SPAs are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC), also known as the Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds, listed in Annex I to the Birds Directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species.

Ashdown Forest was classified as an SPA in March 1996 because it supports bird populations of European importance which are listed on Annex I of the Directive:

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata, 29 pairs representing at least 1.8% of the breeding population in Great Britain (count as at 1994); Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, 35 pairs representing at least 1.0% of the breeding population in Great Britain (two year mean, 1991 & 1992).

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