County Wildlife Sites are the most significant areas of semi-natural habitat in Cornwall outside statutory protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
County Wildlife Sites
There are currently 498 County Wildlife Sites in Cornwall covering nearly 33,000 hectares. This is nearly 10% of the county’s land area and is under both public and private ownership.
Unlike Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), County Wildlife Sites are non-statutory designations. This means they have no legal protection and that there is no legal obligation on landowners to preserve or take care of their County Wildlife Sites. However, there are planning constraints on County Wildlife Sites and these are recognised in Local Development Plans.
As a result of this limited protection, many County Wildlife Sites have been lost or become degraded for a number of reasons including:
- Neglect such as wetland and grassland left to scrub over
- Inappropriate management including the creation of lakes in wetlands, overgrazing and undergrazing
- Intensification of agriculture including loss of traditional practices beneficial to wildlife such as hay meadow management
- Fragmentation, leading to wildlife becoming isolated
County Geology Sites
Cornwall has some of the richest and most varied geology in the British Isles. This, combined with its long coastline and complex mining history, means that the county contains a large number of sites worthy of conservation. It is important to note that unlike Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), County Geology Sites are not protected by law. They are however notified to local authorities and are an established feature of the statutory planning process in Cornwall.
Within Cornwall designated sites are protected by conservation policies in the County Structure Plan, the Cornwall Minerals Framework, the Cornwall Waste Framework and the Local Development Framework. A County Geology Site designation does not commit landowners to any increased site access or management. However the Geoconservation Group welcomes the opportunity to work with landowners on the monitoring and maintenance of sites.
The designation of a feature as a County Geology Site is a way of recognising and protecting a regionally important Earth heritage site. A site can be proposed and then approved, on the basis of one or more of the following clearly defined and locally determined criteria:
- scientific importance
- educational value
- historical significance
- aesthetic value for public awareness and appreciation.
A site can be proposed by anyone. The proposal should contain detailed information about the site along with evidence of its geological and / or geomorphological significance. The proposal form can then be submitted to the Cornwall Geoconservation Group. A period of consultation ensues, fully involving the landowner. Once the proposal is approved, designation takes place.
ERCCIS works with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Geoconservation Group to update and manage the information for Cornwall's County Wildlife and Geology Sites, the details of designations and survey data.
ERCCIS and CWT have developed a web-based system for storing and sharing information about County Wildlife Sites throughout Cornwall, called SITES. Combining reports for each designated County Wildlife Site and and interactive digital map, SITES to search for sites and access summary sheets which provide details of: location; size; survey activity; aerial photograph overlays; a general description highlighting habitats and some of the species recorded within the site, including Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitats and Species; known site management such as Stewardship Schemes or nature reserves; links for further information; and a facility to submit comments or observations regarding a CWS.
SITES can be accessed directly through the website or via the GIS layer, with both requiring a username and password to enter the system. Organisations with a Service Level Agreement have been issued with the updated map layer containing web-links to SITES summary sheets.