Secret Spaces: the status of Local Wildlife Sites 2014

A Local Wildlife Site in Leicestershire (credit Neil Talbot)A Local Wildlife Site in Leicestershire (credit Neil Talbot)

Local Wildlife Sites (LWSs) are identified and selected for their local nature conservation value. They protect threatened species and habitats acting as buffers, stepping stones and corridors between nationally-designated wildlife sites.

Secret Spaces: the status of Local Wildlife Sites 2014

On 22 December 2014, The Wildlife Trusts published two reports: The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites 2014 and a shorter summary report Secret Spaces: The status of Local Wildlife Sites 2014.  The reports are available below.  You can read the media release here.

The reports are based on a survey of 48 of the 53 Local Wildlife Site partnerships across England – the 48 partnerships collectively cover all but eight English local authority areas and three of the ten National Park areas.

The survey, which is the seventh in a series of surveys conducted by The Wildlife Trusts, found that more than 11% of 6,590 Local Wildlife Sites monitored in the period 2009 – 2013 were lost or damaged. Forty five partnerships reported that they urgently need more resources to ensure the effective identification, management and protection of Local Wildlife Sites in their area and to combat the causes of neglect, inappropriate management and development pressures that threaten these sites.

Summary report                                                               Full report



Local Wildlife Sites - on this page

What are Local Wildlife Sites?

There are over 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites across England

Local Wildlife Sites (LWSs) are wildlife-rich sites selected for their local nature conservation value. They vary in shape and size and can contain important, distinctive and threatened habitats and species. In many parts of the UK, they are the principal wildlife resource but their designation is non-statutory and their only protection comes via the planning system. They are not protected by law like SSSIs or National Nature reserves. Whilst SSSIs are a representative sample that meet national criteria, LWSs include all sites that meet local selection criteria. Many are owned by private individuals.

How are Local Wildlife Sites selected?

Local partnerships oversee the selection of LWSs using robust, scientifically-determined criteria and a local knowledge and understanding of the area’s natural environment. LWS partnerships are made up of a great variety of stakeholders including local authorities, public bodies, nature conservation NGOs and landowners large and small.

Why are LWSs important?

Fragrant orchid on a Local Wildlife Site in SussexLWS play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, protecting threatened species and habitats, and acting as links and corridors between nationally designated sites such as nature reserves and SSSIs.

The Making Space for Nature report (September 2010) stated that: ‘Local Wildlife Sites are important to future ecological networks, because they not only provide wildlife refuges in their own right but can act as stepping stones and corridors to link and protect nationally and internationally designated sites’. Where SSSIs are scarce in some parts of the country, the great majority of wildlife is found in LWSs. Nottinghamshire is a good example as only 1.5% of the land area is SSSI whilst LWSs cover 10%.

Many LWS have an urban or suburban location making them vital spaces for wildlife in towns and cities. Over 19% of LWSs are in, or within, 500m of urban areas compared with just 3.6% of SSSIs.

What is a Local Wildlife Site system?

A Local Wildlife Site system is the partnership-run approach for identifying, selecting, monitoring and protecting Local Wildlife Sites (LWS). Multiple bodies are involved in these systems, including local authorities, landowners, government agencies and local Wildlife Trusts. Systems are most commonly administered on a county or unitary authority scale.

Local Wildlife Sites and The Wildlife Trusts

For more than 35 years, The Wildlife Trusts have worked with local authorities, statutory agencies, landowners and other local partners to establish effective systems for identifying, managing and monitoring Local Wildlife Sites throughout England. Within these partnerships, The Wildlife Trusts often play a significant role in helping to secure the:
• sensitive management of these sites through the provision of landowner advice and support and
• protection of these sites by influencing the development and application of local and national planning policies

The film below shows how Local Wildlife Sites are integral to Kent Wildlife Trust's conservation work to create a Living Landscape across Kent.




Local Wildlife Site is the generic term promoted for these sites in England since 2006. Historically however, there have been more than 20 local variations to the terminology used to name these sites many of which are still in use including: 

• Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC)
• Wildlife Sites (sometimes prefixed with County, Key or Special)
• Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI)
• Site of Local Nature Conservation Interest
• Biological Heritage Sites
• Sites of Biological Importance
• Biodiversity Alert Sites

Regardless of the term adopted locally, they are all wildlife-rich sites selected for their local nature conservation value using robust, scientifically developed criteria.

Local Wildlife Sites are different to Local Green Spaces

Local Wildlife Sites should be distinguished from the new Local Green Space designation which was introduced in the 2011 Localism Act. Local Green Spaces may be selected for wildlife value, but unlike Local Wildlife Sites selection could also be selected solely on their local community significance for beauty, historic importance, recreational value and tranquility. There are also limits to the location and scale of these spaces, which does not apply to Local Wildlife Sites.

Local Wildlife Sites and the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) in England

Planning policy and practice should provide greater protection to habitats and features that form part of ecological networks, particularly Local Wildlife Sites’ - Making Space for Nature report to Defra, September 2010

The only form of protection afforded to Local Wildlife Sites has been through the planning system. On 27 March 2012 the Government launched its National Planning Policy Framework for England, a 50 page consolidation of policy, down from more than 1,000 pages.

This new framework retains protection for Local Wildlife Sites which are clearly recognised in the framework as locally designated sites. The policy specifically relating to locally designated sites is found in several paragraphs which provide the direction for local authorities to identify, map and protect these sites through local plans. The new policy also requires protection of Local Wildlife Sites to recognise the importance and the contribution that they make to wider ecological networks, as stated in the Government’s own Natural Environment White Paper.

The Wildlife Trusts will work to ensure local authorities are aware of these changes and considering Local Wildlife Sites in their local plans.

The Wildlife Trusts' response to the final National Planning Policy Framework.

Status of English Local Wildlife Site Systems 2011 Report

The Status of English Local Wildlife Site Systems 2011 reports on the results of a survey of all known Local Wildlife Site (LWS) systems in England and is the sixth in a series of surveys that has been conducted by The Wildlife Trusts since 2000. The report highlights that:

• 51 of the 52 LWS systems covering England have an established partnership
• collectively more than 600 partners are working locally with landowners to identify, manage and protect LWSs
• the two highest perceived threats to the loss and damage of LWS are associated with inappropriate/lack of management and development pressures
• lack of funding is the most significant constraint on partners’ ability to liaise with and advise landowners about site management.
• 34 partnerships believe that in most cases local plan policies aimed at protecting LWS were implemented effectively. Yet, 173 LWSs were still lost to, or damaged by built development in 2010. Of these, at least 25 were lost completely.
• the abolition of both Local Area Agreements and the national improvement indicator to measure the proportion of Local Sites in positive conservation management (NI197) has caused some concern amongst LWS partnerships with more than a third believing that this will have a negative impact, resulting in a fall in the perceived importance of LWS and a resulting threat to future funding.


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status_of_local_wildlife_site_systems_2014_report_final_dec_22.pdf4.21 MB