Cinderella wildlife refuges at risk

Friday 9th January 2015

The Wildlife Trusts logoThe Wildlife Trusts logo

New report shows the vulnerable status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites

Hidden havens which support rare and threatened wildlife are being lost and damaged to development and neglect every year. New survey results published today provide insight into the secret places where nature thrives – known as Local Wildlife Sites – and highlight some worrying trends. 

Local Wildlife Sites are often little known, sometimes hidden yet vitally important wild havens - identified and selected locally for their high nature conservation value. They range from ancient woodlands to vibrant meadows abundant with butterflies, quiet churchyards home to bees and birds, bustling flower-rich roadsides and field-bordering hedgerows. They act as refuges for a wealth of wildlife such as the green winged orchid, marsh gentian, the pearl-bordered fritillary, noble chafer beetle, harvest mouse and water vole.

The Wildlife Trusts’ new report, Secret Spaces: The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites (available for download at the bottom of this page), draws on new evidence gathered this year which suggests that more than 10% of the 6,590 Local Wildlife Sites monitored have been lost or damaged in the last five years. As if these losses were not bad enough, this evidence does not highlight the enormous and depressingly extensive history of loss over recent decades. With predicted growth in housing, new roads and other infrastructure all set to increase, changes to farm environment schemes reducing incentives for owners to gain support for Local Wildlife Site management and austerity measures, which threaten the management of publically-owned Local Wildlife Sites, these last important refuges for wildlife remain vulnerable.

According to The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, Stephen Trotter, if this trend is allowed to continue, more of our most valuable and treasured wildlife and wild places will be lost forever. He said: “There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites - one of England’s largest natural assets - to receive the recognition of their true value to society. In some counties they are the best places for wildlife but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand.

“Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment. Many are quiet, unnoticed wild places in which nature thrives. All act as links and corridors between other important habitats and are crucial to securing nature’s recovery. They are vitally important for people as well as wildlife; bringing tangible benefits to local communities and contributing significantly to our quality of life, health, well-being and education. We need to secure greater recognition and protection for them in the planning and decision-making process. We need action now to prevent further and ongoing loss of these wildlife-rich treasures by investment in them."

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, added: “Those Local Wildlife Sites which are thriving are frequently a legacy of the goodwill and care of their landowners and managers and of decades of hard graft. We’re making recommendations for the provision and prioritisation of funding, resources, landowner advice and volunteer support – all of which are so desperately needed - underpinned by a Nature and Wellbeing Act.” (see recommendations in full below)

Every three years The Wildlife Trusts publish an assessment of England’s Local Wildlife Sites. This report is based on a national survey of Local Wildlife Site partnerships of local authorities, ecologists and local nature experts which identify and select Local Wildlife Sites using robust, scientifically determined criteria and detailed ecological surveys. Together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Local Wildlife Sites support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. Although recognised within the planning system, Local Wildlife Sites are not protected by law.

Changes in land-use have eroded and fragmented the wildlife-rich expanse of habitats which once covered the country. Some - such as wildflower meadows, mires, fens and wet woodlands - are now so scarce that the majority of remaining habitat automatically qualifies for Local Wildlife Site status. However, deterioration and loss of species can lead to Local Wildlife Sites being ‘deselected’ and losing their protection and status within the planning system.

A comprehensive review of England’s Wildlife Sites led by Professor Sir John Lawton in 2010(24). recommended that ‘greater protection’ should be given to Local Wildlife Sites and their management ‘must be improved’. It concluded that ‘we need to take steps to rebuild nature’ by providing more natural areas, which are bigger, better and more joined up, so that existing fragments of wildlife-rich land are reconnected to create a climate-resilient and self-sustaining whole.

The Wildlife Trusts’ report – Secret Spaces: The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites 2014 - makes recommendations to help stop this devastating loss:

Greater recognition and protection for Local Wildlife Sites:
Local authorities and developers need to fully recognise the importance of Local Wildlife Sites in the planning and decision-making process. Natural England must strengthen its standing advice to local authorities on Local Wildlife Sites.

Local ecological networks:
Local plans should be required to create a high quality network of more, bigger, better and joined up wildlife-rich places including Local Wildlife Sites. These must be designed and planned from the bottom up, involving local people and close to where they live.

Provide targeted funding:
Defra, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and Natural England must prioritise funding and specialist advice to landowners and farmers for the enhancement and management of Local Wildlife Sites through Countryside Stewardship and other grants schemes.

Support volunteers, local organisations and local communities:
Local authorities and Government should support volunteering and resource Local Wildlife Site partnerships as a cost effective way of looking after many of these special places and helping local people to get involved in looking after them.

A Nature and Wellbeing Act:
We urgently need new legislation for the 21st century to underpin the recovery of nature and secure improvements in the health and wellbeing of local people and communities. The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB have put forward proposals for a Nature and Wellbeing Act to do just this. Developing a coherent network of high quality Local Wildlife Sites and other natural spaces like parks and river corridors would be a key part of this Act. Local Wildlife Sites hold much of England’s wildlife and as such they are key to realising the benefits which nature can provide society.

The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites 2014 is the seventh in a series of reports issued every three years by The Wildlife Trusts. From Monday 22 December, you can download this and a summary report Secret Spaces: The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites 2014 & why these special places need saving at




Local Wildlife Sites and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Although crucially important, the network of SSSIs represents only a small sample of our most important habitats and their species; the SSSI network is selective and not intended to be comprehensive. Numerous areas with equivalent nature conservation value are not designated as SSSIs and have no protection despite being of equal or greater value to wildlife. By contrast, the approach for Local Wildlife Sites is comprehensive: all sites which meet the given criteria are selected, some of which are of SSSI quality.

Status of English Local Wildlife Sites 2014
The seventh in a series ‘The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites 2014’, is based on a comprehensive survey the results of which show a continuing lack of investment in these non-statutory sites. Together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Local Wildlife Sites support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. They represent the minimum habitat in need of protection in order to maintain the current levels of wildlife.

The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites survey undertaken in 2013/14 by The Wildlife Trusts found that 717 out of 6,590 (or 11%) of Local Wildlife Sites monitored were reported lost or damaged in the five years between 2009 and 2013. However, this figure could just be the tip of the iceberg as, lack of resources mean that only 15% of England’s 42,865 Local Wildlife Sites have been checked within the last five years.

Most Local Wildlife Sites are in private ownership and it is ultimately the landowners and farmers, often with the support of nature conservationists, who secure the ongoing existence of these special places – through sensitive habitat management and sheer commitment. There are also more than 50 partnerships of local authorities, conservation bodies, Local Record Centres and local specialists across most of the country, helping to care for these amazing places. Each partnership is responsible for surveying, assessing and selecting sites against robust local criteria. Once sites are selected, partners can advise landowners on land management and grants. They should also periodically monitor the sites to assess their status and the effectiveness of the advice given. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources most sites are not regularly revisited and, consequently, we don’t have a complete picture of their condition.

Defra published Local Sites: Guidance on their identification, selection and management in 2006 to promote a transparent and consistent approach to the operation of Local Sites systems. Drawing together best practice while accommodating the strengths of existing systems, its intended aim was to raise and consolidate the profile of Local Sites as an important mechanism in our overall approach to biodiversity and geological conservation.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.


FilenameFile size
status_of_local_wildlife_site_systems_2014_report_final_dec_22.pdf4.21 MB
secret_spaces-report_doublepagesfinal.pdf748.46 KB