Protecting Cornwalls Landscape

In this April issue we bring you a guide to AONBs in Cornwall. An AONB is exactly what it says it is - a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard it. Alth...

When a local farmer was asked if he knew which part of Cornwall made up its Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), his response was: "It's all beautiful, boy!" True enough, but there are some parts of the county that are so special that they have their own designation and a very high level of legal protection. Perhaps nowhere else are there so many diverse landscape characteristics so close together - golden sands bordering medieval pasture, or a working fishing village at the foot of a wooded valley.

An AONB is exactly what it says it is - a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard it. Although the Cornwall AONB is one single protected area, it is split up into 12 separate parts. These make up the very best of Cornwall's dramatic coast and rugged moorland, ancient farmland, tumbling streams, hidden woods, creeks and estuaries, and the area is studded with remote farms, small villages, ancient monuments and mining or quarrying remains.

The Cornwall AONB covers an area of 958 sq km (370 sq miles), well over a quarter of the county, Cornwall as a whole being 3,564 sq km (1,376 sq miles). Lizard Point, Land's End, Rough Tor, Bedruthan Steps, St Michael's Mount, the Roseland... pretty much all the most attractive places are in the AONB. Some have been shaped by nature, some by man, some by both. Artists paint them, poets write about them, visitors come in their thousands to enjoy them.

The Cornwall AONB is one of 49 in the UK and was designated in 1959. Along with National Parks, they represent the most outstanding examples of countryside in England and Wales and have the same status and protection as a National Park. Created by the legislation of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949, AONBs represent 18% of the finest countryside in England and Wales. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 gave all designated areas further protection and an enhanced status.

The Cornwall AONB consists of ten stretches of coastline, the Camel Estuary and Bodmin Moor. These 12 sections have a number of surprisingly diverse and distinct characteristics as well as, of course, a fair number of similarities. The AONB is not just wilderness either. Much of the landscape is farmed (and has been for generations); some is built upon.

Our landscape needs protection

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The main purpose for making somewhere an AONB is 'to conserve and enhance its natural beauty'. Yet this brings pressures, sometimes conflicting ones. People live there, work there, travel within and through, and in ever-increasing numbers, come to visit. The economic and social needs of local communities are important, and development, so long as it is sustainable, is permitted. In some cases development is actively encouraged. Recent Cornwall AONB Partnership grants have allowed farmers to conserve and enhance land in Penwith to maintain historic mediaeval boundaries, replant native species, improve access and keep bracken at bay. Other grants across the county have helped rebuild stone walls, plant orchards, help a school become energy self-sufficient, produce walking guides and support the Cornwall Sustainable Tourism Project.

Natural England is the Government body responsible for designating AONBs and advising on how they should be protected and managed. The Cornwall AONB is managed by a Partnership made up of the seven local councils and other organisations, including national and regional bodies, voluntary organisations, landowners and managers, and local communities. The day-to-day organisation is undertaken by the Truro-based AONB unit.

It is in planning and development decisions where the status of our 'best bits' is so important. Local authorities must take the AONB landscape into account when buildings, roads, wind turbines or other development is proposed. The Cornwall AONB Partnership is very active in planning and planning appeals - not always in opposition to projects but always ensuring that the landscape comes first. Often there are conflicting pressures. For example, the importance of developing renewable energy may impact upon the landscape if giant wind turbines were to be built, or the need for more affordable housing could add to 'urban sprawl' and pressures on wildlife or scenery.

Equally, tourism also needs to be managed. Pressures on certain parts of the coast, such as Kynance Cove on the Lizard, can cause real problems. Then the old argument resurfaces about beautiful places being diminished by too many people coming to visit them. A careful balancing act is sometimes required. And the 'right to roam' act has led to an increase in the number of dog walkers, horses, bikes and motor bikes on the moors and heaths.

Cornwall's AONB is the same size as Dartmoor and receives even more visitors, yet does not have the same level of funding. Managing the sometimes conflicting requirements of visitors and landowners is not always easy.

Why is the AONB important?

The 12 sections of the Cornwall AONB represent Cornwall's finest landscapes, the places people would most like to live and the main reason why so many people come to visit, so they are vital in many ways.

Most people would agree that nature needs to be protected and our most beautiful landscapes preserved. But keeping the best bits of the county as beautiful as possible is in Cornwall's economic interests too - they are part of our environmental capital. Tourism is our most important industry and 'the landscape' is quoted by the vast majority of visitors as one of the main reasons they come. Businesses often thrive in our most important areas, and many would love to relocate to them. Farming and horticulture, fishing and marine businesses contribute to the character of the AONB. Creative industries - theatre, art, writing and music - thrive in the AONB, making the area a good source of employment.

Protecting the landscape enhances biodiversity and ensures the survival of many rare species. The AONB is home to many important historic and archaeological sites that have a complex and varied geology. And perhaps most important of all, the landscape that makes up the Cornwall AONB is our legacy - we have a duty to our children and grandchildren to leave them a land that remains 'outstanding' for many years to come.

For further information contact Cornwall AONB (01872 322350,