Annual Conference 2023 - Invested and Investing in Landscape: Who, why, how

Location: University of Bath, UK

Conserving and enhancing the nation’s finest landscapes doesn’t just happen. It needs investment: investment of time, energy, and funding. This year's conference will explore what it takes to secure these investments, through volunteering, campaigning, and navigating the complexities of the new world of green finance.

Conference Hosts


Tuesday 5th

Welcome to the AONB Annual Conference 2023

  • Chair's welcome: Philip Hygate, National Association for AONBs
  • Welcome from our host AONBs
  • Platinum sponsor's address - National Grid
  • Setting the scene: John Watkins, National Association for AONBs
  • Networking, coffee and exhibition

Keynote session: Disrupt
Delegates heard from a range of speakers who set the scene for this year's conference:

  • Andy Middleton, The TYF Group
  • Guy Singh-Watson, Riverford Organic Farmers
  • Rosie Hails, National Trust

Panel discussion

Discussion with our keynote speakers


Workshop session: Discuss

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

  • Green finance 101. Caleb Wheeler-Robinson and Jasmine Yim, Finance Earth, and Naomi Conway, National Parks Partnerships
  • Next generation investment: the value of education services. Jane Latawski, Chichester Harbour AONB
  • Accessing the national landscape. Polly Martin and Jennifer Manning, National Trails UK
  • Stakeholder engagement and mobilisation. Kathryn Machin, WWF-UK
  • The new National Lottery Heritage Fund 10-year strategy. Richard Bellamy and Elle Potter, NLHF
  • Building Trust(s): The opportunities and complexities of trusts and friends groups. Melodie Manners and Emma Browning, Cornwall AONB

Fringe sessions

Fringe sessions are your chance to get your choice of topic on the agenda. This year's fringe sessions are:

1. Investing in green infrastructure and nature’s recovery – Bath and North East Somerset
Sarah Jackson, Bath and NE Somerset Council

Whilst the Council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy has been guiding delivery of green infrastructure for over 10 years, the need for well planned, designed, and managed GI has never been greater in responding to the climate and ecological emergencies. B&NES landscape forms an integral part of its sense of place and character. Protecting and enhancing this character influences the identity and approach of our strategic green infrastructure projects that include Bathscape and Chew Valley Reconnected. Working within protected landscapes and connecting landscapes we are developing and delivering partnership programmes to benefit people, place and nature. The session will provide an overview of some of our current work reflecting on what has worked well and challenges we have yet to address.

2. The Farming/Land Use Community of Practice
Tom Munro, Dorset AONB, and Melanie Peddle, NAAONB

A question that the newly formed AONB Farming and Land Use community of practice is grappling with. Come and share evidence and experience and test out of whether and how regenerative approaches can result in improved economic sustainability. Learn more about communities of practice and how they are helping us collaborate on policy and share expertise.

3. Natural England Update: Landscape Planning & Management Plan Guidance
Hazel McDowall, Natural England

Come and meet Natural England staff to hear the latest progress with the Landscape Planning Evidence contract that many AONB Partnerships have fed into and to hear more about next steps. There will also be an opportunity to hear about and discuss the latest version of the Protected Landscapes Management Plan Guidance.

4. Positive landscape outcomes for woodland planting in protected landscapes
A team from LUC, alongside Richard Hellier, Forestry Commission

LUC will review a variety of recent projects for Natural England, National Parks and other local authorities that illustrate how woodland planning strategies and tools can embed objectives to conserve and enhance landscape character.

Recent national and local policy changes promote extensive woodland creation. However, simple tree planting targets are not always appropriate and better outcomes are often allied with guidance on the amount, type, and location of trees appropriate to the receiving landscape. LUC has helped authorities considering new guidance on tree planting and woodland creation. The case studies will illustrate how the use of a range of different mapping tools, GIS data and visualisations can steer positive landscape outcomes for woodland planting, and take the principle of ‘right tree, right place’ into consideration to enhance sense of place.

Examples of projects include:

Natural England – A Review of Woodland Planning Strategies
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park - Tree & Woodland Siting and Design Guidance
Exmoor National Park – Visualising New Tree and Woodland Opportunitites
Great Northumberland Forest – Landscape Research and Visualisations
Bath & North East Somerset – Woodland Planting Opportunity Mapping

5. The Access for All fund
Anna Glayzer, Defra

This session will take a look at the results of the first year of Access for All funding and offer a chance for AONB teams to give feedback, discuss, and share plans ahead of receiving year 3 funds. We will also discuss how Access for All and the work AONBs do to remove barriers to access sits within the wider context of the Government’s commitment for everyone to be within a 15 minute walk of a green or blue space.

6. Demonstration of AONB Field Survey apps, with Q&A
Adrian Silvertown, GIS Volunteer, NAAONB and Dedham Vale AONB

See real AONB field surveys demonstrated live, using these popular ArcGIS apps:
a) Survey123
b) QuickCapture
c) Dashboard
d) Field Maps

7. Comms Lead meet-up

Does what it says on the tin!

Evening meal: Barbecue overlooking the campus lake.

Wednesday 6th - Conference Outside the Classroom

BreakOUT: Conference Outside the Classroom: Deliberate
Our field trips focussed on the conference themes of:

- Building a community empowered to invest time
- Energy - campaigns and mobilising for change
- Money - innovative finance

Cotswolds National Landscape trip 1:Limestone Landscape Link (in partnership with the Mendip Hills AONB)

A field trip out to Folly Farm (Avon Wildlife Trust), a 250-acre nature reserve in the Chew Valley with spectacular views over Chew Valley Lake and the Mendips. The walk around the reserve will explain the Limestone Landscape Link (LLL) vision to improve the ecological connectivity between the Mendip Hills and Cotswolds and the wider ambition of the Big Chalk, that the LLL is part of. After lunch a short minibus journey will take you into the Somer Valley to walk a section of the Limestone Link footpath that links the two protected landscapes and three landscape scale green infrastructure projects (Bathscape, Somer Valley Rediscovered (SVR) and Chew Valley Reconnected). This will be followed by a site visit to see one of the SVR project greenspaces that is being restored for nature and a river project being led by Bristol Avon Rivers Trust. After light refreshments the minibus will return through Bathscape to the University.

Cotswolds National Landscape trip 2: The Cotswolds Down Project
Morning: The Cotswolds Down Project

The Cotswolds Downs covers 2,200 ha. This ELMS Landscape Recovery test and trial project sought ways to connect nature restoration and capital financing to develop new ways to facilitate, finance and manage natural capital creation through ecosystems recovery. Its 33 participating landowners represent a diverse set of land uses and interests, including dairy and beef farming, seed crops, forestry, equestrian, common land, commercial and residential. Professional participants in the project include PES buyers Wessex Water and Bath & Northeast Somerset Council, institutional investors Union Bancaire Privee and ADM Capital, and market intermediaries EnTrade and Avon Wildlife Trust.

Afternoon: Jamie's Farm

Jamie's Farm has a vision to transform lives through their unique residential programme built around their core elements of Farming, Family, Therapy and Legacy. They aim to achieve this by spreading their approach and enabling systemic change, by profoundly influencing the way the education system works, training teachers and other professionals in multiple sectors to engage more effectively with disadvantaged young people, as well as informing and supporting parents and society at large to enable all young people to thrive. Hear from Jamie Feilden (Founder and co-CEO) and Jake Curtis (co-CEO) about their work – their challenges and opportunities, and what it means to be operating in the Cotswolds National Landscape.

Cranborne Chase AONB

‘Chase & Chalke’ is a National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), £2.7m Landscape Partnership Scheme within Cranborne Chase AONB. With a raft of 20 projects covering natural, historic and cultural heritage, community engagement has increased immensely since the scheme began in 2019. Nearly 500 individuals have signed up to either take part in activities, attend events but moreover to undertake various training that has led to regular volunteering. Covid saw a halt in all our activities for a considerable time but since then, the numbers of people wanting to get involved have noticeably increased. To help achieve the original scheme outcomes, the NLHF has recently given the scheme a six month extension to the end of September 2024. Our knowledgeable and confident volunteers will lead you on a tour of their work and explain why they became involved. From surveying butterflies to making thatching spars; from investigating new LiDAR imagery to teachers receiving heritage training; from becoming a Dark-Sky Custodian to developing and leading guided walks; from creating poetry and silk flags; from recording memories of craftsmen and woman to producing a musical performance, the volunteers have enriched the AONB with their skills, artistry and endless commitment and enthusiasm.

Help us devise the best way to secure their legacy for the future; both for the AONB and for the volunteer community that has blossomed over the past four years.

Mendip Hills AONB trip 1: Cheddar Gorge and the visitor economy

Investing in the Visitor Economy; visit Cheddar Gorge, the most iconic site in Somerset and the Mendip Hills AONB. Compare visitors with tourists and the challenges of convening, enabling and delivering work with multiple stakeholders to make Cheddar the outdoor capital of the South West.

To understand visitor numbers around the gorge and across the AONB visitor counters have been installed. This trip will also include a focus on the practicalities of collecting visitor data from passive infra-red technology.

This trip will include a visit to the showcaves, mostly accessible on wide concrete surfaces, some steps involved.

For those that want to there will be an opportunity to walk to the top of the cliffs. This involves 172 steps up 'Jacob's Ladder' then a few hundred metres up a wide path.

Mendip Hills AONB trip 2: Community farming, adders and abseiling

In the morning

The Community Farm is a not-for-profit social enterprise based in the Chew Valley, on the edge of the Mendip Hills AONB. We are a nature-friendly, organic farm, working with a network of producers who share our ethics, to supply fresh, local and organic food to hundreds of households throughout Bristol, Bath, the Chew Valley, Frome and Weston-Super-Mare. Founded in 2009 and becoming a Community Benefit Society in 2011 we are owned by over 500 shareholders and governed by volunteers. Community is key to everything we do here at The Community Farm. We aim to grow community as much as we grow food. Here communities are the webs of life that are connected with The Farm. From the microbes in our soil to the birds in the hedges to our members and the people caring for our land, our habitats and growing our crops, to those buying, packing and delivering our boxes. Every year more than 1,000 people benefit physically and mentally from wellbeing courses, social events and volunteering sessions on our beautiful land.

In the afternoon

Investing in Species Recovery; visit a recently build adder hibernaculum and help with internal temperature and humidity monitoring. The hibernaculum is within rare limestone grassland that is being enhanced and all this is within the largest activity centre in the AONB.

Investing in adventure; over lunch in the Mendip Basecamp we’ll meet the Director to hear about how a new foundation is encouraging a diverse range of people into the adventure world, and the partnership between the company and the AONB Service.

At the end of the day there will be an optional abseil into the quarry used by the activity centre with a spectacular view. During this and for those not wishing to abseil there will be planning related discussions on development pressure across North Somerset.

North Wessex Downs AONB
Sparkling Streams – soil health, water quality and nature restoration across a whole catchment

This trip will take you from top to bottom of a chalk stream catchment: from high on the Wiltshire downs to the Kennet valley in Berkshire. First we’ll hear about the Southern Streams Farmer Cluster, a catchment-based group covering more than 25,000 acres that drain into the river Kennet. The group’s focus is on soil health, water quality, woodland management and biodiversity. We’ll get out into the fields to see regenerative farming techniques such as no-till arable, cover crops and livestock grazing adopted at the top of the catchment that improve water quality further downhill. Then we descend to the Pewsey Vale to see a new wetland and other measures designed to intercept and slow run-off from the downs with benefits for water quality, flood prevention and wildlife. We’ll hear about a variety of public and private delivery and funding mechanisms. After lunch at the farm we’ll make our way to Eddington to see a major river restoration work led by the Town and Manor of Hungerford as part of the Sparkling Streams project. Led by the river keeper, we’ll take a short walk beside 1,100m of new and enhanced chalk stream created here.

Quantock Hills AONB
An opportunity to visit Quantock Common, a 2,500Ha Site of Special Scientific Interest, to explore the history of landscape scale working from it being the first large scale Countryside Stewardship scheme in 2002 to more recent work through the Landscape Improvement Scheme to expand and join up the priority habitats. The day will explore how the AONB Service and partners have brought together different public and private funding streams to deliver landscape scale nature recovery work.

Wye Valley AONB

Explore the investment in the outstanding landscape of the lower Wye Valley from both a contemporary and historic perspective. The trip will visit: an 18th century landscaped viewpoint overlooking the Wye then as now owned by a benevolent private investor; hear about proposals to address excess Phosphate issues in Wye Catchment, bringing the landscape sectors, financial institutions and large corporates together; visit a One Planet Development smallholding – a unique Welsh policy initiative; meet volunteers who opened up the Wye Valley Greenway along a former railway; hear about AONB INNS management with volunteers, contractors & no-fence cattle; see Tintern Abbey, where the Cistercians built their first abbey in Wales in 12th Century.

Somerset Wetlands Super NNR

This trip is an opportunity to visit the Somerset Levels and Moors, one of the UKs largest and most diverse wetland habitats. See the work happening on the Somerset Wetlands National Nature Reserve, and learn about the partnership approach of the Nature Recovery Project to link and expand the area of wildlife-rich habitats. Staff from Natural England, Somerset Wildlife Trust and the RSPB will lead the visits, introducing you to the work taking place to recover nature in this landscape.

Conference dinner and presentation of The Bowland Award.

Thursday 7th

National Landscapes Question Time
This was delegates' chance to ask questions of our distinguished panel, which will be chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE:

- Tony Juniper, Natural England
- Polly Martin, National Trails UK
- Sion McGeever, Defra
- Carol Ritchie, Europarc Federation
- John Watkins, NAAONB

Networking, coffee and exhibition

Demonstrate and Do

Delegates were inspired by people who are working on shining examples around the conference themes:

- Carol Ritchie, Europarc Foundation
- Emma Callacott, WWF-UK
- Tony Juniper, Natural England
- William Hawes, National Parks Partnerships

Panel discussion
Delegates asked questions of our speakers.

The Finale

Closing remarks, conference reflections and where we go next