Nick Collinson, Manager of the Suffolk Coast and Heath Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has a job which encompasses many responsibilities. His talk to the Society on 14 March was very comprehensive - and it needed to be! The AONB extends from Kessingland to the Shotley Peninsula and includes five estuaries. As he pointed out it does contain much of 'natural beauty' but also a great deal of landscape shaped by Man, even though by UK standards the coast is relatively little 'developed' because there is no continuous coast road.
Mr Collinson explained that although AONBs may not have the same high profile as National Parks they are nevertheless very important. The concept of AONBs stems from the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act which aimed to protect areas for future generations to enjoy. Our AONB was confirmed in 1970.
His role is to look after the interests of the AONB in partnership with 26 other organisations, including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, DEFRA, and the Local Authorities. He tries to ensure that planning decisions don't harm the landscape, so he is (for example!) working closely with EDF regarding Sizewell C, and with the Galloper Wind Farm proposals regarding undergrounding of the power lines.
The AONB can provide grants for community projects such as improving footpaths and tree planting. It has also pioneered an active Beach Watch in which some 800 volunteers have collected up litter, and there are about 135 volunteers working on such projects as clearing and maintaining woodlands.
The future is likely to be greatly affected by increased tourism in which, as he neatly put it, the private sector will continue to promote the area but "the public sector must shape it". The future will also bring changes in farming with more farm reservoirs and new crops. Sizewell C will also create an impact on the area; it was interesting to hear his view that Sizewell A is "jarring" but the golfball design of Sizewell B (the only design of its kind in the world) is much less visually intrusive. The problems of coastal erosion are not his responsibility (sigh of relief?) but inevitably will continue to impact on management of the AONB.
This was an informative and well delivered lecture. The few members who knew that Mr Collinson's uncle, Norman Collinson, was Secretary of the Society (1968-72) will have been even more sure that this was a happy occasion.