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What is an AONB?

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are landscapes whose special character and natural beauty are so valuable that it is in the nations interest to conserve them.

What is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, along with National Parks, are considered to be the most special landscapes in the country. They belong to an international family of protected areas recognised and classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) throughout the world. AONBs, National Parks and Heritage Coasts in England and Wales fall into Category V - Protected Landscapes.


The legislation that created AONBs was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 which came about after the Second World War in response to increasing pressure for new development. The government of the day decided to formally recognise the fact that the countryside of England and Wales has a rich diversity of scenery, which is of great value and worthy of protection.

Over the past 40 years the pressures on the countryside have increased and in 2000 the Countryside Rights of Way Act, (CROW) addressed that challenge. The act confirmed that AONBs shared with National Parks the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.  The government also placed new responsibilities on local authorities to ensure further protection for designated landscapes.

The Northumberland Coast is one of a national “family” of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which together cover 20,000 square kilometres - 15.6% of the land area - of England and Wales There are 40 AONBs in England and Wales, and a further seven in Northern Ireland.

Purpose of an AONB

  • "...Is primarily to conserve and enhance natural beauty.
  • In pursuing the primary purpose of designation, account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry, and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard should be paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.
  • Recreation is not an objective of designation but the demand for recreation should be met so far as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses

("Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: A policy statement (Countryside Commission, CCP 356, 1991), p5)

AONBs and National Parks are recognised in England to be on a par legally because of their nationally important landscapes. The National Planning Policy Framework confirms that AONBs are equivalent to National Parks in terms of their landscape quality, scenic beauty and their planning status.

However, there remain a number of differences between the AONBs and National Parks:

AONBs are largely managed by local authority advisory committees or Partnerships, whereas National Parks require a special authority of their own.

The statutory planning process is the responsibility of the National Parks Authority, whereas, within AONBs, this is the responsibility of the individual local planning authorities.

National Parks are legally obliged to provide for public recreational opportunities, whereas AONBs are not.

The CROW Act sets out a useful legal framework for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Natural England is responsible for designating AONBs in England and advising Government and others on how they should be protected and managed.

Natural England have produced some useful guidance which can be found here

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