Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation: What you need to Know….

by Jo Hanslip

St Albans City & District Council has published its mitigation measures needed for the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at Ashridge Commons and Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest, in line with Natural England’s requirements.

What is the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation?

The Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a site designated under the Habitats Regulation (2017) (as amended) with special characteristics including “Beech forests on neutral to rich spils, dry grasslands and scrublands on chalk or limestone and the stag beetle”. The key areas identified with these characteristics and identified as being at risk of high visitor numbers include Ashridge Commons and Woods, and Tring Woodlands. There is a zone of influence around these areas as shown on the plan below. This affects the ability of local authorities to grant planning permission without specific tests having been undertaken to assess impacts on these areas. 

Image Credit –

What is the Zone of Influence (ZOI)?

The Zone of Influence (ZOI) is the area shown within dark purple line on the plan above within a 12.6km radius of the identified areas of Ashridge Commons and Woods and Tring Woodlands where it is considered that the grant of planning permission for additional housing might negatively impact upon these areas from recreational pressures. As such, the affected local authorities are required to prepare a strategy to mitigate any potential impacts. This strategy will include green spaces within the ZOI which provide an alternative to the recreational use of Ashridge Commons and Woods, and Tring Woodlands. Until the mitigation strategy has been put in place, the affected authorities are not granting planning permissions.

What Local Authorities are affected?

The ZOI around Ashridge Commons and Woods, and Tring Woodlands affects the following local authorities:

  • Dacorum Borough Council
  • Buckinghamshire Council
  • Central Bedfordshire Council
  • St. Albans City and District Council
  • Three Rivers Borough Council
  • Luton Borough

Dacorum is the lead Authority for Chilterns Beechwoods SAC. The other affected authorities are considered to be ‘competent authorities’. Dacorum published this report 20th March 2022 which provides more details.

Dacorum Report 20th March 2022

What is the Mitigation Strategy?

The Mitigation Strategy include the creation of open spaces for people to use for recreation as an alternative to Ashridge Commons and Woods, and Tring Woodlands.   The key objective of the mitigation strategy is to address the Ashridge Estate which is owned by the National Trust. A range of projects have been identified for the next 80 years which the Trust is to implement. The total cost of these projects has been identified to be £18,275,510.

What is Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMMS)?

Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMMS) measures form part of the mitigation strategy and include measures and costs to mitigate impacts from new development within the ZOI. The measures and affected land have been agreed with the National Trust and Natural England and as such, all potential new residential development will be required to make a SAMM payment per new home.

What is Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG)?

Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) will be required by all new residential development within the ZOI. It can either be space on site or via a financial contribution for space to be provided elsewhere. The specific arrangements for this are currently being agreed by the affected Local Authorities. SANGS are spaces that have been created or enhanced for recreational use – specially walkers and dog walkers – to accommodate the recreational pressures arising from new development.

Our next blog will explain how this has been interpreted for St Albans City and District.

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