The following Questions & Answers provide background information on the role of Natural England in the Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project and answers to frequently asked questions during the stakeholder engagement stage.


It is Natural England’s statutory responsibility to designate National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

In July 2021 Natural England announced a new programme for landscape, working with stakeholders, communities and government. This includes determining four proposals for either new AONBs, or extensions to existing AONBs. One of these is to consider a proposal for a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB. This project is now underway. 

The purpose of this Frequently Asked Questions document is to help inform about AONBs and the Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project in particular; the designation process and Natural England’s role; as well as some of the implications for any area that may be designated as an AONB.

Q Why are you proposing to designate the Yorkshire Wolds as an AONB rather than a National Landscape?

A. AONBs were recently rebranded as National Landscapes. Legally however, Natural England can only designate an AONB. To avoid confusion, all documentation and consultation material refer to AONB throughout. If an AONB is subsequently designated, then it would be branded as a National Landscape. 

Q. What is an AONB?

A. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is land protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. Section 82(1) of the CRoW Act defines an AONB as an area which appears to Natural England to be of such outstanding natural beauty that it is desirable that the protective provisions of Part IV of the Act should apply to it for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the area’s natural beauty. There are currently 34 AONBs in England.

There is no existing AONB in the Yorkshire Wolds. If, as a result of this project, a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB is designated, it would be the first new AONB to be designated since the designation of Nidderdale AONB in 1994. 

AONBs have recently been rebranded as National Landscapes but legally Natural England still designates as AONB. See question above.

Q. Who makes decisions with regard to new landscape designations?

A. Natural England has a discretionary power under S.82 of the CRoW Act, to designate Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

Q. What is Natural England’s remit?

A. Natural England is the government’s adviser on the natural environment, with special responsibilities for creating National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and reviewing their boundaries. We also have a wide range of other responsibilities for the natural environment. More information about our work can be found at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england

Q. Who makes the final decision? 

A. It is Natural England’s responsibility to decide whether to designate an area as an AONB. Any decision will be made by Natural England’s Board, having considered the evidence and the results of the statutory and public consultation. Any designation Order would not take effect, however, unless and until confirmed by the Secretary of State (Defra), after a legal Notice Period has been undertaken. The Secretary of State has the power to call a Public Inquiry to assist in their decision making if so minded.

Q. How does Natural England decide which areas should be designated as AONBs?

A. In deciding whether to designate an AONB, or to vary an existing AONB boundary, Natural England must first consider whether the land has outstanding natural beauty; and then whether designation is desirable for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the area’s natural beauty. This decision requires Natural England to address three broad questions:

Q. How would a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB be managed?

A. The management of AONBs is usually the responsibility of a Joint Advisory Committee made up of the relevant local authorities. In addition, a Partnership including a wide range of interested stakeholder organisations is also set up to help guide the management of the area. The Joint Advisory Committee, working with an AONB Partnership, leads on the preparation, monitoring and review of an AONB Management Plan on behalf of its constituent local authorities. The AONB Partnership also plays a leading role in developing an image and sense of identity for the AONB (including its rebranding as a National Landscape) and in developing and supporting initiatives that implement the AONB Management Plan policies. The work of an AONB Partnership is achieved through an AONB Management Unit taking forward a range of initiatives that promote the special character of the area, establish partnerships, secure funding, ensure implementation and monitor effectiveness. In recognition that AONBs are nationally important landscapes, 75% of the AONB Unit’s core costs are funded by central government through Defra.  The remaining 25% of core costs are funded by the local authorities with land in the AONB, to reflect their statutory responsibilities towards the AONB.

Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project Background Information

Q. What areas are being considered for designation?

A. The Yorkshire Wolds stretches across North and East Yorkshire, from Hull in the South to Flamborough Head in the North-East and to the boundary of the Howardian Hills AONB in the North-West. The Area of Search being considered for AONB designation included the area covered by National Character Area 27, the Yorkshire Wolds and immediately surrounding areas.

Q. Why is the area being considered for designation as AONB? 

A. The local authorities covering the Yorkshire Wolds have long considered that the Yorkshire Wolds should be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Much of the area under consideration has been designated locally in recognition of its landscape value, either as Important Landscape Areas (in East Riding) or Areas of High Landscape Value (in Ryedale). Representations requesting the designation of this area have been made to Natural England and predecessor bodies over a number of years. 

Q. Why is this work being undertaken now?

A. George Eustice, then Secretary of State (Defra), made a Written Ministerial Statement on the 24th June 2021, which included reference to Natural England taking forward the government’s commitment to designate additional protected landscapes, with specific reference to considering the designation of the following four new areas:

This followed the publication of the government commissioned ‘Landscapes Review’ in September 2019 (the ‘Glover Review’).

Q. What are the steps and expected timescales?

A. Natural England has appointed consultants experienced in this area of work who have been assisting throughout the process so far. This work has included evidence gathering with local people and stakeholders prior to undertaking the technical assessment of natural beauty, determining the desirability of designating a new Yorkshire Wolds AONB and developing a proposed boundary which includes areas assessed as having outstanding natural beauty. 

The following is a summary of the practical steps being followed (with indicative timescales for each):

Q What were the results of the informal engagement which took place in 2022?

A. During this process, around 700 people visited the 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.  

Q. When is the assessment to designate a new AONB expected to be completed?

A. Assuming the above timetable is followed, and that the Natural England Board determines that a new AONB should be designated following the technical assessments and statutory consultation, Natural England would expect to submit a variation Order to the Secretary of State for a decision by July 2025. It is not possible to say how long the Secretary of State’s decision will take following submission, or whether a Public Inquiry will be called.

Q. How will local people be able to engage?

A. As set out in the question above regarding next steps and timescales, Natural England have been working collaboratively with local partners to ensure there are good engagement opportunities throughout the process. This included opportunities to contribute to evidence gathering as well as through informal engagement which took place in 2022 and which was used to inform the technical assessment work. There will be further opportunities to have your say during the statutory and public consultation which is expected to take place in late spring/early summer 2024. Please see the ‘How to take part in the consultation’ question below for further details. 

Q. How can I take part in the consultation?

A. The next opportunity for you to have your say is during the formal Statutory and Public Consultation.  A date for this has yet to be confirmed but it is hoped that it will be held sometime in the late spring/early summer 2024. It will run for a period of 12 weeks. 

Notice of the launch of the Statutory and Public Consultation will be advertised in press releases and a series of online communications, including the project website Yorkshire Wolds Designation Project (yorkshire-wolds-designation-project.org). It will be possible to view, download or request all of the technical documents and submit your response either online or in writing.  There will be a number of on-line webinars and face to face drop in events which will be advertised locally, and on the project website, and which will include detailed information on how you can have your say. If you would like to be kept informed, you can email the designation team on YorksWoldsDesignationProject@naturalengland.org.uk and we will keep you updated.

Q. What will happen after the statutory and public consultation?

A. At the end of the consultation, we will analyse all the responses and review the proposals and, if necessary, amend them 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 and public 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.

The Designation Process

Q. How does Natural England go about fulfilling its statutory responsibility?

A. Natural England has produced a guidance document (Guidance on Assessing Landscapes for Designation as National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, June 2021) which sets out how we evaluate natural beauty, as well as the desirability of designation and the criteria we use to identify detailed boundaries. 

Q. How is the assessment of Natural Beauty undertaken?

A. Once an area has been selected for consideration for designation, it will be considered in detail, using the guidance referred to above. This guidance explains how Natural England normally expects to apply the statutory designation criteria in practice when assessing landscapes for designation.

Natural beauty is not exhaustively defined in the legislation. It is also a subjective characteristic of a landscape and ultimately involves a value judgment. In deciding whether an area has natural beauty, Natural England must therefore make a judgment as to whether people are likely to perceive a landscape as having sufficient natural beauty. 

In order to make these judgments (some of which are subjective) in a transparent and consistent way, the guidance sets out the criteria that Natural England uses. These include landscape and scenic quality, relative wildness, relative tranquillity and contributions made to natural beauty by natural and cultural heritage features and associations. The relevance of these factors has been established and confirmed through 70 years experience of landscape designations.

Q. How does Natural England decide whether it is desirable to designate land as an AONB?

A. It is an important principle in designation, that just because an area is assessed as meeting the natural beauty criterion, it does not mean that it will necessarily be designated. Natural England must also deem it to be desirable to designate it for the purpose of conserving and enhancing its natural beauty. 

Factors that are considered with regard to the ‘desirability’ of designation (for any area which satisfies the AONB technical ‘natural beauty’ criterion) include:

The more closely that any issue raised relates to the statutory purpose (the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty), then the greater its relevance and importance.

Q. How does Natural England identify boundaries for areas that are assessed as being desirable to designate as AONB?

A. If Natural England decides that an area has sufficient natural beauty and that it is desirable to designate an area, the last step prior to statutory consultation is to identify a detailed boundary. Natural England uses well-established boundary making principles in defining a suitable boundary. It is important to note that landscape and scenic quality rarely change suddenly and where there is an area of transition in landscape or scenic quality, a boundary will be drawn towards the high-quality end of the area of transition, to include areas of high-quality land and exclude areas of lesser quality. In other words, the boundary should be drawn conservatively.

Q. Who are the statutory consultees?

A. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act requires Natural England to undertake a statutory Local Authority consultation of all county, unitary, district and borough councils affected by the proposals prior to reaching a final decision. For this proposed designation, the relevant bodies are now the unitary authorities of North Yorkshire Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council. In practice Natural England will open this consultation to anyone with an interest in the project, including the public.

The Implications of Designation

Q. What will change as a result of designation as an AONB?

A. Designation as an AONB would provide formal statutory recognition of the national importance of the natural beauty of the area concerned, and, as a consequence, would provide the basis for a more coordinated and integrated approach to management which would give specific focus and priority to the natural beauty of the area. The proposed area, if designated, would then formally come within the ambit of a statutory AONB Management Plan and benefit from the incentives, powers, duties, responsibilities and resources that designation brings. 

The benefits can be summarised as follows: 

Q. What are the wider implications if designation goes ahead?

A. Any area that becomes a part of a Yorkshire Wolds AONB would have the benefit of the national status that designation brings, and the statutory protection this provides. This would be fully reflected in future AONB Management Plans, and they would benefit from the resources and skills of the AONB Management Unit. 

There are no changes to access rights over and above those that already exist.

Q. How will AONB designation affect planning?

A. All planning decisions will continue to be made by the existing local planning authorities, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, which provides the highest level of planning protection for AONBs, together with any specific local development plan policies. 

In an AONB, and in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF, December 2023), great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty. The scale and extent of development would be likely to be limited and planning permission refused for major development unless in exceptional circumstances where it is in the public interest. Some Permitted Development Rights are also withdrawn in AONBs, requiring affected proposals to be subject to the full planning application process.

Q. How will designation affect landowners and other land managers?

A. Ownership of land remains unchanged within an AONB, there are no changes to public access rights and there are no additional restrictions on how land can be farmed. Landowners and managers may be able to benefit from grant schemes targeted at designated landscapes such as Defra’s current Farming in Protected Landscapes Scheme. 

Q. How will designation affect nature conservation?

A. The natural beauty of an AONB encompasses both its natural and cultural heritage features. Future management of the area will subsequently seek to ensure that important wildlife and habitats that are intrinsic to its natural beauty, are conserved and enhanced. The integrated management approach taken by an AONB Partnership will also assist with the management of any potential conflicts which may arise between wildlife and recreation.