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Exploring the Beauty of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

CEO Tinh Phung
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a special designation given to certain areas in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland that have significant...

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a special designation given to certain areas in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland that have significant landscape value. These areas are recognized for their national importance by the relevant public bodies such as Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. They are protected from development and enjoy levels of conservation similar to UK national parks. However, unlike national parks, AONBs have more limited opportunities for extensive outdoor recreation.

The History of AONBs

The idea for AONBs was first proposed by John Dower in his 1945 report to the government on national parks in England and Wales. Dower believed that certain naturally beautiful landscapes, although unsuitable as national parks due to their small size and lack of wildness, still needed protection. His recommendation for the designation of these "other amenity areas" eventually led to the creation of the AONB designation in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

The Purpose of AONBs

The main purpose of designating an area as an AONB is to conserve and enhance its natural beauty. AONBs also aim to meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and consider the interests of those who live and work within the designated areas. To achieve these goals, AONBs rely on planning controls and practical countryside management. While national parks are well-known throughout the UK, there is evidence to suggest that many residents in AONBs may be unaware of their status. Efforts are being made by the National Association of AONBs to increase awareness of AONBs in local communities, as well as to have their boundaries shown on platforms like Google Maps.

AONBs in the United Kingdom

View over Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower Peninsula, the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty View over Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower Peninsula, the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Currently, there are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the United Kingdom. England has 33 AONBs, Wales has four, there is one on the England-Wales border, and Northern Ireland has eight. The Gower Peninsula in South Wales was the first AONB to be established in 1956, while the Tamar Valley AONB, located on the border between England and Wales, is the most recent designation established in 1995. AONBs vary greatly in terms of size, type, and land use. The Cotswolds AONB is the largest, covering 2,038 square kilometers (787 square miles), while the Isles of Scilly is the smallest, covering just 16 square kilometers (6.2 square miles). Overall, AONBs cover approximately 15% of England and 4% of Wales.

Legal Status and Organization

AONBs in England and Wales were created under the same legislation as national parks, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. However, AONBs do not have the same legal powers to prevent unsympathetic development as national parks. They remain the responsibility of their local authorities, with special committees overseeing their management. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 further regulates and protects AONBs. AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning decisions on landscape issues. Some AONBs, such as the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, have their own statutory bodies known as conservation boards.

Threats to AONBs

Falmer Stadium under construction in 2010 in the former Sussex Downs AONB Falmer Stadium under construction in 2010 in the former Sussex Downs AONB

There are growing concerns among environmental and countryside groups that AONBs are increasingly under threat from development. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has highlighted several AONBs that are particularly at risk. These include the Dorset AONB, which is threatened by a road plan, and the Sussex Downs AONB, where a football stadium was built. Development projects on AONB lands can have a significant impact on the natural beauty and biodiversity of these areas. Other threats include uncertainty over future support for land management, increasing development pressures, the impacts of globalization, and climate change.

Celebrating AONBs

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, poet laureate Simon Armitage wrote a poem called "Fugitives." The poem was commissioned by the National Association of AONBs and was read by Armitage on Arnside Knott in September 2019.

List of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

England

  • Arnside and Silverdale
  • Blackdown Hills
  • Cannock Chase
  • Chichester Harbour
  • Chilterns
  • Cornwall
  • Cotswolds
  • Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs
  • Dedham Vale
  • Dorset
  • East Devon
  • Forest of Bowland
  • High Weald
  • Howardian Hills
  • Isle of Wight
  • Isles of Scilly
  • Kent Downs
  • Lincolnshire Wolds
  • Malvern Hills
  • Mendip Hills
  • Nidderdale
  • Norfolk Coast
  • North Devon Coast
  • North Pennines
  • Northumberland Coast
  • North Wessex Downs
  • Quantock Hills
  • Shropshire Hills
  • Solway Coast
  • South Devon
  • Suffolk Coast and Heaths
  • Surrey Hills
  • Tamar Valley
  • Wye Valley

Wales

  • Anglesey
  • Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
  • Gower
  • Llŷn
  • Wye Valley (partly in England)

Northern Ireland

  • Antrim Coast and Glens
  • Binevenagh
  • Causeway Coast
  • Lagan Valley
  • Mourne Mountains
  • Ring of Gullion
  • Sperrins
  • Strangford and Lecale

Note: Some former AONBs have been incorporated into national parks, such as the South Hampshire Coast AONB and the East Hampshire and Sussex Downs AONBs.

Conclusion

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty offer a unique opportunity to experience and appreciate the natural wonders of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These designated areas are valuable for their significant landscapes and are protected to ensure their conservation. Whether you're exploring the picturesque Cotswolds or the stunning Gower Peninsula, make sure to take the time to discover and cherish these remarkable AONBs.

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