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Conservation and Enhancement

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), now known as a National Landscape, is an area of high scenic quality which has statutory protection in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of its landscape. In addition to high scenic quality, National Landscapes often have strong associations with artists, heritage features or wildlife habitat.

The Dedham Vale National Landscape and Stour Valley Project area make up around 117 square miles of the Essex/Suffolk border in the East of England.

Much of the eastern end of the National Landscape is associated with the celebrated landscape artist, John Constable, and many of the views he painted remain recognisable today. Much of the middle section of the Stour Valley is associated with the nationally recognised artist Thomas Gainsborough.

Our vision for the area is: “A distinctive landscape with agriculture and wildlife at its core that retains its natural beauty and special qualities, which is conserved and enhanced by a wide-ranging partnership.

It is an area where residents feel a strong sense of belonging, visitors are welcomed to enjoy the countryside and the heritage is understood and appreciated by all”.

Bluebottles in a forest

Designated Sites

Lake in a village

Features and Habitats

Parliament of owls in a tree

Nature Recovery

Close up of flowers

Non-Native Invasive Plants

Landscape Character

Dedham Vale is essentially a farmed landscape. The area is characterised by its picturesque villages, rolling farmland, rivers, meadows, ancient woodlands and a wide variety of local wildlife that combine to create what many describe as an exceptional traditional English lowland landscape.

A statement of the significance of the Dedham Vale National Landscape is set out in the 2016-2021 Management Plan as follows:

"The Dedham Vale National Landscape is a subtle lowland river valley with an assemblage of features associated with this landscape still in place and intact. These features include a gently winding river and tributaries; gentle valley sides with scattered woodlands; sunken rural lanes; picturesque villages with imposing churches and historic timber framed buildings; scattered farmsteads and agricultural buildings; small fields enclosed by ancient hedgerows; riverside grazing meadows with associated drainage ditches and visible and hidden archaeology providing evidence of human habitation over previous millennia.

The area remains an overwhelmingly agricultural landscape, free of incongruous development and large scale industrial developments. Despite some intrusions of human activity in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, the area retains a rural charm and tranquillity and is largely free of infrastructure associated with modern life.

The essential character of the Dedham Vale National Landscape was established in the middle of the previous millennium and has remained intact despite social, technological events. The fundamental beauty of the area and the scenes of a working landscape were captured by England’s finest landscape artist, John Constable RA. The sites of those outdoor paintings are still recognisable in the heart of what is now the National Landscape."

Natural Beauty and Special Qualities

National Landscapes primary purpose is to conserve and enhance natural beauty. The concept of natural beauty and special qualities is one that is sometimes difficult to understand. The special qualities of the National Landscape can be summarised as:

  • Iconic lowland river valley associated with the artist John Constable RA, the views he painted are still recognisable today
  • Historic villages with timber framed housing and prominent churches
  • Valley bottom grazing marshes with associated drainage ditches and wildlife
  • Naturally functioning River Stour with associated tributaries, meres and historic river management features
  • Semi natural ancient woodlands on valley sides with associated wildlife
  • Traditional field boundaries intact and well managed
  • Apparent and buried archaeology indicating millennia of human activity
  • A sense of relative tranquillity
  • Surprisingly long distance views from higher ground along the valley in an area associated with large skies

Read more about the Natural Beauty and Special Qualities of Dedham Vale National Landscape (PDF).