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The term “protected landscapes” is often used to describe national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs).
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 makes provision for the creation of National Parks and the establishment of a National Parks Commission; provides for the designation of national parks and the establishment and functions of national park authorities (including byelaw-making powers), as well as their relationship to planning law; confers powers on local authorities for the establishment and maintenance of nature reserves.
The Act established the Countryside Council for Wales whose functions have now been transferred to Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
The Act sets out how land can be designated as a National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Nature Reserve or Site of Special Scientific Interest. In Wales there are three National Parks:
- Snowdonia National Park (designation confirmed 18 October 1951);
- Pembrokeshire Coast National park (designation confirmed 12 February 1952);
- Brecon Beacons National Park (designation confirmed 17 April 1957).
The law governing the status and constitution of National Park Authorities is now set out in the Environment Act 1995.
The AONBs are areas designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value. The law in relation to AONBs is to be found in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which provides for the designation of areas which (not in a national park) are of outstanding natural beauty. The designation triggers obligations in relation to development plans, and allows for the making of access orders and the establishment of conservation boards.
There are currently five AONB’s in Wales:
- Anglesey AONB - Most of Anglesey’s coast, from South Stack in the west to Puffin Island in the east, is an AONB.
- Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB - The newest of the Welsh AONBs, at its heart is the Clwydian Range, a 21-mile chain of hills stretching from Prestatyn to Llangollen on the lively River Dee.
- Llŷn Peninsula AONB - The Llŷn Peninsula is a natural extension of Snowdonia. Around a quarter of the peninsula is an AONB which includes, unspoilt coastal scenery, long-extinct volcanic peaks and Iron Age forts.
- Gower AONB - Gower contains exceptional ecological and archaeological sites. Within a few miles of each other are three Nature Reserves, several Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the earliest known human burial site in Western Europe, Paviland Cave, where 34,000 year old remains were found.
- Wye Valley AONB - The entire length of the River Wye is a Site of Scientific Interest and the lower section of its valley, from Hereford to Chepstow via Tintern Abbey, is an AONB.
Statutory rights of access/coastal access
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 makes further provision for the recording, creation, maintenance and improvement of public paths and for securing access to open country, amends the law relating to rights of way and confers further powers for preserving and enhancing natural beauty.