Natural England‘s main responsibilities can be summarised below. In general, Natural England focuses on:
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs): designation and management
- European Landscape Convention: guidelines for managing landscapes
- Heritage coasts: protecting undeveloped coast
- Heritage properties: prepare a heritage management plan
- Landscape and seascape character assessments
- National Character Area profiles: data for local decision making
- National Parks: Natural England’s role
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
Under the CROW Act, Natural England can make orders to designate Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) or vary the boundaries of existing ones. These powers apply to England only.
Natural England has the discretion to consider whether to assess and designate an area as an AONB. Natural England will prioritise proposals by considering if:
- evidence suggests the land might meet the natural beauty criterion
- there’s local authority agreement that designation is appropriate
- it has the available resource to evaluate the proposal
- it’s more important than other corporate priorities
For existing AONBs, Natural England must:
- give advice to Local Planning Authorities on development proposals in an AONB
- consider the conservation and enhancement of AONBs in its work, for example when carrying out land management activities or giving permission for statutory bodies to carry out works in an AONB.
Natural England supports heritage coasts by:
- advising government on national planning policy and the link between terrestrial and marine spatial planning
- encouraging local authorities to adopt local planning policies to conserve, protect and enhance heritage coasts
- promoting the integration of heritage coast purposes and management within AONB and national park management plans where these areas coincide with heritage coasts through their role as a statutory consultee
- encouraging local authorities to proactively plan management where heritage coasts are outside of those designated landscapes
- working with coastal AONB partnerships and national park authorities to meet its statutory responsibilities and support the conservation and enhancement of those areas
- working on the England Coast Path which will create a new national trail around the entire coast of England.
National Parks: statutory duties
Under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, Natural England has a duty to:
- consider which areas in England meet the criteria for designation as a National Park
- determine in which order they should be designated
- designate suitable areas
- take account of the purposes of National Parks in its work.
Natural England also has the power to issue a variation order to change an existing National Park boundary under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Natural England also has further responsibilities to:
- advise government ministers on any actions that need taking under National Park and planning legislation
- review the success of National Park purposes and to make recommendations to ministers, National Park Authorities (NPAs), local authorities or others
- make recommendations to ministers on proposals to develop land in National Parks that appear inconsistent with their objectives
- recognise the objectives of National Park designation when making decisions and undertaking activities which affect them
- periodically issue guidance to NPAs on mapping areas of mountain, moor, heath, woodland, down, cliff or foreshore (including any bank, barrier, dune, beach, flat or other land adjacent to the foreshore) within their boundaries.
Duties of DEFRA to Natural England
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must consult Natural England about:
- the level and distribution of central government funding grant aid to NPAs
- the appointment of representatives to NPA boards where these are overseen by Defra
- new byelaws affecting National Parks.
Duties of National Park Authorities to Natural England
NPAs must provide Natural England with:
- notice if they propose to publish, adopt or review their management plan
- a copy of any management plan with any proposed amendments and take into account any comments Natural England may make
NPAs must consult Natural England before appointing a Chief Officer (National Park Officer) or changing their duties.
These requirements also apply to The Broads Authority.
Natural England’s wider role with National Parks
In addition to the statutory duties and powers, Natural England carries out further work to support National Parks. This includes:
- working with the English National Park Authorities Association (ENPAA) to achieve shared outcomes
- carrying out research and monitoring to help National Parks better fulfill their objectives
- producing and sharing information about why an area has been designated and what it will achieve
- supporting work within National Parks, for instance, through Countryside Stewardship schemes, management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest or in projects identified within National Park management plans
- encouraging understanding about the purposes of designation through membership of national steering groups and advisory committees, and by influencing and contributing at national, European and worldwide levels
- supporting the learning and development of NPA members.
National Character Area profiles
Natural England is improving access to environmental evidence and information through NCA profiles.