by Jo Hanslip
On 14 March 2022, Natural England wrote to Buckinghamshire Council (Aylesbury Vale and Chiltern Districts) Central Bedfordshire Council, Dacorum Borough Council, St Albans City and District Council, Hertfordshire County Council – Ecology Team and the National Trust (as land owner and delivery body for Ashridge Estate), regarding the Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Ashridge Commons and Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The letter follows work by Dacorum Council relating to their Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) for its Local Plan, which confirms that public access and disturbance from within the zone of influence is impacting negatively on the assets causing:
- Damage: encompassing trampling and vegetation wear, soil compaction and erosion;
- Contamination: including nutrient enrichment e.g. dog fouling, litter, invasive species;
- Fire: increased incidence and risk of fire; and
- Other: all other impacts, including harvesting and activities associated with site management.
The advice note sets out that a 500m exclusion zone around the SAC is required, as it will be unlikely that HRA will be capable of addressing the likely impacts to the SAC, beyond which mitigation measures will be required within the zone of influence. It also indicates that the affected locals need to find a permanent strategic solution.
The preferred strategic solution is suggested to be Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) payments to improve site management and to create Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANGs). The National Trust as owners of Ashridge Estate have been encouraged to work with all parties to design a suite of on-site mitigation for the SAC, to form the basis of the SAMM package. There is a degree of caution, also openness for bespoke site specific solutions to incorporate mitigation measures that avoid additional recreational impacts through Habitat Regulation assessments.
The SAMMs solution is suggested as the preferred solution, and it is recommended that the approach pursued is similar to that developed for Epping Forest LPAs and also the Thames Basin Heaths. The interim position pending confirmation of the strategic solution by the affected LPAs is that for “During this period we advise that HRAs will be needed, detailing how each individual site is going to avoid adverse impacts on the integrity of the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC. This is for all planning applications that result in a net increase in dwellings, within the entire 500m – 12.6km ZOI.” They suggest that temporary solutions might be found on a case-by-case basis.
Natural England’s letter and the affected areas can be viewed here: