§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley)
I have today placed in the House Library copies of the Code of Guidance,Sites of Special Scientific Interest: Encouraging Positive Partnerships. This Code applies to England only. It was laid in Parliament on 5 February and debated in the House of Commons on 26 February. Approval was given in the House of Commons on 4 March and it was debated and approved in the House of Lords on 4 April. The new Code reflects the substantial changes in legislation governing sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and replaces with immediate effect the existing Code of Guidance published in 1982.
As required by section 33 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Code sets out advice, recommendations and information for everyone involved in managing SSSIs, including English Nature, public and private bodies, and individual owners and occupiers. It is also a valuable reference for those whose activities and functions might be affected by the legislation protecting SSSIs, or whose activities might have an impact on SSSIs. It imposes no additional burdens on owners or occupiers, and helps establish a clear understanding of the basic legislative regime for protecting and enhancing our SSSIs.
SSSIs are the best examples of our natural heritage of wildlife habitats, geological features, and landforms. Over one million hectares of land, or 7 per cent. of the total area of England is designated as SSSI. By increasing understanding of the framework for their protection and management, the Code will be an important step towards the Government's PSA target to ensure 95 per cent. of the SSSI area is in favourable condition by 2010, and to achieving the objectives of the biodiversity strategy for England, published in October last year.