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Cotswold Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

Cotswold Beechwoods SAC Zone of Influence Map 2022 (Cross Boundary)


The Cotswold Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a 590ha site located between the settlements of Gloucester, Cheltenham, Cirencester and Stroud, Gloucestershire. The site is designated for the internationally important beech woodlands, and to a lesser extent for calcareous grassland communities.  The Cotswold Beechwoods represent one of the most westerly extensive blocks of beech forest that are floristically rich compared to other similar sites. The Beechwoods are mostly high forest, and some areas of remnant beech coppice. Wetter parts of the site are also of interest, with abundant mosses and liverworts which are important conditions for several nationally rare terrestrial snails - all species of ancient woodlands. Furthermore, open areas and woodland margins are important areas for butterflies such as the Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral and White-letter Hairstreak. The unimproved limestone grassland of the SAC consists of areas of glades and rides within the woodland, the largest area being the cheese-rolling slope at Coopers Hill.

The Council has worked in partnership with relevant Councils in Gloucestershire to provide a framework under which applications for development likely to have a significant effect on the Cotswold Beechwoods SAC can be permitted, with measures in place to ensure that adverse effects on the integrity of the SAC can be ruled out. This enables development, while ensuring sufficient protection in place for the SAC. The strategy applies to larger developments, which may affect the integrity of these sites alone, and smaller developments where the cumulative effects may be the critical factor.

Within the zone of influence shown on the map, all new residential growth will be expected to provide mitigation for recreational pressure. Mitigation will involve Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (‘SAMM’), which relate to managing access and engaging with visitors at the SAC.  These measures involve increased staffing, signage, interpretation etc.  Alongside SAMM, there is a need to deflect access away from the SAC and provide alternative countryside destinations for people to visit for recreation. Suitable Natural Alternative Greenspace (‘SANG’) or other infrastructure projects, such as improvements to existing greenspace sites are therefore necessary.  These can be provided directly by developers (according to guidelines set out in the adopted strategy) as part of a development or alternatively, where such bespoke SANG is not possible, through contributions. 

The strategy applies to a zone of influence of 15.4km from the Cotswold Beechwoods, drawn from visitor survey (2019) information, with the boundary of the zone adjusted slightly to reflect the local geography, accessibility, and local authority boundaries.  The zone therefore encompasses all of Cheltenham and Gloucester administrative boundaries and part of Cotswold, Stroud and Tewkesbury. Counts recorded 770 people (including 201 minors and 43 cyclists) and  213 dogs – with an average group size was 2.1 people per group, of which 0.5 were minors, 0.1 on a bicycle and with 0.6 dogs per group; Roughly 4.3 times people were seen on weekends, than on weekdays. A total of 139 interviews were conducted, with 13% on holiday, 2% staying with friends or family locally and 85% of interviewees on a short visit directly from home. The main activities were walking (without a dog) (45% of interviewees) and dog walking (40%). Most interviewees (67%) had arrived at the survey location by car or on foot (28%).

Impacts from recreation take a wide range of forms, including:

  • Damage: encompassing trampling and vegetation wear, soil compaction and erosion, trampling can also cause direct mortality for some fauna;
  • Contamination: including nutrient enrichment (e.g. dog fouling), litter, invasive species;
  • Fire: increased incidence and risk;
  • Other: all other impacts, including activities associated with site management, such as achieving appropriate grazing or harvesting regimes for example.

Other effects of human trampling include the widening of paths and path erosion. Horses, vehicles and bikes are likely to be more damaging than people on foot. There has been growing awareness of the threats to the Beechwoods from increased recreational use.  The combination of activities can also create tensions between different users and Stroud District Council have received complaints relating to off-road vehicles and other recreational users.  It was as a result of these growing concerns that Stroud District Council commissioned visitor survey work. 

Mitigation will consist of SAMM (Strategic Access Management and Monitoring) and SANG infrastructure projects.  These two approaches would be complementary to each other. SAMM measures at the Beechwoods are required to address recreation impacts and make the SAC more resilient to increased recreation.  SAMM would comprise: Dedicated staff; Signs and interpretation; Education & awareness raising; Measures to address contamination;  Parking and travel related measures; Monitoring.  Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) comprises greenspaces that are created or enhanced with the specific purpose of absorbing recreation pressure that would otherwise occur at European wildlife sites. SANG  projects will be secured through planning obligations S106 Some projects will be expected to be delivered directly by developers through on-site provision. Where a contribution is collected, this will be at a standard rate of £673.00 per dwelling, (£193.00 SAMM and £480.00 SANG)

Flexibility is accommodated within the governance structure through the potential for relevant stakeholders and organisations to apply for funding for specific projects, allowing the potential for different mitigation measures to come forward.  A proforma for project bids, not explicitly set out in the mitigation strategy, will be made available for consideration and recommendation to the Director of Place by the Oversight Group.

The Mitigation Strategy was adopted by Environment Committee on 4th October 2022.


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