Annual Conference 2022 - The Nation's Landscapes? Peoples and Places


Location: Lancaster, UK

The northern AONBs were this year's hosts; they welcomed attendees and showcased a range of projects.

The theme for this year's conference was Engagement, in its widest sense. Speakers from inside the protected landscape network and the wider world talked about a range of subjects: ethnic minority communities, financial and social deprivation, young people, improving mental health, education, effective use of social media, farming, nature recovery and biodiversity. This encompased a multitude of different communities of people, hence 'peoples' (plural) in the conference title.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”

Depending on which bit of the internet you look at, that statement either came from Confucius or Benjamin Franklin, which is quite a stretch in terms of which one you opt for. Either way, it's the theme underpinning the Annual Conference 2022.

Consequently the programme was re-designed for 2022. Feedback from previous events shows just how much we all value the chance to exchange ideas, network and learn from our colleagues across the AONB Family, so we've created more time to do just that. There is more time for learning-by-doing, but that doesn't mean we've done away with learning-by-listening; delegates still heard from exceptional speakers to inspire and enthuse them. There was time to put questions to them, so delegates could really use what they heard when they got back to day-to-day working life.

Field trips are being brought the core of the conference, no longer an add-on tacked on before the main event. As Confucius/Franklin (allegedly) said, we learn better by getting involved, and being outdoors in our Conference Outside the Classroom is a highly effective way of doing that.

The net result was a programme that we hope will entice more people to attend in full. A conference about engagement has to engage with the audience for the entire thing, not just a day here or there.

Tuesday 13th September

Welcome to the AONB Annual Conference 2022:

  • Philip Hygate, National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Welcome from our Northern AONB hosts - Lucy Barron, Arnside & Silverdale AONB
  • Our Platinum Sponsor - National Grid
  • John Watkins, National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Networking, coffee and exhibition session

Keynote session: Perspectives - A range of speakers who set the scene for the conference:

  • Natalie Querol, Arts Council England
  • Amy-Jane Beer, Right to Roam
  • Anita Kerwin-Nye, YHA
  • Dr Geeta Ludhra, Brunel University London and The Chilterns AONB

Panel discussion - Discussion with our keynote speakers


The Bowland Award presentations - Delegates heard from each of the finalists of the Bowland Award ahead of voting during the afternoon networking break.

Learning and development session: Reflection

An afternoon of rolling up sleeves and getting stuck in - this session enabled delegates to develop their thinking after hearing from the morning's speakers:

  • Generation Green. Anita Kerwin-Nye, YHA.
  • Engaging people with climate crisis mitigation. The AONB Collaborative Group.
  • Utilising the Arts: Moving into action. Natalie Querol, Arts Council England.
  • Creating an effective TikTok video. Caroline Howard, Arnside & Silverdale AONB.
  • Rebranding: How to reposition your organisation. Ruth Colbridge, NAAONB.
  • Accessible and inclusive tourism. Two white girls talk diversity. Katy Owen, Norfolk Coast Partnership, and Catherine Bradley, Kent Downs AONB.

Fringe Sessions

Conference dinner and presentation of The Bowland Award

Wednesday 14th September

BreakOUT: Conference Outside the Classroom - Investigation

It's been scientifically proven that we retain information better when we're involved in the process of learning. In addition to conventional conference-style sessions, packed with high-quality speakers, our aim is for every conference attendee to grasp the opportunity to learn in nature.

Entirely in accordance with the Engagement theme, it's important attendees engage with other delegates, local AONBs and National Parks, and experts from inside and outside the protected landscape network. Taking people to out of the lecture theatre to learn in protected landscapes facilitates all of these activities. Rather than site visits being seen as an add-on to the 'serious' business of sitting listening, the programme was re-designed to make the Conference Outside the Classroom an essential part of the 2022 event.

All of our Conference Outside the Classroom trips focussed on engagement in its widest sense. There was a range of options covering different subjects in varied locations, catering for various levels of physical activity. Delegates met the people who are working with and engaging local communities on a day-to-day basis. The trips were collaborative and designed to get people talking and thinking.

Thursday 15th September

National Landscapes Question Time

Delegates had the chance to ask questions of our distinguished panel of speakers. The session was chaired by Elaine King from the Chilterns AONB:

  • Tony Juniper, Natural England
  • David Butterworth, National Parks England
  • John Watkins, Chief Executive of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Anjana Khatwa, Trustee, National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Siôn McGeever, Defra

Panel discussion.

Discussion with the speakers.

Networking, coffee and exhibition.

Action: The art of the Possible

  • Kerri Morrison, Freelance artist and researcher
  • Colin Stocker, Alpkit UK
  • Tony Juniper, Natural England

Panel discussion.

Closing remarks, conference reflections and where we go next


The Bowland Award

A huge thank you to all the AONBs who submitted entries for the Bowland Award, nominations were received from:

Anglesey AONB - Tech Tyfu - Menter Môn
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB - Active Woods Wales
Cotswolds National Landscape: Recognising Rebecca Jones' achievements
Forest of Bowland AONB: The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership
Kent Downs AONB: Diversity and Inclusion
Lincolnshire Wolds AONB: Lincolnshire Blow Wells - A part of our nature recovery
North Wessex Downs AONB: The Sparkling Streams Project
Northumberland Coast AONB: Accessing Aidan

As expected from the AONB family, standards were high and choosing three finalists took some time! Our finalists were...

Forest of Bowland AONB - The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership

Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership is an ambitious five-year programme of activity based around the heritage and landscape of Pendle Hill, led by the Forest of Bowland AONB and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Pendle Hill LP has been delivered via an integrated suite of 15 projects. The programme has provided opportunities for training and volunteering; restoration of important landscape features and habitats; improved access to the countryside; supported innovative research on ecosystems services and developed interpretation to inspire a new generation about their local landscape and heritage. This is all underpinned with the aim of engaging people from a wider range of communities and backgrounds; with a particular focus on South Asian and other ethnic minority communities, people with mental health and social isolation issues and young people.

Most of these projects have included ‘Gatherings’ that comprise a strong element of creative arts, bringing people together from both sides of the hill, building cohesion and creating shared points of view.

Kent Downs AONB - Diversity and Inclusion

The Kent Downs AONB has significantly strengthened our focus on Diversity and Inclusion in our recent Management Plan Review and all of our programmes and recent projects including sustainable tourism, countryside access, landscape partnerships, national research and farming support in protected landscapes. This focus has led to wide range of inclusivity and diversity measures, it has also led to a change in our organisational project planning and how staff plan and deliver all our projects and programmes.

This has been an important journey for all of our team and is beginning to show a real change on the ground. We recognise we have a long way to go and are grateful for the generous help and support we have had from experts, representatives, organisations and individuals with lived experience to take our first important steps on this journey.

Northumberland Coast AONB - Accessing Aidan

Bamburgh Heritage Trust is a small group of community volunteers working together to celebrate and treasure the stories of Bamburgh. They secured funding to deliver the ambitious ‘Accessing Aidan’ Project that:

Enabled access to the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh so that it now welcomes visitors every day.
Installed new interpretation in the crypt and the church to create a heritage space which explores the significance of Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh.
Utilised the extensive research done by Durham University and Bamburgh Research Project to tell the unique stories of the Anglo-Saxon skeletons excavated from the sand dunes and now interred in the newly created ossuary in the second crypt.
Created a 21st century digital ossuary, making all the skeleton analysis available digitally -
Delivered a varied and engaging activity programme which will bring new audiences and train local volunteers to support the heritage offer and sustain the project going forward.

On the Tuesday of the conference there were presentations from each of the three finalists, and they also all had a stand in the tea and coffee area. Delegates were able to visit them to hear more about their projects. Each AONB team were then given the opportunity to vote on which project they thought was most deserving of the Bowalnd Award this year.

And the winner was...

Northumberland Coast AONB - Accessing Aidan