TWO of England’s most iconic landscapes are being considered to become new Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), alongside extensions to the Surrey Hills and Chilterns AONBs, under plans to create new protected landscapes and improve people’s access to nature.

The Yorkshire Wolds and the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge have been put forward to be recognised as protected areas and, alongside the two proposed expansions, the four areas will now be formally considered for ‘AONB’ status by Natural England. Securing this designation would allow them to benefit from greater protections, so that more of England’s beautiful landscapes are safeguarded for future generations.

Taken together, the four areas being considered have the potential to deliver over 40 per cent of the additional 4,000 km² required to meet the UK’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of its land by 2030.

The Environment Secretary will also outline plans to drive nature recovery and people’s access to nature in protected landscapes.

The plans will include a renewed drive to support nature recovery within protected landscapes, working with local authorities and the teams operating National Parks and AONBs, as well as efforts to enable more people from across society to benefit from access to England’s natural landscapes.

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They will also include options to strengthen the status and support given to AONBs, and government will consult on the proposals next year to ensure that plans are developed in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders, including National Park Authorities and local authorities.

A new Farming in Protected Landscapes programme is also being launched, which will provide funding to help farmers and other land managers in England based in National Parks or AONBs to make improvements to the natural environment and improve public access on their land – the next step in the Government’s plans for a renewed agriculture sector outside of the Common Agricultural Policy. The funding will go towards one-off projects to support nature recovery; improve public access; mitigate the impacts of climate change; provide opportunities for people to enjoy and understand the landscape; and support nature-friendly and sustainable farm businesses.

Projects could include creating ponds or other wetland to support a variety of wildlife; providing new or easier public access opportunities and links to the Public Rights of Way network; conserving historic features on a farm; or even action to reduce carbon emissions or use of plastics on farms.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We have an opportunity to create a new chapter for our protected landscapes.

“The work that we are going to take forward will contribute to our commitment to protect 30 per cent of our land by 2030, and boost biodiversity, while designating more areas of the country for their natural beauty.

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“Our Farming in Protected Landscapes programme will provide additional investment to allow farmers to work in partnership with our National Park Authorities and AONB teams to improve public access.”

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said the announcement “signals an ambitious step forward in growing our family of precious national landscapes, as well as protecting and improving the ones we have”.

He commented: “One thing that has become very apparent recently, and especially during the pandemic, is the enormous benefit people get from having access to beautiful nature-rich landscapes. These can, however, be hard for many people to reach, thereby raising the question of how more can be done to bring nature and people closer together. On this, we see huge opportunities arising from the establishment of the England Nature Recovery Network, of which wilder national landscapes will be a vital part.

“As Government’s statutory landscape adviser, we look forward to continuing to work closely with government, designated landscape bodies and stakeholders to deliver more for and through England’s diverse landscapes.”

The proposals follow an independent review led by Julian Glover which called for action to make our protected landscapes greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.

Julian Glover said: “Our national landscapes are the soul of England, beautiful, much-loved, and there for all of us, but they are also under pressure. We need to do a lot more for nature and more for people, too. Our report set out a plan for a brighter, greener future and I’m delighted that words are now being followed by action.”

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