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Landscapes for Life Conference 2019

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Delegates at the Landscape for Life Conference forming a 'human heart' NAAONB

I recently took time out from my busy schedule to attend our National AONB Conference - Landscapes for Life 2019 in Colchester.

At at time of unprecedented change in protected landscapes in the UK, certainly since they were created 70 years ago (as part of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act), the 2019 Landscapes for Life Conference provided an opportunity to reflect on these changes and the opportunities and challenges that might lie ahead and what they will mean for protected landscapes across the UK and here on the Northumberland Coast

The first day was for field trips and I chose to see first-hand some of the fantastic freshwater and intertidal habitat creation schemes that are being done on an enormous scale in southern Essex. We visited Abberton Reservoir to see the habitats created as part of Essex and Suffolk Waters £150m investment in the site. 

We also heard from RSPB about their huge Wallasea Island intertidal habitat creation scheme which used three million tonnes of soil extracted from the Crossrail project to create over 1500 acres of saltmarsh habitat. We then visited another saltmarsh creation scheme with Essex Wildlife Trust at Abbotts Hall Farm where the flood banks were breached to create 120 acres of intertidal marsh which provides feeding for migratory birds and a nursery for 16 species of young fish. 

The serious business of conference started the following morning, when our Chairman, Phillip Hygate, challenged delegates to be bold. Phillip introduced Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who couldn’t attend in person but he sent video address to conference warmly welcoming the AONBs joint statement of intent on the recovery of nature, the Colchester Declaration.

Mr Gove’s video was followed by a range of very interesting speakers, including two members of the Government's designated landscapes review planel - the Chair, Julian Glover and Dame Fiona Reynolds who spoke about AONBs being the ‘big reveal’ for the panel members. Julian Glover gave an insight into some of the suggestions that will be in the report but you can read more in his letter to Michael Gove which he sent shortly after the conference.

Craig Bennet from Friends of the Earth talked about their campaign to double the amount of tree cover in the UK and the role that designated landscapes would play in this. On the largely treeless Northumberland coastal plain this would be a challenge. I asked whether this could be achieved without littering the countryside with millions of plastic tubes. The right tree in the right place was certainly the message he left with. 

Our Coast Care volunteering initiative was nominated for the prestigious Bowland Award and all of the delegates got to hear about the wonderful achievements of our volunteers and from the other seven excellent projects. 

Thursday morning began with a series of workshops including on the Colchester Declaration - where AONBs are pledging to significantly increase the scale and pace of nature conservation activity. Using our unique network and partnership model, we are making a collective Declaration on Nature in AONBs, setting out our strategy for change.

The conference ended with summaries from the National Association CEO, Howard Davies and Chair Philip Hygate.

We didn’t win the Bowland Award but congratulations to Chichester Harbour AONB who did and all of the other nominees. 

Iain Robson

Access and Natural Environment Officer