Bluebells at Hilbridge Woods, Emma Wood
What are Local Wildlife Sites?
Local Wildlife Sites are defined areas identified and selected locally for their nature conservation value. Their selection takes into account the most important, distinctive and threatened species and habitats within Derbyshire. They therefore comprise many of our best remaining flower rich meadows, ancient woodlands, ponds, swamps, fens and mires and provide a home to many of our native plant and animal species including many rare, declining or protected species.
In Derbyshire there are 1,144 Local Wildlife Sites covering 9,523 ha or 5.4% of Derbyshire (outside of the Peak District National Park).
They play an essential role in maintaining the full range of wildlife across the County and, together with designated sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, they help to create a network of semi-natural habitats within which animal and plant populations can hopefully persist, disperse, migrate and evolve.
The Local Wildlife Sites system in Derbyshire is a partnership between Local Authorities, NGOs and Government bodies such as Natural England. The system is based at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust where there is a team of four staff dedicated to this work.
Are Local Wildlife Sites protected?
The Local Wildlife Site designation is a non-statutory one so sites are not directly protected by any national legislation. They are, however, afforded protection through planning policies such as Planning Policy Statement 9 (PPS9) which recognises that Local Wildlife Sites have a fundamental role to play in helping to meet overall national biodiversity targets. It also advises Local Authorities on the need to develop local policies to protect sites. In the last five years legislation such as the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2007 and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations for uncultivated and semi-natural land (2006) can sometimes provide additional protection relevant to some Local Wildlife Sites.
Who owns Local Wildlife Sites?
59% of all LWS are in private ownership whilst public bodies and utilities own around 19% and non-governmental organisations such as Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust and Woodland Trust own 3%. Ownership is unknown or unconfirmed for the remaining 19%.
Are Derbyshire's Local Wildlife Sites being positively managed?
An estimated 25 - 30% of LWS (around 260 sites) are thought to be managed positively and are therefore considered to be in a favourable condition. However, 27% (227 sites) are considered to be in a state of serious decline due to neglect, unsympathetic management, development and recreational pressures and pollution. A large number of sites (289) are now considered stable despite some perceived historical loss of habitat quality or species diversity in the post war period, for example ancient broad-leaved woodlands that have been partially converted to conifers.
What threats do Local Wildlife Sites face?
Since 1984 130 sites have been destroyed and another 63 sites have been reduced in size due to damage. The causes of damage vary from development, infilling of ponds, recreational pressure, tipping, intensive agricultural and forestry management and neglect leading to scrub and bramble encroachment.
Today we are aware of 47 sites threatened by development over the next five years and numerous others that are suffering from lack of sympathetic management.
Why should we be concerned?
Local Wildlife Sites are vital to maintaining the present range and abundance of our wildlife, but if we wish them to provide an effective means of protecting our wildlife for the future we need to ensure that they are in a favourable condition and wherever possible under sympathetic management. Many sites require some management in order to maintain the particular habitats found within them. Sites that are declining may not be able to support the diversity of species that they did 10 years ago and can eventually be lost entirely.
Local Wildlife Sites are integral to our strategies for conserving wildlife in the wider countryside and if they are lost wildlife will become increasingly confined within statutory sites - islands of biodiversity within lifeless landscapes.
What can be done to protect Local Wildlife Sites?
Improvements to the level of protection afforded to sites through the planning system, and also within the wider countryside need to be made. Incentives for adopting sympathetic management of sites needs to be improved especially in relation to the availability of agri-environment and woodland grants to Local Wildlife Site owners.
More coherent policies are needed on local and national land use. The importance of biodiversity needs to be taken into account at a landscape scale with biodiversity being seen as a primary purpose of land use in strategic green corridors and urban hinterlands.
Local Wildlife Site systems need to be adequately resourced to ensure there are sufficient staff and funds to promote and encourage positive management and to minimise the adverse effects of human related environmental pressures.
What you can do
If you own or manage a piece of land which you think might be listed as a Local Wildlife Site, please contact us for advice regarding potential management options, surveys or planning issues. Equally, if you are aware of any land that has wildlife value that you think might qualify as a Local Wildlife Site please let us know and we will try to survey it to assess the wildlife interest.
Our publication The State of the Natural Environment in Derbyshire is the result of a 10-year study of the county's Local Wildlife Sites. Download our summary below.