Welsh Government fails to protect most important places for nature

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Protected sites should be havens for Welsh wildlife – but a lack of funding means that we know little about what is happening in them.

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

  • A new report published today suggests that most of them are in a precarious state and are not managed to look after the species and habitats they are meant to protect.

Today, National Resources Wales (NRW) published the first report in 15 years on the condition of Wales’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The report shows that 60% of the sites (where there’s enough data to make a judgement) are in an ‘unfavourable’ condition – which means that these places are not being managed effectively to protect their special wildlife. For around half of SSSIs, there is not enough information available for NRW to be able to judge the condition they are in. The picture for our seas is no more encouraging – a 2018 assessment showed that only 46% of marine protected sites were in a favourable condition.

SSSIs are our crown jewels for nature and getting their management right is a top priority for action to recover nature on land. Many SSSIs are also classified as Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation. These have additional legal protections to recognise their international importance for rare and threatened species such as chough, and valuable habitats like blanket bog. 

While other UK countries have national monitoring programmes in place to regularly assess how well their SSSIs are doing, in Wales, this is the first national assessment that has taken place since 2006. Worryingly, it has been a desk-based exercise - meaning that most of the judgements of how well individual sites and their features are doing have not even been informed by a visit to see first-hand what is actually happening on the ground. 

NRW is responsible for regular monitoring of SSSIs to see what condition they are in and taking action to ensure that they are being managed well for nature. But the Welsh Government have slashed NRW’s budget in real terms by 35% from 2013 to 2020, so it’s hardly surprising that there is not enough money for NRW to do this job properly.  NRW is promising new monitoring strategies and an action plan for protected sites in the wake of today’s report, but without funding for delivery it is hard to see where the real change needed will come from.

Katie-Jo Luxton, Director of RSPB Cymru, said:

“This report is a damning indictment of protected site management and monitoring in Wales - these should be the premier league of places for nature in Wales. The wildlife that calls them home cannot survive and thrive if the sites are not in good condition. Repeated budget cuts from Welsh Government have resulted in Natural Resources Wales failing to deliver the management or monitoring needed and we are haemorrhaging wildlife as a result.”

This October, the world’s Governments will come together in China at a major summit for nature. This Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as CBD COP 15, will set new global targets aiming to halt the destruction of nature and see wildlife starting to recover by 2030. The UK Government has already committed to effectively protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, and the Welsh Government has formally declared that it will up its ambition to deliver the change that is needed. This report reveals what a mammoth task meeting this target will be in Wales. 

Katie-Jo Luxton added:

“Nature needs more than warm words and paper protections - we need significant resources to make change actually happen and a new sustainable farming policy which supports land managers to look after the special wildlife on their land. The Welsh Government must show it is serious about nature protection and recovery by reversing the cuts to NRW’s budget, setting legally-binding targets to improve the condition of protected sites and reverse biodiversity decline, and making monitoring and management a clear priority with funding to back it up.”


Last Updated: Tuesday 25 May 2021

Tagged with: Country: Wales Country: Wales Topic: Wales Topic: Wales Topic: Conservation