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Protected landscapes review

The 25-Year Environment Plan, 'A Greener Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment', sets out national government goals to improve the environment. This plan includes a commitment to review England's protected landscapes; our 10 National Parks and 46 areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs). The review published its findings on 21st September 2019. The review aimed to examine:

  • The existing statutory purposes for National Parks and AONBs and how effectively they are being met.
  • The alignment of these purposes with the goals set out in the 25-Year Environment Plan.
  • The case for extension or creation of new designated areas.
  • How to improve individual and collective governance of National Parks and AONBs, and how that governance interacts with other national assets.
  • The financing of National Parks and AONBs.
  • How to enhance the environment and biodiversity in existing designations.
  • How to build on the existing eight-point plan for National Parks and to connect more people with the natural environment from all sections of society and improve health and wellbeing.
  • How well National Parks and AONBs support communities.
  • The process of designating National Parks and AONBs and extending boundary areas, with a view to improving and expediting the process.


The Norfolk Coast Partnership response to the review, as agreed with our Core Management Group at our 11 December 2019 meeting, is summarised as:

  • Conservation and enhancement of protected landscapes for the benefit of the nation continues to be worthwhile and deserves long term support - independent of political or economic pressures.
  • The statutory purposes of designation of conserving and enhancing natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and meeting the demand for recreation and increasing the public understanding and enjoyment of the area, and supporting the local economy and local community, should apply to all AONBs, as they already do to National Parks and AONBs with Conservation Boards.
  • Protected landscapes should be at the heart of delivering national government's 25-Year Environment Plan, particularly the new Nature Recovery Networks.
  • AONB Partnerships require secure, long term core funding sufficient to enable delivery of the role, and also require straightforward access to project funding. Implementation of changes to AONBs and their AONB Partnerships which result from the protected landscapes review should be properly supported, funded and resourced.
  • The Norfolk Coast Partnership has the ambition to take the lead role for landscape scale strategy, management, projects, information and data for the Norfolk Coast AONB on all subjects relating to conserving and enhancing natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, meeting the demand for recreation and increasing the public understanding and enjoyment of the area and supporting the local economy and local community.
  • The AONB Partnership model, when working at its best, is excellent. With a small organisational structure, local accountability, a locally-developed AONB Management Plan, a mix of local and national core funding, grounded in local communities and supported by its local authorities, the Norfolk Coast Partnership is flexible, responsive and innovative, and underpinned by robust governance structures.
  • The title 'area of outstanding natural beauty' has not worked and should be replaced. One idea to 'name the landscape not the management structure' suggests that the brand should reflect the quality of the landscape, not its organisational and governance arrangements. Thus, all protected landscapes could be branded as 'National Parks' since the legislation states that they are all of equal landscape value. This new branding would not necessarily imply adopting identical management responsibilities and duties for each.
  • The AONB boundaries require continued resolute protection to ensure that the countryside within them is respected and safeguarded - but a review of boundaries should be possible when deemed essential. The Norfolk Coast Partnership has received a number of requests from our local communities for changes to the boundary of the Norfolk Coast AONB, e.g. to match with parish boundaries or river catchment boundaries, and we believe that each deserves due consideration.
  • Lessons should be learnt from national and international best practice management models for similar designations. The Biosphere Reserve model, with core, buffer and transition zones which protect the areas of highest biodiversity value whilst including local communities and other activities, is one possible template.
  • The character of an AONB, including its setting and its management objectives, requires a prominent statutory position in local and national decision making (e.g. for decisions relating to development, farming, access, etc.). Thus, AONBs should be held in 'high regard', the Management Plan should be a statutory document and AONB Partnerships should be statutory consultees for relevant issues. However, if the AONB Partnership becomes the statutory body responsible for allocation of funding, audit and enforcement for these issues, the Norfolk Coast Partnership believes that the consequences of this significant change in role from 'adviser' to 'gatekeeper' needs careful thought and planning.
  • Opportunities should be taken for AONB Partnerships to lead on other land and seascape designations (e.g. Coastal Biodiversity Groups, LNP, MCZ, EMS, etc.) where this aids efficiency and reduces duplication.

These thoughts remain as a work in progress and will continue to evolve over the duration of the review and through discussions with our funders, our other partner organisations and other regional and national protected landscapes.

If you have any feedback or suggestions, please email them to us.