Background History

The Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was first designated in 1971.  Now forty years old having celebrated its ruby anniversary in 2011 it is one of 46 AONBs in England and Wales, which together with National Parks, are specially protected.

As some of our finest and most treasured landscapes it has been decided it is in the national interest to safeguard them. The National Association for AONBs (NAAONB) represents all AONBs in England and Wales to promote their interests and increase public awareness about the need to protect them as a national asset.

The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 places a duty on all public bodies, from parish and community councils to public utility companies, to have regard for the purposes of the AONB. The CROW Act also makes the production of an AONB Management Plan a statutory duty of the local authorities.

Purpose of designation

The primary purpose of AONB designation is:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the WyeValley (including its physical, ecological and cultural landscape)

Two secondary aims complement this:

  • To meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside
  • To have regard for the interests of those who live and work in the Wye Valley

IIn practice, this means that the AONB Unit, Joint Advisory Committee, and others responsible for managing and protecting the area recognise that this is a living and working landscape. The AONB unit works with farmers, landowners, forest owners, rural businesses and the local communities to promote sustainable forms of economic and social development and to encourage land management which supports the objectives of the designation. The AONB unit also works with local tourism associations and tourism, recreation and leisure businesses, encouraging visitors and residents to appreciate and enjoy the area, in a way that's consistent with the designation.

In achieving the aims of the designation the AONB relies on:

  • Planning controls
  • Practical countryside management
  • Raising awareness and the involvement of local people and visitors in the purposes of the designation

Designated area

One of the finest lowland landscapes in Britain, the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 128 square miles (326 sq. km.) from Mordiford, near Hereford, in the north, to the outskirts of Chepstow in the south. It is the only AONB to straddle the border between England and Wales.

The AONB is dominated by the River Wye, and includes 45 miles (72 km.) of its dramatic lower stretches. Such is the Wye's nature conservation value, that it has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) along its entire length - from its source on the slopes of the Plynlimon in Powys to its mouth at Chepstow. It is one of the few British rivers to receive this designation. It is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which is a European designation.

The landscape of the AONB is one of striking contrasts. A natural divide separates the predominantly Old Red Sandstone of the gentle Herefordshire countryside from the carboniferous limestone of the southern plateau. Here the river has carved a spectacular gorge, whose sides are covered with one of the largest remaining areas of semi-natural broadleaved woodland in the UK.

The Wye Valley is particularly important for its rich wildlife habitats, and contains many protected sites, which are both nationally and internationally recognised.

The area falls within three different Local Authority areas, each in a different Government region: 36% of the area is in Monmouthshire (Wales), with 46% in Herefordshire (West Midlands) and 18% in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of Dean District. (South West.)

It's a rural area, with a population of around 25,000, where many people make a living from tourism, agriculture or forestry. The picturesque market town of Ross-on-Wye (population 12,000) is the only town within the area. The boundary closely skirts the towns of Chepstow and Monmouth (about 10,000 residents each) and is only 4km from Hereford City (about 80,000 residents). It is only one hour's car journey to the cities of Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff and their associated conurbations.

27% of the AONB is woodland, of which two thirds is owned by the Government and managed by Forest Enterprise. Most of the rest of the area is in hundreds of private ownerships, except for a few significant sites owned by voluntary conservation bodies, including The Woodland Trust.

Agricultural land occupies 58% of the AONB and the great majority is in intensive production with only around 3% non-intensively farmed.

There are four National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and 45 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in the Wye Valley AONB. These represent the best and most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations in the UK with NNRs receiving the greatest protection.

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