Managing our landscapes

Managing our landscapes

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a living, working landscape whose character has been shaped by the interplay between people, the natural environment and geology for centuries.

The Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) works across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and beyond to support nature’s recovery and enhance the quality of our local landscapes, while still staying true to the cultural heritage and character of the area.

Through our conservation work, we aim to have an impact on large areas of land, creating space for nature and wildlife across the whole of the AONB, and supporting positive changes for wildlife, heritage and people. We are committed to working with farmers, landowners and managers, local, regional and national organisations, local communities, and businesses to:

  • create bigger, better and more joined-up spaces to support nature’s recovery;
  • conserve and enhance historic landscapes and cultural heritage;
  • enhance natural capital assets, such as soils and water;
  • and find Nature-based Solutions (actions that restore natural ecosystem processes) to climate change.

Our approach includes:

  • Working on a landscape-scale to create interconnected spaces for nature across all habitats and to restore and enhance landscape character.
  • Building partnerships with a range of stakeholders, organisations and communities to work together for nature’s recovery.
  • Creating strong working relationships with farmers, landowners and managers, as well as with those who support and advise them.
  • Providing advice, support and training to farmers, landowners and managers.
  • Encouraging peer-to-peer support between farmers through Farmer Clusters.
  • Creating large-scale flagship projects and partnerships, bringing together multiple stakeholders and communities to address pressing issues.
  • Developing environmental monitoring and citizen science
  • Promoting and supporting volunteering and learning pathways.
  • Providing funding advice and practical works for landowners and farmers.

More about our core work areas

Working on a landscape scale

The natural capital of the Chilterns is its stock of natural assets, including geology, soil, air, water and biodiversity. Good landscape management increases the resilience of our natural capital to threats like pests, diseases and climate change. This ensures healthy soils, clean water and unpolluted air, which are vital for farming and food production, forestry, wildlife, the economy, local communities, and tourism.

For many years, nature conservation has focused on protecting small, special sites, such as nature reserves, where wildlife is abundant and habitats nearly pristine. Despite this approach, our biodiversity has still declined at an alarming rate, and our natural capital is under threat. This is because these precious sites have become cut off from one another by human activities in the landscape around them.

We now recognise the importance of reconnecting these ‘islands’ by looking after our ecosystems across the whole landscape. Conservation on this wider scale enables us to reinstate natural processes, such as water pathways and soil formation, and create stepping-stones for wildlife to move through the landscape in response to pressures. It also benefits us in lots of ways by providing natural resources, improving our health, and offering economic opportunities.

To protect natural capital and aid nature’s recovery, we must create connected habitats and ecosystems across all aspects of the Chilterns, from farmland and orchards, to commons and woodlands, and even in unexpected places like golf courses and road verges.

Most of the Chilterns AONB is farmland. We carry out much of our landscape and nature recovery work through building strong working relationships with farmers, landowners and managers, and through partnerships with other organisations who support and advise them.

We also carry out landscape enhancement work through large-scale flagship projects, which bring multiple partners and communities together to address the most pressing issues for the Chilterns. They aim to leave a legacy of good landscape management in the Chilterns by inspiring local communities and the next generation to connect with their wildlife and heritage.

As a statutory body, it is not appropriate for the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) to campaign against government initiatives. However, where projects and developments directly impact upon the natural beauty and special qualities of the Chilterns AONB, such as High Speed Rail 2 (HS2), we actively challenge those responsible for them to fulfil their statutory obligations to conserve and enhance the AONB.

Key landscape-scale projects

Chalk Cherries and Chairs is an ambitious five-year Heritage Lottery-funded project that addresses the real and immediate challenges facing the landscapes of the Central Chilterns. With three main themes of wildlife, heritage and people, 18 interweaving projects will leave a legacy of improved conservation and land management, closer partnership working, better skill-sets, motivated volunteers, and engaged communities who care for the future of their nature and heritage.

Mend the Gap is a cross-boundary project that aims to mitigate the damage caused by the electrification of the Great Western Railway. Funded by Network Rail, around £750,000 will be spent on tree planting to shade the gantries, and around £3 million will be given to projects that enhance and enrich the landscape that spans the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONBs, benefiting nature, residents and visitors. 

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project is a real force of change and advocacy for the nine chalk streams of the Chilterns and their rare and threatened habitats. Much has been accomplished across a wide range of themes, including advising landowners on managing chalk stream habitats; overseeing award-winning river restoration and conservation projects; involving citizen science volunteers in monitoring river health; and tackling the over-abstraction of groundwater from the streams for our water supply.

Chalkscapes is an exciting new project delivering landscape-scale conservation and community engagement in the Luton and Dunstable area of the Chilterns. It will give urgent support to the wildlife, heritage and communities of the region that face unprecedented levels of development, infrastructure growth and environmental pressures.

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Staying on track – ensuring challenge for HS2

The CCB has been involved in the landscape-scale High Speed 2 (HS2) project since it was first announced in 2010. Alongside many other local groups and individuals, we have argued that the route should not pass through the middle of the protected landscape of the Chilterns AONB.

Building partnerships

We work in partnership with a diverse range of organisations and people across the AONB, such as farmers, non-governmental organisations, community environmental groups, utility companies, local authorities and developers. Together, we find ways to: support nature’s recovery; promote sustainable tourism and business within the area and beyond; engage local communities and encourage people to get involved; combat climate change; preserve our history; and influence planning and development to ensure that decisions, new plans and land-use changes are right for both the local landscape and the local people.

We also build partnerships with other organisations who provide support to landowners and managers, such as the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, water companies, wildlife, environment and nature organisations, consultants, and agricultural advisors. We’re responsible for producing the Chilterns AONB Management Plan in consultation with all our partners, which acts as a guiding document for the work of all of the organisations and people who care for the Chilterns AONB.

Key partnerships

We are part of Chalk Streams First, a coalition of conservation and water organisations who are working together to tackle a major threat to chalk streams in the Chilterns: the abstraction of groundwater for our water supply. Chalk streams are fed by water stored underground in the chalk aquifer. Pumping water from the aquifer (abstraction) for homes and businesses can cause low flows –  or completely dry streams in drought years – threatening the rich diversity of plants and animals chalk streams support.

The Chalk Streams First coalition is proposing the almost complete cessation of groundwater abstraction in favour of surface-water abstraction. This plan would restore chalk stream flows, protect the streams’ ecology and improve resilience to climate change, while ensuring continuation of public water supply.

In October 2020, we convened an expert panel of leaders in the environment sector to discuss how we can all work together for a green recovery. The panel included: Marian Spain, Chief Executive, Natural England; Pauline Walsh, Chief Executive, Affinity Water; Jonathan Smales, Founder and CEO, Human + Nature; Dr Prue Addison, Conservation Strategy Director, BBOWT.

The session covered many issues, including:

  • What does ‘green recovery’ mean and what are the key ingredients to making it happen?
  • What can the environment sector learn from the way communities responded to Covid-19?
  • How can we inspire everyone to take positive action for the environment?

Watch the video of this session: Green Recovery Forum October 2020.

To progress these discussions, and address arising issues, this panel event will take place every year.

Since 2005, Ofgem has been providing an allowance to electricity providers to move their electricity infrastructure underground in protected landscapes. We supported a £2.06 million cable undergrounding project at Dunstable Downs resulting in 7.72 km of overhead power lines being undergrounded and 22 steel pylons dismantled, providing benefits to the natural beauty, landscape character, wildlife and people of the Chilterns. A similar project is underway at Latimer and Chenies, and we’re working with the Chiltern Society to identify future undergrounding projects.

In August 2020, Buckinghamshire Council was selected by DEFRA and Natural England to be one of five local authorities to pilot a key part of the government’s national Nature Recovery Network initiative – a scheme to address alarming declines in the diversity and abundance of species. it is hoped that the initiative will strengthen and renew the natural environment across England by eventually creating Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) in every county area.

Buckinghamshire was chosen for the pilot because Buckinghamshire Council has well-established and collaborative relationships with many partners, including the Local Nature Partnership and the CCB. It also has an emerging Biodiversity Action Plan, an award-winning Environmental Record Centre, a well-developed biodiversity net gain scheme, and has made good progress with natural capital mapping.

Providing advice, support and training

The CCB is a statutory body, so doesn’t own or manage land itself. To ensure we meet our aims to protect and enhance the special qualities of the Chilterns AONB, we work closely with stakeholders, farmers, landowners and managers, and join with other organisations to work across sectors, disciplines and landscapes.

Much of what we achieve for nature’s recovery and preserving our heritage is done through working with local landowners and managers. From large farms down to small gardens, we offer advice and support on how best to look after the landscapes of the AONB, while being mindful of the interests of businesses, communities and local people.

We provide end-to-end support to farmers, landowners and land managers on a range of subjects, such as: shaping a project idea; accessing funding; commissioning contractors for landscape work; training and advice; environmental monitoring; and bringing in volunteers or new partners to help with surveys or practical conservation work. To find out how you can receive support to aid nature’s recovery on your land, visit our Farmland habitats under threat page or contact us.

  • Find out more about how you can help nature’s recovery – visit our supporting landowners and farmers page
  • For detailed advice on how to look after the wildlife and habitats on your patch, visit our managing your land for nature page

We also work with Farmer Clusters – proactive groups of farmers who support each other to farm with nature, wildlife and climate change in mind. Working with these groups supports nature’s recovery across large areas of land; the Central Chilterns Farmer Cluster and Christmas Common Farmer Cluster between them cover an impressive 15,000 hectares of land within the Chilterns AONB.

Key CCB projects offering support

The pilot Chess Smarter Water Catchment project is being funded by Thames Water and delivered by multiple partner organisations, including Affinity WaterBuckinghamshire CouncilTheChiltern SocietyEnvironment AgencyHertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and The River Chess Association. The project focuses on the River Chess – a precious chalk stream – and the land around it (its catchment), which comprises semi-natural habitats, agricultural land, and urban areas. It is using a landscape-scale approach to tackle multiple issues and realise multiple benefits for those inside and outside the catchment. The project’s new Farming Officer is supporting the set-up of a farmer cluster, and promoting joined-up management of the River Chess and the farmland habitats surrounding it.

A group of 18 Buckinghamshire farmers have gone from strength-to-strength with understanding and supporting the wildlife on their farms, and reducing their farms’ carbon footprints. Achievements include:

  • Planting more than 50,000 new hedgerow trees.
  • Planting or improving 13.5 km of hedgerows to create ‘green corridors’ to allow wildlife to move through the landscape and to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Carrying out farm carbon assessments on each farm.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of each farm by putting into place the direct drilling of seed, reducing the number of tractor passes, and improving soil health to help sequester carbon.
  • Setting up cattle-grazing systems and clearing large areas of scrub to improve chalk grassland management.
  • Building up an important body of data from wildlife surveys on all 18 farms, which willaid in important conservation decisions.


The CCB is providing support and training to a new group of farmers in the Southern Chilterns who want to aid nature’s recovery and reduce their carbon footprint. The 10 farms in the proposed cluster will each undertake carbon audit sessions with funding from Wessex Farm Wildlife. This will help each farmer to identify actions they can take to change their carbon outputs, such as the management of natural habitats to sequester carbon or improving soil organic matter. Group members will collaborate and share experiences to achieve benefits at a landscape scale.

A North Chilterns Farmer Cluster is being set up in the Luton and Dunstable area through the Chalkscapes project, in the hope that we can emulate the success of the central Chilterns cluster. One gathering has been held so far, and 14 farms were represented, with approximately 20 people in attendance.

Useful information

icon Payments for arable and horticultural farmers

icon About the Sustainable Farming Initiative

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Farming in Protected Landscapes – funding available

DEFRA’s Farming in Protected Landscapes grant programme enables farmers and land managers to carry out projects that support nature’s recovery, mitigate the impacts of climate change, provide opportunities for people to discover the landscape and cultural heritage, or support sustainable farm businesses. We can help you with accessing this funding, from developing an initial project idea to introducing partners and supporting the application process.

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