Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Update to the Habitats Regulation Assessment - November 2022

At a meeting held on 15 November 2022, Cabinet approved the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation Mitigation Strategy. It also approved two Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) Management Plans for Bunkers Park and Chipperfield Common

The new Mitigation Strategy sets out targeted measures to protect the site and to accommodate the predicted pressures associated with future growth within the 12.6-kilometre Zone of Influence that extends from Ashridge Commons and Woods. These measures will be delivered through a range of projects by the National Trust over a period of around 80 years (to 2102-2103).

The National Trust has confirmed that these Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMMS) measures will cost a total of £18.2million. This cost will be shared across all of the affected local authorities. In Dacorum, this means that developers will be required to pay a tariff of £913.88 for each new home built.

To help to reduce recreational pressures on Ashridge Commons and Woods, alternative green spaces need to be identified. All new developments within the Zone of Influence will need to make provision for a new Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG), or alternatively contribute towards the maintenance of a suitable SANG project elsewhere.

Larger developments (10 or more new homes) must be located close to a suitable SANG. Smaller developments can contribute towards an existing SANG. We have so far identified Bunkers Park and Chipperfield Common as SANGs. Developers that are unable to provide a suitable new SANG will be required to make a payment to us towards the long-term management and maintenance of these sites, which equates to £4251.71 per new home.

We will be engaging shortly with those that have applications delayed as a result of these recent restrictions. Officers will try to progress applications as quickly as possible.  

Further updates on the processes we'll be introducing will be available shortly. This will include a template legal agreement that can be filled out by the applicant, and an updated interactive map.

March 2022 update

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. 

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.

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.

Maps

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).

Press release

We've issued a joint press release with Buckinghamshire Council and the National Trust.

More information

Please contact your case officer direct for specific enquires about planning applications. Alternatively, please email sac@dacorum.gov.uk 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.

Background information

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:

  • Dacorum
  • Buckinghamshire
  • 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
  • plateau.

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.

Maps

 Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (PDF 979KB)
 Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation within Dacorum (PDF 1.4MB)

Chilterns Beechwoods SAC
Chilterns Beechwoods SAC within Dacorum

Evidence

A topic paper on the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC was published as part of our Local Plan consultation in November 2020. This presented all of the known and available evidence for the site in one place to assist in providing an initial ‘baseline’ for the site.

 Topic Paper for the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Main Report (PDF 2MB)
 Topic Paper for the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Summary of Evidence (PDF 10MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 1 to 16 (PDF 6MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 17 to 19 (PDF 9MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 20 to 21 (PDF 9MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 22 - part 1 (PDF 13MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 22 - part 2 (PDF 14MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 22 - part 3 (PDF 13MB)
 Topic Paper Chilterns Beechwoods SAC - Appendices 23 to 26 (PDF 11MB)

On-site evidence has been commissioned to quantify recreational pressure at the sites. This will also extend to air quality and hydrology matters in due course.

Please come back to see the latest evidence related to this site and, in time, our commitments on how we will seek to protect the site for the enjoyment of future generations.