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1.3 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Chew Valley © Mendip Hills AONB Unit

1.3.1 AONBs and National Parks were brought into being by the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and have the same status and level of protection. AONBs are particularly special landscapes whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them.

The primary purpose of AONB designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

In pursuing the primary purpose, account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry 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. Reference: Countryside Commission CCP356 (1991)

1.3.2 ‘Natural beauty’ includes flora, fauna, geological and physiographic features. These aspects of natural beauty are key components of the landscape. However, landscape is also about tranquillity, the dark skies, the relationship between people and place, the interaction between nature and culture. It is therefore very important that the cultural dimension of the landscape, including the historical, intellectual and spiritual elements as well as the physical human shaping of the land is fully recognised.

1.3.3 Further to this the European Landscape Convention (ratified by the UK Government in 2006) states ‘as a reflection of European identity and diversity, the landscape is our living natural and cultural heritage, be it ordinary or outstanding, urban or rural, on land or in water.’

1.3.4 The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 confirmed the significance of AONBs. Section 85 places a statutory (legal) duty on all relevant authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty when discharging any function in relation to, or affecting land within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

1.3.5 The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) designates the UK’s AONBs as Category V – Protected landscape/seascape – ‘a protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value’.

1.3.6 More information on AONBs and their status and protection can be found on the following websites:

Mendip Hills AONB


Natural England