An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Suffolk has been extended by almost a tenth in size to include wildlife-rich estuaries, river valleys and beaches.

Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, which was designated in 1970, covered 403 square kilometres and has been expanded by around 38 square kilometres to include parts of north Essex.

It is the first time an AONB in England has been extended since 1991, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

  • Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, welcomes the extension

There are 34 AONBs in England, nine national parks and the Broads Authority area in Norfolk. The newly-designated area of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB includes the Stour Estuary which stretches from Manningtree to Harwich, and a tributary of the estuary called the Samford Valley.

Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB Credit: DEFRA

The Stour Estuary comprises of woodlands, mud flats and saltmarsh and is of international importance for its wildfowl and waders. The Freston Brook Valley, a tributary of the Orwell Estuary between Felixstowe and Ipswich, is also included.

Natural England, the statutory agency for the natural environment, had submitted plans for the expansion to the Government.

It's quite obvious for anyone who visits or lives there that the Suffolk coast benefits enormously from people coming there to visit either for the day or on holiday. Flagging the fact that this place is exceptional in national terms is only going to add to that.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England

The National Association for AONBs defines an AONB as an "outstanding landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so precious that it is safeguarded in the national interest".

Credit: Suffolk Coast & Heaths

This includes protection under the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000.

Defra said the expansion of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB will help protect the newly-designated landscape and benefit tourism.

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths is a landscape rich in history and a source of inspiration to countless artists, writers and musicians, and these extensions are a worthy addition especially during this unprecedented time, when many of us are connecting with nature more than ever before.

George Eustice, Environment Secretary

It comes after a review of national parks and AONBs reported back in 2019. Journalist and former Downing Street aide Julian Glover, who led the review, made a series of recommendations including that every child should have the opportunity to spend a night under the stars in these special landscapes to connect with nature.

Natural England also called for action to make parks greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.