Llangollen and Dee Valley added to Clwydian Range AONB

An official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in north Wales is being extended.

Environment Minister John Griffiths has ruled around 230 square kilometres of land in Wrexham and Denbighshire should fall within the Clwydian Range AONB.

He said the move proposed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) would help protect the landscape.

Farming unions and the Conservatives say it will hit agriculture and create "unnecessary" red tape.

Mr Griffiths announced his decision at a plenary meeting of the assembly.

It is the first new area of land to be made an AONB in Wales for 26 years.

Along with the Clwydian Range there are four other AONBs in Wales at Anglesey, the Llyn Peninsula, Gower and the Wye Valley.

Mr Griffiths said: "The natural environment is crucial to the Welsh economy and it is vital it is protected and managed as effectively and efficiently as possible to ensure the best outcomes for Wales.

"AONB status for this area will help safeguard its natural beauty and promote sustainable development.

"The AONB brand may also help to draw in an increased number of tourists to enjoy the area's natural beauty."

The CCW said extending the protection is not designed to impose restrictions on agricultural activities around Llangollen and parts of the Dee Valley.

Food prices

The Clwydian Range forms a 35km north-south chain of hills with the summit of Moel Famau, near Mold, Flintshire, in the centre of the area.

Denbighshire and Wrexham councils, with several voluntary organisations and businesses, lent their support to the bid when the CCW held a second consultation earlier this year.

Image caption The ruins of Castell Dinas Brân give views over Llangollen and the Dee Valley

CCW chairman Morgan Parry said: "We are delighted with the decision, which confirms all the evidence provided that this is truly an AONB.

"Whilst the designation gives the area the national recognition it deserves, the key to its success will rest with local management.

"We now look forward to working with the local authorities of Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire, their local communities and landowners, to realise the environmental, social and economic opportunities of this national designation - so that all sectors of society benefit from the sustainable management of the natural environment."

National Farmers Union of Wales branch chairman Eifion Davies, whose farm is affected by the decision, said it was "unnecessary".

"The decision will considerably restrict our ability to develop our farms properly and it comes at a time when population is forecast to increase dramatically along with food prices," he said.

Increase bureaucracy

"Without sustainable agriculture and healthy local economies these landscapes would not be maintained and preserved and if our communities are to remain viable and healthy we need the freedom to develop.

"What we don't need is the restrictive approach that comes with an AONB, which will lead to an artificial and unsustainable preservation of a landscape."

Marian Jones, executive officer for the Farmers' Union of Wales, said her members would be disappointed.

"Given the number of existing designations in the area, any further designation is unnecessary and will only serve to increase the bureaucracy and red tape encountered by farmers," she said.

Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman Antoinette Sandbach AM called the decision "deeply disappointing" and said it was against the wishes of the local communities.

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