Cotswold AONB -14 key facts about our protected landscape

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds - Credit: Archant

In 1966 the Cotswolds was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 50 years on it remains as one of our finest landscapes and a place to be conserved and enjoyed for the future.

The initial boundaries encompassed an area of 582 square miles (1,507 sq kms) but, in 1990, they were extended to create the Cotswolds AONB as we know it today – the largest of the 46 AONBs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland covering 790 square miles (2,038 sq kms). The Cotswolds AONB third largest Protected Landscape in England after Yorkshire Dales and The Lake District.

The AONB stretches from south Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the north, through West Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and takes in parts of west Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset in the south.

The beauty of the Cotswolds encompasses everything, natural and human, that makes the area distinctive. That could be anything from geology and archaeology to climate and communities.

What makes the area so special?

The distinctive features of rolling agricultural land, flower-rich limestone grassland, deep incised valleys and ancient woodland.

Many people say that it is the lovely golden stonework of the villages and towns – their setting in the rolling landscapes or more intimate valleys. Others think of the open skies of the high wolds, or the dramatic scarp which runs virtually the whole length of the western edge of the area, with its views across the Severn and out to Wales.

Pressed further, people say that they cherish images of ancient beech woods clinging to the scarp, the miles of drystone walls that mark settlement since early times, or the churches and historic parklands.

In this welter of beauty, it is interesting to look in more detail at aspects of the landscape – its flora and fauna, its historic heritage, its cultural legacy.

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The underlying limestone geology of the area, which manifests itself in the Cotswold stone buildings and walls, creates an especially strong sense of visual unity. It is quite right that we should feel this since the naturally occurring stone has always been used as the building material, making man-made structures appear to be part of the land itself.

Key Facts about our Protected Landscape

1. The rocks that form the Cotswold Hills are made up of three different geological stages of the Jurassic period and date from between 210-140 million years ago.

2. Fossils and vertebrae belonging to the Megalosaurus, the first named dinosaur, have been found in Huntsman’s Quarry near Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold.

3. Cleeve Hill is the highest point in the Cotswolds at 330m (1083ft); Chipping Norton is the highest town at around 244m (800ft).

4. There are over 300 Cotswold Voluntary Wardens who make up the voluntary arm of the Cotswolds Conservation Board.

5. The 102-mile Cotswold Way National Trail stretches the length of the AONB along the escarpment between Chipping Campden and Bath.

6. The native Cotswold sheep is known as the Cotswold Lion which, during the Middle Ages provided wool for over half of England’s cloth.

7. Many Cotswold “Wool Churches”, such as the impressive churches in Cirencester, Northleach, Fairford and Chipping Campden were built with money donated by Cotswold wool merchants.

8. There are over 6,000 miles of dry-stone walls in the AONB, more than the Great Wall of China.

9. The AONB is nationally significant for Small Blue and Duke of Burgundy butterflies.

10. The source of the Thames lies in the Cotswolds, near Cirencester.

11. There are over 3,000 miles of public footpath in the AONB and around 20 named long distance walking routes.

12. The Cotswolds Conservation Board is the organisation that exists to look after the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Established in 2004, the Board is the only organisation to look after the AONB as a whole and is an independent statutory body created as a result of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) 2000.

13. The Cotswolds makes up 10% of the total designated AONB area in the UK.

14. The Cotswolds covers 15 local authorities, 15 parliamentary constituencies, 6 counties and over 280 parishes.

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