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Designated sites

Our designated sites

We manage all of our sites and landholdings for conservation. This includes working to enhance biodiversity and carrying out plans to improve the habitat for wildlife.

We own several internationally important sites with European and England designations, such as:

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest – SSSI
  • Special Area of Conservation - SAC
  • Special Protection Area – SPA, and
  • Ramsar wetland sites


Our designated sites include:

  • The eastern side of Ibsley lake (SSSI, SPA, Ramsar)
  • Christchurch Harbour (SSSI)
  • Knapp Mill water meadows (SSSI)
  • Town Common (SSSI)
  • the River Avon (SAC, SSSI).

SPAs and SACs

The Birds Directive (1979) and Habitats Directive (1992) are two of the most influential pieces of European legislation for nature conservation, giving Europe’s rarest plants, animals and types of habitat the highest levels of protection. These Directives led to the creation of:

  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – aimed at the protection of wild birds, their nests, eggs and habitats,
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – aimed at the protection of other animals, plants and habitats

SPAs are classified to help protect and manage areas which are important for rare and vulnerable birds, whether used for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration.

SACs provide increased protection for a variety of animals, plants and habitats other than birds. They can cover large areas, encompassing a number of separate but related sites and are based on sites of special scientific interest (SSSI). The legislation provides the legal framework for the creation of a network of protected wildlife areas across the EU known as Natura 2000.


The international convention of wetlands held at Ramsar, Iran in 1971 provided a mechanism to protect wetlands of international importance. There are only 1,611 Ramsar wetland sites worldwide and countries sign up to this intergovernmental treaty to protect the world’s best wetland habitats.


Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) represent the very best wildlife and geological sites in the country. They support rare plants and animals that find it difficult to survive in the wider countryside.

There are over 4,000 SSSIs in England covering 7% of the land area. Our SSSI designated land covers a range of habitats.

Natural England assesses SSSIs in five categories of condition:

  1. favourable
  2. unfavourable recovering
  3. unfavourable no change
  4. unfavourable declining, and
  5. destroyed/part destroyed

The current government target for Special Protection Areas is to increase the area of SSSIs in favourable condition, whilst maintaining 95% in favourable or recovering condition. We are currently meeting this target.

Press Office

Journalists can contact the Press Office on 01392 443020 or via email


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