PUBLISHED: 15:44 24 August 2015 | UPDATED: 15:44 24 August 2015
We all crave a tranquil space at times. Liz Hamilton, of Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Hertfordshire group, outlines a service that will help you find it in the county and beyond, and help to keep it that way
Do you have a favourite place in the Hertfordshire countryside? Perhaps there’s somewhere you like to go with friends or family to walk or ride, or just sit and enjoy the surroundings or the view. Maybe you no longer go there but keep it in your mind’s eye. The chances are that this special place abounds with natural sights and sounds - sunlight on water, birdsong, the wind in the trees or an inspiring, uncluttered view. There may also be a quiet green space in town, perhaps in a park or on a riverbank. You might call this place tranquil and feel relaxed and happier after your visit.
Campaign to Protect Rural England has defined tranquillity as the quality of calm experienced in places with mainly natural features, free from disturbance from man-made ones. Recognising that tranquillity is an essential quality of our countryside, and of green spaces in towns and cities, protecting tranquillity has been a part of CPRE campaigning for many years. Now there is a growing body of research to show that peace and contact with green places and nature improves health and feelings of wellbeing.
In 2006, with support from the government’s landscape and wildlife watchdog Natural England, CPRE published a ‘tranquillity map’ for England and a year later county-scale maps were also available. Techniques developed by Northumbria and Newcastle Universities created lists of attributes, sights as well as sounds, which enhance and detract from experiencing tranquillity. These attributes were used to give every 500 by 500 metre square in the country a score. These were then mapped, showing the most tranquil areas in dark green and the least in dark red, with lesser scores shown in lighter hues.
Now, thanks to new technology, the map is available to view interactively on the CPRE website. When looking at the whole of England the map is perhaps predictable, with masses of darker green in the north and west, while the counties around London appear universally red. But zoom in and the picture is different (note: people with red/green colour blindness will find the advice on the website helpful).
Widely regarded as built-up, busy and noisy, with aircraft overhead and substantial road traffic, approximately 80 per cent of Hertfordshire remains undeveloped. In our county’s countryside there are significant areas rated as tranquil, including in the Chilterns around Ashridge, between Harpenden and Hitchin, east of Stevenage and Baldock, near Ashwell, between Welwyn and the A119, between Bishop’s Stortford and Royston and north east of Ware. There is also a notable enclave north of the M25 between Hatfield and the Lea Valley which is one of the closest areas to central London with such a high tranquillity rating. Numerous public rights of way make all of these areas very accessible.
Planners and peace
Since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012, local planning authorities have been required to indentify and protect areas of tranquillity which have remained relatively undisturbed. These include small areas close to where people live as well as larger rural areas. To discover to what extent planners have been able to apply this requirement, in 2014 CPRE surveyed planning authorities across England. The findings were published in May in Give Peace a Chance: has planning policy contributed to rural tranquillity? Of those authorities which replied only one in seven outside National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty had begun to implement tranquillity protection policies at the time of the survey, with a few more planning to do so.
Many responding authorities said they needed more guidance on how to protect and enhance tranquillity in their areas. Now CPRE is calling on the government to produce up-to-date tranquillity maps and to publish the guidance and examples of good practice which have been asked for. This might include closer scrutiny of areas where tranquillity remains high despite all the odds - a look at the enclave in Hertfordshire close to the M25 suggests that an abundance of trees and woods is a significant factor enhancing tranquillity.
The Chilterns Conservation Board, charged with protecting the special qualities of the Chilterns, recognises that half of all visitors to the countryside, according to national surveys, go there primarily to find peace and quiet. The board, in its current plan for the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is partly in Hertfordshire, expresses its concern that some elements of tranquillity are overlooked and being continuously and insidiously lost. The plan goes on to say, ‘Experience shows that once lost (tranquillity) is very difficult to restore...(we) need to prize it highly and conserve it wherever possible’.
Many of Hertfordshire’s more tranquil areas could be affected directly or indirectly by proposals for development within the county, and by airport expansion close to its boundaries. Those parts of the county which lie beyond the Green Belt and outside the Chilterns AONB are more vulnerable to development on greenfield sites - this is especially the case in the north east of the county where there are significant areas of tranquillity.
Visit cpreherts.org.uk for a link to the interactive tranquillity map. If you are concerned that your special place may be threatened by development, there is also information and advice about protecting tranquillity on the site.