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Did you know… Surrey Hills AONB is now a National Landscape

27th November 2023

On Wednesday 22 November 2023, all designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in England and Wales became National Landscapes. This includes our beautiful Surrey Hills, previously known as the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and now known as the Surrey Hills National Landscape.

Renaming all designated AONBs to National Landscapes is part of a drive to raise awareness and a greater understanding of the importance of these areas within England and Wales. National Landscapes’ vision is to be the leading exemplars of how thriving, diverse communities can work with and for nature in the UK: restoring ecosystems, providing food, storing carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change, safeguarding against drought and flooding, whilst also nurturing people’s health and wellbeing. The teams have been delivering natural solutions for many years to address the challenges facing the nation and this new branding simply reinvigorates the commitment and efforts to engage with a wider audience. 

There are a total of 46 National Landscapes in the UK which are visited by at least 170 million people every year. They cover 14% of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland including moorland, farmland, coast, forests, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves, a Geopark, and also include International Dark Sky Reserves. 44 million people in England live within 30 minutes of a National Landscape and here in Surrey, you’ll be familiar with the previously named Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within the Surrey Hills. This was the second AONB area to be originally designated in the country back in 1958 and covers roughly a quarter of Surrey. 

Protecting precious habitats such as heathland, downland, and woodland will be crucial for many important species and provide vital spaces for people in and around Surrey to enjoy the countryside and benefit from thriving nature. Surrey is the most wooded county in England and the designated area now known as the Surrey Hills National Landscape is situated within the London Metropolitan Greenbelt where 1.5 million people live within 10km of the landscape.

Leith Hill, Surrey

Kathy Atkinson, Chair of the Surrey Hills National Landscape

“There’s often a healthy scepticism around talk of “re-branding” and people might reasonably ask, “What’s the point?” in calling the Surrey Hills a National Landscape instead of an ‘AONB’.

Firstly, the legal status of the Surrey Hills as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is unchanged. This amazing area retains the same protections in law as a National Park. As set out by the Glover review in 2019, AONBs are fragmented, misunderstood and often see even greater pressures with less resource. Glover recommended not only a renaming of ‘AONBs’ to National Landscapes, but the power which could follow in terms of a strengthened network, with increased funding, governance reform, and new shared purposes to help us fight against the challenges our protected landscapes may face.

We need to use this rebrand as a step change to how we connect with our protected landscapes. To excite and engage the widest possible public in the task of protecting the Surrey Hills, a cherished landscape that is under threat like never before. This is a critical decade for our natural world, and National Landscapes brings the opportunity to collectively reduce the impact of substantial threats from a National and localised perspective. So, I urge everyone to embrace our National Landscapes vision as a tool to help us support a healthy and thriving landscape, for nature and for people.”

John Watkins, Chief Executive of the National Landscapes Association

“AONB teams have convened powerful partnerships which have placed them at the forefront of the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss, but since their initial designation, our country has changed immensely, as have the needs and pressures on the environment and communities. However, we have great ambition as well as the commitment and readiness to care for and protect these important places, whilst also extending a welcome to more people. Our ambitious aims build on AONB teams’ long track record of successful delivery for nature and people and we are confident that we will achieve them. National Landscapes are the landscape designation for the 21 Century and beyond.”

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England

“For decades the AONBs have helped protect the beauty of our finest landscapes. Today though we need so much more from these wonderful places, helping us adapt to climate change, catching carbon, restoring depleted wildlife and encouraging more people outside, at the same time as producing food, sustaining local communities and enhancing historic environments.

“Modern challenges require new approaches and today marks the beginning of a new phase for our National Landscapes, as they strengthen their existing partnerships, and forge new ones that will secure in perpetuity the huge range of benefits that come from these special places. Big change has taken place during the past 75 years and bigger changes still can be expected during the decades ahead. Uniting the National Landscapes in this way is very welcome and spells immense opportunity and great hope for the future.”

More about National Landscapes

The Surrey Hills joins a variety of special areas of the UK in becoming one of 46 National Landscapes in the UK. These are places with national importance, protected for the nation’s benefit, but cared for by local teams with a deep understanding of the distinctive web of interconnecting factors that make these places special. Looking at the bigger picture, National Landscapes aim by the year 2030 within their boundaries that:

  • at least 200,000 hectares of the most valuable natural areas (Sites of Special Scientific Interest or SSSIs) will be in favourable condition
  • 100,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside of SSSIs will be created or restored
  • 36,000 hectares of woodland will have been planted or allowed to regenerate.

Additionally, National Landscapes Partnerships will focus on habitat restoration to ensure the protection of some of our most endangered species and increase their work to help more people enjoy time spent in beautiful places. National Landscapes are living places. The physical geography, alongside the unique combination of landform, climate, and geology determines which species thrive, which industries grow, and therefore the heritage, language, and culture of the individual place. National Landscapes and their partners incorporate all aspects of the place.

We all have a part to play in keeping our countryside, the wildlife, and their habitats thriving for the next generation. If you are interested in helping us protect and celebrate the Surrey Countryside you can discover how to get involved locally here.

Surrey Hills National Landscape
Surrey Hills National Landscape