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Countryside site designations

Conservation designations - what do they mean?

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Local Nature Reserves
National Nature Reserves
Ramsar sites
Regionally Important Geological Sites
Sites of nature conservation importance
Sites of special scientific interest
Special Areas of Conservation
Special Protection Areas

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

An AONB is designated for its landscape and scenic beauty. This means that an AONB is not necessarily an area of high nature conservation value, but in practice it often includes many areas which are. AONBs and National Parks are actually of equal importance for landscape and scenic beauty, the difference is that National Park Authorities exist and have special powers to conserve and enhance National Parks. With a few exceptions, no such authorities or powers exist for AONBs at the moment. AONBs in England are designated by the Countryside Agency.
There is a presumption against development in AONBs.

Much of the Borough of Waverley is within the Surrey Hills AONB:

Spanning Surrey from east to west, the Surrey Hills AONB is a much-loved and much-used area. The AONB links together a chain of varied upland landscapes including the North Downs. Rising near Guildford as the narrow Hog's Back, the ridge of the downs stretches away to the Kent border, an unmistakable chalk landscape of swelling hills and beech-wooded combes with a steep scarp crest looking south to the Weald.
The downs are paralleled to the south by an undulating wooded greensand ridge, rising at Leith Hill to southeast England's highest point (294m). In the west, sandy open heathland, typified by Frensham Common, stretches away to the Hampshire border.

Local Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves (or LNRs) are for both people and wildlife. They are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally, which give people special opportunites to study and learn about them or simply enjoy and have contact with nature.

There are over 600 LNRs in England today ranging from windswept coastal headlands, ancient woodlands and flower rich meadows to former inner city railways, long abandoned landfill sites and industrial areas. In total they cover over 29 000 ha, forming an impressive natural resource which makes an important contribution to England's biodiversity.

LNR's are designated by principal Local Authorities. Parish and town councils can also declare LNRs but they must have the powers to do so delegated to them by the principal local authority (e.g. Waverley Borough Council).

There are two Local Nature Reserves in Waverley - The Flashes at Frensham Common and Rowhill Copse which straddles the Surrey/Hampshire border and is owned by Rushmoor Borough Council.

National Nature Reserves

National Nature Reserves (NNRs) are places where wildlife comes first. They were established to protect the most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations in Britain, and as places for scientific research. This does not mean they are "no-go areas" for people. It means that we must be careful not to damage the wildlife of these fragile places.

NNR's are nationally important and are among the best examples of a particular habitat; and so are carefully managed on behalf of the nation. They are either owned or controlled by English Nature or held by approved bodies such as Wildlife Trusts.

At the end of March 2000 there were 200 NNRs in England covering 80,533 hectares. The majority of NNRs have some form of access but to make it easier for visitors English Nature have "spotlighted" 31 reserves that offer the best opportunities to experience wildlife and the countryside.

Ramsar sites

Ramsar sites are designated under the International Convention on ‘Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat' that was held in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. The UK Government is committed to designate ‘wetlands of international importance' as Ramsar sites and to use the wetlands within its territory wisely.

There are 64 Ramsar sites in England, out of a total of 138 in the UK.

The majority of Ramsar sites are stretches of coast, rivers and estuaries. Thursley Common (managed by English Nature) is the only Ramsar site in Waverley.

Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS)

Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS), identified by locally developed criteria, are currently the most important places for geology and geomorphology outside statutorily protected land such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

RIGS were introduced in 1990 and are analogous to SNCIs and other non-statutory wildlife designations.  They can be listed in local authorities' development plans.    RIGS can be protected through the planning system if a RIGS group recommends sites to the local planning authority.  Conservation and management of sites will usually depend upon agreements and co-operation with landowners. 

Sites of Nature Conservation Importance

The Planning Authority for an area may designate certain areas as being of local conservation interest. This is the lowest tier of conservation designation, and varies from area to area. The criteria for inclusion, and the level of protection provided, if any, may not be exactly the same in all areas. In England and Wales most individual counties have a different scheme, although most such schemes are similar, and some are identical. The local plan will designate a certain level of protection for such areas. This will be a purely planning protection, i.e. it will provide a limited level of protection against developments of certain types. However, it provides no protection at all for species and habitats as such, nor does it have any effect upon management - or lack of it.

In Waverley, 8 sites have been selected as SNCI, although many others have been put forward as being important for nature conservation:
Snayleslynch
Dunsfold Common and Green   
Farnham Park
Lammas Lands
Westbrook, Elstead           
Ewhurst Cricket field           
Bunch Lane Woodland       
Grayswood Green Cricket field

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) represent the UK's best sites for wildlife and geology. Well over half, by area, are internationally important and many play an important part in local culture and economies or provide wonderful opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife and landscape. The national wildlife and geological features of SSSIs are irreplaceable parts of our national heritage.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest are notified throughout Great Britain, however, English Nature is responsible for identifying and protecting these sites in England. English Nature has a duty to notify as an SSSI any land, which, in its opinion, is of special scientific interest because of its flora, fauna, geological or physiological features.

At present the very limited resources available to English Nature means that new SSSIs are largely confined to sites under threat, rather than the many other sites that qualify for SSSI status but which are not currently being damaged in any way.

There are 15 SSSIs in Waverley Borough:
Blackheath Common
Bourley and Long Valley
Brook Brick Pit (Geological)
Charleshill
Charterhouse to Eashing
Chiddingfold Forest
Devil's Punch Bowl
Gong Hill
Moor Park
Netherside Stream Outcrops (Geological)
Smokejack Clay Pit (Geological)
Stockstone quarry (Geological)
Thursely, Hankley and Frensham Commons
Wey valley meadows
Hankley Farm

New law to protect our wildlife!

English Nature's views on the new Countryside and Rights of Way Act in relation to SSSIs:

"Ever growing pressures on our landscape and countryside mean that SSSIs are an increasingly precious part of our natural heritage. English Nature is confident that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (see below) will bring vastly improved protection for our SSSIs. Government's target is to bring 95% England's SSSIs into 'favourable' condition by 2010. We look forward to the challenge of playing a major role in achieving this target".

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

"The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) strengthens the powers of English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales to ensure the better protection and management of SSSIs. The CROW Act improves the legislation for protecting and managing SSSIs so that:

(Extracts from English Nature

Special Areas of Conservation

The European Commission passed a Directive in 1992 requiring the establishment of a series of high quality Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) across Europe that would make a significant contribution to conserving habitats and species.  This European wide network of sites is designed to promote the conservation of habitats, wild animals and plants, both on land and at sea.  

The directive lists the internationally important habitats and species that occur throughout the Member States (countries in the European Union). The UK is home to 51 out of the 623 species listed in the directive.

When selecting possible SACs in the UK, the Government took advice from the statutory nature conservation agencies:

Joint Nature Conservation Committee
English Nature
Countryside Commission for Wales
Scottish Natural Heritage
Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland

Sites were formally submitted to the European Commission as ‘candidate (proposed) SACs'. Agreed lists of candidate SACs for all Member States must be finally designated by June 2004.

141 candidate SACs have been proposed in England and a total of 340 in the UK.

Thursley, Hankley & Frensham Commons in Waverley have together been put forward as a candidate SAC.

Special Protection Areas

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are designated under the European Commission Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (1979).  Under this directive, the UK Government must designate SPAs to conserve the habitat of certain rare or vulnerable birds (listed in the directive) and regularly occurring migratory birds. It has to protect SPAs from any pollution, disturbance or deterioration.

There are 73 Special Protection Areas in England out of a total of 219 in the UK.

Thursley, Hankley and Frensham Commons in Waverley have together been designated a SPA (because they are all important areas of heathland with specialised birds associated with this habitat).

Other resources
Page information

This page owned by:
Helen Boulden (Countryside Projects Assistant)
Email: hboulden@waverley.gov.uk
Tel: 01483 523392

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