Landscapes for Life
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are some of the UK’s most cherished and outstanding landscapes.
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is exactly what it says it is – an outstanding landscape considered so precious that it is protected for the nation.
There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which share equal status with the 12 National Parks in England & Wales in terms of scenic beauty and landscape protection. Along with the National Parks and National Scenic Areas in Scotland, the UK’s family of protected landscapes cover nearly 5 million hectares or 20% of the UK land area. The UK’s AONBs and National Parks are recognised as Category V Protected Landscapes under IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) global protected area framework. Globally there are 239,603 terrestrial protected areas covering 15.53% of the land surface, along with 18,533 marine protected area covering 7.65% of the seas [https://www.protectedplanet.net/en].
The IUCN and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recognise that Protected Areas offer vital solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges, including climate change, species extinction and poverty.
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is designated and protected under the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act. As part of the reconstruction of the UK after WW2, this Act improved access to the countryside, addressed public rights of way and provided the framework for the creation of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are 46 AONBs in total across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and they all have the same level of protection as National Parks.
AONBs are chosen because of the outstanding natural beauty across their area as a whole, and because an area is of such significance that its conservation and enhancement can best be met through designating it an AONB. The AONB designation means that public bodies’ policies and decisions must focus on the conservation and enhancement of the landscape. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 also places a duty on all public bodies, from parish and community councils to public utility companies, to have regard for the purposes of the AONB.
The Wye Valley was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1971, recognising and protecting the special features that make it one of the finest lowland landscapes in Britain. These special features include its dramatic limestone gorges and native woodlands, its impressive geology, its rich history of hillforts, castles and the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales, and its wildlife (which includes 25% of Britain’s population of lesser horseshoe bats).