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Fineshade as SSSI... criteria and rationale

Part 1 of the revised guidelines can be downloaded here:


It is the critical standard principle that should be applied to Fineshade

This page draws upon the most recent published document from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


Guidelines for the selection of biological SSSIs

Part 1: Rationale, Operational Approach and Criteria for Site Selection

Revised and published 2013


A key section of these revised guidelines occurs in section 4.6. There, two guiding principles are laid out for site selection – known as the exemplary site principle and the critical standard principle

"the exemplary site principle – that the series of sites should contain adequate representation, in the form of the best examples, of the countrywide range of variation in near-natural and semi-natural habitat types, with their associated assemblages of plants, fungi and animals, considered both as communities and as individual species.

"the critical standard principle – that the identification of a critical standard of nature conservation importance can be developed and applied, above which all examples should qualify for key site status"

Section 4.8 explains that both principles have been applied but the emphasis on one or the other varies according to circumstances. Two examples are given:

“In the lowlands of Cambridgeshire, for example, only a small proportion of the land is now semi-natural, and much of this is in SSSIs. In the extensive near- and semi-natural habitats of intertidal areas, or the uplands of Sutherland, a much larger proportion of land qualifies for selection. The SSSI series therefore shows a gradient: in the lowlands, there is generally a larger number of small sites, perhaps comprising all the remaining good-quality examples of a particular habitat, compared with fewer but larger sites within the more continuous expanses of semi-natural habitats in the uplands and coastlands.“

We would point out that, in the lowlands of Northamptonshire, a similarly small proportion of the land is now semi-natural but, unlike Cambridgeshire, very little of this is in SSSIs.


Crucially for Fineshade Wood in particular and Rockingham Forest in general, section 4.8 goes on to state:

“It is important to apply minimum standards of quality to the selection of all SSSIs, but the principle of choosing only the best examples is appropriate only to the extensive and continuous types of habitat, notably rivers, northern lakes, cliff coasts and a number of upland habitats. For many habitats, it is appropriate to select several of the best remaining examples in each area. This changes the emphasis from (1) choosing only the best examples in an area (the exemplary site principle); to (2) choosing most or all remaining examples (the critical standard principle), depending on how much habitat/how many sites remain."

A site has to reach the qualifying standard for only one habitat or species to be eligible for selection as SSSI

Therefore it is the Critical Standard principle that should be applied to Fineshade. 


We also draw attention to Section 7, Assessment of site value. In particular in section 7.1 it is pointed out that: 

“A site has to reach the qualifying standard for only one habitat or species to be eligible for selection as SSSI when the critical standard principle is being applied." 

We claim that Fineshade Wood is certainly one of the best remaining examples of woodland habitat, (including much Ancient Woodland) in Rockingham Forest and, in the light of the various species assemblages confirmed by Forest Holidays’ surveyors in 2014, that Fineshade is worthy of SSSI status. 


Section 4.17 of the revised guidlines concludes that:


“Selection of SSSIs is therefore based on expert judgement, underpinned by a firm evidence base (helped by our growing ecological knowledge and understanding), combined with a realistic perception of the values society places on these biodiversity features. “

The firm evidence base already exists (thanks largely to Forest Holidays’ surveyors) and the value society places on the biodiversity features of Fineshade Wood became very clear in 2014 when there was a national outcry against development, backed by the unanimous support of the elected committee members of the local planning authority.


What is needed now is for Natural England to apply their expert judgment and notify Fineshade Wood as SSSI.

This page checked and updated February 2018

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