Case Study

An AONB (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) evaluation of the Management Plan Review process

Contact name

Marie Micol

Institution name

National Association for AONBs

Region & country

United Kingdom


By law, in the UK, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and their Partnerships must review their Management Plans every 5 years, and this process is important for local teams to set out the priorities for their area and help partners deliver their statutory requirement to conserve and enhance this area.
As part of the personal and professional development programme for AONBs, ‘Taking the Lead’, a group of 5 AONB staff formed a Topic Working Group (TWG) to undertake a national evaluation of the Management Plan review process, to uncover what works and what does not, and what key actions the network of AONBs should focus on, to make the process more efficient, ensuring greater future collaboration between AONBs and their partners.

AONBs England,Wales & Northern Ireland

Background of the project

‘Taking the Lead’ was a professional and personal development programme implemented between 2018 and 2019. The main objective was to develop national collaboration of staff across the AONB teams, through understanding of behaviours of oneself and of others, communication preferences, and through the delivery of tangible outputs by TWGs.

With many pressing challenges facing the AONBs, the Management Plan was seen by AONB staff as a crucial tool to help prioritise and manage AONBs in a way that helps tackle these challenges, including improving collaboration between AONBs. Therefore, it was essential to spend effort evaluating the process and, as required, making it better.

Solution and actions taken

The TWG decided to evaluate the process to uncover what goes well during a Management Plan Review, what went less well and what can be improved, as well as what actions can be taken forward nationally. This would lead to better identification of shared priorities with the aim of increased collaboration.

The TWG interviewed Lead Officers from all AONBs in England and Wales and analysed their answers, in order to uncover the highs and lows of the Management Plan Review process. They produced a summary presentation, made available to all AONB staff, and are now looking to expand their research to other organisations that produce Management Plans, to further investigate what works or doesn’t work in their Management Plan Review processes.

Other institutions or parties involved

Odyssey Learning and Development (a consultancy in organisational and behavioural change) was contracted to deliver the ‘Taking the Lead’ programme, which included facilitating the setting up of TWGs and their first few meetings as groups. TWGs have expressed how important this facilitation was to get them started and to maintain momentum and coordination, especially at the start.


The network of AONBs is yet to address the recommendations of the TWG (a set of 9 proposed actions). However, the National Association for AONBs is now developing a new programme of collaborative activities, which will build on these outcomes and will undoubtedly take some of the recommendations forward. The Designated Landscapes Review going on in the UK will also shape our future response with the future role of Management Plans very much under consideration.


The main difficulties were communication across a large geographic area and resource issues with trying to do this work on top of the day job. The initial TWG comprised 7 members but 2 had to withdraw due to these issues. As AONBs span both England and Wales there are different legislative and policy drivers. However, considering these differences the key issues raised were remarkably similar.

Lessons learned

The TWG found that, overall, the Management Plan review process was considered fit for purpose, but that there are areas for improvement. They notably highlighted the importance of community engagement and data/evidence. More consistency and incorporation of common material nationally (incl. monitoring measures), as well as guidance from relevant authorities, could help make the process simpler, more efficient and better demonstrate synergies.

Contact name

Marie Micol

Institution name

National Association for AONBs



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