Limestone Pavement Conservation LOGO Limestone Pavement Conservation

Legal protection of
limestone pavements

Legal protection in the UK

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) limestone pavement is subject to protection measures known as Limestone Pavement Orders. Areas of limestone pavement can be notified to the local authority (for example Cumbria County Council or the Yorkshire Dales National Park), who may then make a Limestone Pavement Order (LPO) to protect the pavement.

Once an LPO is in place, removal of rock becomes a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and anyone taking pavement from a designated site can be prosecuted and fined, even if the rock they remove is loose or lying in a field.

All major and most minor areas of limestone pavement in England are now protected by Limestone Pavement Orders. At the moment, work is being carried out in Wales to get RIGS (Regionally Important Geological or Geomorphological Site) status for all Welsh pavements. Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS), designated by locally developed criteria in conjunction with RIGS groups, local authorities and either Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage, are currently the most important places for geology and geomorphology outside statutorily protected land such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The designation of RIGS is one way of recognising and protecting important Earth science and landscape features for future generations to enjoy.

Northern Ireland has Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) and the Environment and Heritage Service Northern Ireland is responsible for their designation. Limestone pavements can have both an LPO and also be designated a SSSI. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) represent the best sites in Great Britain for wildlife and geology. Well over half, by area, are internationally important. The wildlife and geological features of SSSIs are irreplaceable parts of our national heritage. SSSIs can be found throughout Britain forming a national network of areas with the greatest value to wildlife or geological conservation. Sites of Special Scientific Interest are notified by different government bodies in Great Britain. Natural England is responsible for identifying and protecting these sites in England, Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland and the Countryside Council for Wales in Wales. Northern Ireland has Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) and the Environment and Heritage Service Northern Ireland is responsible for their designation.

Notification as a SSSI is primarily a legal mechanism to protect sites that are of particular conservation interest because of the wildlife they support, or because of the geological features that are found there. The most important limestone pavement areas in UK and Ireland have been notified as ASSSI / SSSI which offer statutory protection from damage by development or extraction. Limestone pavement is also listed as a priority habitat type on Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive. Exceptional examples of limestone pavement areas have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (an EU designation for habitats and species with special need for conservation in Europe). These include the Morecambe Bay Pavements in Cumbria and Lancashire (including Whitbarrow Scar, Hutton Roof and Gaitbarrows), the Ingleborough Complex in North Yorkshire (including Scar Close and Southerscales) and the West Fermanagh Scarplands in Northern Ireland.

Protection of Irish limestone pavements

The Republic of Ireland is fortunate in having a large proportion of the total limestone pavement resource of Europe, the most famous area being the Burren; perhaps the finest example in Western Europe of this endangered habitat.

Selected limestone pavement sites are protected by two separate pieces of legislation. A total of 63 sites are listed under the Natural Heritage Areas (NHA). Of these, 42 occur in the counties of Clare, Galway and Mayo. The existing Wildlife Act (1976) has been updated through the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. This amendment bill includes the procedure for designating and protecting NHAs. Under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, it shall be a function of the Minister to secure the conservation of wildlife and to promote the conservation of biological diversity.  Conservation includes measures to maintain, enhance or restore the quality, value or diversity of species, habitats, communities, geological features or geomorphological features.

In addition to protection given under the NHA system, the best NHA sites are selected as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and protected under the EU Habitats Directive. Under this Directive, now signed into Irish law, a total of 42 limestone pavement sites have been selected, 30 of which are found in the counties of Clare, Galway and Mayo. This includes three separate SACs, totaling 28,503ha, which have been declared in the Burren. All extraction or damage to limestone pavement within SACs is illegal. However, extraction from other sites not protected by SAC designation can proceed so long as planning permission has been granted. Planning permission is not required for quarrying operations below 2.5 hectares in size outside of SACs. This effectively means that any limestone pavement outside of an SAC is at risk of damage through extraction. If no authority is informed about potential threats to unprotected pavement, then there will be no means of preventing them.



Digger destroying a limestone pavement
Digger destroying a limestone pavement in Yorkshire during the early 1990’s


Hart’s tongue fern in pit
Hart’s tongue fern in pit


Southerscales pavement
Southerscales pavement with Ingleborough in the background


Karst and turlough in the Burren
Karst and turlough in the Burren (Source: The Karst of Ireland booklet)




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