a local area in particular local authorities are actually more likely to listen more to people on the ground, local practitioners and experts like you, than organisations. Best of luck 🙂

  4. JOHN SMALL says:

    Sorry! No comment.

  5. Gareth William says:

    I have recently become bemused by the Woodland Trust. Your cry of ‘Trees’ at every possible moment can be easily ‘justified’ but I fear it is increasingly at odds with the realities we are facing. Are SSSI’s good? Yes, because they contain trees and we need more protection for trees (what about valid questions about further gold plating by designation landscapes, when all landscapes matter). DO we need to strengthen TPOs? Yes we need all trees protected (what about the simple fact that TPOs tend to be seen as a negative aspect of trees). Is HS2 a bad thing? yes trees will be cut down (sustainable development may require large and non fossil fuel technology, and the EIAs are yet to be published). How do we solve drought? Get farmers to plant more trees! (shade limitation and food security issues aside, what possible benefit is there for a normal arable farmer?) These issues are huge, and the answers are not found in the repetition of shouting the need for more trees. How will all these trees survive, when maintenance of trees and pay for those who do such work is minimal and unsustainable? It does look, no matter how you may try to avoid it, that you simply scour the news looking for any issue that involves the natural world or any consultation and grab the opportunity to scream for trees. The problem with this is that it is not that simple and you seem to be heading towards a battle against societal needs if continued.

    Are SSSI’s a good thing, yes – do we need more? Ummm that requires a considerable amount of thought and a considerable amount of discussion between all stakeholders. Would you advocate that? I strongy feel that consultations re all issues should be dealt with in the same manner as would be seen by judicial process, a respect to allow others to think and a respect for others opinion. These are not issues put out there to see who can gain the most publicity.

    • jillbutleratf says:

      We would wholeheartedly agree that all landscapes matter. We argued in our consultation response that we do need mechanisms or designations that work at a landscape scale and not just for isolated small sites. However if important habitats are poorly represented in the SSSI series then owners and society miss out. In too many situations trees fall through the system as they are not seen as as ‘habitat’ and because the trees such as oak are ‘common’ they are not a focus for action compared with rare species. Trees in woods and outside woods are model citizens – they work hard for the environment, landscape and beauty all the time – what isn’t good to shout about.

  6. Bhola Nath says:

    Older the tree richer is its bio-diversity,scientific studies have shown that the loss of 1% young trees account for loss of 1% Bio-mass while loss of 1% old trees account for loss of half % bio-mass —–old is gold let us protect & preserve them

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