South Devon National Landscape

South Devon National Landscape
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Green is the colour of the South Devon National Landscape

First designated in 1961 as the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the South Devon National Landscape covers an area of 337 square kilometres, or 130 square miles, and stretches from Berry Head in the east to the outskirts of Plymouth in the west, and to points in the north such as Avonwick, Ashprington and the borders of Brixham.

One of the 46 AONBs to be found in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the area is protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, intended to conserve and enhance its natural beauty.

Under the Act it is the responsibility of Natural England to both assess and designate an area as an AONB and to give advice to local planning authorities on development proposals within an AONB.

The same Act requires the relevant Local Authority to ensure all decisions ‘have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of an AONB’, and in taking any decisions or undertaking any activities the Authority must consider the potential effects those will have within the AONB and the land outside its boundary.

The Local Authority is able to delegate authority to an AONB Partnership to both manage the AONB and create a management plan.

Here in South Devon the AONB Partnership Committee exists to provide a strategic lead in the protection, conservation and enhancement of the South Devon AONB, and consists of 18 representatives, including the relevant Local Authorities, Natural England, the Environment Agency, The National Trust, Field Studies Council, Plymouth University, and Community representatives for the landowning or farming community, the business community, parish councils, community or voluntary organisations, professional environmental NGOs, the tourism sector, amenity groups and an estuary and marine representative.

The South Hams Society is represented on the Committee by the amenity groups community representative. The current AONB Management Plan can be found here.

The South Devon AONB itself is a long-lived-in landscape of rolling farmland, open hilltops and hidden valleys, linked together by an ancient network of routeways and dissected by Ria estuaries (drowned river valleys), combe valleys and a network of associated rivers and streams, and despite the best efforts of developers, the South Devon AONB still offers many outstanding, uninterrupted views and areas of high tranquillity.

Almost three-quarters of the area is farmed, just under 9% is woodland. There are six Special Areas of Conservation to be found within, overlapping or immediately adjacent to its boundary. It is home to 18 Sites of Special Scientific Interest including two National Nature Reserves, with almost two thirds of these sites extending beyond the AONB boundary. There are 384km of public rights of way, 331km of public footpaths, 38km of public bridleways and 15km of byways. And the area has 58 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 1,317 Listed Buildings, 7 Registered Historic Parks and Gardens, 39 historic Conservation Areas and 4 Protected Wreck sites.

The ten special qualities that define our AONB are as follows:

the fine, undeveloped, wild and rugged coastline;
the Ria estuaries (drowned river valleys), steep combes and a network of associated watercourses;
the deeply rural rolling patchwork agricultural landscape;
the deeply incised landscape that is intimate, hidden and secretive away from the plateau tops;
the iconic wide, unspoilt and expansive panoramic views; a landscape with a rich time depth and a wealth of historic features and cultural associations;
a breadth and depth of significant habitats, species and associated natural events;
an ancient and intricate network of winding lanes, paths and recreational routes;
areas of high tranquillity, natural nightscapes, distinctive natural soundscapes and visible movement;
a variety in the setting to the AONB formed by the marine environment, Plymouth City, Torbay, market and coastal towns, rural South Hams and southern Dartmoor. The five estuaries, those of the Yealm, Erme, Avon, Salcombe-Kingsbridge and Dart, are one of the defining features of the South Devon AONB, each treasured by their local community.

These are qualities we should all celebrate, value, treasure, and work to protect because, once lost, they will be impossible to replace.

Other images
New Bridge, Bowcombe Creek
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Emperor Lakes near Loddiswell
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The Boat House at Bantham
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Hallsands shows the impact of storms and rising sea levels