New protected landscapes: 5 things you need to know

The government is considering extensions to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), the creation of a new national park, and new highly protected marine zones. Here’s what you need to know about newly designated protected areas and the changes in store for existing ones.

1. New and bigger AONBs are on the way 

The Yorkshire Wolds and Cheshire Sandstone Ridge are being considered for status as AONBs, as well as extensions to the existing Surrey Hills and Chilterns protected areas. The announcement of the new designations came in June, when the environment secretary unveiled a new £20m programme intended to provide funding to help farmers and other land managers operating within or adjacent to AONBs and national parks to deliver environmental improvement projects. The announcement also  confirmed that there will be changes coming down the line in the governance of “protected landscapes”. 

2. And potentially a new national park

The Telegraph has reported that an upgrade of the Chilterns and the Cotswolds from AONB to national park status is being discussed by Natural England. Should the move go ahead, it would constitute the biggest increase in parkland in England since the creation of the Peak District, Lake District and Dartmoor national parks in 1951. Reports have also emerged that cities in England could be granted national park status – affording urban areas the same level of environmental protection as natural landscapes – as part of a new review of open spaces. According to the Guardian, the government is considering the proposed status, which would also entail management of the areas to maintain their biodiversity, in response to the Glover review of protected landscapes.

3. Five areas have piloted Local Nature Recovery Strategies

Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) are a cornerstone of the government’s nature policies in the Environment Bill. In August 2020, DEFRA launched five LNRS pilots covering the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Buckinghamshire Council, Cornwall Council, Northumberland County Council and Cumbria County Council areas. The pilots concluded in May 2021, and DEFRA has said the schemes have provided “excellent prototypes of the strategies”. However, in a report, it said there remained potential issues around adequate resourcing and the provision of data.

The requirement for local partnerships to each draw up their own LNRS will be enshrined in law by the Environment Bill, and DEFRA anticipates that there will be roughly 50 LNRS which together will cover the whole of England with “no gaps and no overlaps”. For now, the finer details of the scheme are under consultation until November.  

4. Pilots for strict no-go marine areas are to come in 2022 

DEFRA has pledged to create a raft of newly designated highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in which all damaging activities would be banned by 2022. We don’t know where the pilot sites will be yet, but DEFRA says they could be in or outside of existing marine protected areas - where they would benefit from a higher level of protection. 

The sites will be identified by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with input from stakeholders, with a formal consultation set to launch next year. The commitment came in June in response to an independent review carried out last year by former fisheries minister Richard Benyon. The review called for HPMAs to be set up, prohibiting all damaging activities including fishing, trawling and construction, in order to allow ocean ecosystems to recover.

5. New guidance coming for marine protected areas

While not a new designation, DEFRA has also opened a consultation on fresh guidance which would require developments that impact marine protected areas (MPAs) to take compensatory measures. The consultation, open until 30 September, is designed to “bring parity” to developments on land and sea, according to the government. It is seeking views on different approaches to implementing the guidance around compensation as well as how a marine net gain requirement could work.

MPA designation types include marine conservation zones (MCZs), special areas of conservation (SACs) with marine components, special protection areas (SPAs) with marine components, nature conservation MPAs, and national MPAs in Scotland.

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