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Guidance for Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) land owners and occupiers

Find out what you need to do if you are a land owner or occupier in or near an SSSI

If you manage land within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), you must manage it in a way that helps  conserve its special wildlife and geological features.

This may mean grazing animals at particular times of year, controlling water levels and clearing scrub.

Our officers can help advise you whether the work you wish to do can be carried out, they can also advise you on how best to carry out the work without damaging the special interest.

What areas are protected?

You can find details of all SSSIs in Wales, including location, reason for notification, condition and management team contact details, by using our designated sites search.

What activity is allowed?

We have to inform you at notification, as an owner or occupier of a SSSI, of any operations that are likely to damage the scientific interest of part or all of the site.

These might include tree felling, ploughing grassland, draining a wetland or major changes to the way the land is grazed.

You will need to request permission from Natural Resources Wales in writing if you intend to do any of the activities listed for your site.

Use our designated sites search to find details of the activities you need to seek permission for on your site.

Get permission for planned work

 It is your responsibility to inform us of any activity that could potentially damage an SSSI.

  1. Check which activities you need permission for on our website or contact us to discuss it with your local SSSI adviser
  2. If you are an owner or occupier of an SSSI please use the notice to carry out potentially damaging operations on an SSSI form to submit your request
  3. If you are a public body or utility company please use the Section 28H notice of works likely to damage the special interest of an SSSI form to submit your request
  4. Email it to us at

We will respond as quickly as possible, and certainly within one month, to your notification about what you plan to do.

You don’t need permission for:

  • emergency work, for example work to protect livestock during a flood or storm (but you must tell us as soon as possible afterwards)
  • work that you have permission from your local council for, if you’ve gone through the planning application process

What if I don’t comply?

If you fail to notify us about your intention to carry out one of the listed operations for your SSSI, or of damaging or destroying any of the features of special interest, you may be fined up to £20,000 in the Magistrate’s Court, or an unlimited amount in the Crown Court. The courts can also order you to restore the site at your own expense.

Visits by our officers

Natural Resources Wales officers may visit your site to assess its condition. They can also give you advice on:

  • management practices
  • sources of funding
  • the law around protecting your site

Our officers will always request permission from you before visiting, unless they believe the site is being damaged.

When ownership changes

You must tell us if there are changes to the ownership or tenant of the land within 28 days of:

  • selling the land,
  • granting or changing tenancies
  • selling or leasing sporting rights
  • granting wayleaves or easements, or surrendering any rights.  Failure to do so may be an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200

You do not need to tell us of any seasonal grazing licences, but you should inform anyone using your land of the SSSI notification and the list of potentially damaging operations.

New or changes to notifications

Sometimes Natural Resources Wales will designate a new area as an SSSI, so that its special natural features are protected.

We may also change an existing SSSI, for example by making it larger or smaller, or changing the activities that require our consent.

If land that you own or occupy is designated an SSSI, we will contact you. You’ll have at least 3 months to respond to us with your comments. If you disagree to the land becoming an SSSI, you will be able object.

If your land becomes an SSSI, it does not give the public the right to access it.

Damage to a SSSI 

If your SSSI isn’t being cared for or is being damaged, we will attempt to resolve the issue by giving advice and working with you to reach an agreement if possible. If this is not possible, we can:

  • send a warning letter
  • issue a management scheme explaining how the site should be managed and including a financial offer
  • issue a management notice requiring specific works to be done (if the scheme is refused)
  • enter the site to complete the work identified in the management notice (recovering costs from the person the notice was served to)
  • start legal proceedings, which can lead to a fine and the court imposing an order for the site to be restored at the offender’s expense

You can report damage to a SSSI to us on our incident hotline.

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