Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, along with National Parks, are considered to be the most special landscapes in the country and belong to an international family of protected areas. There are 38 AONBs in England and Wales, and a further seven in Northern Ireland.

The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area, now and for future generations.  The designation gives a formal recognition to an area’s landscape importance and allows for the development of communities and economic activity. However development is only permitted in ways that enhance the landscape character of the AONB.

The enabling legislation for AONBs was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 which came about shortly after the Second World War and in response to the increasing pressure of new development. The government of the day decided to formally recognise the fact that the countryside of England and Wales has a rich diversity of scenery, which is of great value and worthy of protection.

This led to the first AONB designation in 1956; the Gower Peninsula.

Ten years later, in 1966 the Cotswolds was designated as an AONB. The initial boundaries encompassed an area of 582 square miles (1,507kms) but, in 1990, they were extended to create the Cotswolds AONB as we know it today; the largest in England and Wales covering 790 square miles (2,038 sq kms).

Over the past 40 years the pressures on the countryside have increased and in 2000 the Countryside Rights of Way Act, (CROW) addressed that challenge. The act confirmed that AONBs shared with National Parks the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The government also placed new responsibilities on local authorities to ensure further protection for designated landscapes.

The 2000 Act allowed the establishment of Conservation Boards to look after AONBs. This led to the formation of two Conservation Boards - the Cotswolds Conservation Board and the Chilterns Conservation Board, which have been carrying out that duty since December 2004.

Click here to download a timeline of the Cotswolds AONB

'A Clear View' is a guide to understanding how protected areas work in the UK and Ireland. Click here to download the publication. A Powerpoint presentation based on the document is also available to view here.

For further information:

The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty:
The Association of National Park Authorities:
Natural England:
Europarc Federation:

Click here to see a map of AONBs and National Parks in England.

The Cotswolds Conservation Board has produced a management plan for the AONB which sets out its aims and objectives for conservation and enhancement of the area over a five year period.  Click here to view.