Failure to protect nature at most special sites

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) should be havens for Welsh wildlife – but lack of funding means that we know little about what’s happening in them. A new report suggests that most of them aren’t in a good enough condition to look after the rare wildlife and habitats that they’re meant to protect. 

This month, National Resources Wales (NRW) published the first report in 15 years on the condition of Wales’ SSSIs. These are important sites that’s home to rare plants and animals.  

The report showed that 60% of the features (where there is enough data to make a judgement) are in “unfavourable” condition. For around half of SSSIs, there is not enough information available for NRW to be able to judge the condition they are in.  

This is deeply concerning as SSSIs should be the premier league of places for nature in Wales - and the wildlife that calls them home cannot survive and thrive if the sites are not in a good condition. 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. 

There are over 1,000 SSSIs in Wales. They cover almost 11% of the land and coast and according to NRW, they should be the “cornerstones of conservation”, a top priority for action  to  recover nature. Many SSSIs also have extra legal protections, because they are places of international importance for rare and threatened wildlife, such as curlew, and valuable habitats like blanket bog. 

Falling behind?

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

NRW is responsible for regularly monitoring 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 has cut NRW’s budget in real terms by 35% from 2013 to 2020, and as a result, there isn’t enough money for NRW to do this job properly. Today’s report shows that without adequate resources from Welsh Government, NRW is failing to deliver much-needed improvements - and nature is suffering as a result. A recent report on how well nations and territories have maintained their biodiversity showed Wales to be the sixteenth
from bottom in a league table of 240 that were assessed, and the latest State of Natural Resources Report reports serious ongoing declines.  

What needs to change? 

This October, the world’s Governments are coming 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 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.  

But nature needs more than warm words and promises - it needs the resource to make these promises a reality. 

Monitoring is vitally important for all protected areas, as a recent blog for Green Alliance sets out.

The Welsh Government must show it is serious about nature’s protection and recovery by reversing the cuts to NRW’s budget, setting legally-binding targets that will make SSSI monitoring and management a clear priority with the funding to back it up. 

You can find out more about how we are fighting for a green and just future for Wales – and how you can get involved - through our Revive Our World Cymru campaign.