Landscape beauty brings benefits to Dedham Vale and Stour Valley

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babe

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babergh District Council tourism development officer Tracey Brinkley, joint advisory committee chairman Nigel Chapman, National Association for AONBs chief executive Howard Davies, Lord Gardiner, partnership chairman Robert Erith and Prof Jules Pretty, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The finest examples of Britain’s green spaces - the protected landscapes that are nationally designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty - don’t just look good. They perform immensely important roles and offer vital services, from boosting local economies to improving people’s health and wellbeing.

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babe

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babergh District Council tourism development officer Tracey Brinkley, joint advisory committee chairman Nigel Chapman, National Association for AONBs chief executive Howard Davies, Lord Gardiner, partnership chairman Robert Erith and Prof Jules Pretty, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The finest examples of Britain’s green spaces - the protected landscapes that are nationally designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty - don’t just look good. They perform immensely important roles and offer vital services, from boosting local economies to improving people’s health and wellbeing.

Those were the key messages to emerge from last week’s Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum. The event, hosted by Robert and Sara Erith at their Shrubs Farm, Lamarsh, home, was entitled Outstanding Landscapes: Good for the Environment, Health and Economy. And forum delegates were presented with evidence to show that such cherished landscapes - and all other green spaces - are so crucially important for people’s health and wellbeing in particular that they provide what could be termed a Natural Health Service.

One of the forum’s key speakers was Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex, whose presentation was titled “The Links between the Environment and Good Health.” Highly acclaimed and long-running research carried out by Prof Pretty and the university’s Green Exercise Research Team has brought the issue to the forefront of environmental thinking - and his presentation made it abundantly clear that the links referred to in its title are incontrovertible.

There was a “clear evidence base” for the therapeutic benefits of being “in nature,” he said - and he presented statistics that graphically illustrated the need for those benefits. The cost to the NHS of caring for people with mental health issues was about £20billion a year. For dementia, the cost was about the same. For obesity the cost was about £5bn, for type-2 diabetes it was about £14bn and for the harmful effects of loneliness it was about £10bn.

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babe

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, from left, AONB manager Simon Amstutz, Babergh District Council tourism development officer Tracey Brinkley, joint advisory committee chairman Nigel Chapman, National Association for AONBs chief executive Howard Davies, Lord Gardiner, partnership chairman Robert Erith and Prof Jules Pretty, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Lack of exercise is a factor in the UK’s obesity crisis and Prof Pretty produced statistics that some forum delegates found surprising - and disturbing. Londoners, he said, walked an average of 292 miles per year and yet people in rural Suffolk walked an average of only 130 miles per year.

Research had established that “immersive attention” in nature was one of the key factors in the delivery of wide-ranging health benefits - and AONBs were well placed to help such delivery as about one million people lived within such designated areas and about 66% of the population lived within a half-hour’s journey of one.

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The stunning beauty and diversity of the UK’s protected landscapes was highlighted by another key forum speaker - Howard Davies, the chief executive of the National Association for AONBs.

Forged by the immense forces of geology over many millennia and each having its own character, the 46 AONBs covered about 8,000 square miles - some 15% of the area of England - and were managed by about 700 elected members who sat on AONB groups, he said. Each year there was a total of about £16.5bn worth of economic activity “in and around” the AONBs - in the case of the Dedham Vale AONB its management cost each inhabitant only about 20p per year.

Ben Bunting, right, of the Dedham Vale Vineyard, speaks to AONB Forum guests at the vineyard near Bo

Ben Bunting, right, of the Dedham Vale Vineyard, speaks to AONB Forum guests at the vineyard near Boxted - Credit: Archant

Conservative life peer Lord Gardiner, parliamentary under-secretary of state at Defra, was another key speaker. He asked delegates: “How can we fail to be uplifted by these extraordinary landscapes?”

The services provided by “these wonderful places” - which were “part of the essential fabric of Britain” - should always be recognised, he said.

There was a “shared ambition” to increase the numbers of annual visitors to AONBs as this would provide extra revenue for local businesses. “AONBs are deemed special, have national designation, and are also places where people live and work,” said the peer. “AONB partnerships need to support rural economies in a way that safeguards the very things that we want to protect. It is clear that people across the country feel passionately not just about this AONB but about all AONBs and National Parks. There is a very strong feeling in many people for the countryside and I do not want protected landscapes to be citadels around which the British countryside is fragmented and destroyed,” he said.

There was an “aspiration in Government” to enhance the environment and hand it on to future generations in better condition. The Government was producing a 25-year plan to achieve such an aspiration and, in the wake of Brexit, it’s Great Repeal Bill aimed to “bring back” all EU environmental legislation “so there is no cliff edge and there is certainty on the statute book.”

Mark Prina, of A Rocha UK, speaks to AONB Forum guests at Rocha's nature reserve at Foxearth, near S

Mark Prina, of A Rocha UK, speaks to AONB Forum guests at Rocha's nature reserve at Foxearth, near Sudbury - Credit: Archant

Lord Gardiner added: “Our stewardship will be judged by those who succeed us.”

After the forum, delegates went on tours of sites within the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley. Some toured the Dedham Vale Vineyard and others visited the Foxearth Meadows nature reserve, near Sudbury, which is managed by the A Rocha UK Christian environmental conservation organisation.