What is an AONB?

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a
nationally important, protected landscape.

Each AONB has its own natural beauty and distinct characteristics that are recognised as so outstanding that they should be protected for the nation and future generations.

Who looks after the North Wessex Downs AONB?

AONBs are living landscapes inhabited by lively communities of people. So, the care of an AONB is entrusted to local authorities, organisations, community groups and the people who live and work within it. AONB teams bring these people together, working collectively to conserve and enhance these special landscapes. Relevant local authorities have a statutory responsibility to ensure that development and planning proposals take into account the protected status of the area.

Council of Partners

The North Wessex Downs AONB is managed by a Partnership, known as the Council of Partners. The Council of Partners consists of 35 members including representatives of the nine local authorities, whose areas make up the North Wessex Downs, and other representatives from the community.

The Council of Partners sets strategic objectives for the landscape within a Management Plan which is reviewed every five years. The Partnership also oversees the work of the AONB team.

The AONB Family

There are 46 AONBs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 34 of which are in England. The National Association for AONBs supports the work of AONB partnerships and provides a strong collective voice.

AONBs enjoy levels of protection similar to those of UK National Parks but unlike National Parks, the responsible bodies do not have their own planning authority.

While AONBs are a uniquely British phenomenon, they are recognised internationally by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as part of a global family of protected areas.


In England, Natural England is responsible for designating Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The North Wessex Downs AONB was designated in 1972 as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty under the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949. As part of the reconstruction of the UK after the second world war, this Act improved access to the countryside, addressed public rights of way, and provided the framework for the creation of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales.

The primary purpose of designation, as set out in the 1949 Act, is “conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area”. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 elaborates on this primary purpose, adding further regulation and protection, ensuring the future of AONBs as important national resources.

Further information on designation and management can be found on the gov.UK website

Visit gov.UK
image credits: Freemans Marsh, Ann Shepley; Fyfield Down; Pannier King Alfreds Way Route Cycling UK - The Ridgeway; Avebury, David Hall