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Areas of natural importance

This information layer displays the locations and classification of areas deemed by three official bodies to be of natural importance. These areas include ancient woodlands, sites of special scientific significance and Ramsar sites (Wetlands of International Importance), among many others.

FIND has sourced natural heritage data from three public organisations for Great Britain - Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales. The classifications of areas deemed to be of natural importance vary between England, Scotland and Wales. To explore the classifications in more depth, please visit the websites of the organisations listed above.

Areas that are deemed to be of natural importance have restrictions that may limit the extent and type of property development that can take place. Knowing the type and location of these designated areas is important during the planning process.

The 'Terms of Use for Natural England's Information and Data' states that their data is for non-commercial use. If you wish to use the Natural England data for commercial purposes please contact Natural England's Enquiry Service on 0845 600 3078 or email

Areas of natural importance information is divided into sixteen sub-layers:

  • Ancient woodland

Ancient woodlands and trees are said to represent a living cultural heritage, the natural equivalent to our great churches and castles.

  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

An area of this type is usually a mark of great landscape and scenic beauty, although it is not necessarily one of high nature conservation value. In Scotland, the equivalent designations are National Scenic Areas which are also shown in this layer.

  • Biogenetic reserves

These reserves conserve representative examples of European flora, fauna and natural areas. All coastal biogenetic reserves in Britain are designated for their heathland interest.

  • Biospheric reserves

These are areas of terrestrial, coastal or marine ecosystems that are internationally recognised under the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

  • Country parks

These are areas of countryside in the United Kingdom set aside by the Countryside Commission for the public’s recreational use.

  • Local nature reserves

These are living green spaces in towns, cities, villages and the countryside which are important to people and support a rich and vibrant variety of wildlife.

  • National Nature Reserves (NNRs)

These reserves protect the most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations in Britain, and are also places for scientific research.

  • National parks

These are extensive areas, each with their own managing authority to conserve and enhance their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.

  • Ramsar sites (Wetlands of International Importance)

Wetlands are deemed to be hugely important areas with extensive biological diversity.

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

These include a wide range of habitats from small fens, bogs and riverside meadows to sand dunes, woodlands and vast tracts of uplands.

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)

These have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive to provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats as part of a global effort to conserve the world’s biodiversity.

  • Special protection areas

These are strictly protected sites, also known as the Birds Directive, for the conservation of wild birds.

  • Important Bird Areas (IBAs)

These areas are designated by Bird Life International and are considered to be globally important habitats for the conservation of bird populations.

  • RSPB reserves (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)

This shows RSPB reserves in the UK for 80% of the UK’s rarest and most threatened bird species, and the conserved habitats in which they live.

  • Rights of way

The Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 for England and Wales increases protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and facilitates better management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Act creates a right of public access to areas of open land, comprising mountain, moor, heath, down, and registered common land. It also contains safeguards to protect the needs of landowners, occupiers and wildlife.

Access land shows all areas of registered common land and of open country. Areas of military byelaw, racecourses and aerodromes have been removed from this layer as they are excepted from rights of access under section 28 of the act.

Dedicated land shows land that has been dedicated by landowners or long leaseholders for permanent access.

  • Agricultural land

The Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) provides a method for making decisions about the use of land in the planning system. It is key in underpinning sustainable development which is a focus of the governments planning strategy.

Agricultural land is classified into 5 grades from 1 to 5 in descending quality. Also shown are non agricultural areas and urban areas. The criteria used for assessment include climatic criteria, site specific criteria such as relief and flood risk, soil character and composition.

When viewed together on FIND these layers provide a good representation of important natural landscapes within Britain.

Data provider 1Natural England
Data provider 2Natural Resources Wales
Data provider 3Scottish Natural Heritage
Data provider 4Scottish Government
Data provider 5RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
Sample of dataSample layered PDF
Coverage areaBritain (Rights of way and Agricultural land are England only)

Version date of datasetJanuary 2015 - February 2017
Frequency of update cycleIrregular

Viewable in map windowYes
Viewable on map backgroundsAll map backgrounds except FIND Maps / OS Plan
Viewable between scales1: 3 000 - 1: 200 000

Printable between scales 1: 3 000 - 1: 200 000

Export formatsDWG, DXF, TAB, SHP
Maximum export size via internet10 000 hectares (100 km²)


Period layer saved for viewing (without incurring further costs)Perpetual
Period print saved for (without incurring further costs)Perpetual

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