Natural England - How are landscapes protected?

How are landscapes protected?

Landscapes are protected by a range of mechanisms including statutory and non-statutory designations, national planning policies and European conventions.

Northumberland National Park boundary stone

Statutory designations

Nationally important landscapes are protected through legislation. Following post-war movements to protect the countryside, areas in England and Wales were given protective designation under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

This act set out to conserve and enhance certain areas for their natural beauty, with areas designated either as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Approximately 23% of England is currently protected by one of these two designations, the purposes of which are supported by strategic management plans prepared by the lead local authorities.  The importance of the designations have been noted from the outset through the planning system, most recently through the National Planning Policy Framework.

More detailed information on Natural England’s role and the status of protected landscapes can also be accessed via this website.

The legislative system in England and Wales is supported by international guidelines and sharing of experience of designation management through fora like IUCN and Europarc Federation. The England and Wales designation system for National Parks and AONBs is recognised as falling within the parameters of IUCN’s Category V Protected Landscape definitions.

The statutory duties/powers for designating new National Parks and AONBs in England and reviewing existing boundaries reside with Natural England.

National Park and AONB designation often coincides with other designations to conserve and enhance natural and cultural environment attributes (other designations are introduced in our Designated Areas section.)

Non-statutory designations

Heritage Coasts are identified for the national purposes of conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the coastline, its terrestrial and marine flora and fauna, and heritage features.  They also have objectives to:

  • facilitate and enhance the public’s enjoyment of these resources
  • maintain and improve the environmental health of inshore waters affecting Heritage Coasts and their beaches.

In delivering these objectives account must be taken of the needs of land management activities and local communities.

Heritage Coast definition currently extends across a third of the English coastline, often running in tandem with National Park and/or AONB designation (but not always) in 32 defined areas.

An important tool for conserving and enhancing Heritage Coasts is having supportive policies in Local Planning Authority development plans.  89% of our Heritage Coasts (by coastline length) fall within National Park or AONB designation and will be incorporated within the designation management plans.

World Heritage Sites (WHS) are places of international importance for the conservation of our cultural and natural heritage.  The Dorset and East Devon WHS (also known as ‘The Jurassic Coast’) is the only site in England that has been designated primarily for its natural features.

There are also a number of arrangements in place to support the management of the historic environment.


Government planning policies and regulations provide a range of measures to help support the management and protection of our landscapes.  See Landscape and the planning system for further information on areas covering our interests.

The International Context

European Landscape Convention: The UK is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention which promotes landscape protection, management and planning.  Natural England is undertaking a range of activities in support of the Convention in England, both in terms of its own day to day activities and in supporting others in their implementation.

IUCN designation categorisation: England’s National Park and AONB designation system is recognised as meeting the parameters set down for IUCN’s Category V listing “Protected Landscape/seascape: protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation”.  For further information on Category V and other protected area listings visit the IUCN websiteexternal link.

Further information