- Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) should be protected. The greatest protection should be given to the most significant sites.
- In developing Development Plan policies, boroughs should:
- use the relevant procedures to identify SINCs and green corridors. When undertaking comprehensive reviews of SINCs across a borough or when identifying or amending Sites of Metropolitan Importance boroughs should consult the London Wildlife Sites Board
- identify areas of deficiency in access to nature (i.e. areas that are more than 1km walking distance from an accessible Metropolitan or Borough SINC) and seek opportunities to address them
- seek opportunities to create habitats that are of particular relevance and benefit in an urban context
- include policies and proposals for the protection and conservation of priority species and habitats and opportunities for increasing species populations
- ensure sites of European or national nature conservation importance are clearly identified and appropriately assessed.
- Where harm to a SINC (other than a European (International) designated site) is unavoidable, the following approach should be applied to minimise development impacts:
- avoid adverse impact to the special biodiversity interest of the site
- minimise the spatial impact and mitigate it by improving the quality or management of the rest of the site
- seek appropriate off-site compensation only in exceptional cases where the benefits of the development proposal clearly outweigh the biodiversity impacts.
- Biodiversity enhancement should be considered from the start of the development process.
- Proposals which create new or improved habitats that result in positive gains for biodiversity should be considered positively, as should measures to reduce deficiencies in access to wildlife sites.
Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) comprise:
- European sites (i.e. Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservations (actual or candidate) and Ramsar sites)
- National sites (i.e. National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest)
- Sites of Metropolitan Importance – strategically-important conservation sites for London
- Sites of Borough Importance – sites which support habitats or species of value at the borough level
- Sites of Local Importance – sites which are important for the provision of access to nature at the neighbourhood level.
Sites with a European or national designation are protected under their own legislation. For example, Special Protection Areas are protected under the EC Birds Directive and National Nature Reserves are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The higher up the above hierarchy a SINC is placed, the more any harm to it should be avoided. Before compensatory provision is identified as the only solution to a European site conflict, it is necessary to demonstrate that there are no alternatives to the European site and that Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI) exist which justify why the project should proceed.
Although heavily urbanised, London consists of a wide variety of important wildlife habitats, including a number of sites which have national and international protection. These habitats range from semi-natural features such as chalk grasslands and ancient woodlands to more urban habitats such as reservoirs and vegetated railway corridors. The wildlife value of these sites must be protected and appropriate maintenance regimes should be established to maintain or enhance the wildlife value of sites. Improved access to wildlife sites should be secured, where appropriate, so that Londoners can better experience and appreciate the natural environment within the city. The connections between protected sites – green corridors – are often critical in helping to sustain wildlife populations that would be vulnerable if they were confined to isolated areas of habitat.
Development proposals that are adjacent to or near SINCs or green corridors should consider the potential impact of indirect effects to the site, such as noise, shading or lighting. There may also be opportunities for new development to contribute to enhancing the nature conservation value of an adjacent SINC or green corridor by, for example, sympathetic landscaping that provides complementary habitat. The London Environment Strategy includes guidance on identifying SINCs as well as habitat creation targets and a comprehensive list of priority species and habitats that require particular consideration when planning decisions are made.
The London Wildlife Sites Board offers help and guidance to boroughs on the selection of SINCs. The relevant procedures for identifying SINCs are currently set out as Appendix 1 to the Biodiversity Strategy 2002, which will become an appendix to the final London Environment Strategy once adopted.
London’s water spaces make up an important set of habitats in London. Policy SI17 Protecting London’s waterways addresses the multi-functional use, protection and development of water spaces, with a particular priority for improving and restoring sections of river. The habitat value of waterways is a key element of their future management.