Skip to content

Legislative and policy context

The management and protection of landscape and biodiversity within the UK planning system operates within a substantial legislative and policy context. This is set out through European and UK legislation, national planning policy and local guidance.

It is important to recognise that even though planning permission may not be required for certain types of development, some species and habitats will still be protected under UK and European statute. 

Table 1 - Legislation covering landscape and biodiversity

Table 2 - Policy covering landscape and biodiversity  

Key pieces of policy and legislation that relate to landscape and biodiversity include: 

  • European Habitats and Birds Directives.
  • European Landscape Convention.
  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
  • Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
  • National Planning Policy Framework.

Why is landscape important?

Landscape links culture with nature, and the past with the present. The European Landscape Convention (ELC) and Natural England’s position statement "All Landscapes Matter" promotes the importance of all landscapes, including peri-urban (the area between the suburbs and the countryside) and urban landscapes.

It is recognised that landscapes are dynamic and the emphasis of this module is on managing change in a way that conserves and enhances landscapes through promoting built environments that are responsive to Hertfordshire’s character.

Effective landscape treatments can make a valuable contribution to a development including security, privacy and screening. Careful landscape planning and management can also achieve or facilitate significant biodiversity gains.

Throughout the planning process, it is important to seek to achieve the objectives below, ensuring that consideration of the environment is integrated into all stages of the development process. In order to protect, maintain and enhance existing landscapes and to provide attractive, functional and suitable new open spaces, all development proposals should aim to: 

  • Improve the site’s use and landscape function including access and recreation.
  • Protect and enhance sensitive environmental/landscape assets e.g. distinctive landscape features, drainage lines, etc.
  • Enhance existing and planned environments e.g. maximise opportunities for mitigation through landscape treatments.
  • Encourage building styles and materials appropriate to the local context.
  • Effectively mitigate adverse effects on the landscape where unavoidable.
  • Consider how climate change mitigation and adaptation can be integrated into new open spaces.

The Hertfordshire landscape area

A Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) is a process which evaluates the natural elements of our environment (such as landform, soils and geology) as well as the human influence (land cover, land use, cultural and historic pattern) to identify comparable landscape types.

Hertfordshire is defined by a varied landscape mosaic of chalk hills and plateaus sloping down from the chalk escarpment, in the northern part of the county. The landscape is cut by chalk river valleys, which form part of the Thames catchment. The variety in the landscape is reflected in a number of landscape character types, identified in the East of England Regional Landscape Framework

East of England region - landscape character types

Click to enlarge.


Chalk slopes and ridges 

Chalk Slopes and Ridges are pronounced, steep sided scarps with rounded crests and hills. They contain mixed vegetation and land use including open arable, wooded (often ancient), scrub and unimproved grassland.

They are often open in character affording elevated panoramic views and exposures which contrast with wooded areas that are more intimate.

Rolling chalk hills

Rolling Chalk Hills are undulating, rolling chalk landscapes that exhibit downland characteristics. Predominately arable land use within large to medium scale field patterns that are defined by hedgerows with some ancient, semi-natural beech, lime and sycamore woods.

These landscapes are predominantly rural in character with some distinct villages and dispersed farm use.

Wooded chalk valleys

Wooded Chalk Valleys are steep sided, sometimes narrow valleys that extend into surrounding plateau areas. They often accommodate mixed farming uses including arable on the upper slopes and grazing on the steeper slopes and valley floors.

Land patterns are defined by species rich hedgerows and fragmented pattern of woodland and parkland. These landscapes are predominantly rural in nature but have dispersed patterns of villages, hamlets and some larger settlements. 

Settled chalk valleys

Settled Chalk Valleys are steep sided valleys which extend into plateau areas. They support predominantly arable farming and land patterns are defined by mature, ancient hedgerows with blocks of woodlands. There are dispersed patterns of historic villages and estate farms as well as larger settlement areas. 

Wooded plateau farmlands

Wooded Plateau Farmlands are formed of raised, broad plateaus and narrow ridges. Supports arable farm uses and well wooded landscapes consisting of ancient woodland. Scattered developments made up of small Hamlets and historic villages and medieval lanes. 

Estate farmlands

Estate Farmlands are formed of flat and undulating landscape. Open in character and supporting arable farming with few wooded areas. A settled character with estate farms, small villages, substantial towns and extensive road networks.

Wooded plateau claylands

Wooded Plateau Claylands are formed of flat or gently rolling landscapes. Supports small scale arable farming and species rich vegetation including hedges of Hawthorn, Ash and Field Maple as well as ancient semi-natural woodland containing Oak, Lime and Hazel. Mixed settlement of estate farms, hamlets, villages and narrow road networks.

Valley meadowlands

Valley Meadowlands are formed of flat landscapes along river courses. The landscapes are heavily vegetated but generally unsettled although there are some occasional small farms or mill buildings. Urbanising influences occur where roads cross the valley floor and river.

Urban areas

Scattered throughout the region, urban areas demonstrate intensive land use, dominated by the built environment.

Historic Landscape Characterisation in Hertfordshire

The county has a wealth of historic parks and gardens which are an important part of Hertfordshire's character. An Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) is a tool for characterising the historic dimension of the landscape. 

The HLC process classifies the landscape into different historic types related to age, origin, and land use. The Hertfordshire HLC study describes the historic landscape in detail and is an important evidence base. It can be used at a variety of scales to inform planning policy as well as development proposals.

Hertfordshire's urban landscape

Within the context that all landscapes matter, it is important that development also considers the peri-urban and urban landscape. Townscape characterisation is similar to landscape character assessments; it is a process which involves classification and identification of distinct areas or neighbourhoods of consistent character.

Hertfordshire's urban landscape is varied and contains a mixture of principle towns, historic market towns, villages, hamlets and scattered rural development. 

Further landscape resources and guidance

- National Character Areas 
Provides a broad context (1:250,000) of landscape character. 

- The Chilterns Landscape (1992) 
Primarily descriptive, although includes broad suggestions for the management of different landscapes/landscape features.

- The East of England Landscape Framework (2009) 
Provides a broad context (1:50,000) and vision for region's landscape assets. Assists the development of regional landscape policies and projects. 

- Hertfordshire Historic Landscape Characterisation 

Defines and analyses the county's historic environment, and useful for managing change within the Hertfordshire landscape.  

- Hertfordshire Landscape Character Assessment (2001) 

Provides a detailed (1:10,000) local landscape context for Hertfordshire. Divides the landscape into over 200 `units?. Each character area has a general strategy and list of area-specific guidelines for managing change.
- Various    

Site specific surveys and appraisals, which sit within the context of the higher level assessments.  

Why is biodiversity important?

"Biological diversity - or biodiversity - is one of the key terms in conservation, encompassing the richness of life and the diverse patterns it forms” – European Environment Commission.

‘Biodiversity’ or ‘biological diversity’ can be defined as the variety of living organisms on both land and water. It includes genetic diversity within a species (i.e. the variation between individuals of the same species), the variety of different species, and the range of plant and animal communities in a specific ecosystem or habitat. It also includes natural processes on which habitats and species depend.  

High levels of biodiversity often make specific habitats and species more robust and able to adapt to changes in their environment caused by both natural processes and human activity. Ecosystems or habitats which lack genetic biodiversity are more vulnerable to changes in their environment compared to those which are generally more varied.

Functioning ecosystems provide us with a range of benefits. These include making an important contribution to environmental, economic and social objectives, with green spaces contributing to well being and attracting investment. By conserving biodiversity, new development can contribute to meeting international and national obligations, improve the quality of life for residents and help meet the wider objectives of sustainable development. 

Throughout the development process, it is important to achieve the objectives (below) to ensure that biodiversity is recognised within all new development, allowing ecosystems to fully contribute to wider environmental, economic and social benefits. In order to protect, maintain and enhance biodiversity and ecological value, all development proposals should aim to: 

  • Enhance existing habitats through improved management. 
  • Create new habitats to improve biodiversity locally.
  • Minimise habitat fragmentation.
  • Mitigate all potentially adverse impacts to habitats and species of nature conservation value, if unavoidable.
  • Monitor and enforce to assess the success of enhancement, mitigation and compensatory measures.

Biodiversity in Hertfordshire

Biodiversity in Hertfordshire is identified and promoted through the characterisation of natural areas and the Hertfordshire Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). These are outlined below and should be used to identify key ecological and biodiversity characteristics within Hertfordshire.  

Natural Areas

The principle ecological characteristics of Hertfordshire are reflected in the five natural areas that cover the county. These are part of Natural England’s map of 97 natural areas in England that reflect local distinctiveness through the identification of natural features, the interaction of wildlife, landforms, geology and humans. 

Hertfordshire is covered by the following natural areas:

The Chilterns

The Chilterns across the west and north-west of the county encompass chalk escarpment and dip slope overlain by clay with flints.  Chalk streams and rivers that dissect the dip slope plateau drain it in a south-easterly direction, such as the Chess, Bulbourne, Gade, Ver, Upper Lea and Mimram, and associated valley grasslands. 

Other than these, streams are rare on the dip slope, although there are streams associated with the Hiz catchment to the north east that flow north.  The four Tring reservoirs lie on the site of ancient marshes and are fed by natural springs.  Ancient woodland complexes around Tring and Ashridge support beech and ash stands, whilst those to the east towards Stevenage are generally oak-hornbeam, e.g. Knebworth. 

West Anglian Plain

West Anglian Plain forms a small area of the western extremity of the county, characterised by underlying geology of Gault Clay creating heavy soils. It includes the low-lying damp neutral grassland pastures and arable of the Aylesbury Vale around Long Marston. Dissected by numerous streams and drains of the Thame catchment and fringed with black poplars.

The East Anglian Chalk

The East Anglian Chalk largely occupies the high ground of the northern edge of the county. Chalk grassland is best represented at Therfield Heath but other, fragmented calcareous grassland sites exist along the scarp topography. 

Ancient woodland is rare within the area which is dominated by open arable fields. There are a small number of spring sources such as Ashwell Springs and streams associated with the river Hiz, Ivel and Rhee, which flow into the river Cam.

The East Anglian Plain

The East Anglian Plain is a gently rolling area of chalky boulder clay covering much of east Hertfordshire on the dip slope of the chalk.  It is dissected by a network of numerous small rivers and tributaries including the Beane, Rib and Ash, which flow into the river Lea. 

There are a number of important river valley corridors with flood plain meadows, marshes, and wetlands at the northern end of the Lea Valley. Ancient woodland, largely of ash-maple stands, is scattered throughout the area.  There are a number of neutral grassland complexes, and more rarely, acid grassland and heath.  

The London Basin

The London Basin is characterised by London clay overlain by river deposits. Drained by the Lea to the east and the Colne to the west, the impervious clays are heavily dissected by streams.  Unimproved wet meadows are scattered along these river corridors and important wetland complexes of open water bodies exist in both the Lea and Colne valleys. 

To the south east are the Broxbourne Woods and North Great Wood complexes of oak-hornbeam woods and associated meadows. Other ancient woodlands, also acidic, are found throughout the area. Mall heathland areas survive on acid gravels e.g. Hertford Heath, Colney Heath, Bricket Wood and Croxley Common Moor. 

Hertfordshire Biodiversity Action Plan (BAPs

Further detail on the ecological characteristics of Hertfordshire can be found within the Hertfordshire BAP. This identifies a number of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA), which reflect higher concentrations and/or distinctive types of habitat resource, and where conservation action would be valuable in restoring, creating or enhancing biodiversity. However, all sites within the county have ecological value by providing corridors and stepping stones at a range of scales.  

The Hertfordshire BAP sets out a 50 year vision for the wildlife and natural habitats of Hertfordshire and reviews UK priority habitats and species within the local context. The Hertfordshire BAP identifies 5 species action plans and 8 habitat action plansthat guide work on protecting, restoring and re-creating a sustainable level of biodiversity in the county. 

The tables and diagram below contain further information on the species action plans and habitat action plans that have been developed in the county and the location of KBAs in Hertfordshire. 

 Species Action Plans  Habitats Action Plans


Water vole, common dormouse, Natterer’s bat and otter.

Woodland, including lowland mixed deciduous woodland, lowland wood pasture and parkland.


Tree sparrow, bittern, stone-curlew, song thrush, black-necked grebe.

Wetlands, including wet woodland.


Great crested newt. 

Heathland and acid grassland.


The chalkhill blue, grizzled skipper and purple emperor butterflies, stag beetle and white-clawed crayfish. 

Neutral grassland.


Great pignut, cornflower, river water-dropwort and the county flower, the pasque flower.

Chalk grassland.







Hertfordshire key biodiversity areas  

Click to enlarge