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Island Hall Bridge

An Area of Outstanding Natural

Max Cashback

A few weeks ago, as part of my preparations for a walking holiday, I was flicking through a book itemising walks in the most beautiful areas of the country. The book was published by the AA and all of the expected favourites were there – the Lakes, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Downs. So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover that Godmanchester had been included in such illustrious company.

They had selected a walk from Huntingdon across Mill Common and Portholme to Godmanchester Lock. From there it continued over the Chinese Bridge to St Mary’s Church, past the Cricket Club, under the A14 to the old railway lines. Then it followed the route of the new cycle path to Hemingford Abbots and across Hemingford Meadow to Houghton and back along the river to the Avenue and Huntingdon.

Maybe it is true that familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then maybe a failure to fully recognise the beauty around us. However, on a warm summer’s evening, the peace and tranquillity to be found in the meadows of that walk, makes its inclusion in that book unsurprising.

Yet it was a surprise. Most of the other walks selected were to be found in either one of the National Parks or in An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. So what is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty? There are 41 of them in this country as well as 11 National Parks. They have been
created by the Countryside Agency in order to conserve their natural beauty, including the wildlife and cultural heritage of the area (my italics) The landscapes considered the most valuable in England and Wales are the ones designated National Parks or AONBs and they are protected and managed by law to maintain their special characters for future generations. It gives formal recognition of an area’s national importance and helps to protect the unique characteristics of the countryside. It allows for the development of communities and economic activity in ways that enhance the
character of the area. It reflects the need for integrated action to conserve the landscape through sustainable forms of environmental, social and economic development.

There are two AONBs in the Eastern Region, the North Norfolk Coast and Dedham Vale. I have walked through both of these areas and wouldn’t attempt to deny their claims to being beautiful areas. But it isn’t pure parochialism that would lead me to claim that Godmanchester and its environs have as good a claim as both of these. In addition, neither of these AONBs are under as much of a threat from the forces of “development.” Over the next decade or so, the government has decreed that the land along the M11 – A 14 corridor must accommodate an additional half a million homes. This huge increase in the area’s population will demand a corresponding increase in the infrastructure necessary for modern life – roads, schools, hospitals and so on. They will also require increases in employment opportunities and leisure facilities.

This is not, I hasten to add, a mere NIMBY diatribe. I recognise the need for sympathetic economic development. On the other hand, when I look at the examples of development that we already have such as Papworth Everard and Cambourne, I fear for the future. That is why I believe that it would be for the benefit of all if the area could apply for AONB status immediately.

The National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s own web-site says, “ The most vulnerable areas are not the wild, open, high places but the gentle, smaller-scale landscapes including hedgerows, spinneys and bluebell woods, heath, marsh and meadow. Under pressure for change, much of this traditional countryside has already vanished. AONB status protects the finest examples which remain”

Judith Kay

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