Gloucestershire is renowned for the diversity and scenic beauty of its landscape and wildlife. This is based on the fact it has very varied geology, geomorphology, soils and land use. There are many designated sites for nature conservation and Gloucestershire is the location for three great rivers - the Severn, the Thames and the Wye. The county fits into five key Natural Areas
. These are:
the acid grasslands, bogs, heaths and ancient woodlands in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley;
the Severn Estuary of river, sand and mud flats;
the Severn Vale and its floodplain habitats which are important for bird-life, especially wintering wildfowl and breeding waders;
the Cotswolds with its limestone grasslands and beech woodlands; and
- the Thames and Avon Vales in the Cotswold Water Park has developing river valley habitats of open water, reedbed, neutral grasslands and hedgerows.
The great variety of wildlife that may be found in Gloucestershire is reflected in the large number of sites that have international, national or local designations.
The Severn Estuary and adjacent Walmore Common are recognised under international agreements as Ramsar Sites and Special Protection Areas (SPA's) for the wildfowl that flock to the area in the winter. There are seven Special Areas of Conservation (SAC's) which will form part of the Europe-wide Natura 2000 series of important wildlife sites.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's)
There are over 120 statutory Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) in the county.
One of the most recent - Clarke's Pool Meadow near Blakeney - is an outstanding, and until recently, little known hay meadow rich in wildflowers now rarely seen in the countryside.
The Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods around Painswick and Cranham is also a National Nature Reserve and are a prime example of just some of the important wildlife habitats still to be found on the Cotswold escarpment.
There are SSSIs in the Cotswold Water Park - important for their obscure and rarely seen submerged stoneworts, and also in Gloucester where Hucclecote Meadows - another relic of past agricultural practices - survives within new housing development.
There are SSSIs for single species including greater horseshoe bat and the rare adder's-tongue spearwort, and also to ensure the protection of important geological sites to be found in old quarries, railway cuttings and natural exposures.
SSSIs cover approximately 3% of the county area, of which over half are covered by international designations.
To find out more about SSSIs in the County, search for sites here.
Key Wildlife Sites
Further still there are over 750 recognised Key Wildlife Sites (KWS). These are part of a nationwide protection system to identify, protect and enhance the most important places for wildlife outside legally protected land. Collectively these sites form the bulk of the county's wildlife heritage. Local Wildlife Sites cover all the main habitat types in the county and again include sites with single species interest - from glow worms to wild daffodils and bush crickets to the common toad.
KWS cover approximately 5% of the county area. To find out more about KWSs in the County click here
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
There are also three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which are important for biodiversity, covering over 50% of the county - the Cotswolds
, the Wye Valley
and the Malvern Hills