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Suffolk's protected sites

Despite the landscape being heavily dominated by agriculture, Suffolk has retained much of its natural heritage, the majority of which is now protected by some kind of conservation designation. The county is well known for its extensive coastline habitats which include shingle beaches, saline lagoons, estuaries and saltmarsh. Suffolk also contains significant tracts of lowland heathland, on a scale that is significant on both national and international levels. The majority of the heathland falls within the Brecks in the west and the Sandlings on the east coast. Suffolk is also rich in ancient woodlands, species-rich meadows, grazing marsh and reedbed.

Designated sites

In Suffolk there are over 1,100 designated sites, covering over 42,700 ha, which includes areas designated at Local, National and International levels. In addition, parts of The Broads National Park and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) cover a further 35,180 ha. There are 148 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in Suffolk which equate to an area equivalent to 8% of the county or 31,307 ha (see map 1). These sites are designated by Natural England with some of the best examples also designated as National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Suffolk also features 38 Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) covering an area of 470 ha and these sites represent places with wildlife or geological features that are of local interest.

County wildlife sites

County Wildlife Sites (CWS) play a key role in the conservation of Suffolk’s biodiversity. Suffolk has over 950 County Wildlife Sites, amounting to around 11,000 hectares and covering almost 3% of the county. County Wildlife Site designation is non-statutory, but it recognises the high value of a site for wildlife. Many sites are of county, and often regional or national, importance. They are often designated because they support characteristic or threatened species or habitats. Sites may be privately or publicly owned and vary in size and shape from small meadows, green lanes, dykes and hedges to much larger areas of ancient woodlands, heathland, greens, commons and marsh. (See map 2).

Click here for more information on CWS designation and a site survey form

Suffolk has over 950 County Wildlife Sites, amounting to around 11,000 hectares and covering almost 3% of the county.

County wildlife site designation

County Wildlife Sites are designated according to selection criteria that follow Natural England guidelines. The Suffolk CWS panel has a specific and closely defined remit, and follows a specific designation procedure, made up of expertise from Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service (SBIS), Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Natural England. The Panel meets to assess and designate potential CWS based on information submitted to them. Information should be submitted on a fully completed site survey form and surveyors should refer to the FAQ for more details before submitting information. The boundaries of sites may also be reviewed and amended in the light of new information following the review procedure. The Suffolk register of County Wildlife Sites includes their location, boundaries and key features. A map of County Wildlife Sites is maintained and updated by SBIS. All the documents in bold can be downloaded from the panel on the right hand side of the page.

Click here for more information on CWS designation and a site survey form.

County wildlife sites and planning

Wildlife habitats can deteriorate if neglected or managed in an unfavourable way.

County Wildlife Sites are recognised by national planning policy (Planning Policy Statement 9) as having a fundamental role to play in meeting national biodiversity targets. CWSs are not protected by legislation, but their importance is recognised by local authorities when considering any relevant planning applications and there is a presumption against granting permission for development that would have an adverse impact on a site. Such measures have been strengthened by the provisions of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006 which requires all public bodies to 'have regard for' the conservation of biodiversity. Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) monitors planning applications for any potential impact on County Wildlife Sites

The appropriate management and protection of these sites for wildlife is important and advice can be provided to landowners, businesses and local authorities on suitable management for the long-term benefit of its wildlife. This includes information on sources of grant-aid. This is particularly important as wildlife habitats can deteriorate if neglected or managed in an unfavourable way.

If you would like to arrange an advisory visit to your land or would like further information on CWSs, please see the information sheet for landowners and managers.

Find out more about CWS at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Roadside nature reserves and County GeoSites

Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs) are also shown in map 2 and these represent good examples of species-rich plant areas and plants or other species of national or county importance. While most of these have CWS status others are legally protected (being within SSSI or having legally protected species). 29 places of geological interest in Suffolk are designated as County GeoSites; these non-statutory designations aim to highlight their local importance. Further information on Geosites is available on the Geosuffolk website

Special protection areas, Special areas of conservation and RAMSAR sites

Large portions of Suffolk are also within European designated sites (see map 3). Special Protection Areas (SPAs) together with Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) were born from the Birds and Habitats Directives and form a network of protected sites across the EU known as Natura 2000. SPAs designated for their bird interest cover 27,740 ha of Suffolk (over 7%) and SACs designated for their significant habitat interest cover 6,591 ha of Suffolk (almost 2%). Suffolk also has 6 RAMSAR sites, an international designation that recognises significant wetland habitat.