A report which has just been submitted to Government claims that the work being undertaken by North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the 33 other English AONB Partnerships is of growing relevance to national and local policy objectives.
The report says that AONB Units, which are mandated by Government to protect and enhance cherished landscapes like the North Wessex Downs, are well suited to applying for and managing large externally funded projects, allowing Partnerships to ‘punch well above their weight’.
In the North Wessex Downs, for instance, the Local Action Group has now awarded £1.4m to 64 different projects -- to farmers, foresters, small businesses and rural communities. Combined with match funding, it means that it has facilitated a total investment in the area of more than £3 million since the Programme began in 2009.
The report is a wide-reaching review of all the UK’s AONB partnerships and contains extensive in-depth analysis of the way they operate and benefit their local communities. The report’s author is Robert Dean of Land Use Consultants (LUC). It aims to contribute impartial evidence to the dialogue that is taking place with national and local Governments over the funding and operation of AONB Partnerships.
The report was prepared during a period when the role and work of protected landscapes is coming under scrutiny in the run-up to the UK Government’s announcement of its Spending Round 2013 and during the current programme of expenditure reductions across government departments and local authorities.
In the report’s overall conclusions, it says that concepts such as sustainable development, the ecosystems approach and the environment as an economic driver and determinant of health and wellbeing, all of which are core tenets of the AONB purpose, now have widespread acceptance in national and local policy. This has meant that the work of AONB Partnerships is of mainstream interest to many partners in a way that would not have been the case ten years ago.
The acquisition of external project funding and use of the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) grants to local community projects has meant that AONB Partnerships are involved in activities that, 10 years, ago might have been considered beyond their remit, but where partners clearly believe that AONBs now have a role.
Examples of this are the work that the Partnerships are doing to support sustainable tourism, healthy communities and take forward landscape scale ecological restoration in the light of pressures such as climate change. Again, in the North Wessex Downs area, the SDF, now in its seventh successful year, has provided seed funding of £500,000 which has helped 164 local projects and encouraged a further £1million to be injected into the local economy.
The report adds that AONBs have long been recognised by Government as potential ‘test beds’ for new ways of working that can subsequently be applied outside AONBs. Based on their previous experience, there may be new ‘test bedding’ opportunities for AONB Partnerships in the next round of Rural Development Programmes and in the integrated planning of natural resources and ecosystem delivery.