Frequently asked questions
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What is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)?
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is exactly what it says it is: an outstanding landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so precious that it is safeguarded in the national interest.
How is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty protected?
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is designated and thus protected under the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act. Its protection is further enhanced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 (CRoW2000).
What is the purpose of the AONB designation?
The only purpose of AONB designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.
In pursuing the primary purpose of designation, account is also taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry, and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard is paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.
Recreation is not an objective of designation, but the demand for recreation is met so far as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses
What is the difference between AONBs and national parks?
National Parks and AONBs share the same level of protection in UK law, but the purpose of the two designations differs.
Both designations share the statutory purpose to conserve and enhance natural beauty. However, national parks are also legally obliged to provide for public recreational opportunities.
What is meant by natural beauty?
The natural beauty of an AONB is to do with the relationship between people and place. It encompasses everything ‘natural and human’ that makes an area distinctive. This includes an area’s geology and landform, its climate and soils, wildlife and ecology. It also includes the rich history of human settlement and land use over the centuries, its archaeology and buildings, its cultural associations and the people who live in it.
Natural England guidance is that 6 factors contribute to a landscape’s natural beauty: scenic quality, landscape quality, relative wildness, relative tranquillity, natural heritage and cultural heritage.
How many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are there?
There are 46 AONBs in Britain. 33 wholly in England, four wholly in Wales, one that straddles the Anglo-Welsh border and eight in Northern Ireland. You can find out more by visiting the website of the National Association for AONBs. Scotland doesn’t have AONBs: National Scenic Areas are the closest equivalent.
About Cannock Chase
Why is Cannock Chase an AONB?
This former medieval royal hunting forest is one of England’s finest landscapes, protected since 1958 as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is one of only 34 AONBs in England, and at just 69 km2 (26 sq miles) is mainland England’s smallest. So many aspects of Cannock Chase make it important for conservation and special for people: its varied landscape and scenery; stunning views; abundant nature; depth of history; and its peace and tranquillity.
What times are Cannock Chase open?
Cannock Chase AONB is open to the public at all times. There are no gates or barriers to control general access. You should check with individual attractions and visitor centres for their opening times when planning your visit.
What is there to do on Cannock Chase?
Cannock Chase is an ideal area to explore and enjoy the outdoors – on foot, bike or on horseback. Check out the Out and about page on our website which includes details of the 6 visitor centres/hubs on and around Cannock Chase.
Who owns Cannock Chase?
Cannock Chase is unusual amongst the AONB family in that 56% of the AONB is owned by just 5 public bodies, and a further 7% by 3 charities. The remaining 37% is in multiple private ownership.
The land in public ownership includes:
- Cannock Chase Country Park (Staffordshire County Council)
- Cannock Chase Forest (Forestry England)
- Castle Ring and Hazelslade Local Nature Reserve (Cannock Chase Council)
- Gentleshaw Common (Lichfield District Council - managed by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust)
- Shoal Hill Common (South Staffordshire Borough Council and Cannock Chase Council)
Land owned by charities includes Shugborough mansion and estate (National Trust), Beaudesert Activity Centre (The Beaudesert Trust), and George’s Hayes and Piggot’s Bottom nature reserve (Staffordshire Wildlife Trust).
Who looks after the AONB?
Formal legal responsibility for Cannock Chase AONB lies with the five local authorities that cover the area (Staffordshire County Council, Cannock Chase Council, Lichfield District Council, Stafford Borough Council and South Staffordshire Borough Council).
They work together as the Cannock Chase AONB Partnership, with advisors like Natural England, Historic England and Forestry England, and representatives of local community and user groups, to ensure that Cannock Chase is conserved for future generations to enjoy.
The AONB Joint Committee is the governing and decision-making body, and is supported by an Officer Working Group, Task and Finish Groups and the AONB Team. How the partnership looks after the AONB is set out and co-ordinated through the AONB Management Plan.
How is the AONB funded?
The AONB is funded 75% from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and 25% from the constituent local authorities (Staffordshire County Council, Cannock Chase Council, Stafford Borough Council, Lichfield District Council and South Staffordshire Borough Council). Funding is used to enable the AONB partners to carry out activities that achieve its core statutory purpose to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of Cannock Chase.
The annual cost to Staffordshire residents to support the AONB is just 22p per person per annum.
Can I attend meetings of the AONB Joint Committee?
Yes, members of the public are welcome to observe meetings of the AONB Joint Committee which take place at least 3 times a year.
Dates of meetings, agendas and papers, and joining arrangements are advertised on the AONB website. Meetings will be webcast wherever possible, dependent on the venue and the available facilities.
Members of the public can ask questions about the business of the AONB Joint Committee at Joint Committee meetings. Read the protocol for public questions.
What is the AONB Management Plan?
The local authorities that make up each AONB have a statutory duty to prepare AONB Management Plans, publish them and review them at regular intervals. AONB Management Plans highlight the special qualities of the AONB, present a vision and policies for the future of the area, and identify what needs to be done, by whom and by when.
AONB Management Plans are legal documents that have to be taken into consideration by public bodies when undertaking their own policies and practices. However, they rely on goodwill and co-operation by many individuals and organisations if they are to be effective.
What we do
What is the difference between the Cannock Chase AONB Partnership and Cannock Chase SAC Partnership?
The Cannock Chase AONB Partnership and Cannock Chase SAC Partnership are separate bodies with different purposes, however, they share a common objective: the welfare of Cannock Chase – the place, its landscape, wildlife and heritage.
The Cannock Chase AONB Partnership brings together local authorities, statutory agencies, landowners and community representatives from the area to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the 69 km2/26 square miles of Cannock Chase AONB.
The Cannock Chase SAC Partnership comprises a partnership between local authorities in the area who have legal responsibilities in relation to the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which makes up 20% of the AONB. The SAC is of international importance for its heathlands and wood pasture habitats. It includes Sherbrook Valley, Brindley Heath, Moors Gorse and areas surrounding the Whitehouse and Penkridge Bank.
The local authorities that make up the SAC Partnership have a legal requirement to ensure that the ecological integrity of the SAC is maintained and not adversely effected from planned new housing in the area and the increase in visitors that this will attract to Cannock Chase. Funding from each new house that is built in the area is collected by the SAC Partnership and invested in Cannock Chase to off-set the impacts of visitor pressures.
What is the AONB Partnership’s position about proposals put forward for car parking and visitor management on Cannock Chase?
The AONB Partnership set out its views on proposals for car parking and visitor management on Cannock Chase in a Position Statement published in September 2020.
It believes that the proposals offer a way forward to provide for the future growth in recreational use of Cannock Chase whilst safeguarding the area’s special landscape, wildlife and heritage interests.
In coming to this view, the Joint Committee considered a number of factors including:
Annual visitor numbers to Cannock Chase currently exceed 2.5 million, and are expected to rise to nearly 3 million a year over the next decade.
The AONB already has by far the highest density of visitors of any protected landscape in the UK, for example, it receives more than between 4-5 times the density of visitors than the Lake District National Park.
Analysis of information from planning authorities in the area shows an anticipated 30,564 additional homes will be built within 10 miles of Cannock Chase by 2032.
An ‘inevitable’ increase in visitors sparked by housebuilding must be managed to protect Cannock Chase’s vulnerable landscape and wildlife.
Up to £7.8 million of developer funded contributions could be available to deliver future plans to improve trails, invest in more way signs and interpretation boards, provide conservation education to children and manage where people park by closing some parking areas in vulnerable parts of the Chase and creating more parking spaces, including free ones, in the more robust areas.
What is the AONB Partnership’s position about grazing on Cannock Chase?
The AONB Partnership supports grazing by livestock in combination with other management techniques as the preferred form of management for most areas of heathland and associated habitats on the Chase, including wood pasture.
Historically, the Chase was grazed by cattle and sheep which provided an efficient and nature-friendly way of keeping a varied and open vegetation structure that prevented dominance of bracken and scrub.
Grazing takes place successfully on many other heathland sites in the area, for example, Hednesford Hills and Chasewater and, with careful management can be reintroduced on Cannock Chase.
Does the AONB restrict what I can do with my land?
Planning duties for AONBs rest with local planning authorities. In the case of Cannock Chase AONB this is Cannock Chase District Council, Lichfield District Council, South Staffordshire Borough Council and Stafford Borough Council. Staffordshire County Council determines mineral applications in the AONB.
In respect to the development of land, local authorities will have planning policies that apply to AONBs (in accordance with national planning guidance) and in some instances certain Permitted Development Rights are withdrawn. With regard to the former, there is no presumption against development in an AONB. With regard to the latter (PDRs), where they are withdrawn, this simply means that the applicant is required to apply for planning permission in the usual way and it does not mean any assumption that approval won’t then be forthcoming. The AONB designation does not prevent development: it raises the level of scrutiny given to proposed developments to ensure that they respect and enhance landscape character.
The AONB Management Plan is a material planning consideration that should influence planning decisions affecting the AONB.
Cannock Chase AONB has produced a Design Guide and Views and Setting Guide to help developers, householders, agents, designers and decision makers deliver development that protects and enhances the area’s distinctive character.
There are currently no restrictions on how land is farmed within AONBs. As a result of the Government’s new agricultural policy post-Brexit, there should actually be more help for farmers in AONBs to diversify their income streams and lay the groundwork for Environmental Land Management.
How can I volunteer?
There are many organisations on Cannock Chase that can offer opportunities for people who want to volunteer. The Green Volunteer Network can help you find the organisation that best supports your requirements. Get in touch with the AONB Team for more details.
How can my business get involved?
Businesses can benefit from being associated with one of England’s finest landscapes. A new toolkit is available to help local businesses appreciate the special qualities of Cannock Chase and how they can use a sense of place to develop and promote their products and services. You can find out more about the resources that are available for local businesses on our website. In addition to using the toolkit, registered businesses can use the new Cannock Chase place brand logo, a selection of stunning images, and business locators.
How can my farm get involved?
The face of UK farming is changing. A new ‘Farming in Protected Landscape Landscapes’ scheme will soon be available. This will provide advice and funding for farmers and land managers in AONBs to manage the natural environment, cultural heritage and public access.
Can I get a grant for my project?
The Cannock Chase AONB Sustainable Development Fund is available to support projects that will keep Cannock Chase special. Applications are welcome from public, private, voluntary sector, community groups, individuals and businesses from within or outside the AONB. You must be able to demonstrate that your project will have a direct positive impact upon the AONB, have a clear public benefit and satisfy the conditions attached to a grant.
Out and about on Cannock Chase
Where is Cannock Chase AONB?
Cannock Chase lies in southern Staffordshire on raised land between Stafford in the north, Rugeley in the east, Cannock in the south, and Penkridge to the west. It stretches 13.5 kms (8.4 miles) north to south. At its widest point it is 11 kms across (6.8 miles). View a map of Cannock Chase.
How do I get to Cannock Chase by public transport?
Cannock Chase AONB can be reached from train stations at Rugeley, Hednesford and Cannock. Stafford and Penkridge are just a cycle ride away. Check train operators for routes and times of services. There are also various options for bus services in and around Cannock Chase. Visit Staffordshire County Council’s website for timetables and operator route maps.
How do I get there by car, where can I park, and do I have to pay?
Cannock Chase lies to the east of the M6, close to junctions 12 and 13. The A34 between Stafford and Cannock runs along its western boundary; the A513 Stafford to Rugeley road lies to the north; whilst the A460 provides access from Cannock in the south. The A51 between Lichfield and Rugeley provides access from the south-east. If visiting the AONB by car or other types of vehicle please park in one of the many dedicated car parks on the Chase. Some of the car parks are pay and display.
What is ‘open access’ land?
58% of Cannock Chase is open access land over which people can roam. You can use access land for walking, running and watching wildlife, but not horse riding or cycling unless the landowner allows it or public bridleways cross the land. Access land on Cannock Chase includes 10 areas of historic commons and the Cannock Chase Forest owned and managed by Forestry England. Most privately owned land is not open to the public, and access will be limited to public rights of way and any permissive routes.
Where can I walk?
Cannock Chase can be explored by walkers of all abilities, all year round. However, this is open countryside and for longer walks you will need stout shoes or boots and waterproof clothing in case the weather turns. People with restricted mobility, older people, and families with small children can enjoy shorter walks from most of the visitor centres/hubs, including the TOC-H trail at Marquis Drive. To avoid disturbing wildlife and preventing erosion of the fragile sandy soils, walkers are encouraged to keep to waymarked paths and, at certain times of year, keep dogs under close control.
Where can I cycle?
Undulating scenery and a network of bridleways and designated cycle trails make for varied and interesting family cycling across the Chase. For serious mountain bikers wanting to test their skills and stamina, two red-graded (difficult) trails ‘Follow the Dog’ and ‘Monkey Trail’ have been created by Forestry England at Birches Valley Forest Centre. Cyclists do not have the right to roam over access land, and are requested to keep to bridleways and other designated bike trails. Cyclists should always ride with respect for other users and this nationally important landscape.
Where can I ride my horse?
One of the best ways to see many parts of the Chase is on horseback. The network of 133 kms of bridleways provides some of the most extensive and picturesque off-road riding in England. Local trekking centres can offer tuition and guided rides in a safe environment. Walkers and cyclists can also use bridleways. The public bridleways are shown as long green dashes on Ordnance Survey Explorer map no. 244. The AONB has published two horse riding routes which can be downloaded from the publications page of the AONB website.
The AONB doesn’t have any designated horse box parking. Typically horse riders park up on the Punch Bowl, Seven Springs, Whitehouse and Penkridge Bank car parks.
Enjoying and respecting Cannock Chase
Can I hold an event on Cannock Chase?
Cannock Chase plays host to a number of sponsored walks and cycling events, orienteering races and dog trials each year. Landowner permissions for events are always needed.
Where can I have a BBQ?
BBQs are currently not permitted on any of the publicly accessible land on Cannock Chase. This is to help support social distancing during Coronavirus and to help prevent wildfires.
Can I go wild camping?
Wild camping is not permitted anywhere on Cannock Chase without prior permission from the landowner. Legally wherever you camp you must have the permission of the landowner to camp on their land. You can book a pitch at one of the designated camping and caravanning sites on the Chase.
Where can I fly my drone?
Drone operators must have permission from the owner of the land where a drone takes off and lands. When flying drones please look after Cannock Chase and respect other users and avoid disturbance to wildlife. Flying drones is not permitted on nature reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or on National Trust property.
Where do I put my litter?
Litter bins are provided at the main car parks and at visitor centres/hubs. Elsewhere, litter bins are not provided so that visitors are encouraged to recycle and take home their litter.
If you want to do you bit for Cannock Chase and its wildlife please pick up any litter you come across and take it home with you or dispose appropriately.
What do I do with my dog’s poo?
Leaving your dog’s poo and dog waste bags is disgusting and a crime, and harmful to wildlife. Cannock Chase is for everyone to enjoy – please respect it and take you litter and dog waste home with you.
Can I metal detect on Cannock Chase?
Under the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales metal detectorists are required to obtain the landowners permission before undertaking any detection work on that land. Metal detecting is not permitted on land owned by the National Trust or Staffordshire Council, and it is illegal to detect on (without a licence from Historic England), disturb, or cause damage to, a scheduled monument. Any finds potentially covered by the Treasure Act should be brought to the attention of the county's Finds Liaison Officer, and they must be reported to the coroner within 14 days of discovery. All other finds should be recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Can I scatter ashes and leave a memorial to loved ones on Cannock Chase?
You will need the permission of the landowner to scatter ashes and create memorials to loved ones. Because of potential environmental impact on soils, plants and animal life, scattering ashes and leaving memorials is not permitted on designated sites, such as, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monuments.
How do I report incidents and unlawful activities I come across on the Chase?
Report littering and fly-tipping
You can report littering or fly-tipping to the relevant local council in which the incident has taken place:
- Cannock Chase Council
- Stafford Borough Council
- Lichfield District Council
- South Staffordshire Borough Council
Report a crime including wildlife and heritage crimes, anti-social behaviour and criminal damage
- Call 999 and speak to the police if the crime is happening right now, the suspect is still at the scene, or anyone is seriously injured or in immediate danger.
- Call 101 or report the incident to Staffordshire Police online if you have witnessed or been the victim of crime.
Report an injury to a deer
In the event of hitting a deer whilst driving please call the below numbers:
- If in the road: 999
- If on the side of the road: 101