Devon has an outstanding natural environment with a range of international and national protected landscapes.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, along with National Parks, are the nation’s finest landscapes, given statutory protection by Government. There are five AONBs in Devon, three wholly within the County ie North Devon Coasts, East Devon and South Devon and two are cross-boundary with neighbouring authorities, Tamar Valley and Blackdown Hills. Taken with Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, these “protected landscapes” cover 35% of Devon.
The statutory purpose of AONBs is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape. They have the same landscape value as National Parks. Each of the 5 AONBs is managed by a local partnership. They bring together rural and landscape management initiatives that assist the delivery of the sustainable development agenda for the County. The distinct and unique qualities of each AONB need care and attention. Action is co-ordinated in each AONB by a small local team guided by a wider community partnership.
Everywhere you go in the South Devon AONB you get a real feeling of 'time depth'. The history is not just found at special sites and monuments, it is woven into the very fabric of the landscape.
The whole shape of the agricultural landscape – its small fields, hedges, remnant orchards and scattering of farmsteads and hamlets – has been formed over 3,000 years. We have over 2,500 miles (4,000km) of hedges in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). That’s 12 miles length of hedge to every one square mile of land. They give the land its patchwork pattern. They are superhighways for wildlife including dormice, bats and rare cirl buntings. In spring the roadside hedges are ablaze with primroses, bluebells and stitchwort. Many hedges have blackthorn, hazel, wild rose and hawthorn shrubs growing on top. Some have taller trees such as oak, ash and sycamore.
There is a rich maritime and military legacy of coastal forts, castles, lighthouses, day marks, harbours, lookouts, coastguard cottages, airstrips and aerial masts, spanning from the Iron Age to the Cold War.
Ancient drove roads, ridge roads, sunken green lanes, hedges and turnpike roads, with their highway 'furniture' of milestones, toll houses and bridges, wind their way through the landscape.
Historic building styles using local stone, thatch, slate and cob are seen in field barns, labourers’ terraces, farmsteads and villages. Big landed estates have left a pattern of parkland, large houses, lodges, carriage drives, distinctive estate villages and alms houses. Rivers and estuaries have their own special heritage of mills, lime kilns, quays, fishponds, weirs and ships’ hulks.