Under SSSI legislation special habitats must be healthy and conserved by appropriate management to be considered in a "favourable condition." A "recovering condition" describes a site where measures have been put in place to address conditions why a site has been categorised as in an "unfavourable condition".
The latest improvements follow seven years of work by Defra, in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors.
Spelman said: "This fantastic achievement is testimony to the hard work of everyone involved. People really do care about and value our natural environment and together we can safeguard our remaining natural heritage for future generations."
Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England said: "The turnaround in the fortunes of England’s SSSIs is one of the great conservation success stories of recent decades and owes much to the tireless efforts of an army of conservationists, landowners and volunteers.
"Thanks to their efforts, a host of rare species from sand lizards to golden plovers now have a greater prospect of flourishing; while much loved landscapes, such as the New Forest and the Yorkshire Dales, face a more secure future."
Some of the sites that have shown improvement and the habitats and species that have benefited include:
South East: 28,500ha of land in the New Forest (98.65% of the total SSSI area) is now in favourable or recovering condition. This is Europe’s largest area of lowland heath and provides a home to Dartford warblers, nightjars, smooth snakes and numerous bat species.
North East: 4,480ha of Bowes Moor in Country Durham (100% of the SSSI area) has been transformed through a partnership between landowners, commoners and conservationists, helping to increase species such as merlin, golden plover and black grouse.
East of England: Environmentally sensitive farming practices have helped maintain 13,400ha of the Breckland Farmland in Norfolk (100% of the SSSI area), providing a haven for one of England’s rarest birds, the stone curlew.
South East: Conservation volunteers have helped restore 2.4ha of Hogley Bog (100% of the SSSI area), a tiny area of wetland near the centre of Oxford, providing a home for rare plants like the grass of Parnassus and the tiny creeping bog pimpernel.
West Midlands: Conservation work at Wren’s Nest caverns in the centre of Dudley, has helped preserve a world famous treasure trove of fossils.
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