Local Wildlife Sites (LWS)

Local Wildlife Sites are areas that include important and rare habitats and species.

LWS were previously known as Wildlife Heritage Sites in Berkshire and County Wildlife Sites in Oxfordshire. The 43,000 LWS across England, covering approximately 5% of the land, play a vital role in conserving wildlife in the UK and mitigating the loss of biodiversity.

Better-connected landscapes

LWS create a better-connected landscape of wildlife buffers, corridors, and stepping stones. These connections make the countryside more resilient to modern living and climate change pressures.

LWS are protected from harmful development through the planning system. However, as most sites are in private ownership, their long-term survival depends upon the interest and goodwill of their land managers and owners.

a foxglove in woodland
McIlroy Park local wildlife site, Tilehurst

Our role

We play a key role in the survey, selection and maintenance of information on LWS. Our approach to LWS identification, mapping, and designation is consistent with the approach taken in other counties in England. It's also in line with the DEFRA guidance on local sites. 

The living list

We maintain a living list of the LWS in each local authority area in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The list is updated every year in May to reflect data from the previous year.


Central government requires local authorities to identify, designate, and protect LWS through the planning system. We carry out the identification and designation of LWS on behalf of local authorities in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. We also report annually to local authorities in Berkshire on how well they are managing their LWS.

Local authorities use this information for:

  • monitoring local plans
  • corporate biodiversity action plans 

Local authorities must also report back to DEFRA on Single Data List (160) - local sites in positive conservation management. In Oxfordshire, BBOWT compiles this report.

tall purple plants on the bank of a water filled gravel pit
Padworth Lane gravel pits local wildlife site, West Berkshire


Landowners and managers of LWS may be eligible for funding and advice on how best to manage their LWS.

In Oxfordshire, the wildlife sites project officer based with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) can provide advice to landowners. Visit the BBOWT website for further information.

In Berkshire, landowners can apply to Natural England for agri-environment funding to help maintain and enhance biodiversity on LWS. Visit the Natural England website for further guidance.

Landowners with woodlands can apply for support under Countryside Stewardship.

All landowners and managers can apply for TOE grants.

Survey and site selection

Our staff and experienced volunteers conduct survey work with the aim of surveying sites every 10 years. We use the information we collect to assess sites against a range of criteria.

View the local wildlife sites criteria (pdf format, 2.7 MB).

Site selection panel

A site selection panel meets during the year to assess the results of the site surveys. The panel comprises representatives from:

  • local authorities
  • Natural England
  • local wildlife recorders

Panel decisions result in sites being:

  • designated as LWS (if they meet the criteria)
  • deselected (if they do not meet the criteria)
  • deferred (if the panel requires further survey information)

Sites remain designated as LWS and the panel can only deselect one if sufficient evidence has been provided to demonstrate that they no longer meet the criteria. The panel makes landowners aware of their decisions.

Once the panel have resolved any remaining issues about the decisions they distribute maps of the LWS locations to local authority planning staff (as well as our partners). These maps ensure local authorities take LWS into consideration in the planning process.

hare silhouette

Why we need data

We need high-resolution, quality-assured, and up-to-date data to get a clear picture of the state of nature. These data are vitally important for our partners and data users to make evidence-based decisions about the natural environment.