Sites of Special Scientific Interest to get better protection

The UK's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are to receive improved protection and management under a new bill, including new and enhanced powers for the conservation agencies.

The proposals are contained in an amendment to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill which is designed to strengthen the conservation and management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Under the terms of the Bill, conservation agencies will be able to refuse consent for damaging activities and introduce management notices to combat neglect. Agencies will also have additional powers to enter land; and more flexible powers to purchase land compulsorily. The DETR says this is balanced by a more structured approach to management advice and new appeal procedures.

The Bill also proposes increased penalties for deliberate damage to SSSIs of up to £20,000 in the magistrate’s court and unlimited fines in the crown court; a new court power to order restoration of the damaged special interest, where this is practicable, and a new general offence to apply to third party damage.

Public bodies will be under a statutory duty to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs, both in carrying out their operations and exercising their decision-making functions(see related story).

“We want AONBs to be recognised for their national importance and the enjoyment they provide for many visitors,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “We must ensure the full involvement of local people, those who live and work in the areas or manage the land. These measures will improve the conservation and management of AONBs, boosting their role as part of our living countryside.”

There are 37 AONB in England and four in Wales. They were brought into being under the same legislation as National Parks. The primary objective of the AONB designation is the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the landscape.

Promising to ensure that Government funding will continue to be available to assist local authorities who manage AONBs, Meacher cited the three-fold increase in funding over three years from £2.1 million in 1998/99 to £5.9 million this year as evidence of the Government’s commitment to the support of AONBs.

The Bill also contains proposals for improvements to the legislation governing the rights of way system, including a new right of public access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land and update and strengthen wildlife law enforcement provisions.

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