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Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

The SSSI/ASSI series has been developed since 1949. SSSIs and ASSIs together comprise a nationally important series of areas representing the best of the UK's natural heritage, and the SSSI/ASSI system is the main nature conservation designation in the United Kingdom.

The term 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI) applies to an area of land that has been notified under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as being of 'special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features'. Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland are designated under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

These sites underpin other national and international nature conservation designations. Most SSSIs are privately owned or managed, although some are owned or managed by public bodies or NGOs.

SSSIs have specific guidelines to protect the special interest of the site from damage or deterioration. SSSI status does not alter land use, but local authorities, owners and occupiers must consult with the four conservation agencies, Countryside Council for Wales, Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage for any developments or activities which could affect the site. In 1992 Government increased protection for SSSIs within the land use planning system by withdrawing permitted development rights for certain temporary uses of land and indicating that the Secretary of State would generally call in and determine planning applications which would significantly affect sites of national and international importance.

Geological SSSIs represent the best geology and geomorphology reflecting the UK's geodiversity. Sites are chosen for their past, current and future contributions to the science of geology and include coastal and upland areas, quarries, pits, mines, cuttings, and active landforms. There are about 4000 Earth science SSSIs in Great Britain – 2300 in England, 1455 in Scotland and 450 in Wales, all of which are identified in the Geological Conservation Review (GCR),– and 300 equivalents (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland.

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