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Sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs)

Find out why SSSIs are protected, how they are selected and notified, and how they are managed

What are SSSIs?

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are the most important sites for Wales’ natural heritage. They help conserve and protect the best of our wildlife, geological and physiographical heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.

Our SSSIs include coastline, freshwater, upland and lowland sites and range from small fens or sand dunes to woodlands and vast reaches of mountain. They contain important types of land, plants and wildlife. Geological sites range from quarries to rocky outcrops and massive sea-cliffs.

Where are the SSSIs in Wales?

There are more than 1,000 SSSIs in Wales, covering about 12% of the country’s surface area.

You can find details of all SSSIs in Wales, including location, reason for notification, condition and management team contact details, by using our designated sites search.

Why are SSSIs important?

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are important as they support plants, animals and habitats that are rare, declining or unique, they also protect the best examples of Wales’s geology.

SSSIs are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Read more about this legislation on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

Many SSSIs are also designated under other schemes too, recognising them as the very best examples of natural heritage sites in Wales, the UK, Europe and worldwide. Find out about sites of European and international importance.

How SSSIs are protected

Each SSSI is protected by law from damage through development or unsuitable management or other activities.  They are also protected through working partnerships and agreements with owners and others who manage the sites.

Guidance for owners and occupiers of sites of special scientific interest

Find out about what to do if you manage land in a protected site.

How are SSSIs selected and notified?

Natural Resources Wales is responsible for selecting and notifying SSSIs in Wales.

We choose sites carefully after detailed survey and evaluation against published criteria available on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website. There are different selection criteria for geological sites

We select areas of land that we consider to be of national importance for:

  • fauna (animals)
  • flora (plants)
  • geology (rocks)
  • or geomorphology (landforms)

When notifying a new SSSI, we contact every owner and occupier to discuss why we are proposing the designation and what it would mean to them.  This is followed by a formal consultation process.

You will then have three months to make any objections to the SSSI notification.

Changes to notifications

We may change the details of an existing notification if the special interest of an SSSI changes, or extend the SSSI if land nearby is found to be of interest. Proposals to vary or extend existing SSSI are treated in the same way as new notifications.

We only withdraw a SSSI designation in exceptional cases where an SSSI loses its features of special interest and there is no prospect of restoring them. Illegal damage or neglect would not lead to a withdrawal of notification.

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