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Protected areas of land and seas

Find out which areas of land and seas around Wales are protected, how they are managed, and what you need to do if you are a land owner or occupier

What are protected areas and special sites?

About 30% of Wales' land and waters have been chosen as special sites – either for their wildlife, their scenic beauty or value as geological sites

Nature sites, areas of countryside and our seas can be ‘designated’, which means they have special status as protected areas because of their natural or cultural importance.

There are restrictions on activities and developments that might affect a designated or protected area, eg building new houses or roads in these areas, including areas next to those areas.

Which areas and sites are protected in Wales?

You can find different kinds of protected areas, eg wetland sites, national parks or special scientific sites, across the Wales, including:

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest - the most important sites for Wales’ natural heritage. They are highly protected to safeguard the range, quality and variety of habitats, species and geological features in all parts of Wales. They are the cornerstones of conservation work, protecting the core of our natural heritage
  • Sites protected by european and international law – including Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protected Areas, and Ramsar sites
  • Marine Protected Areas - areas of sea, seabed or shore protected under other laws such as Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, Marine Conservation Zones and Ramsar Sites
  • National Nature Reserves - These are the very finest examples of our wildlife habitats and geological features
  • National Parks – Large areas designated by law to protect their special landscape qualities and promote outdoor recreation. National Parks have their own Authorities, which control planning
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Protected by law because of their special landscape qualities, wildlife, geology and geography. They have more protection than other areas under the planning process and, in terms of landscape and scenery, are equal to National Parks
  • Heritage Coasts – Stretches of outstanding, unspoilt coastline, usually cared for by local authorities. They account for nearly half of Wales’ coastline

How are they protected?

Areas of land and seas that have been designated as protected:

  • have clear boundaries
  • have people and laws to make sure that the nature and wildlife aren’t harmed or destroyed
  • can sometimes be used by people for recreation and study

Landscapes are protected either by national law or by local authorities.

How we manage protected sites

Natural Resources Wales has a legal duty to look after the precious Welsh landscape by

  • advising Welsh Government on which areas should be designated and protected
  • awarding partnership funding to projects that will improve the landscape and bring environmental benefits for people, the economy and wildlife
  • advising planners on developments that may affect the landscape and wildlife of protected sties

What you need to do if you own or manage land in a protected site

You might need to do certain things if you’re opening a new business or building a home that may affect a protected area.

View our guidance on what to do if you manage land or sea in a protected site.

Development on protected sites

Before allowing any development that might affect a protected area, planning authorities, developers and utility companies must consult with us.

View our guidance about developing on protected land or sea

Newly designated areas

We will contact landowners and other stakeholders directly and carry out consultations on behalf of Welsh Government about any new restrictions if your business affects a newly designated area.

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