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Chairman’s Conference 2021

Nature Positive, Carbon Negative

Our Chairman’s Conference ‘Nature Positive, Carbon Negative’ took place on Zoom 18 November 2021.

Philip Hygate, National Association for AONBs Chair,

welcomed attendees and set the scene for the day. Climate change is one of the primary challenges facing us, and nature-based solutions are the most cost effective way to tackle it.  It is time for landscape restoration to play the significant role in the fight against climate change that it is capable of.

John Watkins, National Association for AONBs Chief Executive,

put on record his thanks to our former Chief Executive Howard Davies who left the NAAONB in September after leading the organisation for over ten years.

The year has been as busy as ever, focusing on the delivery of a one-year business plan designed to support the National Association’s new strategy.

John also summarised work on:

  • Developing the Farming in Protected Landscapes Programme with Defra,
  • The success of the AONBs’ Tests and Trials for Defra’s ELMS programme,
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Natural England and National Parks England to help align our work,
  • Developing our relationship with Arts Council England,
  • Ongoing support of the Laurel and Gingko ecopoetry prizes,
  • The online Landscapes for Life conference 2021, focused on the connected issues of climate change and nature recovery.  The event was kindly sponsored by Devon County Council

John moved on to update on progress with the Glover Review which we await the publication of the Government response to, hopefully in mid-December.

Work on delivering aspects of Glover have continued through the year and we are preparing to pull together a joint response from the NAAONB and the AONB Family to the consultation.

George Marshall, founder of Climate Outreach,

spoke about engaging audiences, from the start point that people have a right to know about climate change, so we need to engage in a way that enables them to access the information.  

Climate Outreach takes a psychological approach and uses audience segmentation to help reach people. They have researched the kids of messages that appeal to the seven key segments that define the majority of the UK public. Search Climate Outreach ‘Britain Talks Climate’.

An example of segmentation is that many of our existing AONB audiences will relate better to messages based around the importance of our landscapes being active places where people live and work. The more salient a message, the more ready people are to engage with it: climate change is happening to us, here, and now.

He finished with a warning that if we as landscape professionals like a given message, the chances are that it’s not going to cut through with others. We are bound up in our experiences of landscape and the language we use is likely to be opaque to other audiences.

Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Government Climate Change Committee,

sent a pre-recorded speech challenging the AONB Partnerships to lead the way on tackling climate change. He described climate change as a symptom of what we have done to the Earth since the Industrial Revolution due to a combination of ignorance and lack of forethought. He urged AONBs to see changes to the climate as an opportunity too, to extend the range of species.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England,

spoke of the strong collaboration between Natural England, NAAONB and National Parks England, formalised by our tripartite agreement signed earlier this year.

This coworking is exemplified in the National Nature Recovery Network which uses Sir John Lawton’s principles of more, bigger, better and more connected areas for nature which sees AONB and Natural England teams working together.

He explained Natural England’s approach to Nature Recovery which incorporates species recovery – plant, animal and fungi; ecosystems services – clean water and air and carbon capture; but also critically, beauty. 

Tony shared his hopes that AONBs would see an uplift in core funding, since all 34 English AONBs share the same funding as a single secondary school. Since they cover 15% of the land area of England, could make a really meaningful contribution to the 30% by 2030 commitment that Government has made to the UN, if properly funded.  

Lord Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at Defra with responsibility for Landscape,

was our final speaker. He expressed his personal commitment to and passion for AONBs.

He remarked that the AONBs’ 15% land area could play a key role in delivering on the Government’s commitment to the UN of 30% of land and sea protected for nature by 2030, and also that AONBs contain 40% of England’s valuable bog habitat and 20% of its broad-leaved woodland. He recognised that AONBs can be instrumental in delivering for climate, nature and for people, and that nature-based solutions must be central in the fight against climate change.

He acknowledged that AONB core funding is insufficient to meet the scale of the challenge and asked teams to feel reassured that Defra are looking at more ways to work together.