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Bringing common threads together

One of the key benefits of a collaborative T&T is the ability to look at various themes across different settings. The AONB T&T spans uplands and valleys, arable and pastoral farming, flood remediation and drought management. There are themes that run across several projects, including co-design and collaboration, biodiversity, connectivity, data use and economic viability. All 12 projects are working on how to create practical and effective Land Management Plans that will bring significant environmental benefits.


Browse the tabs below to explore our common threads!


Press the play button to explore this presentation on Biodiversity at your leasure. You can expand the presentation by clicking on the double arrow at the bottom right corner.

What is spatial prioritisation and what does it mean in the context of ELM?

The success of ELM relies on identifying the right action for the right location: there needs to be a mechanism to identify which activities individual farmers and landowners should carry out to increase the supply of public goods (fresh air and water, flood and drought remediation, biodiversity etc). For example, it might seem that planting new woodland is a good thing because it will increase soil carbon sequestration and reduce rainwater runoff. However, in the wrong place it could damage habitat that is key to protected species. Hence spatial prioritisation: identification of the interventions that will provide most benefit and (equally importantly) minimise any detrimental effect. This information will be used to create a Land Management Plan, the ‘contract’ which details actions farmers and landowners will carry out as part of ELM.

Each AONB has a statutory requirement to create a Management Plan every 5 years, which identifies priorities for conservation and enhancement (not to be confused with the new ELM Land Management Plans). This is at a broad AONB-wide scale, and forms the link between national priorities and local needs. Management Plans contain a wealth of information – the ELM T&T is studying how AONBs can best work with landowners and managers to help them develop meaningful farm- and farm cluster-scale Land Management Plans (LMPs) from landscape-scale priorities.

A couple on a quad in a field and hedgerows landscape

Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

Many AONB Management Plans take a Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services approach. Here are definitions (for more information watch this video by the Westcountry Rivers Trust):

Natural Capital – the world’s stocks of natural assets, including air, soil, water, mineral, flora and fauna.

Ecosystem Services – the many benefits humans receive from healthy ecosystems, such as pollination of crops, clean air, flood and drought mitigation, and physical and mental wellbeing.

Ecosystem services are essentially comparable to public goods; by managing our natural capital assets effectively we can maintain healthy ecosystems and increase the supply of public goods.

If you’d like to know more, take a look at the Blackdown Hills AONB’s case study.



Good data is an essential part of translating AONB Management Plan objectives to detailed farm-scale LMPs. But what is good data in this context, can you have too much of it, what if your data isn’t of the best quality, and how do you make it relevant at a small scale?

A June virtual workshop lead by the NAAONB for participating AONBs discussed findings so far, and looked at the way forward. This section summarises the results of the workshop.

Existing data

AONBs already have a wealth of information that will support LMP development Landscape Character Assessments, State of the AONB reports (see the Tamar Valley AONB’s report for more information), and Landscape Design Guides amongst others – the results of a survey of participating AONBs are shown here:

Diagram on the Relevance of other AONB documents to ELM delivery

They also have access to a wide range of external datasets – local species recovery plans, natural capital maps, landscape strategy, landscape permeability, priority habitat mapping, historic field boundaries study and many, many more:

Diagram on the Relevance of other organisations' documents to ELM delivery

Considerations when using data for spatial prioritisation

  • Having too much data is as big a problem as not having enough - a balance is needed to inform decisions at a farm level without having too much (particularly poor-quality data) that overwhelms and confuses decision making. Similarly, ‘bad data’ (out of date or low resolution) can be worse than no data.
  • While low resolution data can be a problem, so is over-crowded data which makes it difficult to reveal priorities. Identifying data that isn’t useful is just as important as identifying good datasets.

Filling gaps in data (for example peat depth data) can be expensive and resource-intensive, but AONBs agree that ELM justifies national investment in filling gaps in important data. Participating AONBs have identified gaps in data and datasets they would like to acquire:

Table on existing data to acquired as well as significant gaps identified
  • Perhaps most important of all, data will only take us so far: local knowledge is needed to contextualise and understand the significance of data. Ground truthing using local expertise will be an essential part of the process.

Work that has already been done, and what is planned

A considerable amount of work has already been carried out, and there’s more to come. In a number of instances, initially work has focused on identifying priority zones to study in more detail as part of the T&T:

Table presenting work already done and work planed in terms of using data to inform spatial prioritisation

Early Findings

While we are still in the early stages of T&T, there are some initial findings which are directing future work:

  • Relevant policies and actions from Management Plans should contribute to new spatial priority guidance for ELM applicants, in particular AONB Special Qualities. Combined with a range of other AONB and externally produced documents, they form a key source for ELM targeting statements.
  • In some instances, spatial prioritisation will entail collaboration between farms. A prime example is that of natural flood management and water quality, which need to be prioritised at a catchment scale. Landscape Character Areas work well in this situation, by providing a unifying way of maximising the co-benefits provided by different types of intervention.
  • The impending preparation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies will create essential information for ELM targeting, but won’t entirely fulfil the brief, so additional work will be needed to translate them for ELM.
  • Spatial priorities needed to be nested at different scales, enabling the priorities that are appropriate in a sub-catchment to be identified from larger national and sub-regional priorities.
  • Discussions should extend beyond AONB boundaries to surrounding landscapes. As recommended in the Glover Landscapes Review, this would ensure skills and approaches are more widely shared.
  • A need has been identified to prepare succinct and farmer-focused ‘Statements of ELM Priorities’ covering topics such as habitats, natural processes and climate change, drawing on existing documents. They must be simple to use at a holding-scale and contain consistent, joined-up messages.

The approaches utilised by AONBs

There are as many ways of using data as there are datasets to be interpreted. Here are examples from AONBs taking part in the ELM T&T:

Dorset AONB

Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services Mapping, by the Westcountry Rivers Trust

Blackdown Hills AONB

Mapping to support an Environmental Land Management scheme trial 2020

What comes next

As trials continue, we will have more information on how various broad-scale datasets can be used to support spatial prioritisation. We will publish findings here, so check back over the coming months.

We are working on some more exciting content with regards to common threads, so please do come back and check in regularly!