Skip the NI Direct Bar
Department of the Environment logo
Northern Ireland Environment Agency logo
Home > NIEA > Protected Areas > Areas of Special Scientific Interest

Areas of Special Scientific Interest

Last updated: 11 November 2014

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).

Check out the web pages about our work on Conserving Biodiversity.

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.

See our leaflet on why ASSIs are Worthy of Protecting (.PDF 730Kb)Opens in New window.

picture of cover of worthy of protecting document

The red areas on the map below are those designated as ASSIs. The council area is also shown.

Click on the following link to access the NIEA map viewer to see these areas in more detail. Further information on individual ASSI's can be found using the menus on the right hand side of this page and searching for the ASSI in the county in which it is located.


The law relating to ASSIs is contained in the Environment Order (Northern Ireland) 2002, Part IVOpens in New window. NIEA must, as required by the law laid down in the Order, 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.

ASSIs are identified by scientific survey. They have a well-defined boundary and by and large remain in private ownership. The underlying philosophy is to achieve conservation by co-operation and in this, the part played by landowners is fully recognised and appreciated.  Most of the areas designated are of value because of the way they have been managed in the past - for example by traditional farming methods - and there is no need to change from existing practice.

NIEA compiles a list of the most important plants, animals and geological interests that are the designated features of the site and also produces a list of activites for each ASSI that it considers may have a significant impact on these site selection features. When an ASSI is declared, owners and occupiers receive a list of these - known as "notifiable operations".

Should a landowner wish to carry out any activity that is a notifiable operation, they must apply to NIEA for Consent.  NIEA representatives will then consider in detail the potential impacts of the proposed operation and, if necessary, give guidance on how it may be carried out in a way that protects the designated features of the ASSI.  The majority of applications for consent for proposals are approved by NIEA, although they may set conditions on how they are carried out - in many cases this would be because certain actions would be prevented by other legislation, for example, by planning, agricultural or waste management regulations and regulations to prevent water pollution.

Consent may be applied for using an ASSI Consent Form (PDF-300Kb)Opens in New window. A hard copy of this form can be posted out if required, please call Conservation Designation and Protection (CDP) Unit on 028 9056 9523.

Government bodies also need to notify NIEA if they wish to carry out or permit Notifiable Operations on land that they own or manage. To find out more about this visit the page on Duties of Public Bodies.

Compliance Policy

Carrying out Notifiable Operations on land designated as an ASSI without obtaining authorisation in the form of written Consent from NIEA is an offence.

Download the following document for further information: Compliance Policy and General Guidance for Protection of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (.PDF 262Kb)

Peat Cutting on Sites Designated as ASSIs

Position statement on peat cutting at designated sites (.PDF 251Kb)Opens in New window

Peat Cutting on Designated Sites FAQ

European Designations

Some ASSIs are also designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).