Local wildlife sites (LoWS)
Local wildlife sites (LoWS) are 'a discrete area of land which is considered to be of significance for its wildlife features in at least a district / borough / unitary authority context'.
Wildlife Sites were identified and declared by the Essex Wildlife Trust following a phase one habitat survey of the district in 1991 (revised 1996, 1998 and new full review 2009). They were formerly know as sites of importance for nature conservation (SINCs) or county wildlife sites. The Epping Forest District has 222 Local Wildlife Sites.
What does their designation mean?
Local Wildlife Site designation is non-statutory, but it recognises the high value of a site for wildlife. Many sites are of county, and often regional or national, importance. They are often designated because they support characteristic or threatened species or habitats included in Local or National Biodiversity Action Plans.
LoWS are not protected by legislation, but their importance is recognised by local authorities when considering any relevant planning applications and there is a presumption against granting permission for development that would have an adverse impact on a site.
Such measures have been strengthened by the provisions of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006 which requires all public bodies to 'have regard for' the conservation of biodiversity.
The District’s current suite of Local Wildlife Sites was identified by the Essex Wildlife Trust following a habitat survey of the whole district in the early 1990s. This survey was reviewed in 2009.
The Epping Forest District Local Wildlife Sites Report includes their location, boundaries and key features. Sites may be privately or publicly owned and vary in size and shape from small meadows, green lanes, dykes and hedges to much larger areas of ancient woodlands, heathland, greens, commons and marsh.
- Local Wildlife Sites networks provide a comprehensive rather than representative suite of sites.
- Local Wildlife Sites provide wildlife refuges for most of the UK’s fauna and flora and through their connecting and buffering qualities they complement other site networks.
- Local Wildlife Sites have a significant role to play in meeting overall national biodiversity targets.
- Local Wildlife Sites represent local character and distinctiveness.
- Local Wildlife Sites contribute to the quality of life and the well-being of the community, with many sites providing opportunities for research and education.
Although the system of statutory designations contains well over a million hectares, it is widely recognised as leaving out many sites that are of significant value for the conservation of wildlife and geological features.
This is because the purpose of such statutory designations is to provide a representative rather than a comprehensive suite of sites, the individual sites exemplifying the nation’s most important wildlife and geological features, rather than including every site with such interest.
In most areas, local authorities, working with other local partners, have set up systems of locally valued non-statutory sites. Supporting in the region of 35,000 Local Sites, these systems contribute significantly to delivering both UK and Local Biodiversity and Geodiversity Action Plan targets
Following consultation on the protection and management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a subsequent report published in August 1999, a Local Sites Review Group was set up by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). It reported in April 2000 and defined the overall objective of a Local Sites system as follows:
“The series of non-statutory Local Sites seeks to ensure, in the public interest, the conservation, maintenance and enhancement of species, habitats….features of substantive nature conservation value. Local Site systems should select all areas of....value including both the most important and the most distinctive species, habitats….features within a national, regional and local context. Sites within the series may also have an important role in contributing to the public enjoyment of nature conservation.”
In 1999 the report identified 189 LoWs in the Epping Forest District. The review in 2010 identified 222.
National Indicator 197 Biodiversity and Local Wildlife Sites
In April 2008, the Essex Local Area Agreement adopted National Indicator 197. Epping Forest District Council committed to this and Countrycare has been busy over the last few years working towards achieving its aims. This indicator measured the performance of Local Authorities for biodiversity by assessing the implementation of active conservation management of LoWS. The aim of NI 197 was to get all LoWS into positive conservation management (PCM). To achieve this each site had to have a basic management plan and receive some practical works in the previous five years, which either maintained, restored or enhanced the site’s biodiversity.
This was a tough target to achieve. Many of the sites are in private ownership and required considerable liaison and partnership working with landowners. However, some landowners and farmers were happy to work with Countrycare which led to improvements of several ancient woodlands and a site where fencing was erected to allow cattle grazing.
The Epping Forest District was set a target of getting 81 LoWS into PCM. In March 2011, at the end of the project, EFDC had 84 sites in PCM.
To begin with Countrycare concentrated on the 18 green lanes within the District which are also designated LoWS. By working on these sites we increased their biodiversity and importantly improved a vital part of the access network. See the Green Lane Project link Epping Forest Green Lanes Local Wildlife Site Project.
For work in action, see our Epping Forest Green Lanes Local Wildlife Site Project.