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New AONBs positive, but stronger nature duties and funding needed to bring protected landscapes to life

24 June 2021

Responding to the Ministerial Statement today in response to the Glover Landscape Review, Wildlife and Countryside Link notes proposals for new Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and AONB extensions and promises to improve and increase our protected landscapes. But the nature coalition cautioned that urgent action is vital to restore nature in existing and new protected sites.

Our National Parks and AONBs provide many benefits for nature, climate and people, but much of our protected landscapes are still not in healthy condition and face continued and growing pressures from infrastructure, housing, intensive farming and forestry sectors, to name but a few. Improvements are needed for both existing and new protected landscapes to deliver Government promises to protect 30% of our land by 2030 and achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Landscape designations should be strengthened to include clear duties to contribute to nature’s recovery, with the funding and powers needed to support them.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The creation of new AONBs is excellent, but it must be accompanied by stronger duties and resources for environmental improvement to bring the landscapes to life with nature.

“AONBs are home to many of our most loved landscapes, but three quarters of sites of special scientific interest are in poor condition within our protected landscapes. These designations may afford some protection from harm, but much more ambition is needed to fill our protected landscapes with wildlife and ensure they play their part in averting climate change.

“We need quick action now to complete the designations and to strengthen the environmental purposes and resources of AONBs. Only then can Government reliably include these places in its promise to protect 30% of the land for nature.”

We may think of our National Parks and AONBs as wildlife-rich pristine landscapes, but shockingly nature in much of these protected areas is actually in a poor condition. Within National Parks and AONBs, 75% of the areas that have the highest protection level are in unfavourable condition – these are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which often contain ancient woodland, or rare birds, mammals, insects or plants for example. Worryingly these SSSIs with our protected landscapes are on average in worse condition than SSSIs outside National Parks and AONBs.

Protected landscapes are hugely important places for nature, climate and people, but surprisingly nature conservation is not specified as a key priority in the laws which cover them. It’s vital that this is changed so that the authorities that manage our protected landscapes can make nature and climate their top priority and have the justification to direct more resources towards nature restoration. This would have multiple benefits for people as well as wildlife, including improving water quality, reducing flood risk, tackling climate change and improving visitors’ and residents’ health and wellbeing.

Wildlife and Countryside Link is urging the Government to commit to the following actions in detailed plans for our protected landscapes, to aid their crucial contribution to nature’s recovery:

• Give a legal duty to prioritise nature restoration to National Park and AONB authorities, through a statutory purpose to recover biodiversity

Stronger Statutory Management Plans that include clear priorities, actions and targets for nature’s recovery and climate action

• It is crucial that Government provide sufficient funding to deliver these actions as part of plans to meet 30x30, Net Zero, and Nature Recovery Network promises

Stronger duties to further National Park and AONB purposes and support the implementation of Management Plans that deliver for nature and climate should also be introduced on other public bodies, such as local authorities, Natural England and Forestry England

• Count only those sections of protected landscapes (rather than their entirety) that are well-managed, protected and monitored for nature, and are in good or recovering ecological condition towards 30x30 targets, to ensure 30% of land is genuinely protected for nature

• Ensure proposed relaxations of planning regulations strengthen planning protections for National Parks and AONBs, by:
- maintaining strong Habitats Regulations
- excluding all Permitted Development Rights from National Parks and AONBs and
- providing AONBs with a stronger voice in the planning system and decision-making process by giving them statutory consultee status (which National Park Authorities already have)

ENDS