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Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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

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 (NSA) 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.[1]


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 owing 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.[2]


The purpose of an AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the designated landscape.[3]

There are 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,[4] and in 2014 successfully negotiated to have the boundaries of AONBs in England shown on Google Maps.[5]

Statistical overviewEdit

View from the Gower peninsula, the first AONB to be designated.

There are 46 AONBs in Britain (33 wholly in England, four wholly in Wales, one that straddles the Anglo-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,[6] 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.[7]

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[8] (1966, extended 1990[9]), 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.[2]

Legal status and organizationEdit

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[which?] 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,[10][11] 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 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB), an independent registered charity acting on behalf of AONBs and their partners, which uses the slogan Landscapes for Life.[12]

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.[13]


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

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.[14] 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 London to build thousands of houses and offices on hundreds of acres of AONB land on the Kent Downs at Wye.[15] 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.[16]

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".[2]


Poet Laureate Simon Armitage wrote a poem "Fugitives", commissioned by the National Association of AONBs, which he read on Arnside Knott on 21 September 2019 to launch the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.[17][18][19]

List of Areas of Outstanding Natural BeautyEdit


AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Arnside and Silverdale 1972 75 29 Cumbria (South Lakeland), Lancashire (Lancaster)
Blackdown Hills 1991 370 143 Devon (East Devon, Mid Devon), Somerset (South Somerset, Somerset West and Taunton)
Cannock Chase 1958 68 26 Staffordshire (Cannock Chase, Lichfield)
Chichester Harbour 1970 37 14 Hampshire (Havant), West Sussex (Chichester)
Chiltern Hills 1965 833 322 Buckinghamshire (Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks, Wycombe), Central Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire (Dacorum, North Hertfordshire, Three Rivers), Luton, Oxfordshire (South Oxfordshire)
Cornwall 1959 958 370 Cornwall
Cotswolds 1966 2038 787 Bath and North East Somerset, Gloucestershire (Cheltenham, Cotswold, Stroud, Tewkesbury), Oxfordshire (Cherwell, West Oxfordshire), South Gloucestershire, Warwickshire (Stratford-on-Avon), Wiltshire, Worcestershire (Wychavon)
Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs 1981 983 380 Dorset, Hampshire (New Forest), Somerset (Mendip, South Somerset), Wiltshire
Dedham Vale 1970 90 35 Essex (Colchester, Tendring), Suffolk (Babergh)
Dorset 1959 1129 436 Dorset
East Devon 1963 268 103 Devon (East Devon)
Forest of Bowland 1964 803 312 Lancashire (Lancaster, Pendle, Ribble Valley, Wyre), North Yorkshire (Craven)
High Weald 1983 1460 564 East Sussex (Hastings, Rother, Wealden), Kent (Ashford, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells), Surrey (Tandridge), West Sussex (Crawley, Horsham, Mid Sussex)
Howardian Hills 1987 204 79 North Yorkshire (Hambleton, Ryedale)
Isle of Wight 1963 189 73 Isle of Wight
Isles of Scilly 1975 16 6 Isles of Scilly
Kent Downs 1968 878 339 Greater London (Bromley), Kent (Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Gravesham, Maidstone, Sevenoaks, Swale, Tonbridge and Malling), Medway
Lincolnshire Wolds 1973 560 216 Lincolnshire (East Lindsey, West Lindsey), North East Lincolnshire
Malvern Hills 1959 105 41 Gloucestershire (Forest of Dean), Herefordshire, Worcestershire (Malvern Hills)
Mendip Hills 1972 200 77 Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Somerset (Mendip, Sedgemoor)
Nidderdale 1994 603 233 North Yorkshire (Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire)
Norfolk Coast 1968 453 175 Norfolk (Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk)
North Devon Coast 1959 171 66 Devon (North Devon, Torridge)
North Pennines 1988 1983 766 County Durham, Cumbria (Carlisle, Eden), Northumberland, North Yorkshire (Richmondshire)
Northumberland Coast 1958 138 53 Northumberland
North Wessex Downs 1972 1730 668 Hampshire (Basingstoke and Deane, Test Valley), Oxfordshire (South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse), Swindon, West Berkshire, Wiltshire
Quantock Hills 1956 98 38 Somerset (Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton)
Shropshire Hills 1958 802 310 Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin
Solway Coast 1964 115 44 Cumbria (Allerdale, Carlisle)
South Devon 1960 337 130 Devon (South Hams), Torbay
Suffolk Coast and Heaths 1970 403 155 Suffolk (Babergh, East Suffolk)
Surrey Hills 1958 422 163 Surrey (Guildford, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Tandridge, Waverley)
Tamar Valley 1995 190 75 Cornwall, Devon (South Hams, West Devon)
Wye Valley (partly in Wales) 1971 326 126 Gloucestershire (Forest of Dean), Herefordshire, Monmouthshire


AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Anglesey 1967 221 85 Anglesey
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley 1985 389 150 Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham
Gower Peninsula 1956 188 73 Swansea
Llŷn Peninsula 1956 155 60 Gwynedd
Wye Valley (partly in England) 1971 326 126 Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire

Northern IrelandEdit

AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Antrim Coast and Glens 1989 724 280 Causeway Coast and Glens, Mid and East Antrim
Binevenagh 1966[a] 138 53 Causeway Coast and Glens
Causeway Coast 1989 42 16 Causeway Coast and Glens
Lagan Valley 1965 39 15 Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh
Mourne Mountains 1986 570 220 Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Newry, Mourne and Down
Ring of Gullion 1966[b] 154 59 Newry, Mourne and Down
Sperrins 1968 1181 456 Causeway Coast and Glens, Derry and Strabane, Fermanagh and Omagh, Mid Ulster
Strangford and Lecale[7] 1967[c] 525 203 Ards and North Down, Newry, Mourne and Down


  1. ^ as North Derry AONB, extended and redesignated as Binevenagh AONB in 2006
  2. ^ redesignated as Ring of Gullion in 1991
  3. ^ Lecale Coast AONB. Strangford Lough AONB designated 1972. Redesignated as a single AONB in 2010.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs): designation and management - GOV.UK". Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "NAAONB". Archived from the original on 29 August 2017. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  3. ^ "Areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs): designation and management".
  4. ^ "NAAONB". Archived from the original on 13 September 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Tamar Valley - What is the Tamar Valley AONB?". Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Northern Ireland Environment Agency". Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  8. ^ Cotswolds AONB Archived 14 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Cotswolds AONB" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  10. ^ Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Archived 11 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "High Weald AONB". Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  12. ^ "Landscapes for Life". Association for AONBs. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  13. ^ Northern Ireland Environment Agency Archived 2 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "CPRE : News releases : Outstandingly beautiful, still seriously threatened". 26 September 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2006. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  15. ^ "". Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  16. ^ "Relief road opens after 60 years". 17 March 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2018 – via
  17. ^ "Celebrating our special landscapes". Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 23 September 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Poem commissioned to celebrate national parks". Ecologist. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  19. ^ Armitage, Simon. "Fugitives" (PDF). Retrieved 27 September 2019.

External linksEdit