Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Important update to the Habitats Regulation Assessment - March 2022
Our consultants, Footprint Ecology, have been assessing the recreational pressures on the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at Ashridge Estate and Tring Woodlands.
The report reveals more action is needed to help protect Ashridge Estate on the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border, and Tring Woodlands, which are under increasing visitor pressure from the borough and surrounding areas.
We are legally required through the Habitats Regulations Assessment to ensure the integrity of the SAC is not adversely affected by new planning proposals. If nothing is done, new development will lead to further visitor pressures and damage to the integrity of the SAC.
Following advice from Natural England, a mitigation strategy is now needed, which sets out the actions necessary to protect the SAC from both existing and future pressures. We are collaborating with Natural England, Hertfordshire County Council, neighbouring authorities and the National Trust, who care for Ashridge Estate, to develop an interim mitigation strategy.
As a result, the way we deal with planning applications in the future that involve new homes (and some other types of development) is going to change. Such proposals that are within 500 metres of Ashridge Estate and Tring Woodlands are likely to be refused.
In addition to this, we are legally required not to issue decisions on similar applications elsewhere in the borough until appropriate mitigation is secured. In the interim, this will mean additional checks for affected planning applications and the need for us to put on hold issuing the final decision notice. All other applications will be processed and determined as normal.
We will ensure those whose applications are affected by this process are kept fully informed of any key changes. Please check for future updates to this webpage.
We will be working hard to develop the mitigation strategy with our partners and expect to have an interim strategy agreed in the coming months.
You can find further information below.
Frequently Asked Questions
We've prepared two FAQ documents, which are intended to provide further guidance. We will regularly review and update these documents to take account of any additional key issues that are raised.
Footprint Ecology Report
The report includes detailed analysis of visitor surveys, a recreational impact assessment, and next steps in terms of developing a mitigation strategy.
An interactive map is available to view, with summary information relating to the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC, the new Zones of Influence and Exclusion Zones.
View the interactive map
PDF maps are also available to download:
Natural England Advice
Natural England has sent a letter to all authorities affected by the outcomes of the Footprint Ecology Report: Natural England letter to Planning Authorities (PDF 284KB)
We've issued a joint press release with Buckinghamshire Council and the National Trust.
Please contact your case officer direct for specific enquires about planning applications. Alternatively, please email email@example.com for general enquires about the HRA process.
Habitat Regulations Assessment for the new Local Plan
As part of the emerging Local Plan, we are developing some evidence called a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA). It is focused on whether the growth proposed within the plan (or project) will harm the integrity of the Special Area of Conservation (rather than seeking to improve any existing pressures on the site/sites).
This work will be proportionate for our Local Plan by containing impartial findings and conclusions to meet the legal requirements. This work must evidence beyond all reasonable scientific doubt. The HRA will involve dialogue with numerous specified stakeholders.
Much of the borough is rural, although it does also contain the large settlements of Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring. Dacorum lies within the densely populated Home Counties. Consequently, environmental pressures from this large population may include:
- high levels of access to the SAC from the urban area
- recreational pressure (trampling damage to vegetation)
- nitrogen deposition (unhealthy environs close to highly travelled roads)
- water supply (changes in water availability) and
- wastewater discharge (changes in volume of sewage measured properties which classify water quality - such as acidity PH values, particulate matter, suspended sediment or dissolved solids).
These will all require scrutiny within the HRA.
The Chilterns Beechwoods SAC is the only SAC in Dacorum. This large site is protected for its:
- beech forests
- semi-natural dry grasslands and scrub, and
- its population of stag beetles.
The SAC is extensive and made up of several components within:
- South Oxfordshire, and
- Windsor and Maidenhead
In all, it extends to nearly 1,300 hectares. With the exception of Bisham Woods, all elements of the SAC lie
within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
It is an extensively wooded and farmed landscape, which is underlain by chalk bedrock. This forms a distinctive north-west facing escarpment. Individual woodlands occupy a variety of landscape settings including:
- scarp slope
- dry valleys and
Varying environmental conditions result in a range of woodland types, although this is strongly dominated by the beech forests which give the site its name. All parts represent popular visitor attractions. All components are located within the Chilterns Natural Character Area.
Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (PDF 979KB)
Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation within Dacorum (PDF 1.4MB)