The ‘majestic’ swathes of Cheshire and Yorkshire in line to become England’s newest AONBs

England looks set to have two new Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Cheshire and Yorkshire. Carla Passino reports.

Cheshire’s majestic Sandstone Ridge and the chalk hills and dry valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds could soon become England’s latest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Natural England has put forward proposals to designate the two places and expand the existing Surrey Hills and Chilterns AONBs, as well as providing funds to farmers and landowners within protected countryside to help them improve the environment and boost public access.

It is part of the Government’s response to Julian Glover’s 2019 review on National Parks and AONBs, which indicted the system for being too ‘fragmented’. The plan goes a long way towards meeting a commitment to protect 30% of the land by 2030, according to Environment Secretary George Eustice, as it will deliver 40% of the almost 990,000 acres required to achieve the target. It will also help preserve a greater number of the country’s most beautiful landscapes for the future — another Government objective.

Certainly, both areas are well worth protecting: the Sandstone Ridge soars high above the Cheshire Plain in a sequence of hills and escarpments covered by a mosaic of fields, sandstone villages, such as Tarporley and Frodsham, bluebell-embroidered woods, open heathland and Ice-Age pools thick with moss; there are Iron Age hill forts, burial mounds and ring ditches, as well as a far more ‘modern’ Roman road.

Looking over Water Dale and Thixen Dale from the Yorkshire Wolds Way National Trail.

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The gentle hills of the Wolds, masterfully captured by David Hockney, are equally beautiful, with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers, gnarled trees, Elizabethan country houses and time-forgotten villages (including the deserted medieval one at Wharram Percy), as well as the spectacular chalk cliffs at Flamborough Head.

However, the proposed designations have prompted a mixed reaction among countryside organisations. The CLA expressed concern at the lack of detail in the Government’s plans and called for changes to the system so that it supports economic growth, as well as safeguarding cherished stretches of country.

‘A designated area must be an example of our finest landscape, but as well as protecting that landscape, there must be a deliverable plan to enhance the area in terms of quality employment opportunities, connectivity and transport,’ observes CLA chief surveyor Andrew Shirley. ‘A strong economy in designated areas will maintain vibrant communities and underpin the delivery of natural environment goals.’