Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Protected sites and priority habitats

Protected sites and priority habitats

Many areas with distinctive plants, animals, habitats, geology or landforms are protected at the international, European, national and local level. Some habitats have been identified as needing priority conservation action.

If you own or work at a site that is in or next to a protected area or priority habitat, you're likely to face tighter restrictions on what activities and developments you can carry out at the site. You may need to:

  • obtain permission from the relevant organisation for your site
  • carry out a survey
  • assess the potential impact of your business on the natural environment and biodiversity
  • explain how you will avoid or mitigate any potentially adverse impacts on the protected area.

Statutory site protection

Sites which are protected at an international level include Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and Ramsar sites.

Sites protected at a national level include National Nature Reserves, Marine Nature Reserves and Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Scotland.

Local Nature Reserves are protected statutorily at a local level.

If you are an owner or an occupier within any of these protected areas, you can get advice about your responsibilities from either:

  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • NatureScot.

In the case of an ASSI or SSSI, the NIEA in Northern Ireland, or NatureScot in Scotland, may draw up a management agreement with you to assist with good management of the site.

Non-statutory protection of local sites

Local councils adopt sites that are important to local wildlife. These may be called Local Wildlife or Geological Sites, County Wildlife Sites, Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, Sites of Biological Interest or other names. These are often in brownfield and urban areas.

While local authority site designation does not provide statutory protection, it will be taken into account if you apply for planning permission. If your business activities are likely to affect a locally designated site, the local authority will expect you to:

  • carry out a survey
  • assess the potential impact of your business on the site's natural environment and biodiversity
  • explain how you will ensure that you avoid or mitigate any potentially adverse impacts on the site.

You can check whether your land is a local site by contacting your local council ecology team or biodiversity information centre, or the Ulster Wildlife Trust or Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Northern Ireland: Local councils

Scotland: Local councils

Ulster Wildlife

Scottish Wildlife Trust

Priority habitats

In addition to protected sites, a number of habitats have been designated as ones requiring priority conservation action under:

  • the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

You can check whether you have one of these habitat types on your land:

 DAERA: Habitats

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): UK BAP List of Priority Habitats

If you do, you should liaise with the following organisations over the measures you can take to conserve them:

  • the NIEA or Ulster Wildlife
  • NatureScot or the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Further information

NIEA: Map of designated sites in Northern Ireland

NatureScot: Sitelink: Map of designated sites in Scotland

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): What are Protected Areas?

In this Guideline

How conservation and biodiversity relate to your business

How businesses rely on natural resources and services

Protected sites and priority habitats

Protected and priority species

Non-native species

Environmental damage to biodiversity

Managing biodiversity: Establish the baseline

Managing biodiversity: Create a site action plan

Managing biodiversity: Measure performance

Work with other organisations on biodiversity

Conservation and biodiversity legislation

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