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NFU Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage Farming, SSSIs and Natura sites

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NFU Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage

Farming, SSSIs and Natura sites

The best of Scotland’s wildlife and geology is found in protected areas. These places are special for plants and animals, habitats, rocks, fossils and landforms. Many are in private ownership and are parts of working farms. Indeed, many protected areas depend on sustainable farming practices to keep them in good health.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and NFU Scotland have produced this leaflet, specifically for farmers in Scotland who own, tenant or manage land that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and/or a Natura site (a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and/or a Special Protection Area (SPA)). It sets out what you need to do and outlines sources of funding for conservation management. You can find further details through the website links given below or from your local SNH Area Officer.




Some new land management activities or changes to management practices can harm the special features of SSSIs and Natura sites. The law requires formal consideration of the impact of these activities before they can be carried out. The following steps set out how we can work together to protect and conserve our best wildlife sites.

SSSIs – what do you need to do?

SSSIs form a series of sites of national importance that are protected by law through the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

For each SSSI there is a list of ‘operations requiring consent’ that could damage the interests of the site. These lists are tailored to suit individual sites and are sent to each owner and occupier when an SSSI is notified. You can see them at any time on the SNH website and the SSSI Register or request another copy from SNH. If you wish to carry out, cause or permit

an operation requiring consent you must first get consent from SNH. SNH considers these applications individually and will give consent wherever the operation can be accommodated without damaging the site’s protected natural features. Where the proposed operation may affect a Natura site, SNH must also consider any impacts on the Natura site features.

To apply for consent to carry out an operation that could damage the interests of an SSSI you will need to apply in writing (by email or post) to SNH. The application must outline the nature of the operation, the dates when it will be carried out and where it will take place. SNH has produced a template form to help you with the application process. This can be found on the SNH website or obtained by contacting your local SNH office. SNH must respond within four months or your application is deemed refused. We aim to respond much quicker than this and usually do so within a few weeks.


We recognise that SSSIs and Natura sites are parts of living, working landscapes that provide a range of goods and services which support local businesses and communities within them. The wellbeing of protected areas depends on how land is managed, and funding is available for conservation management. The main source is the Rural Development Contracts – Rural Priorities scheme (RDC-RP) run jointly by SNH, RPID (Scottish Government) and Forestry Commission Scotland. It offers a wide range of land management measures, mostly with standard payment rates, and there are currently several application rounds each year.

The Rural Development Contracts – Land Managers’ Options scheme (RDC-LMO) also provides a few management measures appropriate to protected areas. This is non-competitive and applications should be sent to RPID before 15 May each year.

RDC-RP is replacing SNH management agreements. If you have an SNH agreement which is due to expire in the next few years, you can apply to RDC-RP before the expiry date to seek ongoing funding. SNH will only offer new agreements in special circumstances and where RDC measures do not include the management needed.

If you are considering an RDC application, or you have an agreement that is about to expire, please contact your local SNH Area Officer to discuss what management is needed on your SSSI or Natura site.

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Key reminders for SSSIs

Certain management practices can damage the special features of an SSSI. Following the process above will help to protect these features.

New activities and changes to an existing activity could affect a site and need to be considered.

If you have permission from certain regulatory authorities to carry out an activity you do not need SSSI consent from SNH for the same operation. These authorities must consult SNH before deciding to issue consent. The regulatory authorities are the Scottish Ministers, local authorities, Forestry Commission Scotland, Crofters Commission, district salmon fishery boards and Scottish Environment and Protection Agency (SEPA).

You must tell tenants and other occupiers and new owners that the land is an SSSI and tell SNH of any change. SSSI consents from SNH go with the land to the new owner or occupier.

If you plan to carry out a ‘permitted development’1 in an SSSI and it’s an ‘operation requiring consent’, you must get SSSI consent from SNH before starting.

If in doubt about whether an operation needs consent from SNH or for advice about management to benefit wildlife, please contact your local SNH Area Officer.

Natura sites – what do you need to do?

Natura sites (SACs and SPAs) are Europe’s most important areas for wildlife. They are designated under European legislation and are given strong legal protection in Scotland through law known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’.

Where you propose to do something that requires the agreement or permission of an authority, it must consider the potential impacts of your proposed activity on any Natura sites. Such ‘competent authorities’ include local and national park authorities, Scottish Government, Forestry Commission Scotland, SEPA and SNH.

A competent authority may only approve a proposal that could affect a Natura site where:

– it is directly connected with the conservation management of the site, or

– it is not likely to have a significant effect on the site, or

– an assessment of the proposal shows that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the Natura site.

This process is explained in the leaflet ‘Natura sites and the Habitats Regulations’ available on the SNH website. If you are seeking permission, you must provide the competent authority with enough information to allow it to assess the proposal’s effects on the site’s natural features. SNH can advise you if needed.

Key reminders for Natura sites

Before a competent authority may consent to proposals it must first consider how they could affect a Natura site. This applies to activities both within and outside a Natura site. Each proposal is looked at on a case by case basis.

Before you can rely on permitted development1 rights for a development that could affect a Natura site, you must get written prior approval from your local planning authority.

Please tell tenants, other occupiers and any new owners that the land is a Natura site and tell SNH about any change.

1 Permitted Development grants planning permission for certain classes of development provided that the development complies with certain restrictions and conditions set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 (as amended).

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Both Natura site and SSSI – what do you need to do?

Many sites are both Natura sites and SSSIs and the two procedures above apply. The consenting authority is responsible for considering the effects of a proposal on a site’s protected natural features. You need only apply as usual for SSSI consent and/or other permission, bearing in mind that you will need to provide the authority with enough information to allow them to make this consideration.

Key reminders for both SSSIs and Natura sites

Both SSSI and Natura site processes above apply.

It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly damage the interests of a SSSI or Natura site, or to carry out an operation requiring consent on an SSSI without having first obtained consent from SNH or permission from certain regulatory authorities for the same operation.

If you are concerned that third-party activities are threatening the protected natural features of an SSSI or Natura site, please contact SNH.



Further information about Scotland’s protected areas including Natura sites and SSSIs can be found on the SNH website. Contact details for SNH’s offices can also be found on the SNH website. For further information about NFU Scotland look on the NFU Scotland website or for specific enquiries, contact Jonathan Hall (Head of Rural Policy) at NFU Scotland’s Head Office.

Useful links


© Scottish Natural Heritage 2010

Photography credits:Front Cover: Oat stooks, Rinns of Islay SPA and SSSI. © Lorne Gill/SNHBrerachan Meadows SSSI. Lorne Gill/SNHLoch of Spiggie, Lochs of Spiggie and Brow SPA and SSSI © Lorne Gill/SNHBlackface ewe on heather moorland © Lorne Gill/SNHDitch blocked by plastic dam at Blawhorn Moss SAC. © Lorne Gill/SNH