Areas of Special Scientific Interest

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. 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 the Department of the Environment, 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


Notifiable operations

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 (including Government bodies) 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.

A hard copy of this form can be posted out if required, please call Conservation Designation and Protection (CDP) Unit on 028 9056 9523.

Carrying out Notifiable Operations on land designated as an ASSI without written consent from NIEA is an offence.

Current ASSIs

See below for details of current ASSIs listed by county.


Related to Areas of Special Scientific Interest

Most recent publications

Access to information

How to request information from the Department for the Environment including Freedom of Information (FOI) and the use of our Publication Scheme.