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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 and local planning policy and 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.

This section briefly sets out existing policy and legislation concerning landscape and biodiversity issues. A full list of relevant documents can be found in the tables below.

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.

Further information on landscape, wildlife and biodiversity legislation can be found at:  
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Natural England  

Forestry Commission

References to guidance documents that help planners and decision makers implement the legislation and policy guidance can be found throughout the module and further information on relevant statutory and advisory bodies can be found under the Further information section.

Why is landscape important?

In 2000, the UK Government ratified the European Landscape Convention (ELC), an international agreement that promotes the role of landscape and its vital contribution to environmental, social and economic progress. The ELC defines landscape as ‘an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.’

At a national level, the Government 25 Year Environment Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework reflect the intentions of the ELC, and promote an integrated approach to landscape and sustainable development, alongside the delivery of multiple benefits for the natural environment.

Hertfordshire supports a rich and diverse collection of landscapes that have evolved over centuries, shaped by the interaction of man with the natural environment. They include open countryside, transitional urban fringe landscapes, and the network of open spaces that intersperse and connect settlements.  

The County is under a host of social, economic and environmental ‘forces for change.’ The emphasis of this module is on promoting positive planning and management, in order to ensure that change protects, conserves and enhances the character and quality of its landscapes.

Good landscape planning and design can make a valuable contribution to sustainable development, delivering multiple environmental, economic and social benefits.

Throughout the planning and design process, in order to protect, conserve and enhance existing landscapes and to create new open spaces that are attractive, safe, multifunctional functional and networked, and deliver significant gains for biodiversity, all development proposals should aim to:

  • Consider the range of land-use functions a site can perform, e.g. maximising opportunities for nature conservation, surface water management, access and recreation.
  • Protect and enhance important environmental assets and functions e.g. distinctive landscape features, habitats, drainage lines, etc.
  • Make connections for people and wildlife
  • Be high quality and innovative
  • Encourage building styles, a palette of building materials, and native plant species that are appropriate to the local context
  • Provide effective landscape and visual mitigation and enhancements
  • Consider climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions
  • Enhance existing development with retrofit solution

Hertfordshire's Landscape Character

Landscape Character is defined as, ‘A distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements in the landscape that makes one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse.’ (‘An Approach to Landscape Character Assessment’ Natural England, 2014)

The landscape character of Hertfordshire is reflected in a suite of local, regional and national level assessments. Local level assessments are generally used to inform development proposals and management plans, whilst regional and national level assessments can be more suitable for cross-boundary, landscape scale initiatives.

The Hertfordshire Landscape Character Assessment identifies over 200 distinct local ‘landscape character areas’ (LCA) that share common characteristics. Each LCA is mapped and includes a description and a strategy and guidelines for managing positive landscape change, based on the ‘condition’ and ‘robustness’ of the landscape.

At a Regional level, the East of England Landscape Typology maps and describes the landscape types across the East of England.

At a National level, Natural England have published National Character Area profiles that describe the landscape and offer guidelines to help achieve sustainable growth at a landscape scale.

Hertfordshire’s Historic Landscape Characterisation

Across Hertfordshire, historic landscape features and land use patterns have withstood the test of time, and strongly influence the character of the landscapes that are experienced in the County today. In particular, a rich legacy of industry, navigational waterways, and country houses set within ancient wooded parkland, contribute to some of the area’s most distinctive and beautiful landscapes

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 Landscapes

Townscape Characterisation is similar to Landscape Character Assessments and is a process which involves description and classification 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. See the Design module for more information.

Hertfordshire’s Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure (GI) is the ‘network of natural and semi natural features, green spaces, rivers and lakes that intersperse and connect villages, towns and cities. It is a natural, service-providing infrastructure that is often more cost effective, more resilient and more capable of meeting social, environmental and economic objectives than ‘grey’ infrastructure’ (Green Infrastructure, An integrated approach to land use, Landscape Institute Position Statement).

Hertfordshire has a rich GI resource of river valleys, chalk grasslands, farmlands, ancient woodlands, designed landscapes and parkland, 20th Century urban GI heritage. In particular the river valleys form a natural spine for GI across the County.

The Hertfordshire Strategic Green Infrastructure Plans provide an overview of the existing strategic GI assets and opportunities to create sustainable connections, maximise the range of land-use and the delivery of functions such as ecosystem services.

Further landscape resources and guidance:

- National Character Area Profiles (2014)
Provides a broad context (1:250,000) of landscape character, and suggestions where action can be best targeted to conserve and improve the natural environment.

- The Changing Landscape of the Chilterns (2009) 
Mostly descriptive, includes broad recommendations for the  for understanding and managing heritage.

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

- Hertfordshire Landscape Character Assessment (2001) 

Provides a detailed (1:10,000) 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.

- Hertfordshire Historic Landscape Characterisation 

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

- Hertfordshire Strategic Green Infrastructure Plan (2011)

Provides a two tiered approach, at a sub-regional level the Strategic Highlights Plan (SHiP) sets out a range of high-level GI projects/proposals for Hertfordshire and the GreenArc area that are then presented in local level plans for seven of the Hertfordshire districts.

- Other

Refer to the Local Planning Authority websites for local level landscape character assessments and townscape characterisation.

Further information on landscape issues in Hertfordshire can be found on the Landscape Character Network site and the County Councils Natural Historic and Built Environment website.

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 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 wellbeing 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.

The NPPF guidelines propose a formal process of avoid – mitigate- compensate, when biodiversity is identified as being negatively impacted by development.  Using this process developers should be able to identify what measures can be taken onsite to avoid and mitigate, and then if compensation is necessary (usually a last resort) and if this can also be achieved onsite, or if not, does the developer have to find a receptor site outside of the development.  With this in mind the NPPF also notes that development should help to contribute to halting the decline in biodiversity in the UK and enhance it where possible.  Therefore if there is an opportunity to enhance biodiversity then a developer should be actively seeking to exploit it.

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, green spaces within the county can 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 Plans that 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




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