Designated Landscape Status

Designated Landscape Status for the Cambrian Mountains

Sefydlu Ardal o Harddwch Naturiol Eithriadol

cambrian mountains aonb designation cwm elan

The Cambrian Mountains Society campaigns for the Cambrian Mountains region to be legally designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or “AONB”.  An AONB is a designated exceptional landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are precious enough to be safeguarded in the national interest. But they are not “open air museums”, stifling all change.  AONBs are dynamic, living landscapes that underpin the economy, health and wellbeing of Wales.  Yet, while North and South Wales each have several National Parks and AONBs, the glorious upland landscape of Mid-Wales remains bafflingly unrecognised.

We believe the time has come to give the Cambrian Mountains the designation they so clearly deserve.

How would AONB designation help?

Unlike a National Park, an AONB first and foremost serves the local community and helps to promote the local economy.  An AONB would provide a range of benefits including:

  • A valuable brand to improve recognition for local businesses and products;
  • A mechanism to bring more investment through the Sustainable Development Fund into our area to support and stimulate new businesses and help existing ones develop further;
  • A sponsor for large-scale management projects, including helping farmers work collaboratively to get grants under the Sustainable Management Scheme;
  • A leader to identify and manage conservation work both to preserve our cultural heritage like chapels and mines and for the biodiversity of peatlands, woodlands and rivers;
  • A provider of training for locals in new and additional skills like horticulture and hedge-laying;
  • A focus for Community projects like tree planting and controlling invasive non-native species.

AONB status would ensure that a long term, coherent plan addressing the multiple issues which affect the Cambrian uplands and their communities would be prepared and its implementation overseen by a partnership including representatives of:

  • the county councils of Carmarthenshire, Ceredgion and Powys,
  • Natural Resources Wales and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water,
  • landowners and managers such as the Elan Valley Trust,
  • local communities,
  • the tourist industry and other local business organisations such as Chambers of Commerce and the Cambrian Mountains Initiative,
  • third sector organisations such as the RSPB and National Trust, and
  • other stakeholders such as the farming unions.

Only through such an overarching management plan can the complex set of challenges our uplands face be properly addressed.

Link: CMS Proposal for Designation of the Cambrian Mountains


What do we mean by natural beauty?

“Natural beauty” is a complex and multifaceted concept that is concerned with landscape in its broadest sense. It relates primarily to unspoiled, but not necessarily extensive, rural landscapes that are largely free from the effects of disfiguring development or urbanisation.

Although it of course includes flora, fauna, geological and physiographic features, it applies not only to landscapes where nature is dominant but also to those such as the Cambrian Mountains which have been shaped and nurtured by human activities.

People perceive and appreciate “natural beauty” through all their senses, responding to many different aspects of the landscape, including its distinctive character, its aesthetic qualities, the presence of wildlife, its cultural and historical dimensions and its perceptual qualities such as tranquillity, remoteness and a sense of freedom.

AONBs represent some of Wales’ finest landscapes, which for generations have been considered special. The interaction between human communities and their environment has created landscapes that are not only visually stunning, but are also a physical record of human activity.

Gower was the first area to be designated as an AONB, in 1956. Since Gower, a further 4 AONBs have been designated in Wales and 37 in England, with the Wye Valley AONB straddling the two countries. Their sizes and characters vary enormously, from the Isles of Scilly at just 16 square kilometres, to the 2000 square kilometres of the remote North Pennines.

The Welsh Government provides core funding through Natural Resources Wales, based on the particular AONB Management Plan. These plans are reviewed every 5 years. The priority for funding is the setting up of AONB partnerships, staff units and the delivery of core functions for which grant aid of up to 75% is available. Local authorities normally make up the remaining 25% of costs.

Do the Cambrian Mountains qualify?

This is an easy one! Just consult LANDMAP, the Welsh national information system, devised by the Countryside Council for Wales, for taking landscape into account in decision-making.

LANDMAP separates the landscape into five Aspects:

  • Geological Landscape: this is the study of the geology, geomorphology and hydrology of the area.
  • Landscape Habitats: looks at the distribution of vegetation and habitats and the basis for landscape ecology.
  • Visual & Sensory: this aspect identifies those landscape qualities that are perceived through the senses. It deals with the individual physical attributes of landform and land cover, as well as their visual patterns of distribution and sensory characteristics, and the relationships between them in a particular area.
  • Historic Landscape: focuses on how archaeological and historical sites relate to each other and to the surrounding landscape.
  • Cultural Landscape: this considers the relationship that exists between people and places; how people have given meaning to places, how the landscape has shaped their actions and their actions have shaped the landscape.

For further details of LandMap Visual & Sensory Assessments click here

Cambrian Moutains Landmap

As this map of Overall Assessment shows, the Cambrian Mountains are overwhelmingly Outstanding or High quality landscape – a shoe-in for designation.

Purposes of AONB Designation

Primary purpose

The primary purpose of AONB designation was defined by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2006 as aiming to “foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the area”.  In other words, although designation clearly advertises the beauty of an area to all and sundry, it does so not for the benefit of the world at large but as a means to sustain the local communities themselves.


Subsidiary purposes

Subject to the primary purpose, and AONB must also have regard to

  • “conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area of outstanding natural beauty, and
  • increasing the understanding and enjoyment by the public of the special qualities of the area of outstanding natural beauty”

But unlike a National Park, these objects do not make visitors’ interests paramount.  Visitors are welcome for the benefit they can bring to local communities whilst learning about and enjoying the special qualities of the area.

Criteria for AONB selection

The criteria for designation are, in order of importance:

  1. Quality of landscape, natural beauty, unspoilt or special quality (e.g. remoteness), of national significance;
  2. Extent in terms of both area and continuity;
  3. Unusual character in the sense of having unique characteristics.

The ‘special qualities’ referred to are those qualities which set the proposed AONB apart from the surrounding countryside. They are therefore those qualities which give the AONB its national significance. Special qualities are usually the result of a number of landscape features or landscape character areas combining or contrasting with each other to contribute to a continuous, area-wide and distinctive sense of place. They include qualities such as tranquillity, remoteness, sense of openness/grandeur/intimacy, in which the Cambrian Mountains abound.


Management of AONBs

In landscape terms, AONBs are considered as important as national parks. The most important difference between national parks and AONBs is in their management. National parks have their own National Park Authorities, which are local authorities in their own right and have their own planning, development control functions and other executive powers. AONBs, on the other hand, are managed within the context of existing local authority structures, usually through “Partnerships”, which bring together interested parties and encourage a strong sense of ownership to care for the area. Partnerships include:

  • the relevant Local Authorities;
  • Natural Resources Wales;
  • “Section 85 Organisations” – statutory undertakers, private utilities, and government departments/agencies;
  • land owners and managers – farmers and foresters, recreation and tourism providers, conservation managers, commoners and their associations;
  • business, commerce and industry;
  • voluntary organisations – community groups and organisations with an interest in landscape, wildlife, history and archaeology, recreation and access, rural economy and development.

Each Partnership is legally required to prepare an AONB Management Plan, which is reviewed every 5 years and implemented by a dedicated Staff Unit. The Welsh Government has emphasised that natural heritage should be integrated with the local needs for economic and social well being.  Our proposal for a Cambrian Mountains AONB stresses the importance of community participation at all stages and levels of AONB creation and management.


The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Guide to the current Welsh AONBs

AONB or National Park?

In 1965 the National Parks Commission decided that the Cambrian Mountains should be Britain’s latest National Park. In 1972 the Countryside Commission (NPC’s successor) made a National Park (Designation) Order for confirmation by the Secretary of State for Wales. But the Order was opposed, and in 1973 the Secretary of State announced his decision not to confirm the Order. One of the reasons put forward for the objections was that AONB status would be more appropriate.

The Cambrian Mountains Society considers that AONB status is currently the most appropriate designation for the area.

Benefits of a Cambrian Mountains AONB

  1. Sustainable Socio-Economic Development

The fundamental benefit of designation would be that it would contribute to the socio-economic development of the whole of the area to the advantage, above all, of the local community. It would achieve this in the following ways:

  • It would treat the economy and landscape as interdependent rather than alternatives, i.e., it will seek and promote forms of economic development that depend on the environment and which therefore require its conservation.
  • It would recognise that the core activity on most of the land is agriculture and furthermore that, despite the decline over the years, agriculture is still a significant source of employment. It would recognise that, as the Farmers’ Union of Wales said in responding to the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper in 2021  “grazing livestock [contribute] towards biodiversity and landscape management…. for example, species rich grasslands, peatland maintenance, soil organic carbon, mixed habitats and the variety of wildlife which rely on farmland
    being actively managed”. It would seek to maximise support for sustainable farming, encouraging and helping farmers to develop and market environmentally sound products (though there is as yet no automatic agri-environmental weighting in Welsh AONBs). It would also help farmers develop supplementary sources of income, and be an additional source of supporting evidence for appropriate applications for external funding.
  • It would have as part of its task the promotion and support of other forms of sustainable socio-economic development, e. g., appropriate recreational use of the area with support for those providing services in such activities. The “knock-on” effects of such developments have been clearly quantified in other parts of Wales and have been shown to be very significant.
  • It would attract outside financial funding, e.g.
    • Funding from outside agencies which the AONB would use to create its own grant schemes e.g. to support environmental, socio-economic, or recreational projects which further AONB aims;
    • Resources only afforded to designated areas in Wales e.g. for management and policing of off-roaders; proper management of public access (70% of the Cambrian Mountains are covered by open-access designations, but there is no overarching supervision of the public’s use of that privilege);
    • Core funding to set up and support the AONB’s own staff unit i.e. direct jobs. AONB status would instil certainty and confidence in the communities of the Cambrian Mountains, and a better understanding and appreciation of what farmers and land managers contribute to the economy. Farming and other land-based enterprises would once more be seen by young local people as rewarding careers, contributing to the conservation of landscape, fighting climate change, managing wildlife and historic features.


FUW Agricultural White Paper Response March 2021

NFU Cymru Vision for Welsh Upland Farming 2020

  1. Environmental Benefits

Use of direct and indirect AONB funding to conserve and enhance the landscape of the Cambrian Mountains through promotion of sustainable socio-economic development, could also deliver environmental benefits. AONB status, and the funding which an AONB would seek to further its work, would:

  • increase the area’s environmental integrity, by encouraging and supporting consideration of issues at a catchment or landscape level, and a holistic approach to the management of land in the Cambrian Mountains, regardless of administrative boundaries or other designations;
  • help to deliver Biodiversity Action Plan targets for habitats and species;
  • offer remedies for environmental and archaeological damage caused by past activities such as blanket afforestation;
  • safeguard the remote quality which is one of the most distinctive features of the Cambrian Mountains, and encourage UK residents to value and experience that quality, rather than seeking it overseas at a higher cost to the global environment.
  1. Perception

One of the issues facing the Cambrian Mountains and its communities today is a lack of certainty as to the region’s overall status, and even boundaries.  Designation would bring significant changes in perception of the Cambrian Mountains – both internally and externally.

  • Internal Change in Perception
    • Designation would confer status and importance on the Cambrian Mountains, recognising that they are a significant and unified entity.
    • It would place local people at the heart of planning for the future of the area.
    • It would ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach to landscape & environment throughout the Cambrian Mountains, regardless of planning authority boundaries, and avert problems such as  proposals by Powys County Council to remove Special Landscape Area status from its western uplands, whilst Ceredigion retains SLA status for its adjoining eastern uplands.
    • Designation would be a clear demonstration of the Welsh Government’s commitment to its responsibilities:  a) to recognise landscapes in law, as an essential component of people’s heritage, identity and surroundings; b) to establish and implement landscape policies aimed at landscape protection, management and planning; c) to establish procedures for public participation in the definition and implementation of landscape policies; d) to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and in its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies as well as in any other policies with possible direct or indirect impact on landscape; e) to protect, manage and plan landscapes.
  • External Perception
    • It would raise the profile of the region for tourists, increasing opportunities for small-scale sustainable enterprises. Benefits would apply not just to the Cambrian Mountains, but also to the communities round the fringes.
    • It would permit the creation of a Cambrian Mountains “brand” for local food and other products sold within and outside the area – wild, natural, green etc.
  1. Confidence

The creation of an AONB in a previously neglected area would raise self-confidence and encourage the further development of latent entrepreneurial skills within the local population.

  1. Delivering a Strategy for the Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrian Mountains Society believes that an AONB would provide an appropriate and clearly defined framework and structure within which a Strategy can be quickly developed and implemented.

  • The purposes of AONB designation mirror the needs of the Cambrian Mountains.
  • AONB status is familiar, widely recognised and understood, and provides over 40 existing examples, and 50 years of experience, from which Best Practice can be extracted and applied in the Cambrian Mountains.
  • AONB management structures provide a ready-made but flexible template, in which the roles of all stakeholders are recognised. Following AONB designation, rapid progress could be achieved in setting up these structures.
  • The critical importance of a Management Plan is given statutory recognition within AONB status.
  • Long-term core funding – for the setting up and running of Partnerships and other representative bodies, and of a Staff Unit, and for preparation of the Management Plan – would automatically become available as a result of AONB designation. Funding would not be dependent on short-term, project-orientated grants.
  • An AONB would give clear public recognition to the importance of the Cambrian Mountains, by defining a geographical area, which would be marked in such widely-used publications as road atlases, and on the ground by road and other signage.
  1. Contributing to the fulfilment of national and sub-national plans and strategies

A Cambrian Mountains AONB would contribute to the realisation of essential local, regional and national objectives:

  • Managing the environment as a whole, taking account of its distinctive characteristics;
  • Contributing to sustainable development by protecting landscapes, enhancing habitats;
  • Encouraging spatially targeted integrated programmes that deliver environmental and economic benefits and conserve natural resources.