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Local Wildlife Sites

The Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) system is designed to complement the network of nationally and internationally designated sites in the county. Selection is based on assessing a site’s ecological importance in a local context, in terms of the habitats and species the site supports. Fortunately in Somerset there still are many areas of important habitats remaining, which have been maintained by farmers and site managers through their sympathetic management.

Formerly in Somerset these sites were known as County Wildlife Sites (CWS), and in other regions of the UK other terms are used, such as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs), Sites of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCIs), and Local Nature Conservation Sites (LNCS).

How are Local Wildlife Sites selected?

The latest guidelines for the designation of Local Sites and previous versions of the LWS guidelines can be downloaded here.

Using criteria drawn-up by the Somerset Biodiversity Partnership, SERC assesses sites for their wildlife importance within the county context. Designation of any sites that meet the criteria is approved by a panel that includes ecologists from the local authorities. Landowners are kept informed throughout the process.

The designation criteria for Somerset were first compiled in 1991, with revised guidelines being compiled in 1997 in line with changes in national and local conservation strategies. A similar review was carried out in 2009 based on Defra guidelines issued in 2006.

  • Habitats targeted for designated include species-rich grassland, ancient woodlands, wood-pasture, heaths, marine and freshwater habitats of high ecological quality.
  • Sites are also designated if they support species of conservation importance, even if the quality of the habitat is not sufficient high to meet the habitat selection criteria.
  • The latest guidelines include criteria for the selection of LWS Network Sites. These are areas of semi-natural habitat either too small or of insufficient quality to meet other criteria, but that are likely to make a major contribution to the movement, dispersal and genetic exchange of species within the local landscape.

The majority of Local Wildlife Sites in the county were designated in the 1980’s and 90’s. During this time SERC carried out a rolling program of surveys to assess new sites and monitor changes in condition on existing sites. However, some designations were based solely on pre-existing information, particularly of ancient woodland sites. Consequently some sites won’t have been visited by SERC surveyors.

What does this mean for landowners?

Local authorities recognise the importance of Local Wildlife Sites and may show their boundaries on local development plans. The wildlife value of the site, together with all other planning considerations, will be taken into account in any future planning application, or woodland grant, that could adversely affect wildlife on the site. This does not necessarily mean that the application will not be passed.

If you own or manage a Local Wildlife Site there are no additional statutory restrictions over agricultural operations and absolutely no new rights of access are created. Owners manage their Local Wildlife Sites according to their own wishes and as such can make an important contribution to the conservation of Somerset's wildlife.

Potential benefits to landowners and support available

Habitats found on Local Wildlife Sites are a priority target for agri-environment grants such as Environmental Stewardship managed by Natural England and the County Council’s Somerset Landscape Scheme. These schemes are designed to achieve environmental benefits and aim to make conservation part of farming and land management practice.

Organisations such as Somerset Wildlife Trust and FWAG can provide assistance to owners of Local Wildlife Sites to help them maintain and enhance the wildlife interest of their land. Details of the support Somerset Wildlife Trust can provide to landowners is available on their website.

How to obtain information

SERC is responsible for mapping and updating the boundaries for all the sites in the county, and collating any available documents and data that relate to them. Periodic field surveys to report on their condition, and to assess candidate sites, are carried out by SERC and other agencies. SERC also seeks to collate wildlife records and other information from external sources that relate to sites.

Surveys by SERC are only conducted with the permission of the landowner and they receive a copy of any survey reports.

Details of Local Wildlife Sites and copies of survey reports can be obtained via the data enquires service. The information available can help;

  • Support landowners in managing these sites for wildlife.
  • Assessment of the current condition of habitats and populations of species, and with detecting changes.
  • Identify the potential impact of development works.