Time to enjoy our AONBs… and perhaps have a ponder as to their future

The glorious rolling countryside of Dedham Vale

Spring, we trust, will soon be upon us and many from both within the county and beyond will be heading for the Essex countryside.
One of its greatest treasures is the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which north Essex shares with south Suffolk, so this is a good time to consider the role and indeed future of our AONBs.
Simon Amstutz, manager of the Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONBs team, gave a talk at October’s CPRE Essex AGM and we covered much of that here.
There were, though, some other reflections that it is worth sharing now.
Dedham Vale was the last AONB to be extended (in 1991) and Simon believes the quality of the surrounding landscape is good enough that it could grow yet further, perhaps towards the Colne Valley.
The team receive some money through Lottery and European funding and the final report from the Glover review into protected landscapes, published last year, challenged AONBs and National Parks to broaden their appeal to wider ethnic and social groups.
The view is that the work of teams such as that covering Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast and Heaths has to reflect the whole of the society that funds them.
Development should of course be sensitive to the natural environment, and the sometimes-neglected issue of colour is an important part of that, so the team have been talking about the issue.
This is alongside efforts to influence Local Plans, engage with volunteer groups, wildlife, landscape and recreation projects, make planning comments, promote sustainable tourism and apply for grants.
What might the future hold for our AONBs?
Boundary reviews are likely, while Simon, not unsurprisingly, believes funding needs to be increased.
Development pressures – whether land-, sea- or air-based – will increase, but the AONB team aim to be involved wherever possible. For example, they are pushing for quieter tarmac to be used in the proposed improvements to the A12.
The Glover review gave Simon hope, and he believes that what we at CPRE Essex see as important will be seen as important by more and more people, but one of his overriding wishes is to see AONB status strengthened, with designation made simpler and quicker.
All who enjoy Dedham Vale – and indeed any of our AONBs – will raise a glass to that.