The Designation Process

The designation process so far

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 project stages 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 initial Yorkshire Wolds Area of Search from 2021, the nearby Howardian Hills AONB and North York Moors National Park, and the surrounding local authorities.

Designation Project Stages

Call for evidence - The project began with a ‘call for evidence’ from Local Authorities and key stakeholder organisations.  This ran from the end of March 2022 through to the end of April 2022 and involved a number of stakeholder webinars, which explained the process and how best to respond with evidence relating to the Natural Beauty and the desirability of designation of the area.  This evidence was 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 was 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) was divided into a number of Evaluation Areas which formed an initial framework to gather, collate and assess evidence on which judgements were made.  The Evaluation Areas were defined to exclude adjacent settlements, although in some instances they included built up areas. Please note we are not assessing significantly built-up areas.  Where Evaluations Areas are next to open countryside their boundaries were 'fuzzy'.  

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

Evaluation of Natural BeautyThis stage took account of evidence submitted by key stakeholder organisations in the 'call for evidence'.  Evaluation involved a combination of desk based work and detailed field survey. The landscape within each Evaluation Area was assessed in turn against the factors which contribute to natural beauty. Whilst in the field, further information was gathered to cover the more perceptual aspects of landscape including scenic quality, condition and tranquillity, and the information that had been collated up to that point, was tested and verified. The process typically highlighted key issues which required 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 was to identify and map a draft Candidate Area for AONB designation. These were areas that had 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 the Candidate Area is not taken as an indication of a potential new boundary, as this is defined at a later date (see Further Stages below).

Call for Response Following the evaluation stage, we ran a series of webinars and drop-in events/workshops across the area in June 2022 which were open to the general public.  These events provided information on the AONB designation process and the implications of designation.  During these events we asked 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 was made accessible through this website.  The call for response (to the Candidate Area) was also made to the Local Authorities and key stakeholder organisations that were involved during the early stage of evidence gathering.  

The online form mentioned above facilitated the submission of comments and supporting evidence (positive & negative) in relation to the draft Candidate Area. The form was available via a web-browser and (by request) as a digital file or paper copy, which could be returned by email or by post. 

During this process, around 700 people visited this project website, over 450 attended events and around 250 written responses were received. The results of this engagement were then taken into account as the assessment progressed.

Evaluation of ResponsesFollowing the call for response to the draft Candidate Area, all comments were considered by the team evaluating the area and refinements to the draft Candidate Area were made and the natural beauty assessment continued.  The outcome of this process was a proposed Candidate Area and a supporting natural beauty assessment report, which were then submitted to Natural England.

Candidate Area for designation following informal call for responses in June 2022.  This will be updated to show the proposed Yorkshire Wolds AONB when the Statutory and Public Consultation launches and will reflect the findings of the full technical assessment work.

Desirability AssessmentAn 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:

An assessment of whether it is desirable to designate all or part of the Candidate Area was thus undertaken. A report was produced and submitted to Natural England.

Identifying a suitable boundary – On the basis of the evidence received, Natural England decided to proceed with designation. A full and detailed boundary was then developed. Natural England follows a suite of principles for defining boundaries and these were applied, including those listed below, during boundary identification: 

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

The Assessment Process Having considered these reports and relevant evidence, Natural England then decides 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. 

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 as well as providing a rationale for the boundary. 

What happens next - Future stages

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. For this proposed designation, the relevant bodies are now the unitary authorities of North Yorkshire Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council. 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. 

More information on the Statutory and Public Consultation can be found on the ‘Have your say’  tab at the top of this page.

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.  

If no additional land needs to be included as a result of the consultation, the next stage once a formal proposal of an area for designation is ready to take forward, is to draft a designation Order. A paper would then be put to the Natural England Board seeking approval of the final technical assessments, approval of the draft Designation Order with its associated mapping and approval for the start of a statutory Notice Period. The next stage is to publish Notice of Natural England’s intention to make (sign and seal) the Order. The Notice is published 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 Chief Officer 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 their 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.