Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an area of countryside considered to have significant landscape value in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, that has been specially designated by Natural England on behalf of the United Kingdom government; Natural Resources Wales (formerly the Countryside Council for Wales) on behalf of the Welsh Government; or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.


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. AONBs are designated in recognition of their national importance and to ensure that their character and qualities are protected for all to enjoy. As they have the same landscape quality, AONBs may be compared to the national parks of England and Wales. AONBs are 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, have special legal powers to prevent unsympathetic development, and are well known to many inhabitants of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. By contrast, there are very limited statutory duties imposed on local authorities within an AONB and there is evidence to indicate many residents in such areas may be unaware of the status. However, further regulation and protection of AONBs was added by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, 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.

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) and they cover 18% of our countryside. These are collectively described as "The AONB Family" and are represented by the National Association for AONB "Landscapes for Life". The National Association for AONBs is an independent organisation acting on behalf of AONBs and their partners. The first AONB was designated in 1956 in the Gower Peninsula, South Wales. The most recently confirmed is the Tamar Valley AONB in 1994. AONBs vary greatly in terms of size, type and use of land, whether they are partly or wholly open to the public. All English and Welsh AONBs have a dedicated AONB officer and other staff. The smallest AONB is the Isles of Scilly (1976), 16 km2 (6.2 sq mi), and the largest AONB is the Cotswolds (1966), 2,038 km2 (787 sq mi). The AONBs of England and Wales together cover around 18% of the countryside in the two countries.

AONBs are living, working landscapes, much loved and valued by all who enjoy them. They are powerful symbols of national pride: places of motivation, inheritance, excitement, pleasure and profit. The flora, fauna, history and culture of AONBs’ lowland heath, wild moor, towering peaks, dramatic gorges, sheer cliffs, gently rolling hills, sandy beaches, spectacular cliffs, quiet coves, rocky shores, sand dunes, saltmarsh and shimmering estuaries ensure they remain Landscapes for Life.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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 Clwydian Range has been extended in 2012 to include the area around Llangollen.

Each AONB has a Management Plan that sets out the characteristics and special qualities of the landscape and what needs to be achieved or overcome to ensure the conservation and enhancement of those characteristics and qualities. In doing this, AONB Partnerships have become leaders in the Protected Landscape Approach. They are exemplars of the landscape-scale conservation of biodiversity and natural resources. See

List of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty[edit]



Northern Ireland[edit]



The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 does not cover Scotland. Instead Scotland has National Scenic Areas.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]