England is at risk of losing hundreds of its Local Wildlife Sites unless the government does more to protect them, a charity has warned.
The Wildlife Trusts carried out a study of 6,590 of the country's habitats that fall into this category and found that 717 had been lost or damaged in the years between 2009 and 2013 alone.
Many more are also under threat from housing developments, road building and changes to farming practices.
There are 42,865 Local Wildlife Sites in England and they cover around five per cent of the land mass, with over 19 per cent of them in or within 500 metres of urban areas. Some of them are as rich in wildlife as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, even though these are usually much smaller.
They may also be referred to as Biological Heritage Sites or Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation.
Local Wildlife Sites are cared for by stakeholders including local authorities, public bodies and landowners. However, while planning rules require councils to identify sites for their wildlife value and provide for their protection under local policy, there is no law in place to say they must be preserved.
Wildlife Trusts' director for England Stephen Trotter said this is a mistake that could lead to vital stepping stones and corridors connecting wild spaces being lost.
"There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites - one of England's largest natural assets - to receive the recognition of their true value to society. In some counties they are the best places for wildlife, but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand," he added.
If certain locations are not managed properly, they may begin to deteriorate and lose the plants, animals and birds they are currently home to, which can result in their being deselected as Local Wildlife Sites.
The news comes after Sir David Attenborough also recently issued a warning about the lack of protection for Scotland's wildlife and landscapes.