Peckforton Castle and Sandstone Ridge - by Peter Styles, creative commons

A campaign is underway to designate the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Natural England announced the proposal today (June 24) alongside an ambitious new landscapes programme for the area which takes in villages such as Beeston, Peckforton, Burwardsley, Bunbury and Bickerton.

Proposals for new protected landscapes and improving access to nature are being announced today by Environment Secretary George Eustice and Natural England.

Cheshire Sandstone Ridge is one of two new AONBs being sought by Natural England. The other is the Yorkshire Wolds.

Eddisbury MP Edward Timpson has backed the campaign for the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge Trust in pushing for the designation.

A DEFRA commissioned review by Julian Glover called for radical action to make protected landscapes greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.

The Environment Secretary will set out Government plans to consult on proposals for National Parks and AONBs to work more closely and strategically together at a national level to boost job creation and access to the countryside, while retaining their local functions.

A new Farming in Protected Landscapes programme is also being launched, operated by National Parks and AONB bodies, and supported by Natural England.

The programme will provide funding for one-off projects which allow farmers and land managers in protected landscapes to support nature recovery, mitigate the impacts of climate change, provide opportunities for people to enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage, and support nature-friendly and sustainable farm businesses.

Edward Timpson MP said: “Running down the spine of Cheshire, the Sandstone Ridge has long been a treasured natural asset, with over a million visitors a year.

“As a regular Sandstone Trail walker myself, it’s exciting that—more than 60 years after it was first recommended as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty—the Ridge is being formally considered for such status.

“This has potential to not only protect and enhance its special environment, but also bring important investment along and around its route. I am proud to have been able to support the proposal to this stage, and will continue to do so!”

Andrew Hull, Chair of the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge Trust, said: “This is a watershed moment in seeking to ‘conserve, connect and inspire’ current and future generations in understanding and caring for this unique landscape and its diverse habitats.

“Reaching this stage of the rigorous designation process was testimony to the hard work of many, and I am keen to thank all stakeholders for their commitment, motivation and overwhelming support in contributing to this long-term strategic ambition.

“I would like to emphasise that there will be much work ahead as the Sandstone Ridge Trust continues the journey to ultimate AONB designation.”

Environment Secretary, the Rt Hon George Eustice MP, said: “We have an opportunity to create a new chapter for our protected landscapes.

“The work that we are going to take forward will contribute to our commitment to protect 30 per cent of our land by 2030, and boost biodiversity, while designating more areas of the country for their natural beauty.

“Our Farming in Protected Landscapes programme will provide additional investment to allow farmers to work in partnership with our National Park Authorities and AONB teams to improve public access.”

Julian Glover, who led the review, said: “Our national landscapes are the soul of England, beautiful, much-loved, and there for all of us, but they are also under pressure.

“We need to do a lot more for nature and more for people, too. Our report set out a plan for a brighter, greener future and I’m delighted that words are now being followed by action.”

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said: “Today’s announcement signals an ambitious step forward in growing our family of precious national landscapes, as well as protecting and improving the ones we have.

“One thing that has become very apparent recently, and especially during the pandemic, is the enormous benefit people get from having access to beautiful nature-rich landscapes.

“These can, however, be hard for many people to reach, thereby raising the question of how more can be done to bring nature and people closer together.

“On this, we see huge opportunities arising from the establishment of the England Nature Recovery Network, of which wilder national landscapes will be a vital part.

“As Government’s statutory landscape adviser, we look forward to continuing to work closely with Government, designated landscape bodies and stakeholders to deliver more for and through England’s diverse landscapes.”

A formal consultation response will be published later this year in 2021.

(Image Peckforton Castle and Sandstone Ridge – by Peter Styles, creative commons)

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