Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) - Consents

From 5 June 2023, NatureScot is piloting a new digital platform called InformedDECISION© for protected areas casework in our National Operations South Area.  

If you want to apply for SSSI consent in our South Operations Area, please go to the pilot page.

Why is a consent needed

The legislation underpinning SSSIs requires that NatureScot identifies any activities that are likely to damage the natural features for which the site is designated. These activities are listed for each site as ‘Operations Requiring Consent’.

Before a private owner or occupier of a SSSI carries out any activity listed on the ORC list, permission must be sought from NatureScot and a consent issued.

The ORC list for any site can be found by searching for the site on SiteLink.

When is a consent not needed

There are a number of situations in which a private owner or occupier does not require consent;

  • The activity is not on the site’s ORC list
  • The activity is to be carried out in accordance with a contract under the SRDP
  • There is already an active consent in place from NatureScot (or its predecessors)
  • The specific activity is covered by an active management agreement, land management order of species control order
  • The operation requires (or is already covered) by a permission from another regulatory authority which must have first consulted NatureScot
  • The operation is to be carried out under planning consent (note ‘permitted development’ is not included in this category and would still require a consent)

Information needed to for an application to carry out an Operation Requiring Consent

All applications for consent must be in writing and include the following information;

  • Adequate details about the nature of the operation which you wish to undertake (i.e., enough information on all aspects of the operation so we can assess if there will be impacts on any of the sites notified features)
  • The proposed dates for commencement and completion of the operation
  • The land on which it is proposed to carry out the operation clearly identified to a sufficient level of accuracy (if needed a map of the SSSI can be provided for marking-up)

Ensuring the information above is given clearly and in sufficient detail for us to assess any impacts is important in allowing us to deal with your application as quickly as possible.

Applications that do not contain this information are not valid and will require we return to you for additional information. This will slow down the application process.  

How long does the process take

The legislation states that NatureScot has four months from the date that the application was sent to respond to applications from private owner occupiers. If we have not responded in this time it is taken to mean we have refused the application. In practice, NatureScot will always strive to process applications as quickly as we can.  If it’s clear that assessing the case may exceed the time allowed, then we will make sure to inform you in good time

Applications should be submitted as early as possible however, to minimise the risk of any delays. 

How to apply

Application for consent must be in writing, by email or post.

To ensure the quickest turnaround we would advise using the application form below and emailing it in. Remember to include all relevant information to allow for an assessment to be made.

Application for consent to carry out operations listed as likely to damage the natural features(s) of an SSSI.

What about third parties or Public Bodies?

If a third party wishes to carry out an operation requiring consent on a SSSI then, to do so legally, they will need to contact the relevant owner or occupier of the land to arrange for an application for consent be submitted.

Public Bodies have different requirements under the legislation. These are broader than for private owner occupiers, with all activities that may affect a SSSI – either on the land or connected to it – needing to be considered. In some situations they must apply to NatureScot for a consent whereas in others they must just consult NatureScot. Public Bodies must understand their legal requirements under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

Read our Guidance on collecting geological samples from Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Scotland.

Find out more

Read our Sites of Special Scientific Interest booklet for owners and occupiers of SSSIs.

Anyone who manages an SSSI may also be eligible for funding through the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

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