National Nature Reserves

What are National Nature Reserves?

From The Lizard in Cornwall to Lindisfarne in Northumberland, England’s National Nature Reserves (NNRs) represent many of the finest wildlife and geological sites in the country. Our first NNRs emerged in the postwar years alongside the early National Parks, and have continued to grow since then. 

National Nature Reserve logoThey can be recognized by this symbol.

There are currently 224 NNRs in England with a total area of over 94,400 hectares, which is approximately 0.6% of the country’s land surface. The largest is The Wash NNR covering almost 8,800 hectares, whilst Horn Park Quarry in Dorset is the smallest at 0.32 hectares.

NNRs were initially established to protect sensitive features and to provide ‘outdoor laboratories’ for research. Their purpose has widened since those early days. As well as managing some of our most pristine habitats, our rarest species and our most significant geology, most Reserves now offer great opportunities to the public as well as schools and specialist audiences to experience England’s natural heritage.

How are National Nature Reserves declared?

Natural England is the body empowered to declare NNRs in England, the Reserves being a selection of the very best parts of England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It is this underlying designation which gives NNRs their strong legal protection. The majority also have European nature conservation designations.

Who manages National Nature Reserves?

Natural England manages about two thirds of England’s NNRs, whilst the remaining third are managed by organisations approved by Natural England; for example, National Trust, the Forestry Commission, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Local Authorities. Of Natural England’s NNRs, about 30% are owned and almost 50% leased. The rest are held under Nature Reserve Agreements.

What type of habitats do NNRs cover?

Nearly every type of vegetation is found in England’s NNRs, from coastal salt-marshes, dunes and cliffs to downlands, meadows and the subtle variations of our native woodlands. Scarce and threatened habitats such as chalk downs, lowland heaths and bogs and estuaries are conserved in NNRs

What about rare species?

Many NNRs contain nationally important populations of rare flowers, ferns and mosses, butterflies and other insects, and of course nesting and wintering birds. Examples include unique alpine plants at Upper Teesdale and the beautiful field of fritillary lilies at North Meadow, Cricklade, Wiltshire. We do not always advertise rarities, to avoid attracting too much attention to them