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From form to farm - taking care of the Uplands by Thomas Binns

Thomas Binns is a farmer in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an upland area with high landscape value and many visitors from nearby urban areas. Thomas writes of the benefits of being able to access the expertise of the AONB team to support farmers’ efforts for more nature friendly farming while balancing visitor access. Twenty years' of research shows that farm advisers can help empower farmers to deliver more ambitious projects for nature - this is one of the many services AONB teams provide - translating policy and application forms to workable farm and field level projects - from form to farm. He also tells of how the AONB designation can and should also assist in enabling sensitive development that supports the community. 

Our family has farmed in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for generations, we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to live and farm in such a beautiful landscape and hope to continue to do so. That doesn’t mean it comes without its difficulties though. Farmers are the heart of these rural communities and we have helped shape the landscape with our farming and environmental activities alongside the National Parks and AONBs. I have personally experienced the benefit of our local AONB in a number of ways. The Bowland AONB has a permanent staff base which is easily accessible and farmer friendly. They have, over recent years, encouraged and persisted with developing farmer facilitation groups in order to offer tailored assistance to many businesses, including my own. This has placed them well to deliver the current Farming in Protected Landscapes programme. The part of the AONB in which I farm has a huge urban conurbation within a 20 minute drive that brings plenty of people pressure to day to day farming. It’s good to have an AONB team that understands this and the tensions than can arise. 

When the Glover report initially came out in 2019, as the chair of the NFU Uplands Forum and with a significant proportion of National Parks and AONBs consisting of Upland areas, we were keen to review the proposals and make sure that they supported farmers and their businesses in these landscapes. The pandemic has shown us the importance of our local landscapes to the British public and how visiting these areas can have a significant improvement on people’s mental health. I’m glad that this is recognised in the Glover review and by the Government, but the impact that people have when visiting these areas also needs to be considered.

FiPL has shown the benefits of local panels in an area made up of a mixture of the local community in helping deicide which large applications are best to suite the local landscape. In future development of schemes, I hope this balance of farming and the environment continues working together rather than at odds. Changes to planning are also discussed in the consultation, although we must make sure expansion is in keeping with the surrounding areas it is also important to allow development to take place to allow peoples businesses to grow and meet regulatory requirements, especially at a time where farmers might be looking to diversify or improve efficiencies to increase income after the loss of direct payments.

The decisions that government are consulting on will affect the future of everyone in National Parks and AONBs so I implore you to review and respond to the consultation so that we can make sure the result is a benefit to all communities in these areas. 

Professor Sir John Lawton urges action on nature restoration

Ten years on from his landmark ‘Making Space for Nature’ report, and in context of the Government’s recent response to Julian Glover’s 2019 Review of Designated Landscapes, Professor Sir John Lawton urges Government to invest in a future that delivers for Nature, Climate and People.


With consecutive State of Nature reports confirming that nature is in trouble, we know that urgent action is required to create the conditions for species to thrive. Since 1970, the UK’s woodland breeding bird population has shrunk by almost a quarter, 36 plant species have become extinct. Iconic UK bird species such as the curlew, black grouse, turtle dove and golden plover are now on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, meaning their numbers have reduced by a half in the past 25 years.

We know too, that the effects of climate change are accelerating the rate of nature depletion. The UK’s kittiwake population has declined by 70% since 1986 as climate change has reduced the availability of sand eels, a key food source in breeding season. 48% of moth decline and 60% of aphid decline is due to climate change.

The effects of climate change and nature depletion are two sides of the same coin. Humankind is part of the ecosystem – a healthy environment rich in nature is not a luxury, it’s fundamental to our existence. The habitats that wildlife need to thrive are also what people need for clean air, clean water, for flood defence, for natural places to visit that bring health benefits as well as inspiration and joy.

In 2009, the Government asked me to prepare a strategy to address the nature crisis. The result of this was the 2010 Making Space for Nature report, in which I called for more, bigger, better and joined up spaces to be allocated and protected for nature. Its recommendations still hold true and but the urgency to respond has only increased. After a decade of procrastination, we now need a decade of action.

The publication of Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review in 2019 supported my call for action. It set out a challenge to England’s designated landscapes to step up and deliver more for nature, calling on them to ‘form the backbone of a National Nature Recovery Network’ to provide the joined-up approach that nature needs in order to thrive once more; and to lead the fight against climate change.

If enacted, the changes demanded in the Landscapes Review would be nothing short of game-changing for nature, climate and people in the UK. The Glover Review called for expanded purposes and powers for our AONBs as well as an increase in resources to put them on a firm financial footing to continue to deliver for nature, climate and people. Government’s response suggests they support this direction. If so, then a significant boost in investment and pace of delivery must follow.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty cover some 15% of England’s land area. I have seen the success of their work over many years, and notably now as the chair of North Pennines AONB’s Tees-Swale: naturally connected programme. Tees-Swale sees North Pennines AONB Partnership and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority working in partnership with farmers and landowners across an 845 sq km area to put farming at the heart of nature and nature at the heart of land management. This collaborative approach, very much in the DNA of the understaffed AONB teams, is an exemplary approach to delivery of ‘more, bigger, better and joined up’.

Nature based solutions are far cheaper than mechanical ones, and have a greater impact, creating more space for nature, limiting the effects of climate change and creating more beautiful green and blue spaces for people. The need to invest in realizing the potential of AONBs has never been greater, I urge Government to take this opportunity with both hands.


John Lawton walk (c) Rebecca Barrett (19).png

A new era for our National Landscapes

The Government’s publication of their long-awaited response to the 2019 Review of Designated Landscapes, led by Julian Glover, has given England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) an indication of the Government’s preferred direction of travel.

The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the AONB Family broadly welcome the response. Much of it chimes with the evidence we submitted to the Review panel. But overall, we believe the Government’s proposals, as currently presented, fall short of the ambitious, transformational change that Glover and his team envisaged, which AONB teams are keen to see implemented, and which the pressures on these landscapes demand.

The Glover Review opened up a crucial conversation about what designated landscapes should deliver for a 21st century society and the environmental challenges it faces. Central to the changes Glover recommended was a clear recognition of the enormous potential and frustrated ambition of the AONB network – 34 designated landscapes, covering 15% of England’s land area – to deliver so much more for nature, climate and people, at this critical time.

AONB teams’ track records speak for themselves: peatland twice the area of Birmingham restored in the past ten years, successful species reintroductions, Environmental Land Management tests & trials supporting Defra to devise post-Brexit farm payments, improved river catchments, a catalogue of projects to support mental health, support to rural tourism businesses and local producers, and outreach work with groups currently underrepresented in the countryside amongst countless other examples.

The announcement in 2021 of plans to create two new AONBs (Sandstone Ridge and Yorkshire Wolds) and extend two existing AONBs is a clear endorsement of the designation. And the response to the Glover Review indicates that Government wishes to reinvigorate the status of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with new purposes, powers and resources for the teams charged with conserving and enhancing these special places.

The Government’s response agreed with the Review recommendation that AONBs should be prioritised for greater resources in order to unlock their full potential. With all 34 AONBs sharing the same funding as a single medium sized secondary school and an average of four FTE staff in each team, this is welcome. 

AONB teams’ ongoing success has been dependent on working effectively in collaboration with local partners and with other AONBs, sharing best practice; and securing external funding, such that for every £1 they receive from Defra, £6 of work can be delivered on the ground. Over the past ten years however, AONB teams have suffered 36% cuts to core budgets. Further flatline settlements would result in teams shrinking to the point that they would no longer be able to leverage external funding. AONB team capacity is one of the main limits on further delivery for nature, climate and people, and an increase in resources is critical.

Government also agreed with the Review findings that AONB teams should be strengthened with additional powers. This is especially welcome in the area of planning. The government response suggests a strengthening of the role of AONB teams in the planning process by making them statutory consultees, we agree with this approach. There is little appetite for AONB teams to become planning bodies – the evidence is that where this is the case, boards are able to do little else, distracting the focus of organisations away from the main priorities of nature, climate and access and wellbeing. The AONB Family feels that the statutory consultee proposal could go further, however, potentially incorporating landscape scale development plans into the established democratically derived management planning cycle. This could support considerate development that works for local communities and businesses while protecting what is special and unique about these places.

Government is also exploring the final clause of Glover’s Proposal 24: “AONBs (to be) strengthened with new purposes, powers and resources, and renamed as National Landscapes”. The National Association has completed an exercise on behalf of Defra and the wider AONB family to examine what implications a name change would have. We spoke to audiences currently underrepresented in the countryside as well as AONB staff and lead officers, local land managers and business representatives, and local and national government staff. There was support for the change to a name that represents the national importance of the designation, provided that this is symbolic of a meaningful upscaling in AONB teams’ already proven work for people, nature and climate.

The response supports the establishment of a national landscapes partnership. While expanding the collaborative approach taken by AONB teams already would be beneficial to all designated landscapes, it is only part of the solution. The National Association for AONBs has previously advocated for a stronger role for Natural England in providing overview and scrutiny for all protected landscapes. Designation recognises the locally distinctive landscape – the confluence of species, climate, geology and heritage – and robust and independent management by people rooted in individual AONB is crucial. But AONB teams recognise that proper scrutiny is part and parcel of the privilege of being nationally recognised assets which deliver for the nation.

Government’s own admirably stringent targets, to achieve Net Zero by 2050 and its commitment to the UN leaders’ pledge to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea area for nature by 2030, have clear parallels in the challenge from the Glover Review. It aims for designated landscapes to ‘form the backbone of a new National Nature Recovery Network’ and to lead the fight back against climate change. Well before the Review was published, AONBs made a joint commitment to increasing the scale and pace of their work against nature depletion and climate change in our Colchester Declaration of 2019. We hope that the scale of the resources, powers and expectations that result when the consultation concludes match the ambitions of the AONB Family, and the scale of the challenge.

The National Association will be submitting a full response to the Government’s consultation, which closes on 9 April.

John Arwel Watkins, Chief Executive of The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Joint Statement on Climate Change and Biodiversity

The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty today signed the Global Protected and Conserved Areas Joint Statement on Climate Change and Biodiversity. We are proud to unite for nature with so many other protected landscape organisations throughout the world. The statement illustrates our absolute commitment to delivering on the challenge to being part of the first 30% of the globe to be protected for nature, safeguarding our planet for the generations that follow.

Kent Downs AONB attains coveted Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel’ Award

A huge congratulations to Kent’s Heritage Coast in the Kent Downs AONB, which has won international recognition as the 4th region on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022. Lonely Planet particularly focused on its sustainable tourism practices.

Kent is the only UK destination to feature and was selected for its unique experiences, ‘wow’ factor and its ongoing commitment to sustainable tourism practices.

Huge congratulations to all the local organisations, businesses, and people that make Kent’s Heritage Coast such a special place to visit!

Best Poem of Landscape

The winner of the very first Ginkgo Prize - Best Poem of Landscape category announced.

Order your copy of the anthology of shortlisted poems here! 

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