Natural Heritage Designations identify areas of the countryside where the best wildlife and scenery are to be found, and are important for its conservation and enhancement.
There is no strict definition of a designation. All apply to areas of land or water - large or small - and have a mapped boundary. But their origins vary greatly. Some have the backing of an Act of Parliament; others have no strict basis in law, but serve to identify local or regional areas of value to the natural heritage, so as to assist better planning or management of the countryside.
The main national designations - Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSIs), National Parks, National Nature Reserves (NNRs), National Scenic Areas (NSAs) and Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes - are based on formal statutory procedures, which give special management or protection to our finest areas. Usually, this involves the landowner obtaining consent from, or reaching agreement with, the Planning Authority and / or Scottish Natural Heritage, about proposals for change to, or management of, the land.
National designations are sometimes overlain by others originating from the European Union (EU) or international treaties, for example Special Protected Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) etc, in recognition that a given site has importance beyond Scotland. Non-statutory designations from international conventions, for example UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, World Heritage Sites, Biogenetic Reserves and Council of Europe Diploma of Protected Areas, are awards or accolades, or target natural heritage policies in particular ways, but they usually don't impose any additional duties or obligations on landowners or occupiers.
Local authorities often identify areas where certain policies apply through the development planning system, indicating them on structure and local plan maps. They can also designate sites, for example as Local Nature Reserves, Regional Parks and Country Parks. Other public and voluntary bodies may also target specific areas for particular management, or to show where special incentive payments apply, and may give these areas names. Others have a statutory basis, for example, Historic Scotland's interest - eg Listed Buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments.