Natural England - Dorset Heathlands

Dorset Heathlands

An outline of current issues affecting the Dorset heathland particularly in relation to housing development. Also provides information and links for developers and other interested parties regarding the Dorset Heathlands Interim Planning Framework.

Arne SSSI, Dorset / Peter Wakely, Natural England

The heathlands of south east Dorset extend to roughly 8000 ha and comprise four European and Internationally designated sites which are all designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):

  • Dorset Heathlands Special Protection Area (SPA) classified in October 1998, 8169 ha
  • Dorset Heaths Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated in April 2001, 5731 ha
  • Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes SAC designated on 1 April 2001, 2222 ha
  • Dorset Heathlands Ramsar listed in October 1998, 6730 ha

The heathlands comprise some 43 component SSSIs and lie within 6 Districts and Boroughs. They are important both for wildlife and as a recreational resource for people.

Dorset Heathlands Interim Planning Framework

The Interim Planning Framework is designed to mitigate recreational and other impacts on the heaths that would stem from additional housing development beyond the 400m consultation area. It has been prepared by the local authorities in South-east Dorset and has now been extended from 2010 to the end of 2011 when a Heathlands Development Plan Document will be brought in. We expect requirements for ongoing mitigation measures by housing development beyond this period to come forward through the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) and Local Development Frameworks (LDF).

The Interim Framework was on consultation between October and November 2006. Details of the approved Interim Planning Framework are now available on several of the local authority websites (see link below).

The projects listed in the Interim Framework fall into 2 categories:

  1. Alternative areas of greenspace
    These projects are designed to encourage a shift of recreational uses from the heaths to other areas of greenspace. This can be achieved both by provision of access to new greenspace and by improvements to existing open space. The improvements would be designed to attract existing heathland users to these alternative locations. Important elements of this strand also include preparing the ground for planned projects, public consultation and involvement, and monitoring the effectiveness of measures.

  2. Access Management on the heaths
    These projects continue and expand the area of work covered by an Urban Heaths Partnership. They focus on ensuring that heath users are better educated to understand the fragility and importance of the heathlands and on coordinating wardening across different sites and between different organisations including the police and fire service.

Download a copy of the final document Interim Planning Frameworkexternal link.

Natural England's current views on residential development close to heaths

Studies on the Dorset heathlands and the Thames Basin Heaths in Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire have established that urban development in close proximity to heathland leads to adverse effects on the nature conservation features. This evidence has led to concern about the intensification of residential development close to designated heathland sites.

Natural England has advised the relevant Local Planning Authorities that we should be consulted on applications for new residential development within 400m of the designated sites. Natural England considers that where there is an increase in residential units in this zone, the cumulative effect of new housing means applicants are unlikely to be able to demonstrate that there will be no harm to the special sites. Natural England is likely to object to such proposals.

A number of recent planning appeals have examined the effects of small scale residential development close to designated heathlands (see link below - note that there may be other relevant appeal decisions that are not included in this list).

Relevant Planning Appeal decision notices are provided.


Consultation and Interim Planning Framework area maps

Supporting documents, draft correspondence and information

Within 400m consultation area:
Under 400m developer enquiry: (63kb)word document

Applications for additional residential units between 400m and 5km
Applications between 400m and 5km: (131kb)word document

Reference documents

Research Reports

Planning Appeal Decision Notices

Significant appeal decisions concerning the Thames Basin Heaths SPA with potential implications for development near the Dorset heaths

Further information

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