Despite the landscape being heavily dominated by agriculture, Suffolk has retained much of its natural heritage, the majority of which is now protected by some kind of conservation designation. The county is well known for its extensive coastline habitats which include shingle beaches, saline lagoons, estuaries and saltmarsh. Suffolk also contains significant tracts of lowland heathland, on a scale that is significant on both national and international levels. The majority of the heathland falls within the Brecks in the west and the Sandlings on the east coast. Suffolk is also rich in ancient woodlands, species rich meadows, grazing marsh and reedbed.
In Suffolk there are over 1,100 designated sites, which include sites designated at Local, National and International levels. There are 149 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in Suffolk across 283 polygons which equates to an area equivalent to 8% of the county or 31,326 ha (see map 1). These sites are designated by Natural England with some of the best examples also designated as National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Suffolk also features 36 Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) across 55 polygons covering an area of 463 ha and these sites represent places with wildlife or geological features that are of local interest.
County Wildlife Sites (CWS) are non-statutory sites which are of county, and often regional or national importance. The designation recognises the high value of a site for wildlife and they are often designated because they support characteristic or threatened species and or habitats included in Local or National Biodiversity Action Plans. In Suffolk there are 925 CWSs covering an area of approximately 19,683 ha which is over 5 % of the total area of the county (see map 2). Roadside Nature Reserves (RNRs) are also shown in map 2 and these represent good examples of species-rich plant areas and plants or other species of national or county importance. While most of these have CWS status others are legally protected (being within SSSI or having legally protected species). 8 places of geological interest in Suffolk are designated as Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS) and 13 as County GeoSites, these non-statutory designations aim to highlight their local importance. Further information on Geosites is available on the Geosuffolk website
Large portions of Suffolk are also within European designated sites, see map 3. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) together with Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) were born from the Birds and Habitats Directives and form a network of protected sites across the EU known as Natura 2000. SPAs designated for their bird interest cover 27,404 ha of Suffolk (over 7%) and SACs designated for their significant habitat interest cover 6,385 ha of Suffolk (over 1 %). Suffolk also has 6 RAMSAR sites, an international designation which recognises significant wetland habitat.