Earlier this week the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, announced a review into National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).
The review, led by writer, Julian Glover, will look at ways in which access to these areas can be improved and their role in growing the rural economy.
It was nearly 70 years ago that AONB’s and National Parks were first established through the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act, passed in 1949.
At the time the Act was intended to protect rural areas and provide a “recreational gift” to Britain’s returning Second World War service men and women.
Now, there are 10 National Parks in England, which cover 9.3% of the land area and a national network of 34 AONB’s. Together they see 260 million visitors each year. Undoubtedly, this places pressure on the environment, and I am pleased that this review will look at how these areas may be better conserved and enhanced.
In Kent, we are fortunate to have two of England’s 34 AONB’s. The Kent Downs, declared as an AONB in 1968, has 13 distinct areas, including Darent Valley, which includes the 19 mile Darent Valley Path, which stretches from Dartford Marshes to Sevenoaks Town Centre. It is the eighth largest AONB in England and Wales. This AONB has diverse wildlife, some of which is unique to the area.
The High Weald, designated as an AONB in 1983, is the fourth largest AONB in England and Wales, and nearly a quarter of the ANOB is ancient woodland; it is also home to around 20% of England’s lowland meadows.
Together, the Kent Downs and The High Weald cover 33% of Kent’s land area.
The importance of these areas as AONB’s should not be underestimated. Once afforded such status, areas receive significant protections from development, as all decisions relating to planning must have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area.
The review has undertaken to look as to whether there is scope for the current network of National Parks and AONB’s to expand, which I would welcome.
The recent good weather has allowed many of us to appreciate the beautiful Kent countryside, and it is essential that this is preserved and enhanced for future generations.