Natural England - Fears for important wildlife site as off-road vehicle damage intensifies

Fears for important wildlife site as off-road vehicle damage intensifies

31 January 2013

Natural England and the South Downs National Park Authority are appealing to the public to help protect a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which has been majorly damaged as a result of illegal activity.

The site, known as ‘Beeding Hill to Newtimber Hill’ lies within the South Downs National Park. It is notified as a SSSI for its three nationally rare habitats – south east chalk grassland, juniper scrub and calcareous woodland - and supports a rich community of invertebrates and rare butterflies and moths.

Unfortunately, over recent months, the site has been blighted by off-road motorcyclists who have been using it as a track. Damage to the site is worsening over time, with offenders bringing equipment with them to dig tracks and make alterations to suit their sport. Their anti-social behaviour and dangerous driving at the beauty spot is also having an adverse impact on the local community and the area is now being monitored by local police officers in a bid to stop the damage.

Carole Mortimer, Natural England’s Regulation Adviser said: “The illegal use of the site by off-roaders is causing a real problem. I’m appealing to the conscience of the off-roaders to please leave this special site alone, and to anyone - particularly walkers and legitimate users - who may have any information about this activity, to please contact local police. This is a site which needs to be protected for its special habitat. SSSIs are the country's best wildlife and geological sites. They are important as they support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside.”

Signs have been erected around the site, highlighting the designated area and providing contact numbers to report illegal activity.

Phillippa Morrison-Price, a Ranger for the South Downs National Park, said: “Sites of Special Scientific Interest are precious havens for the South Downs National Park’s plants and animals. To manage these habitats the site has to be grazed, so off-road bikes don’t just destroy the habitat and threaten wildlife, they can also have a serious impact on animal welfare and an economic impact on farmers. Last year one ewe on a different site died after being chased by a quad bike.

“We have worked closely with the police and local authorities in Sussex to create Pathwatch, a system for reporting anti-social use of paths and bridleways to the police. Anyone who witnesses illegal or irresponsible use of motorised vehicles in the countryside should report it through Pathwatch at www.pathwatch.infoexternal link or by calling the Sussex Police 101.”

A 23-year-old man from Hove has recently been issued with a warning under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, after being arrested causing damage at the site.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Natural England has a legal responsibility to ensure that SSSIs are protected and managed effectively, and can take appropriate enforcement action if the law is broken and features of SSSIs are damaged, disturbed and destroyed. The Act also states that all public bodies should take reasonable steps to further the conservation and enhancement of the features of interest on SSSIs.


Notes to editors:

Further information about Beeding Hill to Newtimber Hill SSSI.external link

About SSSIs

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are national statutory designations, protecting the country’s very best wildlife and geological sites, and include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats.

  • Since 2003, when just 57 per cent of SSSIs were assessed as being in favourable or recovering condition, they have been set on the road to recovery with the result that 96.5 per cent are now either in favourable condition or are on course to reach it.

  • Farmers, land managers, dedicated volunteers, charities and public bodies such as the Ministry of Defence have all played a major role in improving their condition.

  • Natural England is the statutory body responsible for enforcing the nature conservation provisions of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) including the notification and protection of SSSIs.

  • We currently work with over 26,000 separate owners to manage these sites in good condition.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

  • We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.

  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.

  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

For further information (media enquiries only), please contact: Melissa Gill, Natural England press office on 0300 060 2983. Out of hours, please call the duty press officer on 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: link.


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