6 min read | September 21, 2023

Extent and condition of protected areas

In this blog post, we delve into environmental conservation in England through Indicator 1, one of the Government’s main indicators for assessing the state of Biodiversity and natural habitats in England.

In this blog post, we delve into environmental conservation in England through Indicator 1, one of the Government’s main indicators for assessing the state of Biodiversity and natural habitats in England. This indicator is reviewed in two parts. The first part, 1a, focuses on the extent of protected areas, both on land and at sea. It serves as critical mechanisms for preserving the nation's precious biodiversity and geological wonders. 

In the second part, indicator 1b sheds light on the proportion of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) features that meet set condition criteria. These features represent the unique species and habitats for which the sites have been designated. 

What are Site of Special Scientific Interest?

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are a cornerstone of environmental preservation in England, recognised and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. These sites represent the pinnacle of natural beauty and scientific importance, serving as havens for a myriad of rare and endangered species, unique habitats, and geological rarities. 

While their listing primarily serves as a governmental alert, signalling the scientific significance of these areas and the need for conservation in the face of proposed developments, the process of designating an SSSI is meticulous. Proposals for SSSI status can originate from various sources, including government bodies, academic institutions, NGOs, or individuals, but they must be supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Assessments weigh factors such as naturalness, uniqueness, scientific value in a regional context, and representativeness within their category. Through this rigorous process, SSSIs stand as vital guardians of England's biological and geological treasures, ensuring their protection for future generations to cherish.

Indicator Types - What’s Being Assessed?

There are two things being assessed in this indicator, extent and condition.

Extent, categorised as a Response indicator, provides insights into the scope and reach of protected areas designated for conservation purposes. It assesses the extent to which these areas safeguard wildlife and geological features on both land and sea, serving as a fundamental mechanism for biodiversity preservation. These protected areas act as legal safeguards for England's most invaluable ecological treasures.

Condition, classified as a State indicator, delves into the health and well-being of SSSI features. Condition indicators evaluate whether these vital components of biodiversity meet set condition criteria, offering a snapshot of their current state. 

This dual approach of Extent and Condition indicators allows for a comprehensive assessment of the conservation efforts in place, shedding light on the effectiveness of protecting England's natural wonders.

1a. Protected Areas at Land and Sea

The United Kingdom's protected areas have undergone a remarkable transformation, expanding by 13 million hectares (MHa) from December 2017 to March 2022. This growth, which has brought the total protected area to 40.6 MHa, is primarily attributed to the inclusion of marine sites, inshore and offshore. Meanwhile, land-based protected areas have increased by 8,613 hectares during the same period.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) provides an interactive map to view all of the UK’s protected marine areas. And Natural England provides an interactive map for protected areas on land. Both maps are a bit tricky to navigate, but provide a visual idea of what areas are protected and where. 

While the indicators are updated on a regular basis, Indicator 1a has temporarily had its data removed due to a methodological concern. Natural England and Defra have identified this issue, acknowledging the potential for overestimation in the data. While it's unfortunate that there is currently a lack of accurate and up-to-date information on this indicator, the willingness of these organisations to transparently address and rectify any discrepancies is commendable. It underscores the commitment to precision and the dedication to providing the most reliable insights into the state of protected areas and biodiversity conservation in England. As they work together to resolve this issue, we can anticipate even more accurate and robust data in the future, further strengthening our understanding of the nation's conservation efforts.

1b. Condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Recent data reveals that England is progressing in its goals to maintain SSSIs in favourable or recovering conditions. The Biodiversity 2020 strategy aims for at least 50% of SSSIs to be in favourable condition by 2020. As of March 2022, a notable 89.1% of sites were in favourable or unfavourable-no change recovering condition, demonstrating the ongoing commitment to their protection and management. SSSIs continue to play a crucial role in conserving the nation's biodiversity and geological treasures, ensuring that future generations can cherish these natural wonders.

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis

Founder of Joe’s Blooms
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Oliver Lewis is the founder of Joe’s Blooms, providing end-to-end digital solutions to help you create best-in-class Biodiversity Gain Plans. Expert in this field, he shares his knowledge on the Environment Bill.

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