D2: Extent and condition of protected sites – land, water and sea

Interim Interim

Short description

Protected sites are areas of land, inland water and the sea that have special legal protection to conserve important habitats and species in England. These include our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and Ramsar sites. This indicator has 2 components: (a) extent (hectares) of protected sites on land, freshwater and at sea and (b) condition of protected sites on land, water and at sea. Condition for terrestrial sites is assessed against relevant common standards agreed by the UK conservation agencies. Condition methodology for MPAs is currently under development.

This indicator is not available for publishing in 2021 in a finalised form. An interim indicator is presented here that shows the extent of protected areas (D2a) and condition of SSSIs (D2b) in England. Data for this interim indicator are published annually as part of England Biodiversity Indicators. Work is underway to improve reporting for terrestrial and freshwater sites and some further work is required to implement a methodology for assessing the condition of MPAs so that an indicator of condition (D2b) that includes all sites on land, on water and at sea can be produced.

Trend description

a) Extent of Protected sites

The total extent of land, water and sea protected in England through national and international protected areas increased from 1.2 million hectares in 1999 to 3.4 million hectares in 2020. The area of sites at sea has increased substantially, by more than 8 times since the time series began in 1999 although the majority of this increase took place between 2011 and 2020. The area of sites on land and water has remained relatively stable over time, increasing by 6% between 1999 and 2020.

b) Condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest

There has been a net decrease in the area of SSSIs in favourable condition; down from 44% in 2003 to 38.9% in 2020. The sudden drop in the area of SSSIs in favourable condition from 43.2% in 2010 to 36.6% in 2011 was largely due to a more rigorous application of the ‘Common Standard for Monitoring’ protocols in assessing feature condition. However, since then, the area recorded as being in favourable condition has increased. The area of SSSIs in unfavourable recovering condition in 2020 (54.2%) is considerably higher than the 13% recorded in 2003.


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This table provides metadata for the interim or final indicator presented above.

Indicator name

Extent and condition of protected sites – land, water and sea

Indicator reference


Outcome Indicator Framework theme


Headline indicator status

Wildlife and wild places

Relevant goal(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
Relevant target(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Increasing the proportion of protected and well-managed seas, and better managing existing protected sites
  • Restoring 75% of our one million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term
Position in the natural capital framework
  • Condition of assets - species and ecological communities
Related reporting commitments
  • The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended)
  • The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended)
  • The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention)
  • Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR)
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
Geographic scope

England. Data may be disaggregated to individual sites and features.

Status of indicator development


Date last updated

11 June 2021