Almost two-thirds of Northamptonshire's protected sites for nature conservation are in a poor state, analysis has found.
Figures compiled by the JPI Media Data Unit revealed 65 per cent of official assessments of the county's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) found unsatisfactory conditions, putting Northamptonshire in the bottom 10 in England.
They include unfavourable findings at Geddington Chase, Pipewell Woods and Twywell Gullet - although there are fears the condition of many may be worse as some assessments are years overdue.
Paul de Zylva, from Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition. The failure to protect and restore these vital nature havens has been going on for far too long. The number of SSSIs recorded as being in decent condition has been hovering around the 50 per cent mark (nationally) for a decade or more.
“If we can’t even protect the jewels in the crown, it’s little wonder that UK nature is in such poor shape. The new government must make the protection and restoration of our natural environment a top priority.”
SSSIs are protected areas for nature conservation. Most are in private ownership, as part of estates, forests or farms, and are chosen because they are home to rare plant or animal species or important geographical features.
Findings in Northamptonshire include an 'unfavourable' grading for grassland at Bozeat Meadow, although the assessment found it was recovering.
At Geddington Chase some woodland was also found to be unfavourable but recovering with some significant improvements, but the inspection found the designated site failed on its regeneration targets. The protected site has not been inspected since 2011, despite guidelines saying they should be assessed every six years.
And at the Twywell Gullet - part of Twywell Hills and Dales - conditions were found to be declining because of a lack of grazing. The Natural England designation says past issues with dog attacks are to blame.
A spokesman for Kettering Green Party said: “Kettering Green Party say more environmental protection and investment in nature to protect and enhance Northamptonshire's SSSIs is essential to safeguard biodiversity at sites with rare and vulnerable species.”
Favourable conditions were found when inspectors visited popular sites including Pitsford Reservoir and Salcey Forest.
Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trust’s director of campaigns and policy, said: “Natural England does not have sufficient resources to monitor and assess Sites of Special Scientific Interest – we know of some places that haven’t been looked at in 15 years.
"This is a major issue and means that wildlife – even at our most important wild places – is under threat."
A total of 26,100 SSSI units or features across the UK have had their condition assessed. Of these, 13,073 (50.1 per cent) were in a ‘favourable’ condition, 12,915 (49.5 per cent) were ‘unfavourable’ with the remaining 112 classed as 'destroyed'.
National findings include:
- A colony of puffins on the Shetland Islands’ Sumburgh Head in an unsatisfactory and declining state, with the situation blamed on climate change
- Concern over the status of breeding peregrine falcons at Fair Head and Murlough Bay in Northern Ireland
- All protected sections of Cornwall's famous Bodmin Moor assessed as being in an unfavourable condition
The worst-performing UK county was Greater Manchester, where 91 per cent of features assessed were in an unfavourable condition.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest protect our most rare and threatened wildlife and represent the best in nature this country has to offer.
"While 94 per cent of these are currently in a favourable or recovering condition, we know more needs to be done to improve these vital sites.
"That’s why we are focusing on restoring those sites that are still in a recovering condition so we can enhance these important areas.”