The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Cotswolds was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966 in recognition of its rich, diverse and high quality landscape. It is the largest of 46 AONBs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the second largest protected landscape in England after the Lake District National Park. Covering 790 sq miles, the Cotswolds stretches from Bath and Wiltshire in the south through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the north.

Its central feature are the Cotswolds Hills which rise gently from the broad, green meadows of the upper Thames to crest in a dramatic escarpment above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. Rural England at its most mellow, the landscape draws a unique warmth and richness from the famous limestone beauty of its buildings.

Some of the special qualities of the Cotswolds AONB include:

  • Limestone geology and its unifying character 
  • Cotswold escarpment and its sweeping views
  • River valleys - the majority forming the headwaters of the Thames, with high-quality water
  • Internationally important wildflower-rich grasslands
  • Ancient broadleaved woodlands
  • Dry stone walls
  • Tranquility 
  • Distinctive, historic settlements with high architectural quality

Quick Facts

  • Year of Designation: 1966
  • Population: 152,000 (approx)
  • Size in square miles/kilometres: 790 / 2,038
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): 89
  • Geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest: 36
  • Special Areas of Conservation: 5
  • National Nature Reserves: 3
  • Local Nature Reserves: 2
  • Scheduled Ancient Monuments: 400+
  • Main settlements close by: Gloucester, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Bristol, Bath, Swindon, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Located in: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Bath & NE Somerset, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire
What is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Areas of Outstanding National Beauty are part of a family of protected areas recognised and classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) throughout the world. AONBs and National Parks in England and Wales fall into Category V - Protected Landscapes. 

There are 46 AONBs in Britain (38 in England and Wales and eight in Northern Ireland) and together with the 15 National Parks cover around 25% of our countryside. AONBs are designated in recognition of their national importance and to ensure that their character and qualities are protected for all to enjoy.

The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area, now and for future generations. The designation gives a formal recognition to an area’s landscape importance and allows for the development of communities and economic activity. However development is only permitted in ways that enhance the landscape character of the AONB.

The enabling legislation for AONBs was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 which came about shortly after the Second World War and in response to the increasing pressure of new development. The government of the day decided to formally recognise the fact that the countryside of England and Wales has a rich diversity of scenery, which is of great value and worthy of protection.

Further information

The National Association for AONBS - www.landscapesforlife.org.uk

Natural England - www.naturalengland.org.uk

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - www.gov.uk/defra