Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), originally introduced as Areas of Special Scientific Interest with the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act, provide the foundation for a major set of mechanisms protecting sites of high conservation value in Great Britain. The vast majority of these sites are in private ownership. The mechanisms by which SSSIs are protected from urban industrial development, which requires planning permission, and rural development (agriculture, forestry) which does not require planning permission, are contained within an assortment of legislation (listed separately in the references). This legislation reflects the piecemeal fashion in which SSSI protection has evolved. This paper gives an overall outline of the current mechanisms by which development can take place and the extent to which SSSIs are protected. In particular we concentrate upon the threat of potentially damaging operations arising from rural development. Two models of SSSI protection are proposed and contrasted with the current process. Our analysis pinpoints tension between intrinsic and utilitarian value systems as the reason for current unease with the existing procedures. On the basis of this analysis, possible improvements on the existing situation are advanced.
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