Sites and Habitats

The quality and character of Devon’s landscape has long been recognised as one of the county’s most important assets and the reason why our biodiversity is so diverse.  Devon’s complex geology has created a striking diversity of landscapes including windswept high moors of Dartmoor and Exmoor, heathlands, secluded valleys, rugged coastlines, sweeping bays and rolling farmland.

The importance of these landscapes is reflected by 35% of Devon being covered by a landscape designation.  We have two National Parks (Dartmoor and Exmoor) and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Blackdown Hills, East Devon, North Devon, South Devon and Tamar Valley).  National and local designations provide status for some of our most threatened sites at varying levels of protection.  Whilst statutory sites are managed by Natural England, DBRC are the custodian of the Local Sites framework in Devon.

County Wildlife Sites

There are approximately 2,200 County Wildlife Sites (CWS) across Devon comprising a range of habitats and species.  Unlike Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), CWS are not legally protected but comprise a network of non-statutory wildlife sites. Some CWS, however, can be of similar ecological quality to SSSIs. 

CWS make up nearly 30,000 hectares, approximately 4% of Devon and have been designated due to the presence of particular habitats and species such as traditionally managed species-rich lowland meadows, upland oak woodlands, lowland fens and mires (such as culm grassland).  Some sites have been designated due to the presence of particular species such as cirl bunting, bastard balm and great crested newt.

CWS are designated using a strict set of criteria and each site is assessed against these criteria by a panel of experts. Please read the document below.


CWS in Devon were initially surveyed and subsequently designated in the early 1990s to create information on the network of wildlife-rich habitats in the county.  New CWS have been designated since this time helping to develop the huge amount of data we hold on CWS today.  

The (add link biodiversity monitoring framework lit ) to project has been in operation since 2009 and as a part of this project, we survey approximately 80 existing CWS per year.  

For more information about CWS please contact us at

Devon’s County Wildlife Sites Leaflet