Protecting Ancient Habitat

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/15/2020 - 07:08

 We have lost nearly our entire ancient habitat but fragments remain as a result of legal protection afforded them. Despite this protection our remaining ancient habitats are still under threat and a the system is always being tested by planning applications for various purposes being submitted, each one trying to push back the boundaries of protection. I have no wish to enter into a political debate but it worries me when, in 2014, the Minister for the Environment considers it appropriate to allow development on a protected ancient woodland site provided another site nearby has ten times as many trees planted on it to balance out the loss. It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to create an ancient woodland; you cannot replace it with some trees planted somewhere else. I will put my soap box away!Some idea of the protection of habitat that the law provides might be helpful?Site of Special Scientific Interest: SSSI's, as they are known, are intended to "conserve and protect the best of our wildlife, geological and physiographical heritage for the benefit of present and future generations". So says a government paper on the matter. It claims that there are over 4,000 SSSIs in England covering 8% of the country. To be granted SSSI status and to benefit from protection a site has to be notified by the government's advisory body, Natural England. To be notified the site has to have particular features or species that are either rare or threatened. As part of the notifying process the condition of the site has to be recorded and a management plan put in place to maintain or improve its condition. Owners of land designated as a SSSI have clear guidelines on what they can and cannot do with the land outlined in the management plan. Land owners can apply for funds to fulfil their responsibilities under the management plan.The system of creating and managing SSSIs was set up under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 well over thirty years ago,National Nature Reserves:Some of the best wildlife sites in Britain are designated as National Nature Reserves. These reserves receive the highest level of protection and the highest degree of management input from Natural England. Dorset is blessed with several National Nature Reserves including the wonderful Durlston Country Park and the lesser known, but none less impressive, Hog Cliff. Local Nature Reserves:Local authorities have the power to designate local nature reserves. A local nature reserve does not have to be a SSSI and does not have to have any specific wildlife 'value'. They can be designated to protect vulnerable species but more often they are designated to provide people with local green space for exercise and relaxation (which is a commendable purpose in its own right). Local Nature Reserves are protected from development (unless the local authority decides to withdraw the protection) but are often subjected to extreme pressures from local human habitation (dog mess, mountain bikes, trials bikes, small fires, vandalism, etc). Despite this local nature reserves are a valuable resource.International Protection:In addition to UK legislation there are European directives, known as Natura 2000, which provide protection and sites can be designated as being of 'special areas of conservation' or 'special protection areas'. There are also international protections afforded by RAMSAR agreements for wetlands of international importance, UNESCO biosphere reserves and World Heritage Sites and, in Dorset, we have the Jurassic Coast world heritage site of course. In Britain we also have the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It should be borne in mind that not all SSSIs are nature reserves and not all nature reserves are SSSs. A site being a SSSI or a nature reserve does not guarantee its protection but every little helps! A protected site left unmanaged to maintain its ancient characteristics will become pretty well worthless.