Understanding the term 'natural beauty'
Conservation and enhancement of natural beauty is the primary purpose of AONB legislation. The term 'natural beauty' was enshrined in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 when a Romantic idea of scenic value still prevailed and before the systematic study of landscape history and ecology. In reality most of the vegetation covering AONBs is not 'natural' (vegetation that has not been modified by humans) but semi-natural (vegetation not planted by humans but influenced by human activity) or cultivated (vegetation of anthropogenic origin. When AONB legislation was enacted these terms had yet to be debated in the context of protected landscapes. That these landscapes were beautiful was considered to be self evident as was the fact that this beauty represented 'nature' in contrast to the artificial landscapes of the cities.
Natural beauty and the AONB boundary
'Natural beauty' may not have been defined in legislation but it is clear that all protected landscapes have a quality and coherence of character that enabled their boundaries to be drawn on the ground. For some protected landscapes like the High Weald where the geology and topography strongly underpin character the designation boundary was drawn largely along visible linear features which made the original mapping of the boundary, on paper 1:100,000 maps, easier.
Read more AONB boundary.
What is natural beauty?
Over the years qualification and amendment to the legislation has made it clear that natural beauty is not just scenery but includes landform and geology, plants and animals, the historic environment and cultural heritage. The High Weald AONB Management Plan and Natural England's Guidance on Assessing Landscapes for Designation provide more details on the legislative framework for conserving natural beauty.
Read more Guidance on Assessing Landscapes for Designation
Today we recognise that terms such as 'landscape' and 'natural beauty' mean different things to different people. Landscape is experienced by individuals through all of their senses and the perception of landscape beauty is influenced by personal preferences and cultural context.
Download Human Landscape Perception and the High Weald.