Sites of special scientific interest (SSSI): responsibilities of owners and occupiers
Update 26 September 2023
To check if land is designated a SSSI
To check if land is designated a SSSI, use DataMapWales.
To see documents for a SSSI, such as its reason for designation and location, use the designated sites search.
Get consent for activities on your SSSI
Activities that may damage the site
Each SSSI has a list of activities that we think are likely to damage the site’s special interest. These are OLDSI lists. Older sites may have a PDO list.
Before you carry out, or allow someone else to carry out, activities on that list, you must notify us in writing and obtain our consent.
You should have received a copy of the list when the site was being designated. You can also find the list using our designated sites search.
Submit a notice to carry out work.
You should tell us what you propose to do, and give details about where, when and how it will be carried out.
Attach any plans, photographs, method statements or maps that you feel will help us assess the potential impact of the activity.
Alternatively you can email SSSI.email@example.com, or send the information in writing to your local Natural Resources Wales office.
We must respond to your notification within 4 months, but will usually respond much faster.
If you do not receive a consent decision within 4 months, you should take this as a refusal of consent.
We are usually able to grant consent. We might need to add conditions such as when, where or how the activity is carried out. This is to safeguard the features of the site.
If we feel a proposal is likely to damage the site and it cannot be mitigated by conditions, we may refuse consent.
Refusals are rare. If we have concerns, we will work with you to make the proposal more acceptable.
You have the right to appeal our decisions. We will send you the appeals procedure with our decision letter.
Activities outside the SSSI boundary
You don’t need consent if the activity happens outside the SSSI boundary.
Seek advice from the site's conservation officer if you think the SSSI may be affected by your planned activity. If you damage the SSSI even though you are working outside it, you might still be committing an offence.
You don’t need consent for genuine emergency works. This might be if you need to act quickly to manage an immediate risk to life or property.
If the site is being damaged as a result of emergency works, you should report it to the incident hotline.
If your works are urgent but not an emergency, you will need our consent. Make this clear when you submit your notice and we will do our best to process this quickly.
Planning permission and other permits
If your works have planning permission, you don’t need our consent.
If a public authority has given you a permit for your works, you don't need our consent as long as they have formally considered the potential impact on the SSSI. Check this with the public authority. Seek our consent if they have not done this, or if you are unsure.
Statutory undertaker and public body works
Statutory undertakers and public bodies can have legal powers to enter land to carry out works. In this case they will have their own procedures for getting permission to work in SSSIs.
If they have legal powers to enter your land to carry out works, they will notify you.
However, if they ask for your permission to carry out works in your SSSI you might need our consent before you agree.
It is best to talk to us first if someone is proposing work on land you own which may affect a SSSI.
If you carry out works without consent
If you carry out an activity on the OLDSI list (or allow someone else to) without our consent, you'll be committing an offence unless one of the exceptions applies.
It is also an offence to carry out an activity on the list without following the conditions and time limits we issued in a consent.
If you damage the features of the site you may be prosecuted, fined, and made to repair the damage at your own expense.
Report changes to ownership and tenancy
You must tell us if there are changes to the ownership or tenancy of land within a SSSI within 28 days of:
- selling the land
- granting or changing tenancies
- selling or leasing sporting rights
- granting wayleaves or easements or surrendering any rights
Failure to do so may be an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.
You do not need to tell us about seasonal grazing licences. But you should inform licensees of the SSSI notification and the list of activities likely to damage its special features.
Managing your site
Each SSSI has a site management statement. This sets out why a site is special and how it should be managed. Find the statement for your site using the designated sites search.
We may be able to offer you a management agreement for your SSSI. This means you receive a payment if you agree to manage the land in a certain way. These run for at least five years.
You might qualify for agri-environment payments, such as Glastir. You'll need to agree to manage your site for the benefit of its special features.
Speak to the conservation officer for your site for more information.
Visits by our officers
We may visit your site to assess its condition. As well as giving you advice on sources of funding, we can discuss management practices and the law around protecting your site.
Damage to SSSIs
If your SSSI isn’t being cared for or is being damaged, we will try to resolve the issue with you. We'll give advice and work with you to reach an agreement. If this is not possible, we can:
- Send a warning letter
- Issue a management scheme explaining how the site should be managed, with or without including a financial offer
- Issue a management notice requiring specific works to be done (if the scheme is refused or not complied with)
- Enter the site to complete the work identified in the management notice (recovering costs from the person the notice was served to)
- Start legal proceedings, which can lead to a fine and the court imposing an order for the site to be restored at the offender’s expense
- In exceptional circumstances, pursue a compulsory purchase order
Report damage to a SSSI to us on our incident hotline.
When we designate or change a SSSI
We have powers to:
- Designate a new SSSI
- Extend an existing SSSI
- Remove protected status from some or all of the land in a SSSI
- Alter any of the details of a SSSI, such as the list of activities that require consent
If land that you own or occupy is affected by any of these changes, we will contact you.
You’ll have at least 3 months to respond to us with comments. You will be able to object if new land is being designated as a SSSI .
If your land becomes a SSSI, it does not give the public the right to access it.