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SANG: A Success Story

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Many of our clients will be very familiar with the concept of SANG; Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace, used as a tool in spatial planning for diverting pressures associated with public recreation away from sensitive, protected areas.

The concept has its roots in a 2009 Delivery Framework agreed between Natural England and 13 LPAs across Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire which surround the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA). This followed research evidence in the early noughties identifying a link between public access (particularly dog walking) and reduced breeding success of the rare bird species of the SPA. The Framework set out an approach to enable new development to come forward within the SPA’s visitor catchment, without leading to damaging increases in recreation.

A SANG does not aim to recreate the landscape of protected sites like the Thames Basin Heaths, nor to provide compensatory habitat for the characteristic species using the site. They are specifically created to provide dog walkers and other user groups with an attractive alternative to visiting the protected area, thereby alleviating pressure. In general, a SANG can either be provided by a developer, subject to specific quality criteria being met, or by way of a financial contribution to the establishment/enhancement and in-perpetuity management of an existing SANG.

Following its conception and successful establishment around the Thames Basin Heaths SPA, the SANG approach has been extended to other lowland heathland protected sites in southern England (including Ashdown Forest SPA, New Forest SPA and the Dorset Heathlands SPA) and nationwide for coastal and woodland sites; Mersey Estuary SPA (Cheshire), Exe Estuary SPA (Devon) and the Epping Forest SAC (Essex) to name a few.

Population monitoring data for the three Annex I birds at the Thames Basin Heaths SPA (nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler) between 2004 and 2021 is represented in the graph below. This shows that, at the Thames Basin Heaths SPA, populations of the species forming qualifying features for the designation have, since the establishment of the Delivery Framework in 2009, been stable (woodlark), increasing (nightjar) or markedly increasing (Dartford warbler).

Furthermore, visitor access monitoring at the SPA has been undertaken, updating that originally undertaken to inform the Delivery Framework in 2005. Those in 2018 recorded a statistically significant drop in visitor numbers, despite a 12.9% increase in housing availability within 5km of the SPA boundary over the same period. 

It was also found that residents of new housing made up a very small proportion of visitors to the SPA, with a minority having been visiting for less than one year. This suggests that SPA users are largely made up of long-standing local residents who have become habituated to visiting the SPA over time, rather than new residents who presumably visit other sites for recreation. 

Clearly there are many factors at play (Dartford warbler populations naturally fluctuate, for example) however there is heartening evidence that SANGs and the wider work of the planning sector is successfully protecting these extremely valuable sites for wildlife – not to mention providing some beautiful new spaces for public enjoyment and wellbeing.

CSA Environmental have been engaged on two planning appeal cases in recent years where the very principle of SANG as a mitigation technique has been challenged by an interested party (APP/R3650/W/22/3291589; APP/R3650/W/23/3324112). In both cases CSA were able to provide the Inspector with the necessary evidence and reassurance, citing the above factors, which an Inspector described as “persuasive and compelling.

At CSA Environmental, the collaborative approach taken between our Ecologists, Landscape Architects, Heritage Consultants and Masterplanners makes us very well positioned to assist clients with SANG requirements. An example of this is CSA’s recent involvement in the identification of a number of potential SANG sites in Dacorum Borough. These will deliver bespoke SANG capacity to mitigate adverse effects on the Chiltern Beechwoods SAC, resulting from consented and future development in the Borough. As part of this process CSA’s Ecologists have worked closely with Natural England in the identification of suitable sites which meet the requirements for SANG. Our Landscape Architects, Heritage Consultants and Masterplanners have worked alongside our Ecologists to develop the appropriate plans and documents to support planning applications for these sites. This approach ensures that the proposals meet the requirements of SANG but also delivered well considered schemes which are informed by landscape character and heritage constraints. 

If you’d like to discuss SANG needs on your project, please contact your local office.