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Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are fine landscapes, of great variety in character and extent. The criteria for designation is their outstanding natural beauty. Many AONBs also fulfil a recreational role but, unlike National Parks, this is not a designation criteria.

The statutory purpose of AONBs is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area. Where an AONB has a Conservation Board, the Board has an additional purpose to increase public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area.

A Conservation Board must seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the AONB. It should co-operate with local authorities and public bodies whose functions include the promotion of economic or social development within the AONB.

Latest news

  • From 1 April 2011, the resources and responsibility for funding and strategic oversight of the AONB Joint Advisory Committees, the two Conservation Boards and the National Association for AONBs will transfer from Natural England to Defra, whilst leaving Natural England with resources to continue to provide technical expert support and advice at the local level, and to deliver their statutory role with respect to AONBs.

Key facts and figures

  • There are 38 AONBs in England and Wales
  • A map of AONBs in England and Wales (and also those in Northern Ireland) can be found on the National Association of AONBs website
  • The first designation of an AONB was Gower in Wales in 1956 and the most recent addition was the Tamar Valley in 1995

The current situation and background

  • The responsibility for funding AONBs currently rests with Natural England. AONBs administered by their constitutional local authorities receive 75% of their funding from Natural England, the remaining 25% coming from their constituent local authorities. Each AONB’s funding depends on agreement between the constituent local authorities and Natural England. The agreement has to take into account the resources of the local authorities and Natural England and their overall priorities.
  • An AONB administered by a Conservation Board has slightly different funding arrangements receiving 80% of its funding from Natural England. This is only to help offset the fact that a Board is unable to reclaim VAT costs in the way other AONBs can. It is not intended that becoming a Conservation Board will provide financial advantage over the AONBs. The remaining 20% of costs are provided by the constituent local authorities.
  • The Countryside and Rights of Way Act’s most significant change to the way AONBs could be managed was the ability to create Conservation Boards. The intention was to help simplify the administration of larger and more complex AONBs so one body would have the delegated authority to manage an AONB as a whole.

Membership of conservation boards

The membership of AONB Conservation Boards must consist of:

  • Local authorities appointees (at least 40%)
  • Parish Council appointees (at least 20%)
  • Secretary of State ‘national’ appointees (no more than 20%)

An AONB Conservation Board is created by the Secretary of State signing (making) an Establishment Order. Before they will do this, they must be sure the majority of local authorities within the AONB support the creation of a Board. The Order must have received an affirmative resolution from both Houses of Parliament.

When vacancies arise on the Conservation Boards, the Secretary of State seeks nominations for appointees to the Boards.  Usually the process starts in late summer for appointments to commence the following April.  They will be advertised on our appointments pages.  For enquiries about the process, please contact Defra, Protected Landscapes Team, Zone 1/03, Temple Quay House, Bristol BS1 6EB.  Tel:  0117 372 8106  Email: nationalparks.aonbs@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Candidates are expected to:

  • Appreciate the national interest – the views of people not living in or near the AONB;
  • Understand the issues affecting the AONB, and work to achieve the Conservation Board’s purposes;
  • Bring experience of wider issues, which could include work with young people, environmental projects, social inclusion, or just an active interest in outdoor recreation;
  • Contribute positively to debate within a Conservation Board;
  • Be ready to make decisions on any aspects of AONB management; and
  • Commit a minimum of 2-3 days per month, to Conservation Board work.

To ensure the right balance of personal qualities and experience, the Secretary of State looks for candidates from a broad range of backgrounds, representative of the social and cultural mix in the country at large.  Applications are particularly welcome from women, members of the ethnic minorities and promising young people as these groups are currently under-represented on the Conservation Boards.  The Secretary of State is keen to receive applications not just from those with formal qualifications and long track records in conventional careers but also those with other kinds of experience, such as that gained through community or voluntary work.

Secretary of State members are not paid but they are eligible for travel and other expenses incurred in the course of their appointments and are paid on allowance.

Relevant legislation

  • AONB were brought into being by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 strengthened the conservation and management of AONBs in partnership with local authorities.
  • Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales are responsible for designating AONBs and advising government on policies for their protection.

The administration of planning and development control in AONBs is the responsibility of those local authorities within whose boundaries they fall.

  • Section 89 of the CRoW Act 2000 required all AONBs to prepare and publish a management plan for their area.

The Act also requires the plan be reviewed every five years, consideration given to whether any changes need to be made and amended if necessary.

Key publications and documents

Defra has issued guidance notes on the establishment and operation of English AONB Conservation Boards:

There is a general statutory duty on all relevant authorities to have regard to the purposes of AONBs when making decisions affecting these areas.

Page last modified: 22 February 2011