Special landscapes & sites
About 30% of Wales' land and waters have been
chosen as special sites – either for their wildlife, their scenic
beauty or value as geological sites.
Some are protected sites where conservation is backed up by law,
others – which often overlap the statutory ones – have been
earmarked for sensitive management as fine examples of natural
Special landscapes - under UK Law
National Parks – Large areas which are
designated by law to protect their special landscape qualities and
promote outdoor recreation. National Parks have their own
Authorities, which control planning. There are three in Wales.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) –
Protected by law because of their special landscape qualities. They
have more protection than other areas under the planning process
and, in terms of landscape and scenery, are equal to National
Parks. Wales has five AONBs.
Other special landscapes
Heritage Coast – Stretches of outstanding,
unspoilt coastline, usually cared for by local authorities. The 14
different stretches account for nearly half of Wales’
Historic landscapes – Landscape can often show
how areas and communities developed over the centuries. The best
surviving examples have been identified and included on a register.
They have no special protection, but the register’s aim is to draw
attention to the value of these landscapes when planning
applications and developments are considered.
Special sites - under UK law
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) –
These are the cornerstones of wildlife and habitat protection in
Wales and are backed by law. There are more than 1,000 of them.
Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs) - Wales’ only
Marine Nature Reserve is covered by special byelaws. MNRs protect
important marine habitats, sea life and special features on shore
or on the seabed.
Natura 2000 sites - under European Commission Directives
Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – A
network of strictly-protected sites across the European Union that
will make an important contribution to protecting some of the 189
habitat types and 788 species that have been chosen for protection.
SACs can be on land, on the coast or at sea. There are 90 SACs or
candidate SACs in Wales.
Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – Strictly
protected sites which aim to safeguard rare, vulnerable and
migratory birds according to the European Commission’s Birds
Directive. Wales has 19 SPAs. They are all SSSIs and are protected
Special sites - under international agreements
Wetlands of International Importance – These
are called Ramsar Sites after the town in Iran where an
international convention was agreed to protect important and
threatened wetlands, which can very from bogs and mires to open
water. The 10 Ramsar Sites in Wales are all SSSIs and contain rare
plants and animals. Many are particularly important for
Biosphere Reserves – Wales has one of these
internationally recognised reserves which are dedicated to studying
the way human activity affects the local environment. It is part of
a world wide chain under UNESCO.
Biogenetic Reserves – A European network of
reserves to conserve plants, animals and natural areas that may be
common in one country, but scarce in another. They aim to protect a
store of such genetic material for the future. Sites have to be
SSSIs or similar. Wales has one.
Geoparks – Wales has one of this network of 25
European sites which are being conserved because of their
Other special sites
National Nature Reserves (NNRs) – The best
national examples of habitats, geology, wildlife or a combination
of these. They are owned or leased by CCW or other conservation
bodies and many can be visited. There are 66 in Wales.
Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) – These are set up
by local authorities and have features which are important locally.
They combine conservation with opportunities for quiet enjoyment of
nature. There are 53 in Wales.