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.
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.
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.
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”.
The Suffolk Coast and Heaths is a landscape rich in history and a source of inspiration to countless artists, writers and musiciansGeorge Eustice, Defra Secretary of State
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.
Defra Secretary of State George Eustice said: “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.”
Natural England, the statutory agency for the natural environment, had submitted plans for the expansion to the Government.
Natural England chair Tony Juniper said: “We welcome this magnificent milestone and firmly believe in the benefits this extension to the AONB will bring – for the environment, the economy and the many people who will enjoy in perpetuity the stunning landscapes and natural treasures found here.”
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.
He also called for action to make parks greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.