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Outstanding Beauty Outstanding Heritage: AONBs and the Historic Environment

Our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are among the most attractive and fascinating landscapes of England and Wales.  Their beauty is the result of many centuries of human influence on the countryside and the daily interaction of people with nature.  The history of these outstanding landscapes is therefore fundamental to their present-day appearance and to the importance which society accords them.  If these essential qualities are to be retained in the future, as the countryside continues to evolve, it is vital that the heritage of AONBs is understood and valued by those charged with their care and management, and is enjoyed and celebrated by their local communities.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) were first introduced by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 in order to conserve the natural beauty of key landscapes in England and Wales.  Currently there are 36 AONBs in England, four in Wales and one shared between the two countries.  Varying greatly in size and dramatically in character, they cover a combined area of 21,435km2: 13.9% of the total land area of both countries.

While the title of AONBs stresses their naturalness, it is important to recognise that these are actually cultural landscapes, created by generations of farmers, foresters, estate owners and industrialists working with the grain of nature to shape and re-shape the lie of the land.  This historic dimension is fundamental to the character of today's AONB landscapes.  It underpins their distinctiveness and sense-of-place and the aesthetic and emotional response they elicit in both visitors and residents alike.  This heritage is of fundamental importance to local economies, generating inward investment, facilitating local branding and attracting numerous visitors from home and abroad.  It is an asset of incalculable value.

This leaflet has been produced to mark the signing of the first joint accord on the historic environment between English Heritage and Cadw - the national heritage agencies of England and Wales - and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB).

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Product Code: 51002

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