Freshwater Reviews, Vol 1, No 1 (2008)

The role of specially designated wildlife sites in freshwater conservation – an English perspective

Chris Philip Mainstone
DOI: 10.1608/FRJ-1.1.6 | Pages: 89-98


The value of specially designated sites in conserving biodiversity has been a hotly debated issue for many years. The debate has recently been given fresh impetus by the creation of Natural England, the new Government Agency responsible for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment in England, and the challenges facing the management of designated sites resulting from the increasingly tangible effects of climate change. In the freshwater environment, the role of designated sites is very much under the spotlight because of the implementation of the European ‘Water Framework’ Directive, which aspires to holistic, ecologically-based management of aquatic habitats.

This paper explores the underlying premises of, and rationale for, special site designations for wildlife, and provides a frank account of the inevitable clash of management philosophies that designated sites create in the freshwater environment, drawing on experiences of managing designated freshwater sites in England over the past decade.

A positive role is outlined for designated sites in freshwater conservation, which addresses these management conflicts in a way that not only meets Government obligations towards these sites but also paves the way for enlightened, progressive management of the wider freshwater resource. As part of this account, attempts are made to clarify the relationship between key biodiversity-related policy drivers in the freshwater environment, and to explain how the spectre of climate change can be addressed within designated site management.The importance of strategic freshwater science, collaboratively designed and funded, in maximising the value of the designated freshwater site network to the wider freshwater habitat resource, is stressed.