About Us

The Isle of Wight has many different types of countryside and for centuries people have been drawn to its idyllic peaceful way of life.

About half of the Island is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a treasured place where the landscape is protected, conserved and enhanced for future generations.

Wight AONB is a Non-Governmental organisation with the purpose of conserving and enhanding the Isle of Wight’s finest landscapes.

Heritage Coasts

Heritage Coasts represent stretches of our most beautiful, undeveloped coastline, which are managed to conserve their natural beauty and, where appropriate, to improve accessibility for visitors.

Isle of Wight Heritage Coasts

In 1974 two areas of Heritage Coast were defined on the Isle of Wight, covering half the Island’s coastline. In 1992, the decision was taken to incorporate issues relating to Heritage Coasts and the AONB into one overall Isle of Wight AONB Management Plan.


The Hamstead Heritage Coast is situated on the north west of the Isle of Wight running from Thorness near Cowes to Bouldnor near Yarmouth. A tranquil and secretive coastline with inlets, estuaries and creeks; wooded hinterland and gently sloping soft cliffs, this beautiful area offers a haven for wildlife including Red Squirrels and migratory birds. The ancient town of Newtown and its National Nature Reserve also fall within this area.


In marked contrast, the Tennyson Heritage Coast is breathtaking, with an open aspect; long distance views to the English Channel; a special quality of light; the iconic Needles chalk stacks and other multi-coloured cliffs; a fossil rich coastline including the well known dinosaur footprints at Brook Bay; miles of undeveloped coastline and unspoilt beaches; important wildlife habitats; smugglers and memories of past Islanders; Chines and lighthouses.


Wight AONB is, in planning terms, equivalent to a National Park, having the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. Wight AONB works to promote sustainable forms of social and economic development, which conserve and enhance the designation.

The planning process is the main regulator of development pressure within the AONB. Wight AONB’s Management Plan is a material consideration in planning. Wight AONB is a consultee on any proposals which require planning consent within the AONB, or influencing it. These applications will be considered by Wight AONB’s Planning Officer and any comments to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) can be found on their website. Any proposals not dealt with by the LPA, are submitted directly to those determining bodies and comments are again, publicly available.


The AONB Planning Officer also offers pre-application advice for anyone wishing to develop or undertake any works within the AONB. All advice is without prejudice to any planning applications submitted in the future, pending site visits and additional issues and information.


For Planning advice please contact the AONB Planning Officer: Mrs Nicky Downer 01983 823855

Current Research Projects

Measuring Agricultural Change on the Isle of Wight

Farming remains central to the beauty and character of the Isle of Wight’s landscapes. It provides essential incomes and allows sustainable approaches to land management that conserve and enhance the Wight AONB. However, the impact of recent change in the agricultural sector on the local landscape is not well understood. Wight AONB has commissioned a study to understand the nature of change on the Island and inform how it might help manage the process of change.


Assessing Agricultural Change on the Isle of Wight – March 2017


Dark Wight Skies

Vectis Astronomical Society in partnership with Wight AONB are recording the quality of the Isle of Wight’s night skies. More from http://www.darkwightskies.com/


Wight AONB has helped partners deliver 65 projects since its inauguation in 2002. Many of these projects have been facilitated by grant funding made available through the Sustainable Development Fund.

Sustainable Development Fund


The Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) is a grant scheme to support projects which bring community, environmental and economic benefits to Wight AONB. The Fund provides an opportunity to test new sustainable techniques, which enhance and conserve the characteristics of the Area.


“Sustainable development is defined as: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


Our Common Future, 1987 United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).”

Current Projects


Eccleston George Public Artists and Arc Consultancy have received an AONB Sustainable Development Fund grant to develop another
series of wonderful ways to bring together art and wildlife through ‘Artecology’. More… 

Across the bay

Arc Consultancy have received an AONB Sustainable Development Fund grant to develop a project looking to capture the spirit of the AONB
by examining how the protected landscape frames one of the Island’s largest centres for population and tourism, Sandown Bay. More… 

The Isle of Wight is a pocket version of southern England. The Island has everything you could possibly need: from blustery downs filled with water to secretive salt marshes teaming with life; from Victorian beachside resorts to wild surf strewn beaches. It is a magnificent place to live, work and play, with splendid wildlife.

Proof of the Island’s rich ecosystems, stretching back 65 million years, can be found along the coast through fossils and dinosaur footprints. The Island has healthy ecosystems, with rare species; such as, the red squirrels in the woodlands, Glanville fritillaries on the cliffs and plants that occur

nowhere else in the British Isles.


Working with partner organisations across the Island, IW AONB are working towards achieving UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for the Isle of Wight. This would highlight globally the Isle of Wight is one of the best places to explore people’s interaction with nature


Biosphere is the living surface of our planet, made from the land, the sea, the air we breathe and energy from the Sun. People across the world have learned about the wonderful benefits from their biosphere and how to use them sustainably. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are some of the best examples where communities have found ways to resolve the conservation of ecosystems with their ongoing sustainable use. There are over 600 Biosphere Reserves in 120 countries including 20 transboundary sites.

Biosphere Frequently Asked Questions:

The biosphere is a term that covers life, land, water and the air.

A biosphere reserve is an area that has been recognised for its unique mix of plants and animals, valued environment and sustainable way of life of the people who live and work within the biosphere reserve. The biosphere reserves are chosen by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) but rely on local cooperation to ensure the careful management of the resources within biosphere reserves that allow development without harming the area for future generations.

Each biosphere reserve should fulfil three functions that work together and reinforce one another.

  • A conservation function – to preserve genetic variation, species, ecosystems and landscapes;
  • A development function – to foster sustainable economic and human development;
  • A logistic function – to support research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

No, a biosphere reserve isn’t an artificially constructed area. They are real places where people live and work. The local community care for the environment and manage resources in the biosphere reserve that allow stable and sustainable economic growth and development.

Biosphere reserves provide a framework for projects that improve people’s lives and protect the environment in a sustainable way. Communities, local stakeholders and government officials gain an increased awareness of environmental and development issues. Biosphere reserves may attract funding to demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development that can provide lessons to be applied elsewhere.

Local communities are integral elements in a biosphere reserve. The communities are key decision makers in how the biosphere reserve is run and governed, ensuring the biosphere reserve meets its functions and objectives.

  • A biosphere reserve is a representative ecological area with three mutually reinforcing functions: conservation, sustainable development and logistic support for scientific research and education.
  • Natural World Heritage sites must have outstanding universal value in accordance with the UNESCO convention on the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972).

Biosphere reserves are governed by “soft law”. Member countries of UNESCO commit to apply the Statutory Framework for Biosphere Reserves. The MAB national committee in each country ensures biosphere reserves are responding to the criteria and function properly; in the UK this is the UK MAB Committee.

An area needs to have a potential core area that is already highly protected for the long-term and is of at least European importance for its ecosystems. It may be designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Area (SPA). It does not have to be a National Nature Reserve. The local community also needs to be willing to become a leader in sustainable development on the world’s stage.

Following the identification of the core area, local support can be developed by creating a group or getting the local authority involved in the idea of becoming a biosphere reserve. Consultation with the UK MAB Committee will inform about the area’s suitability and ideas for zonation. The UK MAB Committee will be able to advise if a designation is likely to get their support or not in a short time. If the area does not get the instant support from the UK MAB Committee, they will advise what steps are possible to make a more successful biosphere reserve application.

With support from the UK MAB Committee, the application will be developed by the local community. The application form can be downloaded from the UNESCO website (link). The application form is technical, requires a lot of information and requires evidence of the community working together to get the designation. There will need to be a lot of documented public participation in the planning of the biosphere reserve. Other crucial evidence includes good zonation of the areas for the biosphere reserve, a good management plan and a good organisation structure that is representative and can deliver the management plan for the biosphere reserve.

Throughout this development phase that can take between two and five years, UK MAB will give support on how the project takes shape. Ultimately the application document will need the endorsement of the relevant stakeholders in your area, the UK MAB Committee, the approval of the Minister for Defra or the Minister for environment in the devolved administration, before being sent by Defra to the UK Permanent Delegation to UNESCO in Paris.

UNESCO invokes its own review and approvals procedures and makes the final decision. This includes review by a special UNESCO advisory committee of experts and then by the International Co-ordinating Council for the MAB Programme (MAB ICC). The approvals process in UNESCO is undertaken only once a year, so deadlines for submissions are important. Dates for submission can be found on the UNESCO website.

Biosphere reserves are renowned for exceptional environments and a high diversity of life. Biosphere reserves are areas where the special attributes of the area are considered to be potential assets for the local people and local societies. When an area demonstrates good examples of using and preserving these resources, it may become a biosphere reserve.

To fulfil the criteria for biosphere reserve, people must live in the area. The concept of sustainable development depends on local support and involvement. The people living in the area are essential to biosphere reserves.





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Historic Environment Action Plan

The Historic Environment Action Plan provides a series of documents to help conserve and study the Island’s historic environment.


The nature and scale of the Wight AONB designation warrants representatives from many local, regional and national organisations and individuals working together with the common overall aim of conserving and enhancing the area. This common aim is best delivered through partnership. The Isle of Wight AONB Partnership was formed in April 2002, and is funded by DEFRA.


The Partnership is comprised of three distinct groups:

Steering committee

The role of the Steering Committee is to act as a catalyst and facilitator in implementing AONB policies. The Committee also manages and allocates resources and steers, develops and supports initiatives to help enhance and conserve the AONB.

Advisory group

The AONB Advisory Group membership represents the wider interest of stakeholders within the AONB, and provides a way for partners to become involved in the future vision and management of this valued asset.

Open forum group

The Open Forum Group includes organisations and individuals with an interest in the management of our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Meet the Team

The staff arm of the Isle of Wight AONB Partnership is the AONB Unit. The Unit is hosted by the Isle of Wight Council and is housed within the Planning Services section of the Environment and Neighbourhoods Directorate.