Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) are protected areas that represent the best of our wildlife and geological sites that make a considerable contribution to the conservation of our most valuable natural places.

Why we protect ASSIs

We all need to conserve our natural environment as it provides our essentials in life - such as our food, clean air and water and our places for recreation. To do this we have to prevent loss of Biodiversity (which is the great variety of plants and animals that support life on earth) and Geodiversity (the rocks, minerals, fossils, soils and landforms that have been formed over millions of years and determine our landscapes and the species that live there).

How we protect ASSIs

The best way of protecting our plants and animals is to protect the land, the freshwater and the seas where they live.  It is essential, especially in light of the pressures of modern development, to ensure that the most important areas are protected and managed to form a network of natural areas that are capable of supporting our plants, animals and geological heritage into the future.

The law relating to ASSIs is contained in the Environment Order (Northern Ireland) 2002, Part IV(external link opens in a new window / tab). NIEA must declare land as an ASSI if it is of special scientific interest because of the flora or fauna that is found on it, or because of geological features.

How are ASSIs identified?

ASSIs are identified by scientific survey. On most occasions the survey is undertaken by NIEA staff but sometimes a private contractor may be used, if a particular scientific expertise is required.

The Environment (Northern Ireland) Order empowers any person, who is authorised in writing by DAERA, to enter any land to establish if it should be declared an ASSI, subject to certain conditions:

  • 24 hours notice must be given to the landowner
  • written authorisation from the Department must be presented to the landowner upon request

Selection criteria

The selection criteria used when carrying out a scientific survey to determine if land should be declared as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI)

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