Beauty un­der threat

The Nor­folk Coast Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty is 50 this year. Dr Ian Shep­herd warns of the threats to AONBs in fu­ture


In May the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove launched a re­view into the nation’s Na­tional Parks and Ar­eas of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty (AONBs). “Weak­en­ing or un­der­min­ing their ex­ist­ing pro­tec­tions or geo­graphic scope will not be part of the re­view,” he said, “which will in­stead fo­cus on how des­ig­nated ar­eas can boost wildlife, sup­port the re­cov­ery of nat­u­ral habi­tats and con­nect peo­ple with na­ture.” This was one of the key com­mit­ments made by the 25-Year En­vi­ron­ment Plan, launched by Mr Gove and the prime min­is­ter in Jan­uary this year.

One of the joys of our AONBs is that they can each be very dif­fer­ent in their land­scape and char­ac­ter, aris­ing from the dif­fer­ences in their ge­og­ra­phy and ge­ol­ogy, and the over­lay of hu­man in­flu­ence over many cen­turies. Al­though ‘AONB’ is es­sen­tially a land­scape des­ig­na­tion, nat­u­ral beauty also in­cludes wildlife as well as his­toric and cul­tural her­itage; all are closely in­ter­linked. The Nor­folk Coast AONB cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary this year.

A wise de­ci­sion in its set-up was not to just des­ig­nate a nar­row coastal strip, but to in­clude a hin­ter­land which has a close re­la­tion­ship with the shore. The Nor­folk Coast AONB is ‘man­aged’ by the Nor­folk Coast Part­ner­ship (NCP).

A small core of pro­fes­sional staff work with coun­cils and lo­cal stake­hold­ers to pur­sue a col­lec­tive in­flu­ence through the AONB vi­sion and strat­egy, planned over five year pe­ri­ods. The re­mit does not ex­tend to de­ter­min­ing plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions, but as a con­sul­tee the NCP view is im­por­tant.

The NCP ac­tively seeks fund­ing sup­port to im­ple­ment both small and large projects. The largest by far was an award from De­fra un­der the Catch­ment Restora­tion Fund, £1.3 mil­lion for the Nine Chalk Rivers Project, for the pe­riod 2012-2015, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nor­folk Rivers Trust.

This re­sulted in the suc­cess­ful restora­tion of nat­u­ral­ly­func­tion­ing rivers and other wa­ter bod­ies and with it more abun­dant wildlife and other public ben­e­fits, such as re­duc­tion of flood risk. River val­leys are a key part of the eco­log­i­cal net­work. It is not just the Spe­cial Ar­eas of Con­ser­va­tion which are im­por­tant. The var­i­ous habi­tats within a river val­ley are es­sen­tial to the net­work and the mo­bil­ity of wildlife and in turn their longterm sur­vival.

How­ever, not all may be good news. The in­tro­duc­tion of the Na­tional Plan­ning Pol­icy Frame­work (NPPF) in March 2012 in­tro­duced a pre­sump­tion in favour of de­vel­op­ment if it was ‘sus­tain­able’. The re­cent con­sul­ta­tion on the re­view of the NPPF pro­posed both a weak­en­ing of the plan­ning pro­tec­tion for AONBs, and drop­ping County Wildlife Sites (CWS) as a dis­tinc­tive des­ig­na­tion for plan­ning con­sid­er­a­tion.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of AONBs vig­or­ously op­posed the pro­posed changes, as did the Wildlife Trusts. The AONBs stated that they are fac­ing un­prece­dented and un­sus­tain­able pres­sure from de­vel­op­ment, which is erod­ing the char­ac­ter, spe­cial qual­i­ties, and pur­pose of the des­ig­na­tion. CPRE has pro­duced an ev­i­denced pa­per in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the AONBs.

We look to Nor­folk MPs and se­nior lo­cal politi­cians to press for the NPPF con­sul­ta­tion re­view to re­in­state, or bet­ter still, strengthen, the cur­rent word­ing for the pro­tec­tion of AONBs. The pro­posed de-se­lec­tion of CWS was con­sid­ered by many to be an un­be­liev­ably ret­ro­grade step, and should be pub­licly quashed. cprenor­

“One of the joys of our AONBs is that they can each be very dif­fer­ent”

ABOVE: Sel­brigg Pond, a county wildlife site in the Up­per Glaven

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