What is a National Landscape (AONB)?

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National Landscapes (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)

National Landscapes (designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are on par with the UK’s National Parks, each is an outstanding landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty is so precious that it is safeguarded in the national interest. With 46 National Landscapes covering just under 1/5th of the UK, they offer a wealth of opportunities for both people and wildlife to benefit from our countryside.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a legal designation. Natural England determines which areas within England meet the requirements for designation. National Landscape is the new name for these areas. Each National Landscape has a small National Landscape team of staff, and their work is governed by a Joint Advisory Committee or Executive Board representing local authorities, parish councils, landowners and partner organisations.

The legislation that created Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty 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 have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.

The purpose of a National Landscape is to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the area. The natural beauty of these areas is the sum of its ‘sense of place’. It includes geology, climate, landform and species which together give rise to the industry, heritage, culture and language of a place. National Landscapes teams aim to help residents and visitors celebrate the local distinctiveness of these special places.

National Landscapes Partnerships own no land, so the day-to-day work of a National Landscape team involves coordinating work across the entirety of the area, working with many partners, including landowners on a landscape scale.

The Surrey Hills was one of the first landscapes in the country to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1958. The Surrey Hills stretches across rural Surrey, covering a quarter of the county.

The purpose of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation is to conserve the natural beauty of the landscape. The vision for the Surrey Hills recognises that the landscape will change but it needs to ensure that it changes in a way that conserves and enhances its special qualities. In doing so, it also needs to maintain the social and economic viability of the Surrey Hills in a sustainable manner.

“The Surrey Hills National Landscape is recognised as a national asset in which its natural and cultural resources are managed in an attractive landscape mosaic of farmland, woodland, heaths, downs and commons. It provides opportunities for business enterprise and for all to enjoy and appreciate its natural beauty for their health and wellbeing.”

Each National Landscape (AONB) create a management plan which is reviewed every five years, and the Surrey Hills has a ‘family’ structure to enable the delivery of the plan. The Surrey Hills Management Plan is one of a national family of Plans. There are 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, covering 15% of the land area, and a further 4 in Wales and 8 in Northern Ireland. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are designated by Government for the purpose of ensuring that the special qualities of our finest landscapes are conserved and enhanced

The National Landscapes Association is the non-profit membership organisation representing the UK’s National Landscapes. The team at the National Landscapes Association works to support collaboration between National Landscapes Partnerships, representing them at government level and coordinating delivery of national projects. The National Landscapes Association was previously known as the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is also being renamed as part of the rebrand process.

Read the press release below from 2023 when all Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were rebranded as National Landscapes.

Click here.

What is the Surrey Hills National Landscape?

Spanning Surrey from east to west, this National Landscape features a mosaic of habitat such as chalk grassland, heathland, and woodland, with Surrey being the most wooded county in England. The Surrey Hills provides outstanding natural beauty on London’s doorstep, for us all to enjoy, love and protect.

This National Landscape links together a chain of varied lowland landscapes including the North Downs. Rising near Guildford as the narrow Hogs Back, the ridge of the downs stretches away to the Kent border, an unmistakable chalk landscape of swelling hills and beech-wooded combes with a steep scarp crest looking south to the Weald. The downs are paralleled to the south by an undulating wooded greensand ridge, rising at Leith Hill to southeast England’s highest point (294m). In the west, sandy open heathland, typified by Frensham Common, stretches away to the Hampshire border.

The landscape is home to many iconic species such as the Nightjar, Dartford Warbler and Skylark which thrive on the varied habitat that the Surrey Hills offers. Careful management of the natural environment takes place by conservation bodies, landowners and farmers who have managed the land for generations.

The Surrey Hills is a popular day trip destination with excellent railway links from London. With beauty spots such as Box Hill, Devils Punch Bowl and Newlands Corner, there are a multitude of footpaths, bridleways and long-distance trails including the North Downs Way National Trail. Vibrant towns such as Farnham, Guildford, Dorking, Reigate and Oxted alongside showpiece villages such as Shere and Abinger offer thriving locations for crafts, food and drink experiences and you can even enjoy our Vineyards of the Surrey Hills.

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