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 with national parks the responsible bodies do not have their own 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 in England and Wales. 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 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.
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 special legal powers to prevent unsympathetic development. AONBs in general remain the responsibility of their local authorities by means of special committees which include members appointed by the Minister and by parishes, 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 decisions on landscape issues. Two of the AONBs (the Cotswolds and the Chilterns), which extend into a large number of local authority areas, have their own statutory bodies, known as Conservation Boards.
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 was 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. 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".
|Arnside and Silverdale||1972||75||29|
|Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs||1981||983||380|
|Forest of Bowland||1964||803||312|
|Isle of Wight||1963||189||73|
|Isles of Scilly||1975||16||6|
|North Devon Coast||1959||171||66|
|North Wessex Downs||1972||1730||668|
|Suffolk Coast and Heaths||1970||403||155|
|Wye Valley (partly in Wales)||1971||326||126|
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