Government announces proposals for four new protected areas across England

Posted by Catherine Flitcroft on 24/06/2021
Leith Hill Tower in the Surrey Hills AONB. Photo: Shutterstock

Following the Landscapes Review, which was published in September 2019, Government and Natural England have now set out proposals for four new protected areas across England, alongside ambitious plans to examine how more areas could benefit from landscape improvements, and deliver more for people and nature.

In May 2018, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned Julian Glover and an independent panel to consider how the management of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) might be improved. Their report, the Landscapes Review, set out a series of recommendations, including that more should be done to support nature’s recovery in these landscapes and for new designated landscapes to be considered.

Under the proposals outlined today, four areas will now be considered for greater protection. Spread across the country these include:

  • Yorkshire Wolds AONB – a tranquil landscape of rolling hills, valleys and open plateaux interspersed with ancient woodland, chalk streams, farm holdings and historic villages, extending north from the River Humber.
  • Cheshire Sandstone Ridge AONB – a diverse, distinctive, and celebrated landscape located in the heart of Cheshire, in close proximity to the large populations of NW England, rich in heritage, archaeology, wildlife, and culture.
  • An extension to the Surrey Hills AONB – to consider including areas of high scenic quality including chalk grassland, parkland and historic features adjacent to the existing AONB.
  • An extension to the Chilterns AONB – to consider many special features including chalk streams, magnificent beechwoods, native woodland and wildflower-rich hills, bringing nature closer to populations in North London.

The Environment Secretary has also set out the government’s support for improved nature recovery and public access in National Parks and AONB’s. This will be achieved through a new Farming in Protected Landscapes programme, which will provide additional investment to allow farmers and other land managers to ‘work in partnership with National Park Authorities and AONB teams to improve public access, and deliver bigger and better outcomes for the environment, for people and for places.’

Both the proposals for new designations and the new programme for farmers in protected landscapes will be delivered by Natural England who are the Government’s statutory landscape adviser.

In addition, Natural England has set out their ambition to develop new approaches that will drive nature recovery and improve people’s connection with nature, particularly focusing in and around towns and cities. The programme will focus on improving people’s quality of life, addressing inequalities in access and connection to the natural environment which have been well-evidenced through the Covid pandemic. All of these details will be outlined in a more comprehensive public consultation later in the year.

The BMC welcomes the written statement and the announcement made by Natural England, but coming nearly two years after the publication of the Landscape Review is disappointed by the lack of detail, particularly on the important issues of wider countryside access and the climate. The importance of access to nature has been clearly demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic with more and more people seeking a connection with nature. The BMC would like to see a clear commitment that the public rights of way network is fit for purpose in terms of access furniture, signage and maintenance, which would help encourage more visitors and should be appropriately funded; that targets for access to nature are outlined under the Environment Bill; and that funding for farmers to improve access is not just confined to those working in protected landscapes but is in fact part of the wider, post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme. 

In addition, there needs to be greater effort made to promote car free access to and around designated landscapes to ensure more visitors can enjoy these special places without placing increased pressure on the environment and local communities.

It is hoped that more details will be published in the government’s full response to Glover as part of the forthcoming consultation on draft proposals later this year.


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