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Habitats Regulations Assessment - Severn Estuary

Mitigating recreational impacts on the Severn Estuary internationally important wildlife site


New developments within the Forest of Dean District have the potential to impact on internationally important biodiversity sites (Habitats sites), including the Severn Estuary SAC, SPA and Ramsar. Unfortunately, the designated site is being damaged by visitors – walking, biking, exercising their dogs etc – and that damage (recreational impact) is likely to increase as more houses and holiday accommodation are built, leading to more visitors. It is crucial that ways are found to prevent and mitigate this damage.


Forest of Dean District Council, as a “competent authority”, is legally obliged under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) to consider whether planning applications would affect the biodiversity of any Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar Site or Ramsar site; and can only approve a planning application where the proposals will not impact on the special biodiversity of these designated site. This consideration is undertaken by a process called Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).

Severn Estuary - SAC, SPA and Ramsar

The Severn Estuary is protected by the following designations: Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar Site. The tidal range of the estuary results in the estuary having one of the most extensive intertidal wildlife habitats in the UK. It contains a variety of landscapes and seascapes including salt marshes, cliffs, islands, and tidal flats. It is a well-known and important nature conservation site because of its internationally important habitats and species, including migratory and over-wintering birds and migratory fish.

The designated site extends into other Local Authority areas and is owned and managed by several owners.

Recreation Mitigation Strategy

To assist planning applicants to progress their applications and to ensure that there is a strategic approach to delivering mitigation for recreational impacts the council has worked with our partners, including other adjacent Local Authorities and Natural England to prepare a recreation mitigation strategy for the SAC Lydney Harbour Visitor Survey and recreational Strategy.

Please note, this approach and the current zone of influence, is being reviewed by all Gloucestershire councils together with Natural England. Changes are likely to be made later in 2024.This webpage will be updated to reflect any changes.

Which applications are likely to impact on the Severn Estuary designated site?

The strategy sets the Severn Estuary Zone of Influence (zoi) at 6.2km based on an analysis of visitors to the site. All planning applications (and prior approvals) for residential or holiday accommodation within the 6.2km zoi, will be subject to Habitats Regulations consideration. This also includes – 

  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (sui generis).
  • Residential institutions within the C2 Use Class where the residents are not severely restricted by illness or mobility.
  • Student accommodation.
  • Sites for gypsy, travellers and travelling show-people.
  • Tourist accommodation, including self-catering, caravan, and touring holiday accommodation.
  • Residential annexes and other ancillary accommodation.

The need to address Habitats Regulations issues for other types of development will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Severn Estuary

How can planning applicants mitigate the impacts of their development?

Planning applicants of the types of development listed above within the zoi can submit their own shadow Habitats Regulations Assessment detailing the likely recreation impacts caused by the development and the mitigation that will be put in place to address those impacts. These shadow HRAs can be costly and complicated assessments to prepare, and it can be difficult to demonstrate that any proposed mitigation could adequately address the impacts on the SAC.

Alternatively, applicants can choose to opt into the district council’s strategic solution. To enable planning applicants to mitigate the impacts of their development on the SAC, financial contributions can be made by planning applicants to help pay for the mitigation measures set out in the Strategy.

The Strategy details mitigation measures (on-site e.g., rangers and signage) along with costings for these measures. The cost of the strategic mitigation contribution has been calculated at £286 (July 2023) per unit subject to CPI (+ admin charge – currently £125).

How to make a financial mitigation contribution

For minor applications the simplest way to make a financial contribution towards ecological mitigation for the Severn Estuary designated site is to use a s.111 legal agreement, which states that the applicant will pay the council £286 for each unit of accommodation plus £125 per s.111 agreement (administration fee).

If you wish to use this option for your site, please complete the template legal agreement, following the guidance, and submit this with your application. Please do not send the payment until you receive the relevant invoice from the council.

In other instances, particularly major planning applications, the financial mitigation contribution may form part of a more comprehensive s.106 agreement and the administration fee will then be calculated on a case-by-case basis.