Wildlife sites are, as their name suggests, are those site where the biodiversity interest is recognised to be important enough to warrant a level of protection. This maybe protection from damaging use or management, or, as a critical driver in London, from development pressure. Wildlife sites, especially in London, may also be subject to a range of other designations reflecting the interests they may hold, be it heritage value, general amenity, or even strategic views.
Local wildlife sites
The majority of wildlife sites in London are non-statutory, and have been identified through the planning process. Following the London Wildlife Habitat Survey carried out by the Trust for the Greater London Council in 1984-5, the work of identifying these sites and advocating policy to protect them in local plans was developed by what was the London Ecology Unit with local authority and agency partners. Known as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) they are now recognised by the Greater London Authority and London borough councils. In total, over 1,500 SINCs have been identified, covering nearly 20% of the capital.
There are three tiers of SINCs:
- Sites of Metropolitan Importance
About 140 Metropolitan sites have been identified, with a total area of nearly 16,000 hectares (10% of London’s land area). They include all designated sites in London (see below), as well as sites such as Beddington Farmlands, Dulwich & Sydenham Hill Woods, Eastbrookend Country Park, Horsenden Hill, Hounslow Heath and Totteridge Fields.
- Sites of Borough Importance
Over 884 Borough sites have been identified with a total area of about 12,000 hectares. They include sites such as Brent River Park, Larks Wood, Mayesbrook Park, Oak’s Park, Pinner Park Farm, St Pancras & Islington Cemetery, and Woolwich Common.
- Sites of Local Importance
These are generally small sites which provide people with access to some nature close to home. About 519 Local sites have been identified, and include places such as Barking Abbey Ruins, Barnet Countryside Centre, Benhill Road Nature Garden, and Kennington Park.
The London SINC system is one of many operating across the country; these collectively are now known as Local (Wildlife) Sites, to make them distinct from the statutorily designated sites (see below). The Wildlife Trusts have strongly advocated the importance of Local Wildlife Sites for the protection and restoration of nature, and have been instumental in developing standards for their identification and adoption.
Since 2010 responsibility for overseeing the identification of local wildlife sites is through the London Wildlife Sites Board.
SINCs may form or fall within all or part of other land afforded levels of planning protection in London, including Metropolitan Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land (‘inner London’s Green Belt’), Conservation Areas (identified for heritage interest), Local Open Land, Countryside Conservation Areas, green corridors, and strategic views. These are outlined in borough Unitary Development Plans Local Development Frameworks and/or the emerging Local Plans. See planning.
Statutory – or designated – sites enjoy higher levels of protection from damage or loss, and by and large are identified through the legislative powers under the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and its successors. Those relevant to London are:
These are wetlands of international importance, designated under the Ramsar Convention, 1971. There are two Ramsar sites in London; Lee Valley, and the South West London Waterbodies.
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
Identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within the European Union. There are two SPAs in London: Lee Valley, and South West London Waterbodies.
- Special Areas for Conservation (SACs)
Identified under the European Union’s Habitats Directive to provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats under threat in Europe. Together with the SPAs they form the Natura 2000 network, which in England are known as European wildlife sites. There are three SACs in London; Epping Forest, Richmond Park, and Wimbledon Common.
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
These are identified as a sample of the the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. There are over 4,100 SSSIs in England, and 37 in London, including Croham Hurst, Frays Farm Meadows, Oxleas Wood, Saltbox Hill, and Walthamstow Marshes.
- National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
All NNRs are SSSIs established to provide ‘outdoor laboratories’ for research, they now offer opportunities to the public to experience England’s natural heritage. There are 224 NNRs in England, and two in London; Richmond Park and Ruislip Woods.
- Local Nature Reserves (LNRs)
Identified by local authorities as important sites for nature and/or geology, where they can be enjoyed by the public for education and amenity; some can be SSSIs, although the majority of Local Nature Reserves in London are Sites of Metropolitan or Borough Importance. There are now over 1400 LNRs in England, and over 140 in London, including Perivale Wood (the first, notified in 1974), Sydenham Hill Wood, Gunnersbury Triangle, Islington Ecology Centre, Nunhead Cemetery, Queen’s Wood, and Wormwood Scrubs.
There are other statutory designations, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, and Biosphere Reserves, but which are not relevant in London.