Introduction to AONB

What are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) represent some of England’s most outstanding and treasured landscapes, whose special qualities are so precious that they are safeguarded in the national interest. AONBs are equivalent to National Parks in terms of the national importance of their natural beauty.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are designated for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty. There are 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England including the nearby Nidderdale and Howardian Hills AONBs. Designation as AONB means giving an area special legal protection.

Once an area has been designated by Natural England, activities relating to the purpose of AONB designation are coordinated and led by local authorities, who also have a legal responsibility to produce a Management Plan for the area. In carrying out their duties they often form wider partnerships with other organisations. In addition, any public body (national or local) taking a decision or undertaking activity that affects land in an AONB has a duty to have regard to the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty when carrying out their work. AONBs are largely funded by a contribution from the local authorities in the area and a grant from Defra and may also seek additional funding from other sources.

Map of the Yorkshire Wolds National Character Area and surrounding National Parks, AONBs & Heritage Coasts. Also available as a JPG download.
Map of the Yorkshire Wolds National Character Area and surrounding National Parks, AONBs & Heritage Coasts

Who looks after Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Most AONBs have a management team whose activities are overseen by a Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) and whose role encompasses the management of the staff team and its finances. Section 89 (2) of the CRoW Act 2000, places a duty on relevant local authorities to prepare and publish a plan which formulates their policy for the management of an AONB and for the carrying out of their functions in relation to it and a further duty to review the plan at “intervals of not more than five years”. An AONB Management Plan sets out the policy for the management of an AONB and includes an action plan for carrying out activity in support of the purpose of designation.

The local authorities covering the area which is being considered for designation currently include East Riding of Yorkshire Council, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council and Scarborough Borough Council. Planning and development control in an AONB remain the responsibility of the local authorities. The AONB Team co-ordinates, facilitates and delivers certain countryside management functions as set out in the Management Plan. If a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB is designated then a new AONB team would be hosted by one of the above named Councils, in a similar way to the Howardian Hills AONB which lies to the north of the project area, (whose staff are hosted by North Yorkshire County Council) and potential staffing could include posts such as an AONB Manager, Countryside Officers, Partnership Officer, an AONB Projects Officer (responsible for developing externally funded projects), plus time limited posts specific to individual major projects.

How are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty designated?

Natural England is responsible for considering which areas in England meet the criterion, set down in law, for being included in an AONB, and also whether to proceed with their designation. To do this Natural England carries out assessments, consults local authorities and people and undertakes the legal process that results in an area being designated. The final decision, however, lies with the Secretary of State. An area only becomes part of an AONB when the Secretary of State confirms a legal order made by Natural England.

What is the legal criterion for designating an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Natural England has a power under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 to designate land as AONB as set out in Part IV, Section 82(1) of the Act.

In summary, this states that Natural England may designate an area in England as AONB if it is satisfied that it has such outstanding natural beauty that its designation is desirable for the conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty.

Natural beauty is more than just “beautiful scenery”. The legislation, (CRoW Act Part IV, Section 92 (2)) clarifies that the wildlife and plants of an area as well as its natural geological features can contribute to the natural beauty of landscapes. For example the presence of particular wildlife can make an appreciable contribution to an area’s sense of place and heighten perceptions of natural beauty. Natural beauty can also be found in landscapes that have been altered by humans through agriculture, woodland management or in parkland. Cultural heritage can also have an effect on people's perceptions of natural beauty, for example the geology being made visible in particular local styles of vernacular architecture or through associations of a place with famous literature, art or music.

What are the implications of AONB designation on planning and management?

A detailed explanation of the implications of AONB designation can be found on our Support > FAQs page - you can find the relevant text towards the bottom of the Background Information section.