Category: Environment
Published on Monday, 04 March 2013 08:46
Written by Maggi Kaye
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Environmentally Sensitive Areas are designated under Section 18 of the 1986 Agriculture Act, to help care for areas where landscape or wildlife or historic interest is of national importance.  Farmers within these areas were able to obtain grants to assist them to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural methods, but these are coming to an end now out and replaced with payments from the Rural Stewardship Scheme.

Regional Scenic Area:

This is a landscape designation, usually comprising what were known as Areas of Great Landscape Value, assigned by Local Authorities and included in their Structure Plans, following detailed Landscape Character Assessment. Designation is given to areas that are good examples and attractive combinations of scenically valued character types.


A Site of Special Scientific Interest is an area of land that contains something of special interest by reason of its fauna, flora, geology or physiographical features.  It is the a foundation of habitat protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 (as amended 1985).  SSSI status offers the site some protection from damage; potentially damaging operations should be notified to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) who will reach an agreement with the landowner as to whether the operation should go ahead or not, but this does not always happen.  Similarly if a site is a SSSI it may offer some planning protection, although this does not always prevent development


National Nature Reserves are areas of national or international importance including the most important semi-natural habitats in Britain.  They are generally designated for their ecological value rather than for particular species although several sites hold a number of rare or threatened species.  They are declared by SNH for research and study purposes.


Special Protection Areas are designated under the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of 1979 for the protection of migratory and threatened species.  Special measures are required within SPAs to safeguard wild birds and their habitats, especially migratory, rare and vulnerable species listed in the Directive.


Special Areas of Conservation are also a European designation under the Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and wild Fauna and Flora, Known as the Habitats Directive.  They are usually based on SSSIs, but can cover marine locations which SSSIs cannot, and they give protection when it comes to development.

Natura 2000:

SACs and SPAs together form a network of sites which are designated for the protection of habitats and animal and plant species which are rare, endangered or vulnerable in Europe.


Ramsar site are wetlands of international importance and are designated under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance and was ratified by the UK government in 1976.  The designation requires them to be protected from damage or pollution and promotes their wise use.


Biosphere reserves are not set up as a result of legislation but are existing NNRs nominated by, in Scotland, SNH, for inclusion in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme which was set up in 1971.  They are set up to study man’s influence on natural resources and reconcile sustainable use with conservation of biodiversity for the benefit of local people.


Biodiversity literally means biological diversity.  It is highly complex and includes not only all life but the way it behaves and interacts with other life and the value of possible future use to people, as well as their enjoyment.  Each habitat, although it can look very similar to others, may support different species, depending on soil, climate and other conditions and also previous land use.  Changes in land use will obviously affect the biodiversity of an area, so where major changes are planned, careful consideration must be given to the existing ecosystem and provision made to safeguard rare or endangered species present.  Generally three levels of biodiversity are described, genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.  They are all important but genetic diversity is used as a basis for valuing the other two, as genes affect the characteristics and behaviour of an organism.

Biodiversity ensures resilience, so that ecosystems with a greater species richness have an increased capacity to deal with stress and disturbance. Where species are being depleted by human activity, the ecosystem’s ability to cope with stress diminishes.  There has been an unprecedented decline in the numbers of species and habitats, particularly over the last 30 - 50 years, which many more under threat.  Another threat is the introduction of alien species such as Japanese Knotweed, or grey squirrels as they out compete native species leading to less not more biodiversity.