Local Wildlife Sites Campaign

Herefordshire view

From mystical ancient woodlands to quiet churchyards and bustling flower-rich roadsides; the UK enjoys special, often unnoticed, wild places where nature thrives.

What are Local Wildlife Sites?

Local Wildlife Sites are identified and selected locally using robust, scientifically-determined criteria and detailed ecological surveys. As a result, these special and often secret spaces have a huge part to play in the natural green fabric of our towns and countryside. They make up a web of stepping stones and corridors for wildlife, forming key components of ecological networks.

For more information, read the Wildlife Trust's short guide to Local Wildlife Sites.

Why do Local Wildlife Sites matter? 

What's the problem?

Crucial, but poorly understood and undervalued, the Local Wildlife Sites are havens for some of our rarest habitats and species. Yet hundreds of them are being lost or becoming degraded every year.

Unlike Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Local Wildlife Sites are not protected by law and don't benefit from national recognition of their wildlife importance. This makes them vulnerable to neglect, mismanagement and the huge pressure for development across the country.

What's the situation in Herefordshire?

Before: local people enjoying the bluebellsIn Herefordshire, the Local Wildlife Sites are known as Special Wildlife Sites (SWS). The SWS were largely selected on the basis of a county survey carried out by the then Herefordshire and Radnorshire Nature Trust in 1977-78, although some further modifications were made in the 1990s. There are 683 Special Wildlife Sites in the county, covering c. 18,000 hectares, about 8% of the County. The sites are mapped, at a scale of 1:25000 in a series of manuals, with only brief descriptions of each site.

This Herefordshire SWS selection process pre-dated the development of the county’s Biodiversity Action Plan and so omits some key habitats within the county, particularly orchards, parkland and wood pasture. The owners of the sites were not consulted about the selection of the sites, and many remain unaware of the importance of the land they hold in trust for future generations.

Afterwards: a barren field where once there was a SWSThese small areas of wildlife interest are particularly vulnerable when land changes hands, and new landowners fail to appreciate the value of the assets which have come into their care. The Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) regulations 2006 were put in place to protect uncultivated land and semi-natural areas from being damaged by agricultural work, and to prevent the restructuring of rural land holdings from having a significant environmental impact. However, many sites in the county fall below the minimum size threshold of two hectares. There has been no comprehensive review of the series since the sites were originally selected, although several partial reviews have been carried out to inform Herefordshire forward planning policies.

An analysis undertaken by Herefordshire Council in 2007 demonstrated that the Special Wildlife Site series was in trouble even then. The SWS series was found to include at least 55 hectares of arable and 558 hectares of improved grassland, suggesting a loss of 3.4% of the original SWS habitats. In addition, some sites were known to have been lost completely or partially to development. Woodland sites seemed to be faring reasonably well with about two thirds under beneficial management through Woodland Grant Schemes. However, only one tenth of the other sites were managed under Countryside Stewardship Schemes at that time. A small project in 2010 visited 50 or so of the sites, and worked with owners to provide a simple Management Plan to help them look after the special features of their sites, but there was not enough funding to extend the project to cover all of the SWS.

What can be done?

Local Wildlife Sites are not well understood or recognised and they are under huge and increasing pressures. The Wildlife Trusts aim to:

  • Raise the profile, importance and benefits of Local Wildlife Sites to wildlife and people
  • Improve the protection of Local Wildlife Sites through sensitive management and greater recognition in policy and decision making.
  • Secure better resources and support for landowner advice and Local Wildlife Site identification, management, enhancement and monitoring.

In Herefordshire, the Herefordshire Wildlife Link has set up a working group to take these actions forward, and find a means to carry out a review of our Local Wildlife Sites

Woolhope Dome viewIn Herefordshire, the 2007 Herefordshire Council report concluded that the evidence base on the Special Wildlife Site series was not robust enough to support the development control process and that there was insufficient resource to monitor the system to the nationally required standards. Things have not improved since that time, and the SWS series is still failing to protect our secret havens. The Trust regularly receives reports of SWS that have been lost or destroyed, such as a meadow ploughed up in Kingsland and a bluebell slope ploughed for maize, both in 2014. In other cases sites have just been degraded through mismanagement or neglect and no longer support the habitats and species for which they were selected.

In the absence of a complete review, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust needs to work with Herefordshire Council and other key stakeholders in the county to consider how best to protect the remaining sites, what to do about degraded sites and how to add new sites to the SWS series. Our current project to map the habitats in the Woolhope Dome and Doward to Phase 1 level should help to answer these questions by giving us the opportunity to compare the existing SWS with the present day location and quality of our wildlife gems.

Further reading

Read the more extensive Wildlife Trusts pages on this campaign and find out more about the challenges Local Wildlife Sites are facing and what you can do to help.