Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Update November 2022:
New Mitigation Strategy approved by Cabinet. Find out more
About the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC
The Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is an extensive site covering nearly 1,300 hectares and is made up of several components within Dacorum, Buckinghamshire, South Oxfordshire, and Windsor and Maidenhead. It is the only SAC in Dacorum and is protected for its beech forests, semi-natural dry grasslands and scrub, and its population of stag beetles. Find out more about the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC.
Habitats Regulations Assessment
As part of the emerging Local Plan, we are developing some evidence called a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). It is focused on whether the growth proposed within the plan (or project) will harm the integrity of the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (rather than seeking to improve any existing pressures on the site/sites).
We are legally required through the Habitats Regulations Assessment to ensure the integrity of the SAC is not adversely affected by new planning proposals.
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.
Recreation impact assessment and mitigation requirements
To inform the HRA, our consultants, Footprint Ecology, assessed the recreational pressures on the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at Ashridge Estate and Tring Woodlands. The report, published in March 2022, revealed that 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. If nothing is done, new development will lead to further visitor pressures and damage to the integrity of the SAC.
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 through a Mitigation Strategy. This 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. Find out more about the Mitigation Strategy and see the map below.
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.
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.
PDF maps are 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).
Please contact your case officer direct for specific enquires about planning applications. Alternatively, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for general enquires about the HRA process.