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A map of all AONBs
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an area of countryside considered to have significant landscape value in Englandmarker, Walesmarker or Northern Irelandmarker, that has been specially designated by the Countryside Agency (now Natural England) on behalf of the United Kingdom government; the Countryside Council for Wales on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government; or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.


The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: meeting the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and having regard for the interests of those who live and work there. To achieve these aims, AONBs rely on planning controls and practical countryside management.

As they have the same landscape quality, AONBs may be compared to the national parks of England and Wales. AONBs are created under the same legislation as the national parks, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Unlike AONBs, national parks have their own authorities, have special legal powers to prevent unsympathetic development, and are well known to many inhabitants of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. By contrast, there are very limited statutory duties imposed on local authorities within an AONB and there is evidence to indicate many residents in such areas may be unaware of the status. However, further regulation and protection of AONBs was added by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and the Government has recently stated that AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning consent and other sensitive issues.

There are 35 AONBs in England, four in Wales, one (Wye Valley) that is in both England and Wales and nine in Northern Ireland. The first AONB was awarded in 1956 to the Gower Peninsulamarker situated in South Wales. The most recently confirmed is the Tamar Valley AONB in 1994. AONBs vary greatly in terms of size, type and use of land, whether they are partly or wholly open to the public. All English and Welsh AONBs have a dedicated AONB officer and other staff. The smallest AONB is the Isles of Scillymarker (1976), , and the largest AONB is the Cotswoldsmarker (1966), . The AONBs of England and Wales together cover around 18% of the countryside in the two countries. The National Association for AONBs is an independent organisation acting on behalf of AONBs and their partners.

There are growing concerns among environmental and countryside groups that AONB status is increasingly under threat from development. The Campaign to Protect Rural England said in July 2006 that many AONBs were under greater threat than ever before. Three particular sites were cited: the Dorset AONB threatened by a road plan, the threat of a football stadium in the Sussex Downs AONB, and, larger than any other, a £1 billion plan by Imperial Collegemarker to build thousands of houses and offices on hundreds of acres of AONB land on the Kent Downs at Wyemarker. Imperial College have now withdrawn their plans for development, seemingly to the disappointment of both Ashford Borough and Kent County councils (September 2006). In September 2007 Government approval was finally given for the development of a new football ground for Brighton and Hove Albion within the boundaries of the Sussex Downs AONB, after a fierce fight by conservationists. It has since been announced there will be no further appeals against this decision, and building work is expected to commence in late 2008 or early 2009.

List of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty



Northern Ireland


The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 does not cover Scotlandmarker. Instead Scotland has National Scenic Areas.

See also


  1. Campaign to Protect Rural England
  3. NAAONB: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

External links

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