Somerset AONBs will suffer an 89% cut in budget if Somerset County Council agree a proposed saving of £40,000 from their AONB budget of just £45,000.
The four Somerset AONBs; Blackdown Hills, Cranborne Chase, Mendip Hills and Quantock Hills currently each receive a contribution of 6% or less from SCC towards their Partnership budgets to deliver a wide range of activities to conserve and enhance the nationally designated landscapes.
Each AONB Partnership has recently produced a revised AONB Management Plan that will shortly be adopted by the local authorities as their statutory plans for the AONBs as required by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
Delivering an integrated approach to our protected landscapes is an on going challenge with the uncertainties of funding and the array of current and future issues that each AONB aims to respond to including demand for new development and renewable energy, the exploration of shale gases and a changing climate. Working in Partnership has never been so important.
SCC’s proposed cut to the AONB budget risks the future of Partnership working beyond March 2015 and the County’s ability to meet their statutory duty to have regard for the AONB.
The government have recognised AONB Partnerships ‘as the architects of a landscape scale approach to land management’. This approach is a key feature of the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper and emphasises the need to manage ecosystems in an integrated fashion, linking goals on wildlife, water, soil and landscape, and working at a landscape scale.
Mendip Hills AONB Manager Sarah Jackson said “all the AONBs are shocked by the severity of the proposed cuts by SCC as AONB Partnerships have been recognised by Defra and an independent report that they are extremely effective at securing external funding and delivering a wide range of projects including tourism, landscape restoration, and volunteering opportunities. Having already suffered local authority cuts of up to 40% we are all at a stage now where any further cuts will result in loss of services or no service at all that will impact on Somerset’s landscape, rural economy and communities”