Impact of Wind Turbines
Task 2: Landscape: evaluation
Review of existing methods of landscape evaluation
Review of statutory and non-statutory landscape designations
Issues of preference and judgement
Perceptual studies of windfarms

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Further information


Landscape Designations


A large proportion of the land area in Great Britain is under the protection of conservation designations. Statutory designations broadly fall into three categories: nature conservation, landscape conservation and natural heritage conservation, which protects wildlife, landscape and cultural aspects of the countryside. The organisations which look after nature and landscape conservation were, until recently, separate. They have now been combined into the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and the 1991 Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act (Rydin, 1993). England retains two organisations: English Nature for conservation interests and the Countryside Commission for landscape interests.

Historically the first laws to protect nature resources were the Forest Laws of King Canute in the Eleventh Century. The oldest surviving area, the New Forest, was declared a reserve in 1079. In more recent times, policy and legislation relating to nature conservation was first seen in British overseas territories. A number of bird sanctuaries were declared in the Nineteenth Century and the first National Park was declared in 1951, following the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949 (WCMC, 1997).

In the last fifteen years there has been an increase in the range and effectiveness of nature conservation designations, while the arrangements for protecting valued landscapes has remained essentially the same for many years (Scottish Office, 1996). This has led to an imbalance between nature conservation and landscape designations.

The principle designations are as follows:

  • Nature conservation
    • National Nature Reserves (NNR)
    • Local Nature Reserves (LNR)
    • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
    • Special Protection Areas (SPA)
    • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
  • Landscape conservation
    • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
    • Heritage Coasts
    • National Scenic Areas (NSA) (Scotland only)
    • Regional and Country Parks (Scotland only)
  • Natural heritage conservation
    • National Parks
    • Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA)
    • Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) (Scotland only, none designated at this time)

There are far more designations, both statutory and non-statutory which may be applied to an area. These will be listed in the appendix of this report. The following table shows the area and percentage of the terrestrial area which is under nature, landscape and natural heritage designations.

Table ?? Designated land areas (source: Scottish Office, 1996).
England & Wales area & percentage of land Scotland area & percentage of land
Nature Conservation
SSSI 1,129,000 ha 7.4% 893,000 ha 11.3%
NNR 86,000 ha 0.6% 113,000 ha 1.4%
N. Park 1,486,400 ha 9.2%
Landscape Conservation
AONB 2,122,500 ha 14,0%
National Park 1,486,400 ha 9.2%
NSA 1,001,800 ha 12.7%

Nature Conservation Designations

Nature conservation designations do not include the visual landscape as part of their remit; it is the flora and fauna within that landscape which is protected through these designations. However, this may still impact on development proposals for windfarms, if the development is within one of the designations.

National Nature Reserves

NNRs are areas of national or international importance for nature conservation and include some of the most important natural and semi-natural habitats in Great Britain (Scottish Office, 1996). Nature reserves were declared under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which was the first legislation to enable habitat protection and encourage public access to the countryside. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 amended the statutory protection of nature reserves and thus introduced National Nature Reserves (Thorburn, 1996).

All NNRs are also SSSIs and are either owned by the respective conservation organisation (CCW, English Nature or SNH) or managed under agreement between the conservation organisation and the owner to ensure that the nature conservation interest is maintained. NNR is the only national designation whose statutory intention is entirely proactive (Scottish Office, 1996).

Local Nature Reserves

LNRs are declared by local authorities (borough, county, district and regional councils, and special planning boards) (WCMC, 1997). These reserves are declared in conjunction with the conservation organisations to reflect areas of locally important nature conservation or amenity value and to give access to the public. Management agreements are usually required.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

SSSIs are areas of nature conservation and wildlife importance which are not of national importance but are of "special nature by reason of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features" (Dower, 1945; Scottish Office, 1996). SSSIs also contribute to the overall maintenance of biodiversity of species and habitats; their special interest is protected in accordance with specific guidelines. SSSI status does not change the use of the land, but local authorities, owners and occupiers must consult their conservation organisation on any developments or activities which may affect the site (Scottish Office, 1996).

SSSIs were formed under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but management agreements were only considered in the Countryside Acts of 1967 and 1968; there had been calls for stronger methods of protection to be enacted than originally envisaged since 1949 (Thorburn, 1996).

Management plans and a list of potentially damaging operations (PDO) are used to prevent damage to sites in order to protect the conservation interest. Any operations carried out have to be sympathetic to the conservation interest but are not prohibited (Hamilton, 1990). PDOs relevant to the development of a windfarm include (Nature Conservancy Council, 1991):

  • Erection of permanent or temporary structures, or the undertaking of engineering works, including drilling;
  • Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb the biological and geological interests.

PDOs must be notified to the conservation organisation four months prior to the start or the development. The conservation organisation may then negotiate with the owner to alter or stop the development, offer compensation to the owner for profits lost or refuse permission. In the latter case, a management agreement would have to be offered to the owner by the conservation organisation (Thorburn, 1996).

The conservation organisation has further options: nature conservation orders and compulsory purchase orders may be used if the site is of national importance. However, if the owner does carry out a PDO against the wishes of the conservation body, the fine is unlikely to deter them: it is currently £2000, compared to £20,000 for damage to trees under a Tree Preservation Order (Thorburn, 1996).

Special Protection Areas

SPAs are required to comply with the 'EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds'. Within these areas special measures are required to protect wild birds and their habitats, particularly rare or vulnerable species listed in the Directive, and regularly occurring migratory species. All terrestrial SPAs are SSSIs. Measures to protect the birds will be strictly applied in all SPAs (Scottish Office, 1996).

Special Areas of Conservation

SACs require to be designated to safeguard rare and threatened species and habitats in accordance with the 'EC Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora'. As with SPAs, all terrestrial SACs will be SSSIs. Some globally threatened habitats and species are given priority status and strict measures to protect those will be applied; in Scotland they include peatlands, Caledonian pinewoods and otters. The aim of the network is to maintain rare or endangered species and habitats at a favourable conservation status throughout Europe.

International Designations

Biosphere Reserves

These reserves are representative examples of natural habitats, characteristic of one of the world's natural regions. They are used for long term research of ecosystems, environmental change, and diversity of species. There are currently 13 reserves in the UK, nominated from existing NNRs (WCMC, 1997).

Biogenetic Reserves

This is a network of reserves, to continue to conserve representative examples of European flora and fauna and natural areas. It is intended primarily for biological research, selected from existing NNRs. There are no special controls imposed by the designation (Scottish Office, 1996).

World Heritage Sites

Areas of outstanding natural or cultural value can be designated as a World Heritage Site. They can include exceptional examples of outstanding natural habitats, or superlative natural features. A high standard of management is required before listing of the site can be considered. Three natural sites have been inscribed to date: the St Kilda archipelago off the west coast of the Outer Hebridies; Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland; and Henderson Island, a UK dependency in the Pacific Ocean (Scottish Office, 1996; WCMC, 1997).

Council of Europe Diploma Site

Awarded by the Council of Europe in recognition of exemplar management and protection of areas of outstanding nature conservation and landscape importance where this includes social and recreational attributes. Beinn Eighe and Fair Isle in Scotland have diplomas. The Diploma is conditional on the site continuing to be managed to a high standard (Scottish Office, 1996).

Landscape Conservation Designations

In contrast to the Britain-wide approach for nature conservation based on SSSIs, the national statutory designations for landscape have developed separately in Scotland and in England and Wales (Scottish Office, 1996), there are no country-wide designations. At present around 23% of England and Wales has a natural beauty designation and in Scotland around 13%.

Figure ??. Countryside Protection Policies (Rydin, 1993).

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 also provided for the designation of AONB; their purpose is to conserve the natural beauty of the landscape rather than to provide means for public access and enjoyment. Development plans and development control are required to have regard to conservation aims and permitted development rights are withdrawn on the same basis as in National Parks (Rydin, 1993).

AONBs remain the responsibility of local authorities and have no special organisational provisions. Grants are available for the maintenance and enhancement of AONBs, activities which are undertaken by the local authorities under specific powers.

Heritage Coasts

In coastal areas the non-statutory designation of Heritage Coast is designed to protect the landscape and provide for managed recreation. Since this is not a statutory designation there is no withdrawal of permitted development rights. However, the majority (37 out of 44) are in AONBs or National Parks, and therefore are accorded the protection of that designation.

A review of these areas has concluded that the objectives for these areas should be widened to "recognise the need to preserve and enhance important habitats for flora and fauna, and to protect architectural, historical and archaeological features" and to promote higher standards of environmental protection within the areas (Bishop et al, 1995).

National Scenic Areas

Introduced by the Countryside Commission for Scotland in 1980, the NSA designation replaces two earlier categories of importance for scenic interest in Scotland: National Park Direction Areas and a variety of regional landscape designations such as Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and Areas of Scenic Value (ASV) (Scottish Office, 1996; DoE, 1994).

NSAs are nationally important areas of outstanding beauty, representing some of Scotland's grandest landscapes, the purpose of their designation is to preserve and enhance their character or appearance (SNH, 1995). NSAs are not intended to be representative of the full range of Scotland's landscapes, but to be examples of the type of natural beauty associated with Scotland. Therefore, they tend to focus on diverse landscapes with various combinations of prominent landforms, coastline, lochs, rivers, woodlands and mountains (Scottish Office, 1996).

Local authorities are required to consult SNH in respect of certain specified categories of development. However, there are no funds attached to the designation and no new NSAs will be designated: the statutory power to designate NSAs was repealed in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 (SNH, 1995). The designation can be seen primarily as a planning designation - it is accepted that change will take place and some development and change in land use is accepted (Scottish Office, 1996).

With respect to windfarms, one specified category of development which must be notified to SNH is the construction of all buildings and structures over 12 meters (except forestry) (Scottish Office, 1996).

Regional and Country Parks

Regional and country parks are established and maintained by local councils in Scotland. Regional Parks are extensive areas of countryside where existing land use continues but agreements are made with landowners to allow public access and informal recreation and to protect local landscapes. Country Parks tend to be smaller areas of countryside near to centres of population and are managed mainly for public enjoyment (Scottish Office, 1996). Local authorities also have the power to designate areas of scenic heritage for protection under their normal planning policies (Rydin, 1993).

Other designations

There remain some AGLVs in Scotland, defined by local authorities in development plans with a view to safeguarding areas of regional or local landscape importance from inappropriate development. These areas can be small beauty spots or extensive areas of countryside. The Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes includes private gardens, parks, policies in country estates and botanical gardens. There is an obligation on planning authorities to consult with SNH on any development in these sites (Scottish Office, 1996).

Natural Heritage Designations

National Parks

National Parks were the principle designation created by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The government has announced that it will be moving towards an independent planning authority for all ten National Parks; at present two, the Lake District and Peak District, have independent planning boards, while elsewhere national park committees within county councils have responsibility (Rydin, 1993).

The statutory purpose of National Parks are the conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside and promotion of its public enjoyment. Proposed legislation will restate this purpose as relating to 'quiet enjoyment ' and the understanding and conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage, thus clarifying that in cases of conflict conservation overrides public access and enjoyment (Rydin, 1993).

There are no National Parks in Scotland, despite both the Sandform Committee in 1945 and the Countryside Commission for Scotland in 1991 proposing the National Parks should be created.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

ESAs are designated in order to enable farmers and crofters to access assistance for adopting environmentally-friendly agricultural practices. Designation covers areas where agricultural practices have played a particular role in contributing to the nature conservation interest or the natural beauty of the area (Scottish Office, 1996). They were introduced in the European Directive and the Agriculture Act 1986 (Thorburn, 1996) and currently cover around 15% of the United Kingdom (DoE, 1994)

ESAs have no direct implication for the operation of the planning system, and entry into an ESA agreement is entirely voluntary. However, ESAs are an innovative designation which brings together nature conservation, landscape protection, public access and recreation. Similarly Countryside Stewardship and Tir Cymen integrate land management and conservation (Bishop et al, 1995).

Natural Heritage Areas

The 1991 Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act introduced NHAs, to be proposed by SNH and formally designated by the Secretary of State (Rydin, 1993). It was expected that this designation would be used for "very special areas of outstanding natural heritage" taking in a wide range of nature conservation and landscape interests. It would be the only national statutory designation which related to the natural heritage as a whole (Scottish Office, 1996). Integrated management would form the basis of countryside planning, focusing on positive rather than restrictive planning. However, the NHA designation would not bring any new powers, finance or support for positive management measures.

To date no Natural Heritage Areas have been designated; SNH is currently considering whether the provision for NHA designation should be implemented; what the process leading to designation would be; and what powers the designation should bring (Scottish Office, 1996).

Non-statutory Landscape Designation

There are a plethora of non-statutory landscape designations, mostly designated by local authorities. These desingations are not created on a national, or even regional level, but differ between the local authorities. There is an inconsistency in the recognition of what value it is necessary to place on a specific area; few authorities attempt to explain or evaluate their proposals for designations (Bloomer Tweedale Architects and Town Planners, 1992).

A short list of non-statutory landscape designations includes: Special Landscape; Special Landscape Area; Area of Landscape Value/Merit/Significance; Great/Particular Landscape Value; Outstanding Landscape Area/Quality; Local Landscape Area; High Landscape Value; Historic Landscape; Landscape Conservation Area; Landscape Protection/Merit/Feature/Significance.

These areas are afforded some degree of protection by their designation. The Area of Primary Importance in Landscape Terms designation, used by Powys County Council, is meant to help provide a framework for preparing and evaluating applications and associated environmental assessments (Nicholas Pearson Associates Ltd., 1993).

Lancashire County Council (1990) note that their Areas of Special Landscape are those areas worthy of conservation and enhancement which are not thought to possess the uninterrupted high landscape quality of the AONB. Such designations will always fall below the level of the National Park or AONB; any local landscape area can be seen as of secondary importance (Bloomer Tweedale Architects and Town Planners, 1992).

In some cases it may be preferable to locate a windfarm within a National Park or AONB, where there may be sites which can accommodate a windfarm with little or no detriment to the landscape (Stanton, 1996) whereas the impact on a nearby, higher populated, non-designted area may be greater. Cornwall County Council (1992, cited by Stanton, 1996) state that "many parts of the countryside not subject to special designations make an important contribution to the local environment where loss of visual amenity may be of equal or greater significance than designated areas".

The Countryside Commission (1991) states that as a matter of policy windfarms should not be permitted in existing or proposed National Parks, AONBs or Heritage Coasts, and that there should be a presumption against windfarms in proximity to designated areas. However, given the high degree of coverage of suitable rural areas in Great Britain which are covered by landscape designation, it may not be suitable to use these designations as decision making factors (Stanton, 1996).

It is therefore important not to sieve out all statutory landscape designation areas, as it often done, leaving only non-statutory designations and non designated areas for possible windfarm development. In some cases these areas are actually as sensitive to such developments as those within sepcial landscape areas.

Wind Resource and Landscape Designation

The following figures show that a large proportion of the area suitable for windfarm development in Great Britain occurs in areas of great natural beauty, where the statutory designations in place may prevent any development occurring.

Figure ?? The extent of the UK wind resource compared to the location of designated landscape areas (Coles and Taylor, 1993).

Figure ?? Areas of relatively high wind speed outside designated areas (Coles and Taylor, 1993)


Bishop, K., Phillips, A. and Warren, L. (1995) Protected for ever? Factors shaping the future of protected areas policy. Land Use Policy, 12, 291-305.

Bloomer Tweedale Architects and Town Planners (1992) Mapping the Distribution of Special Landscape and Wildlife Areas Identified in Development Plans in Wales. Countryside Council of Wales.

Coles, R.W. and Taylor, J. (1993) Wind power and planning: The environmental impact of windfarms in the UK. Land Use Policy, 10, 205-226.

Cornwall County Council (1992) Wind energy development in Cornwall - interim policy guidance. Cornwall County Council, Planning Department, County Hall, Truro. Cited in Stanton, 1996.

Countryside Commission (1991) Wind Energy Development and the Landscape. Countryside Commission Publications.

Department of the Environment (DoE) (1994) Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan, London: HMSO.

Dower, J. (1945) National Parks in England and Wales, HMSO: London.

Hamilton, A.D. (1990) Sites of Special Scientific Interest - Friend or Foe? Landowning in Scotland pp. 28-29.

Lancashire County Council (1990) Lancashire: A Green Audit. A First State of the Environment Report. Lancashire County Council.

Nature Conservancy Council (1991) Site management plans for nature conservation - a working guide, Peterborough: Nature Conservancy Council.

Nicholas Pearson Associates Ltd. (1993) Bryn Titli Windfarm: Landscape and VisualImpact Assessment. National Wind Power.

Rydin, Y. (1993) The British Planning System. Macmillan Press.

Scottish Office (1996) Natural Heritage Designations Review: Discussion Paper.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) (1995) The Natural Heritage of Scotland: an overview. Scottish Natural Heritage: Perth.

Stanton, C. (1996) The landscape impact and visual design of windfarms. School of Landscape Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Thorburn, A.P. (1996) The Implementation of the EU 'Habitats Directive': Nature Conservation and Private Estates. Honours Thesis (unpublished) Department of Agriculture, University of Aberdeen.

World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) (1997) United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Protected Areas Information Service.

Updated: 21 May 2020