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Research into recreational use of the New Forest’s protected habitats

Research into recreational use of the New Forest’s protected habitats

These Footprint Ecology reports were produced to help local planning authorities decide how to mitigate potential impacts of planned new housing. They also provide a wealth of information to guide a wider range of recreation management work.

Aim of the research project

Increasing levels of new housing development are planned in and around the New Forest National Park. This research focuses on understanding the impacts of recreation arising from this development on the New Forest’s international nature conservation designations and the potential for mitigation. The New Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the New Forest Special Protection Area (SPA) make up more than half of the National Park area. This is the most comprehensive survey of recreational use of the New Forest since 2004/5 when Tourism South East surveyed visitors to the area that was to become the National Park.

Who led the research?

The research was jointly commissioned by six local planning authorities (Test Valley Borough Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, New Forest District Council, New Forest National Park Authority, Southampton City Council and Wiltshire Council), together with Natural England and Forestry England, with funding from central government. The work was carried out by the specialist consultants Footprint Ecology, who have undertaken similar research in protected habitats across the UK.

What research reports have been published?

The following reports were published in May 2020:

  • results of a telephone survey with local residents report: 2,000 telephone interviews with people living in and around the New Forest (within 25km of the designated area). 70% had visited the New Forest in the last 12 months, with walking by far the most popular recreational activity undertaken
  • New Forest vehicle counts report: Counts of parked vehicles, on 15 dates spread through the year, at 270 parking locations across the designated area. Parking locations in central ‘tourist’ areas and in proximity to urban areas around the periphery were usually filled closer to capacity than those located elsewhere
  • New Forest Visitor Survey 2018/19 report: Over 5,000 face-to-face interviews, and counts of people, at 60 car parks and other access points. For most interviewees the main activity undertaken was either dog walking (55%), or walking (26%). Dog walking was focused on the periphery of the New Forest SPA/SAC
  • overview of visitor results and implications of housing change on visitor numbers report: Nearly 130,000 new dwellings may be built within 25km of the New Forest SAC/SPA/Ramsar over the period to 2036. This would represent a 16.4% increase in housing within 25km. The research predicts this would result in an increase of around 11.4% in the number of visits
  • impacts of recreation and potential mitigation approaches report: A review of the impacts of people on designated sites; and an assessment of the relative effectiveness of a range of measures aimed at preventing such impacts
  • New Forest ‘Zone of Influence’ report, Footprint Ecology (2021): Following the publication of the research reports in 2020, the planning authorities commissioned Footprint Ecology to undertake additional work relating to the ‘zone of influence’ of the New Forest’s designated sites. This follow-up work defines the catchment area within which new development would have an impact on the designated sites due to visitor pressure. Defining this catchment area provides a basis for the relevant planning authorities to seek mitigation for the recreational impacts arising from new development on the protected sites of the New Forest. Natural England endorses the conclusions of this and the earlier research reports and supports their use as the best available information.

Please note, however, that it is Natural England’s advice that the 13.8km zone of influence should also be applied to the borough of Fareham to ensure a precautionary and consistent approach is adopted that ensures in-combination effects from new development are appropriately mitigated. This is due to western parts of Fareham having similar visitor frequencies to those in the neighbouring borough of Eastleigh.

Following the recommendations of this supplementary report, it is anticipated that in the short-term planning authorities within the ‘zone of influence’ will develop or continue to use their own existing or an interim approach to mitigating the recreational impacts of new development on the integrity of the New Forest’s designated sites. Moving forward, the planning authorities within the ‘zone of influence’ and Natural England will continue to work together to establish a co-ordinated strategy for the New Forest which will include a suite of mitigation measures.

New Forest SAMM Report (2023)

In late 2023 Footprint Ecology completed their final report on a recommended New Forest Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) Strategy. The report sets out a framework and broad approach to ensuring in-combination effects of housing can be addressed and that all authorities are working together to an agreed approach. The report focuses on mitigation measures within the New Forest’s designated sites, which will complement the package of measures being delivered by planning authorities within their own respective areas. Natural England has endorsed the report recommendations and the 9 local planning authorities within the defined 13.8km zone of influence are working together to take forward the recommendations.

What was the overall recommendation by the consultants?

The reports identify a range of potential impacts from the projected increase in visitors to the New Forest arising from the planned new development. A range of avoidance and mitigation measures are identified and the reports recommend that a strategic, proportionate and co-ordinated approach is developed, which will require partnership working across a range of local authorities and stakeholders. This future work will build on the existing approach taken by local planning authorities to mitigation and ensure that authorities are working to a consistent evidence base.

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