Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Scottish Natural Heritage designates Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which are the essential building blocks for nature conservation in Scotland.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are those areas of land and water that we consider best represent our natural heritage in terms of their:

  • flora – i.e. plants
  • fauna – i.e. animals
  • geology – i.e. rocks
  • geomorphology – i.e. landforms
  • a mixture of these natural features

Scotland has 1,423 SSSIs, covering just over 1,011,000 hectares or 12.7% of Scotland’s land area. Sites range in size from the very small, like Bo’mains Meadow SSSI, at just under a hectare, to the vast Cairngorms SSSI, which extends to more than 29,000 hectares.

Scotland’s national network of SSSIs forms part of the wider Great Britain SSSI series.

Many SSSIs are also designated as Natura sites – whether as Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas.

Find SSSIs in Scotland

Search for an SSSI in Scotland on SiteLink:

  • by using the interactive map
  • by entering the site name or local authority

Look up the SSSI Register to view for any Scottish SSSI:

  • boundary map
  • citation
  • ORC list

Selection and designation

Site of Special Scientific Interest is a statutory designation made by Scottish Natural Heritage under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

We have a duty, under section 3 of the Act, to notify as SSSIs areas of land we consider of special interest for their flora or fauna, geology or geomorphology.

We choose sites carefully after detailed survey and evaluation against the Joint Nature Conservation Committee criteria. Guidelines for the selection of biological SSSIs and guidelines for the selection of earth science SSSIs differ.

When we plan to notify a new SSSI, we contact all affected owners and occupiers to discuss our reasoning and how the designation would affect them. This is followed by a formal consultation process.

We may:

  • amend the list of features for which an SSSI is notified (SSSI citation) at any time
  • review the list of operations requiring consent (ORC list) every six years
  • reconsider the scientific case for an SSSI every 10 years – at the request of owners and/or occupiers of land within the SSSI

We have reviewed all SSSI citations and ORC lists since 2005.

Protection and management

It is an offence for anyone to intentionally or recklessly damage the protected natural features of an SSSI.

Most SSSIs are in private ownership and we work closely with their owners and managers to ensure:

  • appropriate management of a site’s natural features
  • that all decision-makers are aware of the designation when considering changes in land use or other activities that might affect an SSSI

SNH must provide each SSSI owner and occupier with a site management statement. This describes the interest of the site and explains the management needed to conserve its protected natural features.

You can access site management statements for all SSSIs via SiteLink.

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).

Operations requiring consent

Owners and occupiers of land within an SSSI must apply to SNH for consent to carry out certain operations. These are set out in the ORC list, which we send to owners, occupiers and other interested parties.

You must apply for consent in writing – by post, by email or by filling in the application form below.

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

Find out more

Farming, SSSIs and Natura sites leaflet