A brief history of the AONB designation in South Devon

Early background: a South Devon National Park?

  • In 1931, the South Devon coastline was identified as a potential national park in the Addison Report commissioned by the government of the day.

  • By 1945 South Devon had lost its place on the national park short list. A report on National Parks in England and Wales proposed South Devon instead as one of a number of 'other amenity areas otherwise deserving and requiring special concern in order to safeguard their landscape beauty'.

  • This proposal was further developed in the 1947 Report of the National Parks Commission which recommended that the South Devon Coast be designated one of 52 'conservation areas ... in England and Wales, selected for their outstanding landscape beauty.'

  • The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act laid the statutory framework for designating these areas - by this time re-named Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The AONB designation programme rolled out from the mid-1950s, with priority given to the protection of the South West coastline.

Statutory designation: a new AONB

  • Informal negotiations and surveys for South Devon took place between 1954 and 1956; formal consultations followed in 1958. The emphasis in the early reports had been to protect the South Devon coast, but by the time of designation other inland areas had been added at the request of the local authorities and the word 'coast' had been dropped from the title.

  • As a result, the 85 square miles of coastline originally proposed in the 1947 National Parks Commission report were increased to 128 square miles by the successive additions of the mid-Avon valley, Staddon Heights (overlooking Plymouth Sound), Churston Ferrers (between Brixham and Paignton) and the Gara Valley near Slapton.

  • The notice of intention to make a Designation Order was advertised in March 1959. Four representations were received, resulting in Torr Quarry near Kingsbridge being deleted from the designated area. The legal Order was duly made on 10th September 1959 and confirmed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government on 2nd August 1960.

The AONB boundary under review

  • There is no recorded statement or citation setting out a clear rationale for the designation and boundary. It was not until 1993 (33 years after the designation order was confirmed) that a detailed description of the AONB landscape was first published.

  • A review of the AONB boundary was commissioned at the same time. That review concluded that the boundary was 'generally in an appropriate location' but recommended two changes. One was to extend the seaward boundary outwards from the mean high water mark to the mean low water The other was to delete an area of recent residential development at Brixham from the AONB. The report also recommended that no inland additions should be made to the AONB, but that local landscape designations such as Area of Great Landscape Value should be used instead to form a 'buffer' around the AONB.

  • These recommendations for AONB boundary change were not pursued however. The foreshore and off-islands such as the Great Mew Stone at Wembury and Burgh Island therefore remain excluded from the designated area.

Early AONB management

  • The first countryside management service for the area was established in 1986, not for the AONB, but for the South Devon Heritage Coast, following the Heritage Coast designation in 1984. It was funded by Devon County Council, South Hams District Council and the then Countryside Commission.

  • A Joint Advisory Committee for the AONB was set up in 1992, an AONB Officer was appointed in 1997 and the first AONB Management Plan was published in the same year. A governance review in 2002 led to the formation of a new AONB Partnership and Staff Unit from 2003.