New strategy to protect Ashridge Estate and Tring Woodlands

Habitat Regulations Assessment - Beechwoods SAC - examples of erosion

We commissioned ecological consultants, Footprint Ecology, to carry out ecological and visitor surveys for the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The ecological report, published today (Monday 14 March 2022), 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.

These green spaces are hugely popular with visitors wishing to enjoy the many wonders of nature. However, the report shows that these recreational activities are causing landscapes to come under increasing pressures, which can erode valuable habitats and disturb wildlife.

Both are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and form part of the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and are protected by international law.

As a result, we are working with Natural England, Hertfordshire County Council, neighbouring authorities and the National Trust, who care for Ashridge Estate, to develop an interim mitigation strategy.

Until the mitigation strategy is in place, additional checks on planning applications will be needed to ensure these sites remain protected. These checks will apply to all proposals that involve the development of new homes (and some other types of development) within or close to the affected areas, known as the  Zone of Influence (PDF 1.7MB).

We acknowledge that this will lead to some delays and inconvenience, and will seek to minimise the disruption as much as possible.

We will continue to receive and process all planning applications in the normal way, but will need to postpone issuing decisions on the affected applications until the mitigation strategy is in place.

Once this is in place, we will be in a position to meet our legal obligations and issue decisions on the affected planning applications.

Details of the additional checks and frequently asked questions for applicants are published on our Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation page.

Cllr Alan Anderson, our Portfolio Holder for Planning and Infrastructure, said: “We are privileged to have these internationally recognised assets on our doorstep, which are very much loved and enjoyed by our residents. The ecological and visitor surveys have highlighted the vulnerabilities of these sites, which require a mitigation strategy to be put in place, to protect them from further erosion and preserve them for future generations.

“I understand the concern that the additional checks will cause, and the potential delays this will have on planning applications. However, we are legally required to ensure the integrity of the site is not adversely affected by new planning proposals, ensuring the best protection for the Special Area of Conservation.

“We recently delayed the Local Plan to allow further time to consider the implications of growth in the borough. It is crucial that as the Local Plan develops, we ensure the integrity of the Chilterns Beechwoods SAC.”

Gareth Williams, Cabinet Member for Planning and Regeneration at Buckinghamshire Council, said: “We are committed to working with Dacorum Borough Council and other partners to take the necessary actions to protect this special environment. We will work to take steps through our planning processes to minimise future damage to this precious but vulnerable habitat.”

Paul Miller, General Manager for the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate, said: “We welcome the Council’s support in helping us to protect Ashridge. We know how much our visitors love visiting and exploring Ashridge and as a conservation charity we’re also exploring what more we can do to protect this special place for both wildlife and future generations to enjoy.

“We of course want to do everything we can to encourage people to be active, get outdoors and engage with nature. It’s a careful balance to get right to ensure we’re not doing this to the detriment of the landscape or nature. However, it’s important to remember each and every one of us can play a role in looking after beautiful places like Ashridge.

“So along with the work by the Council, we’re encouraging our visitors to follow the countryside code. That means you’re welcome to come on a picnic, but we ask that you take your litter home with you and only barbecue in designated areas. Please bag up your dog’s poo and carry it until you find a bin or take it home to dispose of and remember to keep to paths to reduce the damage to surrounding areas. All of this can help protect the places you love and that wildlife calls home.”

Find out more about the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC).