The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) bid farewell to its old title this week, officially becoming the Surrey Hills National Landscape.

This shift is part of a nationwide initiative affecting all AONBs in England and Wales, aiming to underscore their pivotal role in combating climate change, preserving biodiversity, and addressing well-being concerns.

The Surrey Hills National Landscape, originally designated an AONB in 1958, now joins other National Landscapes across the UK. 

The rebranding reflects a broader vision of collaborative efforts between communities and nature, promoting ecosystem restoration, carbon storage, and protection against environmental threats like droughts and floods.

Despite the change in title, legal protections for the Surrey Hills area remain intact. The rebranding seeks to strengthen the network of protected landscapes, addressing challenges with increased funding, governance reform, and shared purposes. 

Kathy Atkinson, chair of the Surrey Hills National Landscape, said: “There’s often a healthy scepticism around talk of ‘re-branding’ and people might reasonably ask, ‘What’s the point?’ in calling the Surrey Hills a National Landscape instead of an ‘AONB’.

“Firstly, the legal status of the Surrey Hills as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is unchanged. This amazing area retains the same protections in law as a National Park.

“As set out by the Glover review in 2019, AONBs are fragmented, misunderstood and often see even greater pressures with less resource. 

“Glover recommended not only a renaming of ‘AONBs’ to National Landscapes, but the power which could follow in terms of a strengthened network, with increased funding, governance reform, and new shared purposes to help us fight against the challenges our protected landscapes may face.

“We need to use this rebrand as a step change to how we connect with our protected landscapes. To excite and engage the widest possible public in the task of protecting the Surrey Hills, a cherished landscape that is under threat like never before.

“This is a critical decade for our natural world, and National Landscapes brings the opportunity to collectively reduce the impact of substantial threats from a National and localised perspective. 

“So, I urge everyone to embrace our National Landscapes vision as a tool to help us support a healthy and thriving landscape, for nature and for people.”

Covering a quarter of Surrey, the most wooded county in England, and situated within the London Metropolitan Greenbelt, the Surrey Hills National Landscape encompasses habitats like heathland, downland, and woodland crucial for local and national biodiversity.

The rebranding is seen as a proactive step to safeguard these precious habitats in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, and a mental health crisis.

The transformation is not exclusive to Surrey; all designated AONBs are now officially recognized as National Landscapes, marking their importance on a national scale.