Meadowsweet and Vetch plants growing in dune slack, wildflower and grass field, with rolling countryside hills in the distance

Safeguarding England’s Wild Places

Many of our most important places for wildlife are protected under law and given special designation

How England’s wildlife sites are protected

Close up view of a six-spot burnet moth, black with bright red spots, landed on beautiful, damp purple petals

In England, our rarest and most vulnerable wildlife and habitats are protected by national and international designations. These include more than 4,000 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), as well as Ramsar sites, Special Protected Areas (SPAs) for birds and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for other wildlife and habitats.


All sites are protected from most developments and must be managed to maintain favourable conditions for the wildlife which live there.

Threats to protected sites

Disused train tracks reclaimed by brambles at Lodge Hill site of special scientific interest, Medway, Kent, on a sunny day

Any development that could cause damage to a protected site must be thoroughly assessed, and if adverse effects cannot be ruled out, it can only be allowed to proceed under exceptional circumstances.


Where a development does pass the strict tests required to justify damage, it can only proceed once new habitat, that fully compensates for the loss, has been created.

Protection beyond sites

View across a field, on a sunny day, growing an array of bright green local crops

Protected sites alone are not enough. There are many places of county and local significance which must be conserved if wildlife is to thrive.


For species that are widespread but nonetheless in steep decline, policy initiatives that cover the wider countryside, like those which support more environmentally friendly farming, are vital.


Close up view of four blue tit chicks, peering out of a natural nest hole in the trunk of a tree, calling out

The RSPB works on its reserves and with partners to protect England's special wildlife places from damage and improve their management.


We also recognise that wildlife does not follow national boundaries, and we work to support and promote the protections for wildlife and habitat offered in several international conventions, to which the UK is a signatory.