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Urban development surrounding heathlands

Urban development surrounding heathlands

The impact of urban development on the conservation of heathlands has long been recognised as a conservation issue. While important heathland sites are now designated and protected from direct loss from development, there can still be impacts from development in the surrounding countryside.

Gathering and presenting evidence

In 2002 John Day and Durwyn Liley both acted as expert witnesses at a public inquiry relating to an allocation in the Purbeck Local Plan for development at Holton Heath in Dorset. In gathering the evidence for the inquiry, we started looking at data on the numbers of birds present on heathland sites in relation to nearby housing density. This work showed clear negative effects of development and the results were published in 2003:

Liley and Clarke - 2003 - The impact of urban development and human disturba

The inspector’s decision was that he could not recommend the inclusion of the allocation in the local plan. Following on from this work, understanding the links between housing and heathlands has become a theme for Footprint Ecology:

  • We have collected and analysed visitor data from European sites to further understand visitor patterns, including large surveys across the Dorset Heaths, Thames Basin Heaths, Suffolk Sandlings and Cannock Chase. These visitor surveys have helped Natural England and local authorities define a ‘zone of influence’.
  • We have analysed bird data in relation to housing, for example in Breckland our work on stone curlews identified impacts of the development out at distances of at least 1,500m.
  • As part of Habitat Regulations Assessment work we have undertaken plan-level assessments for a range of authorities including those in Dorset, South-Devon and Breckland with detailed consideration of policy wording and mitigation approaches in order to ensure compliance with the Habitat Regulations. Our work has allowed plans – such as Breckland’s – to include a set level of planned growth while protecting the European sites, and the plans have been found sound at examination.
  • In the Thames Basin Heaths we worked closely with Natural England to develop the Thames Basin Heaths Mitigation and Avoidance Strategy. We undertook the original research – visitor surveys, green space design, analysis of bird and housing data – and represented Natural England at the special hearing on the Thames Basin Heaths as part of the South East Plan examination, and also a range of public inquiries relating to applications for development. We have since been involved in further developing mitigation approaches in the area alongside monitoring, including SANGs surveys and delivering training sessions with the SPA warden team.

Making a positive difference

In the Thames Basin Heaths our work has made a difference by informing the development of the strategic mitigation strategy and underpinning local planning policy for thirteen local planning authorities. Our work has had similar impacts at heathland sites around the country, and our work is reflected in planning policy and heathland conservation initiatives relating to the Pebblebed Heaths, the Dorset Heaths, the New Forest, Ashdown Forest, the Wealden Heaths, The Thames Basin Heaths, the Suffolk Sandlings, the Brecks and Cannock Chase.


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