PPS 2: Planning and Nature Conservation
Nature Conservation and Development Control: Development Affecting Sites of National Nature Conservation Importance
53. The designation of sites does not form part of the development plan process. Some sites may be referred to in the test of plans or may be included on maps, for information purposes. Others will not be publicised in order to protect the fragile interests in them. Designations made under the Amenity Lands Act (NI) 1965 and the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands Order 1985 include:
Areas of Scientific Interest - sites of special value because of their flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features; many have been re-declared as ASSIs.
National Nature Reserves - sites of national and sometimes international importance usually managed by the Department's Environment and Heritage Service or by agreement with a voluntary conservation body.
Nature Reserves - includes sites particularly appropriate for educational, research of public information purposes.
Areas of Special Scientific Interest - land which in the Department's opinion is of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features.
Marine Nature Reserves - inter-tidal or sub-littoral areas established for the conservation or study of areas of marine flora, fauna, and geological or physiographical features of special interest.
54. A major component of the Department's nature conservation strategy is the designation and protection of sites which are of national nature conservation importance. Some are particularly important because what they exemplify is rare and irreplaceable. Others are important as representative examples of their type. Such features, of scientific, educational or research interest, once destroyed, cannot be re-created.
55. Development proposals within sites of national importance or outside but likely to affect them, will be subject to special scrutiny. Where it is considered that such development will have a significant adverse effect, directly or indirectly, on the site, it will not be permitted unless the reasons for the development clearly outweigh the value of the site itself. In considering proposals for development affecting such sites, the following matters will be taken into account:
- the potential damage to habitats or species;
- opportunities for alternative siting or potential mitigating measures;
- the possibilities for replacement sites;
- opportunities to enhance nature conservation; and
- the importance of the proposed development to Northern Ireland.
56. Development outside, but close to, the defined boundaries of a protected site may have serious repercussions within it, even to the point of destroying its scientific value. Wetlands (including marshes and estuaries, as well as rivers and lakes) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drainage, alterations to the water table, water-borne pollution and other developments within catchment areas. In considering planning applications in such locations, the Department will take into account the possible threats and its commitment to the wise use of all wetlands, as required by the Ramsar Convention (see Annex 1).
57. Where development is permitted, the Department will consider the use of conditions or planning agreements to ensure the protection and enhancement of the site's nature conservation interest. Conditions may be used, for example, to require areas to be fenced to protect them, or to restrict operations or uses to specific times of year. Planning agreements may accompany permissions to secure long term management or to provide new conservation habitats, to compensate for any habitats lost when development takes place. Exceptionally, in order to offset damage to wildlife from development schemes, it may be proposed for animals and plants to be removed to other "safe" sites.