Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an area of countryside in England, Wales or Northern Ireland which has been designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value. Areas are designated in recognition of their national importance, by the relevant public body: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. In place of AONB, Scotland uses the similar National Scenic Area designation. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty enjoy levels of protection from development similar to those of UK National Parks, but unlike National Parks do not have their own independent governing authorities or planning powers. They also differ from National Parks in their more limited opportunities for extensive outdoor recreation.
The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: meeting the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and having regard for the interests of those who live and work there. To achieve these aims, AONBs rely on planning controls and practical countryside management.
As they have the same landscape quality, AONBs may be compared to the national parks of England and Wales. National parks are well known to many inhabitants of the UK; by contrast, there is evidence to indicate many residents in AONBs may be unaware of the status. However, the National Association of AONBs is working to increase awareness of AONBs in local communities, and in 2014 successfully negotiated to have the boundaries of AONBs in England shown on Google Maps.
The idea for what would eventually become the AONB designation was first put forward by John Dower in his 1945 Report to the Government on National Parks. Dower suggested there was need for protection of certain naturally beautiful landscapes which were unsuitable as National Parks due to their small size and lack of wildness. Dower's recommendation for the designation of these "other amenity areas" was eventually embodied in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as the AONB designation.
There are 46 AONBs in Britain (33 wholly in England, four wholly in Wales, one which straddles the English/Welsh border and eight in Northern Ireland). The first AONB was designated in 1956 in the Gower Peninsula, South Wales. The most recently confirmed is the Tamar Valley AONB in 1995, although the existing Clwydian Range AONB was extended in 2012 to form the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, and the Strangford Lough and Lecale Coast AONBs were merged and redesignated as a single AONB in 2010.
AONBs vary greatly in terms of size, type and use of land, and whether they are partly or wholly open to the public. The smallest AONB is the Isles of Scilly (1976), 16 km2 (6.2 sq mi), and the largest AONB is the Cotswolds (1966, extended 1990), 2,038 km2 (787 sq mi). The AONBs of England and Wales together cover around 18% of the countryside in the two countries. The AONBs of Northern Ireland together cover about 70% of Northern Ireland's coastline.
Legal status and organization
AONBs in England and Wales were originally created under the same legislation as the national parks, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Unlike AONBs, national parks have their own authorities, and have special legal powers to prevent unsympathetic development. By contrast, AONBs remain the responsibility of their local authorities, and only very limited statutory duties were imposed on local authorities within an AONB by the original 1949 Act. However, further regulation and protection of AONBs in England and Wales was added by the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000, under which new designations are now made, and the Government has recently in the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) stated that AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning consent and other sensitive issues.
All English and Welsh AONBs have a dedicated AONB officer and other staff. As required by the CRoW Act, each AONB has a Management Plan that sets out the characteristics and special qualities of the landscape and how they will be conserved and enhanced. The AONBs are collectively represented by the National Association for AONBs, an independent organization acting on behalf of AONBs and their partners.
AONBs in Northern Ireland were designated originally under the Amenity Lands (NI) Act 1965; subsequently under the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (NI) Order 1985.
There are growing concerns among environmental and countryside groups that AONB status is increasingly under threat from development. The Campaign to Protect Rural England said in July 2006 that many AONBs were under greater threat than ever before. Three particular sites were cited: the Dorset AONB threatened by a road plan, the threat of a football stadium in the Sussex Downs AONB, and, larger than any other, a £1 billion plan by Imperial College to build thousands of houses and offices on hundreds of acres of AONB land on the Kent Downs at Wye. Imperial College have now withdrawn their plans for development, seemingly to the disappointment of both Ashford Borough and Kent County councils (September 2006). In September 2007 government approval was finally given for the development of a new football ground for Brighton and Hove Albion within the boundaries of the Sussex Downs AONB, after a fierce fight by conservationists. The subsequent development, known as Falmer Stadium, was officially opened in July 2011. The Weymouth Relief Road in Dorset was constructed between 2008 and 2011, after environmental groups lost a High Court challenge to prevent its construction.
Writing in 2006, Professor Adrian Phillips listed threats facing AONBs. He wrote that the apparent big threats were uncertainty over future support for land management, increasing development pressures, the impacts of globalization, and climate change. More subtle threats include creeping sub-urbanization and "Horsiculture".
List of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
- Gower Peninsula
- Llŷn Peninsula
- Wye Valley (partly in England)
- Antrim Coast and Glens
- Causeway Coast
- Lagan Valley
- Mourne Mountains
- Ring of Gullion
- Strangford and Lecale
- Natural England
- Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB
- Tamar Valley AONB
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency
- Cotswolds AONB
- Cotswolds AONB
- Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
- High Weald AONB
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency
- Campaign to Protect Rural England (via archive.org)
- "save-wye.org". save-wye.org. Retrieved 2013-06-30.