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Fineshade is certainly SSSI-worthy

This page last updated February 2018

In 2014, it was clear that Forest Holidays’ wildlife surveyors working in the woods, were very impressed indeed with Fineshade’s natural richness.  One said:  
“This wood is amazing… it should be a nature reserve! Why isn’t it a SSSI?” 


Why indeed?  In this section we lay out the case for Fineshade being a SSSI. We hope this will lead to Natural England designating it as such, but the evidence we have now published certainly makes it clear that Fineshade is overwhelmingly SSSI-worthy.


(However, a health warning....  These pages are written for stout-hearted ecologists, very diligent Fineshade supporters and planners!)

What is a SSSI?


Usually pronounced "triple-S-I", the letters stand for a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  There are over 4000 SSSIs in England and they give legal protection to the best sites for wildlife and geology. 


It is Natural England (NE) who have a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to “notify” any area of land which in their opinion is ‘of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features.’  There are procedures in place for this notification and, in 1989, 'Guidelines for the selection of biological SSSIs' were published.  

“This wood is amazing… it should be a nature reserve!


Why isn’t it a SSSI?” 

Revision of the SSSI guidelines


22 years later, in 2011, the process of updating these guidelines began, with a target completion date of 2017.  The quality assurance, approval and sign-off processes are being coordinated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).  So far Part 1 of the new guidelines has been published – the “Rationale, Operational Approach and Criteria for Site Selection”. 


Work is under way on Part 2, the detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species, with individual chapters being revised, led by a lead author and team of specialists in the Country Conservation Bodies (including Natural England). However, production of several chapters are well behind schedule. 


Below are particular chapters in Part 2 that appear to apply to Fineshade, with their new target publication dates (as at 31 March 2016). In February 2018 we asked for an update on progress and will publish that here when/if it becomes available.

Chapter 2:     Woodlands        Possibly not completed by end of 2016 (was winter 2015 - spring 2016) 

Chapter 11:   Vascular plants  Possibly completed by late summer 2016 (was winter 2015 - spring 2016) 

Chapter 13:   Mammals          Possibly completed by summer 2016 (was autumn 2015 - winter 2015/16) 

Chapter 14:   Birds                 Completed June 2015

Chapter 15:   Reptiles and amphibians     Spring-Summer 2016 

Chapter 16:   Invertebrates     Possibly completed by late summer 2016 (was winter 2015- spring 2016)

Early approaches to Natural England


A first formal request to Natural England to designate part of Fineshade Wood as SSSI was made in September 2014.  In recent years, NE’s resources have been severely stretched by repeated re-organisations and rationalisations (otherwise known as government cuts). It is probably fair to say that while the guidelines are being revised there has been less emphasis on the actual notification of newly recognised SSSI-worthy sites. The NE response, dated 23/9/2014, included this telling sentence.

“Until the findings of the woodland portion of this review have been completed I am afraid that I am unable to comment on the likelihood of Fineshade Wood being notified as a SSSI.”   

Subsequent approaches in 2015-16 produced responses indicating that Natural England was currently reviewing its whole strategic approach to designation with, we were told, an expected completion of the revised approach to designations in place by autumn 2015 but "Unfortunately we are unable to confirm at this point whether or not we would consider notifying Fineshade as SSSI." (response dated 29th July 2015.)


Attempts to gain access to draft versions of the relevant chapters of Part 2 that had not yet been published were unsuccessful.  Therefore we worked through all the relevant chapters of the current (1989) guidelines relating them particularly to Fineshade and we published comments on this part of the website. We intend to update sections as the various revisions become available.


We have laid out the factual basis for our belief that Fineshade does meet the current criteria. Putting this argument into the public domain will, no doubt, be helpful to developers thinking of exploiting the woodland in the future.


There is further information (obtained under Freedom of Information requests) about delays in the notification of SSSIs and the introduction of a so-called Gate Zero, which may hold them up still further, on Mark Avery's blog here.

Most of this information is drawn from


In March 2016 New possible publication dates were kindly supplied by Ant Maddock of JNCC, the manager for the SSSI Guidelines revision.   

... while the guidelines are being revised there has been less emphasis on the actual notification of newly recognised SSSI-worthy sites.

Latest news


On 13 April 2016 an open letter  was sent to Natural England requesting SSSI notification as a matter of urgency. The letter was supported by local and national conservation groups and individuals with a wide range of ecological expertise. 


On 21st April 2016 Fineshade's MP wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs  asking her to review the request for SSSI status.


On 25th April 2016 a letter was sent from the Woodland Trust to Natural England emphasising the threat to the "ecological integrity" of the woodland and calling for SSSI designation. 


On 26th April 2016 a response was received from Natural England stating that they are unable to consider the case for Fineshade's designation in the immediate future but that it would now be placed on a list for possible future designation.


On 16th May 2016 Natural England's Area Manager visited the wood. Details here. 

On 24th May 2016 Natural England's Chief Executive wrote to Fineshade's MP summarising their current view. Read that letter here.


There were no further developments in 2017, but in 2018 we are continuing to update our case for Fineshade to become a SSSI. In particular we are encouraging further survey work and this is revealing more species of note and national or local importance


Whether or not Fineshade receives actual notification of SSSI status, we have shown that it is certainly SSSI-worthy. We have also brought the wood to the attention of the government's advisers for the natural environment leading them to state, for example, that : "Fineshade Wood is a wonderful place for wildlife".


We welcome and will publish comments, corrections and clarifications to any of this information. 

Whether or not Fineshade  receives notification of SSSI status, we have made the case that it is certainly SSSI-worthy.



Please click on the buttons below for details of our assessment of how the current guidelines apply to Fineshade Wood.

The new "Critical Standard Principle" should be applied to Fineshade... and it has to reach the qualifying standard for only one habitat or species to be eligible for selection as SSSI.



Fineshade is the largest block of unprotected ancient semi-natural woodland in Rockingham Forest and its 497 ha. make its woodland SSSI-worthy.



Fineshade Wood has assemblages of breeding bird species which make it eligible for notification as a SSSI.




There is strong evidence that Fineshade Wood has assemblages of reptiles and amphibians which make it eligible for notification.



Botanical records are incomplete and may be lost. Several nationally rare and scarce plants have been recorded as well as declining species at the edge of their range.




Presence of Dormice, Badgers and at least six bat species, together with records of Otters enhances the case for SSSI notification.



There are historical records of 78 rare or scarce species of moths and current records of a collection of rare or scarce species of butterfly. 


This page last updated February  2018

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