What is an AONB?

The North Wessex Downs National Landscape is designated as an
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

An AONB is a nationally important landscape protected by law. 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.  On 22 November 2023 AONBs across England and Wales became known as National Landscapes but the formal designation, and the legal protections, remain the same.

Freemans Marsh, Ann Shepley May 21

Who looks after the North Wessex Downs National Landscape?

National Landscapes are living landscapes inhabited by lively communities of people. So, the care of the landscape is entrusted to local authorities, organisations, community groups and the people who live and work within it. National Landscape 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.

Fyfield Down

Council of Partners

The North Wessex Downs National Landscape 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 National Landscape team.

Pannier King Alfreds Way Route Cycling UK 46 - The Ridgeway

The National Landscape Family

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

National Landscapes 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 designated 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.

Avebury, David Hall


In England, Natural England is responsible for designating Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The North Wessex Downs National Landscape 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

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