The SSSI designation was first developed in 1949 in order to provide statutory protection for sites offering the best examples of the UK’s biodiversity as well as geological or physiographical features. In 1981 the designation was renotified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and has been further amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000 and the Nature Conservation Act 2004.
Since 1986 the Exe Estuary has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recognition of its international importance for wintering wildfowl and waders, its rare plant species (mostly on Exminster Marshes), and the fact that the sandbanks and mudflats support nationally significant populations of invertebrates. Orcombe Rocks are also included as a key geological feature of the site.
Natural England (NE) is committed to the careful and effective management of SSSI sites to ensure that they are not damaged and that every opportunity is taken to enhance nature conservation. As part of the management, the SSSI designation requires local planning authorities to consult Natural England about planning applications on land near to and likely to affect a SSSI and places a duty on public bodies to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs.
A landowner (or occupier) must request permission from Natural England to carryout any activity that may be harmful to the special interest features of the SSSI. A person is liable to a fine of up to £20,000 if they are convicted of carrying out, without reasonable excuse, an operation which damages the site and they may be ordered to restore the land to its former condition.
It is an offence for anybody to damage a SSSI, which carries a penalty fine of up to £2,500. A list of the ‘Operations Likely to Damage’ the site can be found on Table 3, page 29, of:
Natural England’s advice given under Regulation 33(2) of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994