Countryside sites

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 833 square kilometres of countryside, stretching from the River Thames in southern Oxfordshire up through Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire. It is one of 38 AONBs in England and Wales (designated by The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty), which belong to the same family as National Parks. Its designation as an AONB in 1965 recognised that the Chiltern Hills contain some of the finest landscapes in the country which are worthy of protection at the highest level.

The Chilterns AONB is a living, working area of countryside whose character has been shaped by people for centuries. Farmland covers nearly two-thirds of the AONB and over one-fifth of the area is wooded. Attractive villages with brick and flint cottages nestle in quiet valleys. The chalk rock underlying the Chilterns gives rise to hillsides of velvety chalk downland. Water stored in the rock emerges from springs to feed clear, sparkling chalk streams like the Chess and Barton Hills chalk springs and beech woods cover the upper slopes – once important for furniture making.

The Chilterns AONB is an important part of the landscape in Central Bedfordshire and comprises much-loved, important and iconic landscapes such as Dunstable and Whipsnade Downs, Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, Sharpenhoe Clappers and Totternhoe Knolls and the Green Lanes. These areas consist of chalk downland hills; rolling grassy hills rich in wildlife such as butterflies and wildflowers and giving stunning views over the surrounding countryside. The hills are composed of layers of chalk laid down as sediment at the bottom of ancient shallow seas and the hilltops are often studded with important archaeological artefacts such as tumuli, hillforts and barrows while overhead wheel red kites and buzzards.