Sites of Special Scientific Interest and British Waterways

By Annette Daykin, Waterway Environmental Officer, Grand Union Canal North

Sites of Special Scientific Interest, commonly referred to as SSSI’s are the best examples of our national heritage of wildlife habitats, geological features and landforms. They are designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and cover about 6% of the land area of England.

SSSI’s are notified by English Nature, the statutory body for nature conservation in England. Although some are owned and managed by English Nature, individual owners and occupiers are responsible for the protection and management of most of the sites. This is where British Waterways plays a significant role in ensuring that nationally important wetland sites are managed well. Locally, we have the Harby to Redmile SSSI, taking the route of the linear canal and the Kinoulton Marshes SSSI, where the canal is incorporated into a SSSI on adjacent offside land.

Many sites created by man for one purpose, such as gravel pits and reservoirs, have been rapidly colonised by nature. Hence, although our canals and reservoirs are managed for the enjoyment of man, we also share a responsibility to ensure that our nature heritage is maintained and conserved for future generations.

The Harby to Redmile SSSI was notified originally in 1983 and encompasses the whole of the canal from Rectory Bridge No. 44 at Harby through to Redmile Mill Bridge No. 53. The particular interest of the site relates to the aquatic vegetation and the towing path grassland, along with the associated habitats such as the emergent vegetation, trees and hedgerows.

The Kinoulton Marshes SSSI was also designated in 1983, the special interest of the site relates to the grazing marshland and neutral grassland of the adjacent land, but the canal channel has been included in the designation as associated valuable habitat.

The SSSI designations do not mean that British Waterways are unable to carry out works, just that our general works programme, engineering works and leisure and fishing activities take consideration of the sensitive nature of the site and all our activities must be given consent by English Nature. To simplify this process, our everyday maintenance schedules are given consent on a yearly basis, whilst major engineering works do require a more comprehensive appraisal and individual consent from English Nature. In the long term, British Waterways and English Nature are working together to produce a 5 year Management Plan for each of the sites, to ensure a balance between the requirements to ensure continued safe leisure use and the conservation of the wildlife habitats.