Local Wildlife Sites - local in name only

Bruce Shortland

Living Landscape Development Manager Rachel Hackett highlights the plight of Local Wildlife Sites – an essential part of the UK’s nature recovery network

When you think of places that protect wildlife you probably think of nature reserves, or maybe Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). But how about Local Wildlife Sites? They’re often overlooked, or considered second rate, but Local Wildlife Sites are vital for our wildlife – they cover almost as much of the UK as SSSIs do!

But what is a Local Wildlife Site? It could be a pocket of ancient woodland, gnarled oaks towering above a patchwork of fungi; or a strip of meadow bordering a busy road, alive with colourful wildflowers. They are areas of land especially important for their wildlife; often hidden in plain sight, where nature quietly thrives.

Baker's Hill Local Wildlife Site

Baker's Hill Local Wildlife Site ©Zsuzsanna Bird

The name Local Wildlife Site can be misleading, as these wild places have an effect far beyond the local area. They don’t just protect species and habitats that are rare locally, but also those that are rare or threatened at a regional and even national scale. They go by different names across the UK, including Local Nature Conservation Sites in Scotland and Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in Wales, but they all perform the same vital role.

These Sites, along with nature reserves and SSSIs are the foundation of a Nature Recovery Network (known as a National Ecological Network in Scotland) – a system where wild spaces across the UK are connected, rather than just isolated pockets of protection. Local Wildlife Sites function as wildlife corridors and green stepping stones, helping to link larger nature reserves.

Despite their value for nature, Local Wildlife Sites do not enjoy the same protection as SSSIs. These sites are only protected through planning policy, they have no statutory protection at all. Last year the Government overhauled the rules that guide planning and development in England, and in the first draft of the Policy Framework there was no mention of Local Wildlife Sites. This would have left England’s Sites with no protection at all.

Ettington Roundabout LWS

Ettington Roundabout Local Wildlife Site ©Chris Talbot

In 2018 we launched our Act Swiftly campaign to show the support for these special places. Over 25,000 people joined us in responding to the Government’s consultation, and we were delighted to see Local Wildlife Sites reinstated in the National Planning Policy Framework.

But Local Wildlife Sites are still in trouble. We’ve published a new report on the status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites, which shows that these wild places are overlooked. For 85% of Sites, we have no idea what condition they are in – they might not even have been monitored at all. Of the small number that we know were monitored, twelve percent were lost or damaged.

Local Wildlife Sites - what state are they in?

We produce these reports on Local Wildlife Sites every few years, and every time we see a decline in their condition. Development is an issue, but a much bigger threat is the lack of management. Without the resources to properly care for these Sites, the features they were selected to protect can be lost – reedbeds become overgrown and dry up, wildflower meadows are overtaken by scrub.

To establish a nature network that allows wildlife to thrive across the UK, we need to make the most of our Local Wildlife Sites. The Government has produced guidelines for selecting and managing Sites in England, but this guidance has been buried in Government archives. We need these guidelines to be brought out of the archives and opened-up for review. With more detailed guidance for planners and those responsible for selecting and managing Local Wildlife Sites, they can truly help to put nature into recovery.

What you can do

You can help, too. We need laws in every country that recognise the importance of nature recovery networks, requiring authorities to map our wild spaces (including Local Wildlife Sites) so that we know where to focus conservation efforts.

At the moment we are asking people to meet with their MPs to talk to them about this , and ask for a Nature Recovery Network to be put into new legislation - an Environment Act. 

Yes - I'll talk to my MP

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