Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland England, Northern Ireland, and Wales AONBs map.svg
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB; Welsh : Ardal o Harddwch Naturiol Eithriadol, AHNE) is one of 46 areas of countryside in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland that has been designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value. On 22 November 2023 the AONBs in England and Wales adopted a new name, National Landscapes (Welsh : Tirweddau Cenedlaethol), and are in the process of rebranding. [1] [2]


Areas are designated in recognition of their national importance by the relevant public body: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency respectively. 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 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. [3]


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 that 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. [4]


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 in 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, [5] and, in 2014, successfully negotiated to have the boundaries of AONBs in England shown on Google Maps. [6]

Statistical overview

View over Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower Peninsula, the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty ThreeCliffsBay.jos.500pix.jpg
View over Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower Peninsula, the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the United Kingdom: 33 in England, four in Wales, one on the England–Wales border, and eight in Northern Ireland. The first AONB was established in 1956 on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, and the most recent to be designated is the Tamar Valley AONB, established in 1995. [7] More recent changes include the Clwydian Range AONB being extended in 2012 to form the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, and the Strangford Lough and Lecale Coast AONBs being merged to form a single AONB in 2010. [8]

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, 16 km2 (6.2 sq mi), and the largest is the Cotswolds, [9] 2,038 km2 (787 sq mi). AONBs cover around 15% of England and 4% of Wales. [10]

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 that include members appointed by a 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, [11] [12]

In the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012), the government 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. In 2019 the Glover Report made various recommendations regarding the future of AONBs the report's 'central proposal' being to bring National Parks and AONBs together as part of one 'family of national landscapes' [13]  but as at 1 November 2020 the government has yet to respond to those recommendations. However, the Cotswolds Conservation Board announced in September 2020 that they were re-styling the area name and it is now known as the Cotswolds National Landscape. [14]

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". [15]

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. [16]


Falmer Stadium under construction in 2010 in the former Sussex Downs AONB Amexstadjuly10.jpg
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. [17] Three particular AONBs 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. [18] 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. [19]

Writing in 2006, Professor Adrian Phillips listed threats facing AONBs, which he says include uncertainty over future support for land management, increasing development pressures, the impacts of globalization, and climate change. More subtle threats include creeping suburbanization and horsiculture. [4]


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. [20] [21] [22]

List of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty


AONBPhotoEstablishedAreaLocal authorities
Arnside and Silverdale Arnside123.jpg 197275 km2 (29 sq mi)
Blackdown Hills CulmstockBeacon.jpg 1991370 km2 (140 sq mi)
Cannock Chase Cannock Chase Path.jpg 195868 km2 (26 sq mi) Staffordshire (Cannock Chase, Lichfield)
Chichester Harbour Bosham.1.5.05.jpg 196437 km2 (14 sq mi)
Chilterns Ivinghoe Beacon seen from The Ridgeway.jpg 1965833 km2 (322 sq mi)
Cornwall Cape Cornwall (Judithili) edit.jpg 1959958 km2 (370 sq mi) Cornwall
Cotswolds Bibury Cottages in the Cotswolds - June 2007.jpg 19662,038 km2 (787 sq mi)
Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Dorset brings 01.jpg 1981983 km2 (380 sq mi)
Dedham Vale Cmglee Manningtree River Stour.jpg 197090 km2 (35 sq mi)
Dorset Durdle Door Overview.jpg 19591,129 km2 (436 sq mi) Dorset
East Devon Snow05 009.jpg 1963268 km2 (103 sq mi) Devon (East Devon)
Forest of Bowland Langden Brook - - 342024.jpg 1964803 km2 (310 sq mi)
High Weald Highwealdview.jpg 19831,460 km2 (560 sq mi)
Howardian Hills Howardian Hills.jpg 1987204 km2 (79 sq mi) North Yorkshire
Isle of Wight Isle of Wight coastline.jpg 1963189 km2 (73 sq mi) Isle of Wight
Isles of Scilly St Martins Daymark.jpg 197516 km2 (6.2 sq mi) Isles of Scilly
Kent Downs DownsRanscombeFieldToMway0734c.JPG 1968878 km2 (339 sq mi)
Lincolnshire Wolds Lincolnshire Wolds.jpg 1973560 km2 (220 sq mi)
Malvern Hills View N from western peak of Ragged Stone Hill - - 35228.jpg 1959105 km2 (41 sq mi)
Mendip Hills Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, UK - Diliff.jpg 1972200 km2 (77 sq mi)
Nidderdale Washburn Valley - - 1721355.jpg 1994603 km2 (233 sq mi) North Yorkshire
Norfolk Coast Cromer beach summer UK.JPG 1968453 km2 (175 sq mi) Norfolk (Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk)
North Devon Coast Cliffs Clovelly Coast West.JPG 1959171 km2 (66 sq mi) Devon (North Devon, Torridge)
North Pennines Cauldron Snout - July 2006.jpg 19881,983 km2 (766 sq mi)
Northumberland Coast Bamburgh2006.jpg 1958138 km2 (53 sq mi) Northumberland
North Wessex Downs Uffington White Horse and Dragon Hill - - 238471.jpg 19721,730 km2 (670 sq mi)
Quantock Hills Quantockheather.jpg 195698 km2 (38 sq mi) Somerset
Shropshire Hills Shropshire Long Mynd.jpg 1958802 km2 (310 sq mi)
Solway Coast Near Mawbray Yard, Cumbria.JPG 1964115 km2 (44 sq mi) Cumberland
South Devon Slapton Sands 1.jpg 1960337 km2 (130 sq mi)
Suffolk & Essex Coast & Heaths Cliffs at Easton Wood, near Covehithe, Suffolk - - 52726.jpg 1970403 km2 (156 sq mi) Suffolk (Babergh, East Suffolk)
Surrey Hills CalvertRoadDorking.jpg 1958422 km2 (163 sq mi) Surrey (Guildford, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Tandridge, Waverley)
Tamar Valley River Tamar - - 326342.jpg 1995190 km2 (73 sq mi)
Wye Valley (partly in Wales) River Wye Lancat and Ban y Gore Nature Reserve.jpg 1971326 km2 (126 sq mi)
Total19,035 km2 (7,349 sq mi)

Former Areas

The establishment of the New Forest National Park in 2005 meant the subsumption of South Hampshire Coast AONB into it. East Hampshire and Sussex Downs AONBs were replaced in 2010 by the South Downs National Park.


AONB / AHNEPhotoEstablishedAreaLocal authorities

(Ynys Môn)

Anglesey Coast - - 1367265.jpg 1967221 km2 (85 sq mi) Anglesey
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley

(Bryniau Clwyd a Dyffryn Dyfrdwy)

River Dee In March.JPG 1985389 km2 (150 sq mi)


Worm's Head (Rhossili).jpg 1956188 km2 (73 sq mi) Swansea
Llŷn Aberdaron - Porth Neigwl 2.JPG 1956155 km2 (60 sq mi) Gwynedd
Wye Valley

(Dyffryn Gwy)

(partly in England)

Monmouth from Livox Wood - - 203771.jpg 1971326 km2 (126 sq mi)

Northern Ireland

AONBPhotoEstablishedAreaLocal authorities
Antrim Coast and Glens Antrim Coast near Ballycastle.JPG 1989724 km2 (280 sq mi)
Binevenagh Castle-rock-derry.jpg 1966 [lower-alpha 1] 138 km2 (53 sq mi) Causeway Coast and Glens
Causeway Coast Giant's Causeway (14).JPG 198942 km2 (16 sq mi) Causeway Coast and Glens
Lagan Valley Dixon-Park-04.JPG 196539 km2 (15 sq mi)
Mourne Mountains Mourne mountains.jpg 1986570 km2 (220 sq mi)
Ring of Gullion Cam Lough - - 267458.jpg 1966 [lower-alpha 2] 154 km2 (59 sq mi) Newry, Mourne and Down
Sperrins Sawel mountain.jpg 19681,181 km2 (456 sq mi)
Strangford and Lecale [8] Strangford Lough from Portaferry, looking towards the narrows.JPG 1967 [lower-alpha 3] 525 km2 (203 sq mi)


  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.

Proposed areas in England

The following are formal proposals for new AONBs submitted to Natural England: [23]

The 2019 Landscape Review Report additionally favourably mentions proposals not listed in Natural England's list: from Sandstone Ridge and the Vale of Belvoir. [24] The Cheshire Sandstone Ridge was subsequently shortlisted for AONB designation in 2021. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cotswolds</span> Protected area mostly in South West England

The Cotswolds is a region in central South West England, along a range of rolling hills that rise from the meadows of the upper River Thames to an escarpment above the Severn Valley, Bath and Evesham Vale. The area is defined by the bedrock of Jurassic limestone that creates a type of grassland habitat rare in the UK and that is quarried for the golden-coloured Cotswold stone. The predominantly rural landscape contains stone-built villages, towns, stately homes and gardens featuring the local stone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Countryside Agency</span>

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A heritage coast is a strip of coastline in England and Wales, the extent of which is defined by agreement between the relevant statutory national agency and the relevant local authority. Such areas are recognised for their natural beauty, wildlife and heritage and amongst the purposes of definition is support for these qualities and enabling enjoyment of them by the public. For England this national agency is Natural England and for Wales it is Natural Resources Wales.

An environmentally sensitive area (ESA) is a type of designation for an agricultural area which needs special protection because of its landscape, wildlife or historical value. The scheme was introduced in 1987. Originally it was administered by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, then the Rural Development Service for the United Kingdom Governments Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and currently Natural England following successive re-organisation of the departments. In 2005 the scheme was superseded by Environmental Stewardship and closed to new entrants. Existing agreements remain active until they expire, meaning the designation will remain active until 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Protected areas of the United Kingdom</span> Designated area for protection in the United Kingdom

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A national scenic area (NSA) is a conservation designation used in several countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales</span> Designated area of countryside in Wales

There are five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in Wales, known from November 2023 as National Landscapes. AONBs are areas of countryside that have been designated for statutory protection, due to their significant landscape value, by initially the Government of the United Kingdom and later Welsh devolved bodies. Of the current five areas designated, four are wholly in Wales, with another spanning the Wales-England border, and in total AONBs account for 4% of Wales' land area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chiltern Hills</span> Range of hills in Southeast England

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Downs National Park</span> National park in South East England

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">National parks of the United Kingdom</span> Areas of landscape in the United Kingdom

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949</span> United Kingdom legislation

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which created the National Parks Commission which later became the Countryside Commission and then the Countryside Agency, which became Natural England when it merged with English Nature in 2006. The Act provided the framework for the creation of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales, and also addressed public rights of way and access to open land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kent Downs</span> Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Kent, England

The Kent Downs is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Kent, England. They are the eastern half of the North Downs and stretch from the London/Surrey borders to the White Cliffs of Dover, including a small section of the London Borough of Bromley. The AONB also includes the Greensand Ridge, a prominent sandstone escarpment which lies south of the chalk escarpment of the North Downs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">High Weald National Landscape</span> Protected landscape in south-east England

The High Weald National Landscape is in south-east England. Covering an area of 1,450 square kilometres (560 sq mi), it takes up parts of Kent, Surrey, East Sussex, and West Sussex. It is the fourth largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales. It has an attractive landscape with a mosaic of small farms and woodlands, historic parks, sunken lanes and ridge-top villages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Howardian Hills</span> Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England

The Howardian Hills are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England located between the Yorkshire Wolds, the North York Moors National Park, and the Vale of York. They are named after the Howard family who still own local lands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wye Valley</span> Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales

The Wye Valley National Landscape is an internationally important protected landscape straddling the border between England and Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sussex Downs AONB</span>

Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England was designated in 1966. The designation was revoked in March 2010, together with the neighbouring East Hampshire AONB, upon the establishment of the South Downs National Park.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Protected areas of Wales</span> Designated area for protection in Wales

Wales, a country that is part of the United Kingdom, contains protected areas under various designations. The largest designation by land area is Wales' three national parks, followed by the five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cornwall National Landscape</span> Designated coastal areas and a moorland in southwesternmost county of England

The Cornwall National Landscape covers 958 square kilometres (370 sq mi) in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom; that is, about 27% of the total area of the county. It comprises 12 separate areas, designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 for special landscape protection. Of the areas, eleven cover stretches of coastline; the twelfth is Bodmin Moor. The areas are together treated as a single Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB): all AONBs have been rebranded as National Landscapes since November 2023. Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 places a duty on all relevant authorities when discharging any function affecting land within an AONB to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty. Section 89 places a statutory duty on Local Planning Authorities with an AONB within their administrative area to produce a 5-year management plan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National scenic area (Scotland)</span> Conservation designation used in Scotland

National scenic area (NSA) is a conservation designation used in Scotland, and administered by NatureScot on behalf of the Scottish Government. The designation's purpose is to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to protect them from inappropriate development. There are currently 40 national scenic areas (NSAs) in Scotland, covering 13% of the land area of Scotland. The areas protected by the designation are considered to represent the type of scenic beauty "popularly associated with Scotland and for which it is renowned". As such they tend to be mainly found in remote and mountainous areas, with a review in 1997 noting a potential weakness of national scenic areas was that the original selection placed undue emphasis on mountainous parts of the country. National scenic areas do however also cover seascapes, with approximately 26% of the total area protected by the designation being marine. The designation is primarily concerned with scenic qualities, although designated national scenic areas may well have other special qualities, for example related to culture, history, archaeology, geology or wildlife. Areas with such qualities may be protected by other designations that overlap with the NSA designation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clwydian Range and Dee Valley</span> Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales

The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) located in north-east Wales, covering the Clwydian Range, and the valley of the River Dee.


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