Special Wildlife Sites and Species

Julian Jones, Sites & Species Officer, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust

There are approximately 550 Special Wildlife Sites (SWS's) in Worcestershire. These places are considered to be the best places for wildlife in the county outside of legally protected areas such as SSSIs, National Nature Reserves and Local Nature Reserves. Special Wildlife Sites were selected in 1990 from a desk-study of several thousand sites that had been surveyed in the county during the 1970's and 80's. I have recently been appointed by The Wildlife Trust to review the Special Wildlife Sites, begin selecting 'new' ones and develop a system to ensure their protection and management for conservation. In order to achieve adequate protection, we are setting up a local partnership of all the key countryside organisations, with the Wildlife Trust taking on the role of the day-to-day running of the system.

One of the key aims of a Wildlife Sites System is to produce objective criteria for the selection of Wildlife Sites. In the case of habitats, the primary criteria used are: rarity, diversity, size and naturalness (the so-called 'Ratcliffe criteria'). If a site is to be selected on the basis of its species importance the criteria need to be different. It is possible to select sites where RDB species are known to occur which may be straightforward in the case of plants, but could prove a problem with birds given their rather transient nature!

Setting thresholds is also a potential 'minefield'. For example, if an area of standing water is to be chosen as a Special Wildlife Site for its dragonfly assemblage, how many species need to occur? In Mid-Wales, the threshold is 6 breeding dragonfly species for a site, what should it be in Worcestershire?

There is a problem in selecting Special Wildlife Sites for a particular species which is rather rare nationally, but may have many sites within the county. For instance, should all Great-crested Newt sites in Worcestershire be selected as Special Wildlife Sites?

In order to establish credible criteria for selecting Special Wildlife Sites in Worcestershire, the local knowledge of biological recorders needs to be included. For this reason I have written to a number of you asking for your help. I would welcome any comments on the selection of SWS using species criteria and also any details on sites which are important for species within the county.

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