The Designation Process

How will the designation process work?

Natural England has appointed consultants to undertake the assessments required for designation. There will be a strong emphasis on collaboration and engagement so that anybody with an interest in the Yorkshire Wolds landscape has an opportunity to contribute to the process.

The Area of Search shown in the map is based on the Yorkshire Wolds National Character area with a loosely constrained, 'fuzzy' boundary, which forms the starting point for the designation work. Please note that the Area of Search is not a proposed AONB boundary and that it is likely only part of the area will qualify for AONB designation.

The project timetable and an explanation of the process is provided below. Further information can be found on our Support > FAQs page in the Background Information section.

Map of the Yorkshire Wolds Area of Search, the nearby Howardian Hills AONB and North York Moors National Park, and the surrounding local authorities. Also available as a JPG download.
Map of the Yorkshire Wolds Area of Search, the nearby Howardian Hills AONB and North York Moors National Park, and the surrounding local authorities.

Designation Project Timetable

March - April 2022

Call for evidence - The project begins with a ‘call for evidence’ from Local Authorities and key stakeholder organisations. This will run from the end of March through to the end of April and involve a number of stakeholder webinars, which will explain the process and how best to respond with evidence relating to the Natural Beauty and the desirability of designation of the area. This evidence will be used to inform subsequent stages in the process: Evaluation of Natural Beauty and Assessment of the Desirability of Designation.

Pre-assessment desk study - The designation of a new AONB follows a formal process which tests the application of the statutory ‘outstanding natural beauty’ criterion for AONB designation in a consistent, objective way. At the start of the process a review of the designation history of the area will be undertaken looking at the past recognition of the landscape as an Area of High Landscape Value or Important Landscape Area. The Area of Search (illustrated above) will be divided into a number of Evaluation Areas which form an initial framework to gather, collate and assess evidence on which judgements are made. The Evaluation Areas are defined to exclude adjacent settlements, although in some instances they include built up areas. Please note we are not assessing significantly built-up areas. Where Evaluations Areas are next to open countryside their boundaries are 'fuzzy'.

The box below shows the set of factors that are accepted as relevant to assessing landscapes for national designation. These will form the basis for assessing the levels of natural beauty in the Area of Search.

Factors related to natural beauty

Landscape quality - This is a measure of the current physical state or condition of the landscape and its features.

Scenic quality - The extent to which the landscape appeals to the senses (primarily, but not only, the visual senses).

Relative wildness - The degree to which relatively wild character can be perceived in the landscape and makes a particular contribution to sense of place.

Relative tranquillity - The degree to which relative tranquillity can be perceived in the landscape.

Natural heritage features - The influence of natural heritage on the perception of the natural beauty of the area. Natural heritage includes flora, fauna, geological and physiographical features.

Cultural heritage - The influence of cultural heritage on the perception of natural beauty of the area and the degree to which associations with particular traditions, people, artists, writers or events in history contribute to such perception.

May 2022

Evaluation of Natural Beauty – This stage will take account of evidence submitted by key stakeholder organisations in the 'call for evidence'. Evaluation involves a combination of desk based work and detailed field survey. The landscape within each Evaluation Area is assessed in turn against the factors which contribute to natural beauty. Whilst in the field, further information is gathered to cover the more perceptual aspects of landscape including scenic quality, condition and tranquillity, and the information that has been collated so far, is tested and verified. The process typically highlights key issues which require particular scrutiny and further work, including transitions in landscape and scenic quality, areas where natural beauty is present but fragmented and the influence of detracting features and/or settlements on levels of natural beauty.

Identify a Candidate Area – The next step is to identify and map a draft Candidate Area for AONB designation. These are areas that have been assessed as having outstanding natural beauty. Land can only be included where there is sufficient weight of evidence that the natural beauty criterion is met. Note that Candidate Areas must not be taken to be an indication of a potential new boundary, which will be defined at a later date (see Further Stages below).

June 2022

Call for Response Following the evaluation stage we will be running a series of webinars and drop-in events/workshops across the area in June which will be open to the general public. These events will provide information on the AONB designation process and the implications of designation. During these events we will also be sharing the draft Candidate Area. We will be asking communities and groups to provide their views on the draft Candidate Area and on designation more broadly, via a Citizen Science approach using an online form which will be made accessible through this website. The call for response (to the Candidate Area) will also be made to the Local Authorities and key stakeholder organisations that were involved during the early stage of evidence gathering.

The online form mentioned above will be made available to facilitate the submission of your comments and supporting evidence (positive & negative) in relation to the draft Candidate Area. The form will be available via a web-browser, via a mobile App and (by request) as a digital file or paper copy, which can be returned by email or by post. All comments will be publicly recorded and available for review on this website via an interactive map.

July - Aug 2022

Evaluation of Responses – Following the call for response to the draft Candidate Area, all comments will be considered by the team evaluating the area and any appropriate refinements to the draft Candidate Area made. The outcome of this process will be a proposed Candidate Area and a supporting report, which will be submitted to Natural England.

Future stages

The following stages happen after engagement activities have stopped, but don’t worry because there are other opportunities to be engaged in the process during the formal consultation and the Notice Period - see below.

Desirability Assessment – An area of land that satisfies the natural beauty criterion is capable of being included in an AONB, but designation does not automatically follow. Natural England must make a judgement as to whether it is desirable that a proposed Candidate Area should become an AONB in order to achieve the AONB’s statutory purpose, which is to conserve and enhance natural beauty. To establish whether it is desirable to designate an area as an AONB, the following five questions are considered:

  • Is there an area which satisfies AONB technical criterion?

  • Is the area of such significance that the AONB purpose should apply to it?

  • What are the issues affecting the area’s special qualities and what effect might designation have on these issues?

  • Can the AONB statutory purpose be best pursued through the management mechanisms, powers and duties which comes with AONB designation?

  • Are there other relevant factors which tend to suggest whether or not it is desirable to designate the area?

Final Reports – The case for designating an AONB boundary will be presented in detailed reports, which bring together all the evaluation work and sets out the evidence in accordance with the legislation. For example, the reports will provide detailed information for each of the factors which contribute to natural beauty in each Evaluation Area, in order to identify a proposed Candidate Area and assess the desirability of designating the qualifying area as a new AONB. Issues which will need to be addressed when defining a boundary, at a later stage, will also be highlighted.

What Happens Next?

Having considered these reports and relevant evidence, it is for Natural England to decide whether or not, a particular area is of such national significance that it should be designated as an AONB and managed to achieve the statutory purpose.

Reaching such a decision will involve two further key stages, details of which can be expanded and collapsed by clicking on the headings below.

There will be an opportunity for you to comment on any future proposed AONB, including the boundary, during the Statutory and Public Consultation.

Identifying a suitable boundary

If Natural England decides to proceed with designation, then a detailed boundary will be developed. Natural England follows a suite of principles for defining boundaries and these will be applied, including those listed below, during boundary identification:

  • Transition areas: Natural beauty often changes gradually over a sweep of country rather than suddenly from one field to another. In these ‘areas of transition’, the boundary should be drawn towards the high quality end of the transition in a manner that includes areas of high quality land and excludes areas of lesser quality.

  • Types of boundary: Wherever possible, a clear physical feature should be chosen.

  • Other administrative boundaries: Administrative boundaries (such as county or parish boundaries) are often unsuitable because they are hard to see on the ground or do not correspond with the area of high natural beauty. Similarly, land ownership is not itself a reason for including or excluding land from designation – there will often be instances where part of a landholding or Parish sits within the designated area and part sits outside.

  • Inclusion of settlements: Towns and villages at the edge should only be included if they are within and part of a sweep of qualifying countryside.

  • Splitting of settlements: Towns or villages should not normally be cut in two by an AONB boundary where it can be avoided.

  • Incongruous development: Unsightly development on the edge of an AONB should be excluded unless it is of a temporary or transient nature.

  • Proposed Developments: Land at the edge of a proposed designation that is identified for development in development plans, or has existing planning permission should normally be excluded. Land should not be included merely to seek to protect it from specific development proposals.

  • Features of interest: Areas and features of wildlife, geological, geomorphological, historic, cultural or architectural value on the edge of the Candidate Area should be included where practicable.

Consultation on the Final Recommendations and Formal Procedures

Natural England is required by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 to consult County, Unitary, Borough and District Councils affected by a proposed designation. In addition this consultation will be extended to allow everyone with an interest in the designation, including the public to comment on the proposal, including the detailed evaluation and evidence used to support designation, identification of qualifying areas, desirability of designation and the detailed boundary. At the end of the consultation we will analyse all the responses and review the proposal and if necessary, amend it to take account of any further relevant evidence provided.

If, as a result of the statutory and public consultation, additional land needs to be included within the proposed boundary variation, an additional statutory consultation will be required.

Assuming no additional land needs to be included as a result of the consultation, the next stage is to draw up a draft legal Order and to publish Notice of Natural England’s intention to make (sign and seal) the Order in the London Gazette and other papers as required by Section 83(2) of the CRoW Act. The Notice period allows anyone who wishes to do so to make representations to Natural England, objecting to, supportive of, or proposing amendments to the Order. In effect this is a further public consultation.

Following the Notice period, a further period of response analysis will be required and any further consequent changes made to the draft legal Order. Natural England Board approval will then be sought to allow the Order to be ‘made’ and submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation. If there are any unresolved objections, these will be submitted to the Secretary of State with the legal Order.

The final stage in the process is for the Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural affairs to decide whether to confirm Natural England’s designation Order. The Secretary of State may call a Public Inquiry to assist in his decision. The Secretary of State may or may not decide to confirm the Order, with or without amendment. There is no specific timescale for this process.