Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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 overview

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]

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,[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]


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 Beauty


AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Arnside and Silverdale19727529Cumbria (South Lakeland), Lancashire (Lancaster)
Blackdown Hills1991370143Devon (East Devon, Mid Devon), Somerset (South Somerset, Somerset West and Taunton)
Cannock Chase19586826Staffordshire (Cannock Chase, Lichfield)
Chichester Harbour19703714Hampshire (Havant), West Sussex (Chichester)
Chiltern Hills1965833322Buckinghamshire (Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks, Wycombe), Central Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire (Dacorum, North Hertfordshire, Three Rivers), Luton, Oxfordshire (South Oxfordshire)
Cotswolds19662038787Bath 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 Downs1981983380Dorset, Hampshire (New Forest), Somerset (Mendip, South Somerset), Wiltshire
Dedham Vale19709035Essex (Colchester, Tendring), Suffolk (Babergh)
East Devon1963268103Devon (East Devon)
Forest of Bowland1964803312Lancashire (Lancaster, Pendle, Ribble Valley, Wyre), North Yorkshire (Craven)
High Weald19831460564East Sussex (Hastings, Rother, Wealden), Kent (Ashford, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells), Surrey (Tandridge), West Sussex (Crawley, Horsham, Mid Sussex)
Howardian Hills198720479North Yorkshire (Hambleton, Ryedale)
Isle of Wight196318973Isle of Wight
Isles of Scilly1975166Isles of Scilly
Kent Downs1968878339Greater London (Bromley), Kent (Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe, Gravesham, Maidstone, Sevenoaks, Swale, Tonbridge and Malling), Medway
Lincolnshire Wolds1973560216Lincolnshire (East Lindsey, West Lindsey), North East Lincolnshire
Malvern Hills195910541Gloucestershire (Forest of Dean), Herefordshire, Worcestershire (Malvern Hills)
Mendip Hills197220077Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Somerset (Mendip, Sedgemoor)
Nidderdale1994603233North Yorkshire (Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire)
Norfolk Coast1968453175Norfolk (Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk)
North Devon Coast195917166Devon (North Devon, Torridge)
North Pennines19881983766County Durham, Cumbria (Carlisle, Eden), Northumberland, North Yorkshire (Richmondshire)
Northumberland Coast195813853Northumberland
North Wessex Downs19721730668Hampshire (Basingstoke and Deane, Test Valley), Oxfordshire (South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse), Swindon, West Berkshire, Wiltshire
Quantock Hills19569838Somerset (Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton)
Shropshire Hills1958802310Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin
Solway Coast196411544Cumbria (Allerdale, Carlisle)
South Devon1960337130Devon (South Hams), Torbay
Suffolk Coast and Heaths1970403155Suffolk (Babergh, East Suffolk)
Surrey Hills1958422163Surrey (Guildford, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Tandridge, Waverley)
Tamar Valley199519075Cornwall, Devon (South Hams, West Devon)
Wye Valley (partly in Wales)1971326126Gloucestershire (Forest of Dean), Herefordshire, Monmouthshire


AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley1985389150Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham
Gower Peninsula195618873Swansea
Llŷn Peninsula195615560Gwynedd
Wye Valley (partly in England)1971326126Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire

Northern Ireland

AONB Established km2 sq mi Local Authorities
Antrim Coast and Glens1989724280Causeway Coast and Glens, Mid and East Antrim
Binevenagh1966[lower-alpha 1]13853Causeway Coast and Glens
Causeway Coast19894216Causeway Coast and Glens
Lagan Valley19653915Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh
Mourne Mountains1986570220Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Newry, Mourne and Down
Ring of Gullion1966[lower-alpha 2]15459Newry, Mourne and Down
Sperrins19681181456Causeway Coast and Glens, Derry and Strabane, Fermanagh and Omagh, Mid Ulster
Strangford and Lecale[7]1967[lower-alpha 3]525203Ards 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 also


  1. "Areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs): designation and management - GOV.UK". Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  2. "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. "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.

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