What protects this landscape?
On 9th March 2005 a collection of heaths across Surrey, Hampshire & Berkshire became the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. The heaths were already protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), but the designation as a Special Protection Area took that protection a step further. You’ll find a list of the heaths included in the Special Protection Area here.
Special Protection Areas are specially selected to protect one or more rare, threatened or vulnerable bird species. In the case of the Thames Basin Heaths, the birds that need protecting nest on or very near the ground. Nightjars, Woodlarks and Dartford Warblers have evolved to thrive in the open heathland landscape, but are susceptible to disturbance, especially as the heaths become busier with visitors. In 2005 it became the responsibility of the local planning system to oversee their protection and in 2009 13 local and county councils signed up to a strategy to make sure it happened. It’s a ground-breaking strategy that allows much-needed development to continue, while protecting our natural environment. The strategy allows for a one-off levy on housing development (within a 5km buffer zone) to fund a public engagement & monitoring team (that’s us!) and to setup alternative country walks away from the sensitive birds. The public engagement team has been going since 2015 and we’re involved in everything from school visits and free school holiday activities, to an annual Heath Week celebration, a popular Facebook group for local dog walkers, fire prevention work, site wardening and signage to remind us all. And you’ll find the 80 alternative country walks, or SANGs as they’re called in the jargon (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace), across Surrey, Hampshire & Berkshire and listed in our ‘Greenspace on your doorstep’ directory.
So, where does that leave you? If you love your local heath and want it protected for the future, it puts you in a strong position. As we’re saying on social media today, the legal protection not only protects ground-nesting birds, it protects their heathland habitat for all sorts of wonderful wildlife, and gives the landscape we love a huge amount of protection from inappropriate development. It’s a win-win for all of us. Protecting birds, protects heaths for the future. Protecting heaths, protects birds.
Please spread the word…keep to main paths from March to September to protect the birds and ensure their protection stays in place.
Thank you everyone 🙏
Thames Basin Heaths Partnership