New AONB Chair

At the end of September we said goodbye to our Chair of the last 3 years, Steve Mulberry and welcomed our new Chair Dr Eirene Williams.

“ I am proud to have been appointed Chair of the North Devon AONB Partnership after two years as Vice-Chair, and to be supported by Vice-Chair Martin Batt and the AONB staff team. For those of you that do not know me, my recent background is in lecturing in countryside management and in beef farming. I was born and have always been based in North Devon, specifically Croyde, so I have experienced the tourism pressures of the last two years first hand. As my esteemed predecessor Steve Mulberry said during the pandemic "Our cherished coast and countryside has proved a particular comfort for so many over the last months" but AONB Partners report both positive and negative aspects of this for our AONB especially by the coast. And this is only one of several issues concerning the AONB as I am finding out.

Two pleasant duties involve chairing our panels which award grants for projects that benefit the AONB: the longstanding Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) and the new Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL). The latter has taken up a great deal of staff and volunteer time this year as it is a new and complex national scheme but intended to benefit climate, nature, people and place. Ten FiPL projects have been approved so far.  In this context the local Nature Recovery Plan, led by the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and with its five habitat action plans, is important to our AONB and the AONB Partnership has endorsed it at its June meeting. 

As Chair I have begun to relate to the National Association of AONBs (NAAONB) and the recent "Nature Positive, Carbon Negative" conference focused on the potential AONB remit for addressing climate change. This included engaging all sorts of people with the living and working landscape that is an AONB, and  not seeing it as a museum, whilst waiting for the government to decide what to do as a result of the Glover Landscapes Review and absorbing the impact of the recent Environment Act. Whether or not the 46 AONBs in UK are counted wholesale towards the "30% of the land conserved by 2030" target, the intention in the title of the conference remains relevant even though our AONB is one of the smallest.

Sometimes less pleasant is the job of the AONB's Planning Panel which responds to planning applications likely to impact the AONB, of which there are increasing numbers. Frustratingly rather often the AONB response does not sway the planning authority’s decision.  Not being a professional planner myself, I am learning from the AONB staff and consultants what ‘material considerations’ need to be identified and emphasised, but as the AONB Partnership is not  (as yet ?) a statutory consultee this may still not have much influence.

So I am learning and aspiring to fulfil the job description of the Chair of the Partnership and to help to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty’ of our AONB"

Dr Eirene Williams

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