A survey of the public’s experiences and perceptions of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural beauty has revealed that people most value its beautiful, peaceful and open landscape.
From September to November 2017, the High Weald AONB Partnership ran a public engagement survey as part of the ongoing Management Plan review. This survey sought to explore what aspects of the High Weald the public find particularly beautiful and how they most like to enjoy the area. Questions on the public’s values, perceptions of the biggest threats and desired improvements were posed and results were counted and analysed.
A total of 294 people completed the survey. Of these 294, the largest proportion were aged between 45 and 64, however respondents did span all given age categories.
A number of running themes were evident throughout the survey results, including the enjoyment gained simply from ‘being’ in the landscape and the countryside and the sensory experiences – through sights, sounds and smells – that people valued most. Individual answers stated the appeal of the High Weald countryside in escaping from busy urban life, finding peace and improving mental health, with ‘peace and quiet’, ‘a sense of remoteness’,‘views’, ‘wildlife’ and ‘fresh air’ all recurring as popular answers.
When asked “What in the High Weald countryside do you most value?’, more than a third (36%) of respondents gave answers that focused on the beautiful, peaceful, open landscape of the area.
Walking through the High Weald countryside was the activity that people most enjoy and public footpaths were the most-used form of access – although many felt that better maintenance of existing public footpaths would improve access.
The threat of increased building developments and urban expansion was of great concern to the vast majority of people – referring both to inappropriate building design and the high numbers of development and rates of urban expansion within a protected landscape. The large majority of people (30%) felt that tighter planning regulations would improve and look after the High Weald countryside.
The results and information received in this survey will inform the High Weald AONB Management Plan 2019 – 2024 as well as other policy consultations that affect the AONB. This will enable the High Weald AONB Unit and others to develop better policy to conserve and enhance what makes the High Weald AONB special whilst enabling its community and economy to thrive.