Somerset County Council

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)


Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks were designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to protect their landscape value for present and future generations. There are three main purposes of designation: 

  • To conserve and enhance natural beauty 
  • To take account of the needs of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities 
  • To meet the demand for recreation provided it does not conflict with the other purposes and needs listed above  

Section 4 of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 confirms the significance of AONBs and clarifies the responsibilities of local authorities, the Countryside Agency and other organisations in respect of AONBs. These include a statutory requirement for local authorities to produce a Management Plan (to be revised every five years) for any AONB in their area, and a duty on all public bodies to have regard for the purposes of designation when carrying out their function.  

Please find below a summary and contact details for each of the AONBs in Somerset. For more information on Exmoor National Park  and the surrounding area please see their website.

Blackdown Hills AONB
The Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1991 in recognition of the special qualities of its natural and built environment. The Blackdown Hills are a group of hills lying on the border of Devon and Somerset. The area extends from Wellington in the north to Honiton in the South, and from Cullompton in the west to Chard in the east. The area covers 336 square kilometres, 110 square kilometres of which is in Somerset.

The Blackdown Hills AONB is managed by the Blackdown Hills Rural partnership. The Partnership comprises of local communities, local authorities, national agencies, voluntary and interest groups who are committed to implementing the Blackdown Hills Management Plan and delivering the Partnership mission.

Blackdown Hills AONB Office
St Ivel House
EX15 3SJ 
Contact no: 01823 680681  

Cranborne Chase AONB
Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is part of the extensive belt of chalkland which stretches across southern England. There are 983 square kilometres in total, of which 22.7 square miles are within Somerset. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is of great ecological importance and its protected sites contain ancient woodland, which includes remnants of the ancient Cranborne Chase hunting forest and the former Royal Forests of Selwood and Gillingham. 

The AONB is managed by a Partnership Steering Group. This is drawn from County and District Councils as well as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, English Heritage, Natural England, Government Office for the South West, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), National Farmers Union, and South West Tourism. Other working groups and a Technical Advisory Group guide and advise on the production of the AONB management plan.

The Cranborne and West Wiltshire AONB receives 75 per cent of its core funding from the Countryside Agency and the remaining 25 per cent from the local authorities, according to their percentage coverage of the area.

Cranborne Chase AONB Office 
Castle Street
BH21 5PZ 
Contact no: 01725 517417  

Opening hours - Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm, Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm, Saturday and Sunday Closed.

Mendip Hills AONB
The Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1972. The Mendip Hills cover a total area of 198 square kilometres with 121 square kilometres within Somerset. They rise to a high plateau around Priddy and Charterhouse, criss-crossed by drystone walls and rich in archaeological remains. The Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers the western and central area of the Mendip Hills range, it extends from Bleadon in the west to Chewton Mendip in the east. The area has two National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and many Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The Mendip Hills AONB Partnership brings together the five local authorities and others with a management interest to promote the vision for the AONB and implement the AONB Management Plan. The work of the Partnership is coordinated by the Mendip Hills AONB Unit whose web site and monthly e-newsletter includes updates on progress.

The Mendip Hills are popular for a variety of activities including walking, cycling, horse riding, caving, climbing and fishing. The Mendip Hills AONB Unit produces a variety of publications including walks and a Visitor leaflet that can be downloaded. The Mendip Hills online guide is available at

Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Charterhouse Centre
BS40 7XR 
Phone number 01761 462338

Quantock AONB
The Quantock Hills provides many opportunities for a wide range of activities including mountain biking, walking and horse-riding. There are extensive areas of open access land and a superb rights of way network. If you are planning to undertake any activity it is advisable to purchase the Ordnance Survey map of the area, Explorer 140 Bridgwater and the Quantock Hills.

If you are undertaking a group activity then please contact the AONB office to discuss and get the latest advice on routes and conditions. The AONB service runs an annual events programme of walks, talks and activities. If you want details please contact the AONB office. 

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) have been described as jewels of the English landscape and in terms of their landscape value are considered equal to that of National Parks. There are 36 AONBs in England, covering about 15 per cent of the English landscape. The smallest AONB is the Isles of Scilly covering only 16 sq km and the largest is the Cotswolds totalling 2,038 sq km.

The Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 99 square kilometres running north west from the vale of Taunton Deane to the Bristol Channel Coast. The Quantock Hills was England’s first AONB, being designated in 1956 (confirmed in 1957) and consists of large amounts of heathland, oak woodlands, ancient parklands and agricultural land.

Because of the special nature of the Quantocks, much of it is covered by a designation of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from the geologically interesting coastline to the maritime heathlands on the northern hills.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
Sites of Special Scientific Interest represent our best sites for wildlife and geology. Many are internationally important and play an important part in local culture and economies or provide wonderful opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife and landscape. Natural England is responsible for identifying and protecting SSSIs in England. They achieve this primarily in partnership with SSSI owners and managers, as a result the majority are in a good condition and well managed. Notification of a SSSI is primarily a legal mechanism to protect sites that are of particular conservation interest because of the wildlife they support or because of the geological features that are found there. 

Funding for the extensive project work undertaken by the AONB service comes from a variety of sources including Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Sedgemoor District Council, West Somerset Council, Local Heritage Initiative and Natural England.

This funds a core team of rangers and officers with support from voluntary rangers who undertake a variety of tasks defined by the Quantock Hills AONB Management Plan. 

Quantock AONB Office
Fyne Court
Phone number 01823 451884  

Office opening hours - 9am to 3pm Monday to Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Closed

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