Dame Fiona Reynolds visited the AONB in January as part of the government review.
In early 2018 the Government published a 25-Year Plan for the Environment, in which it committed to undertaking a review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Review began in June 2018 and issued a call for evidence in the autumn. It is being carried out by a panel of experts chaired by journalist Julian Glover. It aims to ask what might be done better, what changes could assist the protected landscapes and whether definitions and systems - which in many cases date back to their origins in 1949 - are still sufficient.
We submitted our own detailed comments in December and also contributed to national and regional submissions jointly with our fellow National Parks and AONBs. The Review is due to report later this year, the 70th anniversary of the Act of Parliament that established the nation’s first National Parks and AONBs.
In the New Year we were delighted to host a visit by a member of the Review Panel, Dame Fiona Reynolds, accompanied by husband. We took her on a tour of parts of the North Wessex Downs to highlight issues and opportunities and enable her to discuss ideas with a few experts in the field. We:
• visited a major greenfield development site in Marlborough to illustrate the threats to the landscape from poor strategic planning in AONBs;
• described our developing engagement with collaborative ‘farmer clusters’ on a landscape scale;
• explained the need to strengthen AONB governance and the potential of AONB Management Plans to deliver a range of public goods over coffee at Saddleback Farm shop – a successful business established with the support of a North Wessex Downs LEADER grant; and
• walked a stretch of the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire with Sarah Wright, the National Trail Officer, to discuss a range of challenges and opportunities and see the test plots for the Oxford University PhD research project on managing the trail corridor for wildflowers.
Dame Fiona asked a lot of questions, appeared to be enthused by the conversations she had, and made it clear that she is very ambitious for the Review as a major opportunity to take designated landscapes to the next stage in our national history.
We are very grateful to Merrick Denton-Thompson, Rowan Whimster and Sarah Wright for giving their time, energy and expertise to make the visit a success.