Conservation Designations

This overview describes the statutory nature conservation designations which are most relevant to air pollution assessment. You will need to refer to the overviews of the appropriate legislation for details on the site protection.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) -England and Wales
Is a designation made by Natural England in England and NRW in Wales to preserve and enhance natural beauty by means of planning controls. The primary purpose is to conserve natural beauty but should also meet the demands for recreation as long as it is consistent with conservation aims and the needs of agriculture and forestry.

Areas of Special Protection (AOSPs)
These are established under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by orders made by the Secretary of State after appropriate consultation with owners and occupiers. The purpose of such orders is normally to provide sanctuary to particularly vulnerable groups of birds. AOSPs were previously designated as Bird Sanctuaries prior to 1981.

Biogenetic Reserves
This is a network of European sites to conserve representative examples of fauna, flora and natural areas. The designation is made by the Council of Europe following application by Government.

Biosphere Reserve
This is a UNESCO designation under their Man and the Biosphere Programme awarded to globally important areas for conservation study and sustainable development.

Local Nature Reserves (LNR)
LNRs are established by local authorities and are areas of local wildlife importance which can make a useful contribution both to nature conservation and to the opportunities for the public to see, learn about, and enjoy wildlife. Authorities are required to consult the appropriate statutory nature conservation agency about the establishment of such a reserve. This includes the provision for making byelaws

Marine Nature Reserves (MNR)
MNRs are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to conserve marine flora or fauna or geological or physiographical features or to allow study of such features. This includes the provision for making byelaws.

Natura 2000
This is a network of protected sites comprising Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive, and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the EC Birds Directive.

Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) (Scotland)
NHAs are intended to be special large discrete areas of the countryside of outstanding natural heritage value containing a wide range of nature conservation and landscape interests where integrated management will be encouraged taking account of recreational use and wider socio-economic activities. Powers to designate NHAs are set out in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991.

National Park
These are extensive tracts of countryside designated by government on the recommendation of the Natural England in England, NRW in Wales and SNH in Scotland by reason of its natural beauty and the opportunities it affords for open air recreation, and promoted for public enjoyment. The character of the national parks is maintained by means of planning controls.

National Scenic Areas
National Scenic Areas are nationally important areas of outstanding natural beauty. They were identified by Countryside Commission for Scotland (since incorporated into SNH) in the report "Scotland's Scenic Heritage" and introduced by the Government in 1980 under Town and Country Planning legislation.

National Nature Reserves (NNR)
NNRs are areas of national importance which are owned or leased by the conservation agencies or bodies approved by them, or are managed in accordance with agreements with landowners and occupiers. The essential characteristic of NNRs is that they are primarily for nature conservation value or educational/scientific research value. This includes the provision for making byelaws.

Ramsar Sites
The Ramsar Convention requires signatory states to protect wetlands that are of international importance, particularly as waterfowl habitats. This global convention was adopted at Ramsar in Iran in 1971 and provides a framework for international cooperation for conservation of wetlands. In meeting their obligations under the Convention, important wetland sites are designated. As a matter of policy Ramsar sites are treated as though designated as SPA or SAC.

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
SACs are designated by Government in meeting its obligations under the EC Habitats Directive (see also Natura 2000). These are the best areas to represent the range and variety of habitats and species within the European Union.

Special Protection Areas (SPA)
SPAs are designated by Government in meeting its obligations under the EC Birds Directive (see also Natura 2000). These are the most important habitats for rare and migratory birds within the European Union.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (or 'Areas of Special Scientific Interest' in Northern Ireland)
SSSIs (or ASSIs) are identified by the statutory nature conservation agencies on the basis of guidelines published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The conservation agency is required to notify the sites to the relevant owners and occupiers of the land, the Secretary of State and the appropriate local planning authority where it is of opinion that an area is of special scientific interest for its fauna, flora, geological or geomorphological interest. To protect SSSIs the conservation agencies specify to owners and occupiers the operations which they consider may be harmful to their conservation interest ('operations likely to damage'). Owners and occupiers are required to notify the conservation agencies where they wish to undertake any of the operations listed. Planning authorities are also required to consult where development is proposed which may affect a SSSI. SSSIs are the basis for all national and international nature conservation designations.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides site protection measures for SSSIs in England and Wales and obligations on public bodies. The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 provides measures for protection for SSSI in Scotland.

Special (local) landscape areas - Scotland
Areas where the scenery is highly valued locally, designated by local authorities to ensure that the landscape is not damaged by inappropriate development, and in some cases encourage positive landscape management.  The names used for such local landscape designations currently vary from one local authority to another. For example, they are termed 'Areas of Great Landscape Value' in Moray, 'Regional Scenic Areas' in Dumfries and Galloway and 'Sensitive Landscape Character Areas' in Ayrshire.

World Heritage Site
These are sites listed under the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and are considered by the Convention Committee on application by Governments which are signatories of the Convention. Sites listed require the necessary management and protection measures and be of global importance for its cultural or natural interest.

Further information on international sites can be found on the JNCC web site. See also Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales for information on national sites.