What are County Wildlife Sites and why are they important?

What are County Wildlife Sites and why are they important?

Cornwall’s nearly 500 County Wildlife Sites, covering around 10% of Cornwall’s land mass, are vital for various habitats and wildlife. Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Head of Nature Reserves, Callum, explains a little more about these sites, why they’re important, and the challenges they face.

Our finest spaces for nature are typically designated as Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), providing robust protection from development, intensive agriculture, and other pressures, which are already pushing nature in Cornwall to the brink.

However, SSSIs and SACs are unfortunately all-too-rare, with only a relatively few areas for wildlife (including several Cornwall Wildlife Trust nature reserves) benefiting from this vital legal protection.

And that’s were County Wildlife Sites should come in. These sites (home to important habitats, such as wetland, woodland and species-rich grassland) provide further areas from which nature and wildlife in Cornwall can recover and expand.

Bluebells at one of Cornwall's County Wildlife Site

Bluebells at one of Cornwall's County Wildlife Site, Image by Sue Hocking

Whereas nature reserves are typically managed and protected by organisations like Cornwall Wildlife Trust, County Wildlife Sites can be owned by anyone, and are often managed by individuals who share our love of wildlife and are committed to helping nature in Cornwall. 

County Wildlife Site designation should offer a level of protection against damaging activity, with any developments or change of use on these sites having to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment. However, the bleak reality is that this non-statutory designation is vulnerable to acts of habitat destruction and there are recent cases where this has happened with relevant enforcement agencies sadly lacking the resources to stop wildlife losses.

Sadly, what we’ve seen over the years is more and more County Wildlife Sites being destroyed, contributing to the slow erosion of Cornwall’s beautiful natural environment and heritage, and the associated loss of wildlife and habitats (as evidenced by our recent State of Nature Cornwall 2020 report).

We need to see the better enforcement of County Wildlife Site designation if nature in Cornwall is to recover at the scale needed to tackle the climate and ecological crisis we face.

We know nature and wildlife needs a network of connected and healthy habitats to thrive. And County Wildlife Sites will play a crucial role in Cornwall’s Local Nature Recovery Network Strategy (one of the first in the UK), which aims to help nature recover by establishing bigger, better and more joined up spaces for nature. But they can only play this role if they’re protected.

Over the years, Cornwall Wildlife Trust has identified, established and monitored Country Wildlife Sites across Cornwall. Today, we hold information on these sites, and can offer advice to landowners on how to best support nature at any County Wildlife Site they may own. 

I’ve recently become aware of one County Wildlife Site, adjacent to Seaton Valley Countryside Park, currently threatened, with part of the site (totaling almost five acres) being for sale, which could result in a damaging development. 

If Cornwall continues to lose these County Wildlife Sites bit-by-bit, wildlife, the environment, and people will suffer.

Further information about County Wildlife Sites and Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s work to protect them can be found here. Deviock Parish Council have recently launched a Crowdfunder to raise money in the hopes they can buy the area adjacent to Seaton Countryside Park and protect it for nature.