Suffolk/Essex: Extension bid for AONB takes big step forward

Saltmarsh and mudflats on the Stour Estuary at Copperas Bay, Essex

Saltmarsh and mudflats on the Stour Estuary at Copperas Bay, Essex

Hopes that the highly acclaimed and economy-boosting Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could be extended into Essex have been raised after a move by the Government’s environmental adviser Natural England.

A decision to start a formal process of consultation on the extension, which will bring a swathe of stunning landscapes on the southern shore of the Stour Estuary into the existing AONB, was revealed yesterday.

The candidate area for formal designation covers about 36 square kilometres and takes in parts of parishes that include Manningtree in the west, Mistley, Bradfield, Wrabness and Ramsey and Parkeston, near Harwich.

News of the potential extension comes hard on the heels of a major disappointment for conservationists. Strong recommendations for the Stour Estuary, along with the neighbouring Orwell Estuary, to be included in a tranche of new Marine Conservation Zones were recently rejected by the Government.

The AONB move was yesterday hailed by Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB chairman David Wood. “This is great news for the special landscape and economy of the south side of the Stour Estuary,” he said.

“We started the process to designate the area as an AONB some 20 years ago. This process will include full consultation with the many interests in the area. The current AONB is worth £234million per annum to the local economy. If the area does achieve AONB status it will ensure that the special landscape and its wildlife are protected for all.”

The board of Natural England had decided to press ahead with the process through a wide-ranging public consultation following evidence submitted to it over many years, culminating in an Evidence and Evaluation study submitted earlier this year, said Mr Wood.

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A statement from the existing AONB partnership said the candidate area comprised areas of tidal estuary, coastal farmland and woodland. If designated, the area would be “conserved for the nation as a special place”.

It would not mean the end of development or farming practices but it would ensure that all development in the area met the AONB criteria of conserving and enhancing a special place, the partnership added.

Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB manager Simon Amstutz said two meetings had already been held over the past 12 months in the build-up to making the formal extension request, involving organisations that included parish councils, the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union, and the response had been generally positive.

“There was some concern among land owners that mostly concerned farming operations but they have been assured that AONB designation would not impinge on their activities,” he said.

“We are the only AONB in the country that are having a formal review of our boundaries and so we think we are in pole position, although the process is likely to take two years to be finalised.

“The consultation will be with everyone who wants to be involved and the candidate area is not the final line – it is very much up for consultation and agreement.

“There are various stages to go through, including regulatory assessments and, ultimately, the decision rests with the Environment Secretary (currently Owen Paterson).”

The existing Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB extends from the Stour Estuary’s northern shore to the eastern fringe of Ipswich and north to Kessingland, covering 155sq miles.

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