Heritage coasts are 'defined areas' in planning, rather than 'designated areas', meaning there is no statutory designation process as is the case with national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Heritage coasts are protected via the planning system which is implemented through development control.
The objectives of heritage costs were originally developed in 1972 by the Countryside Commission (CC), to define and conserve the best stretches of undeveloped coastline in England. Today they are defined by agreement between the relevant maritime local authorities and Natural England (previously the CC). In Wales the some 40% of the coastline is defined and managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), Scotland has a slightly different system but, the equivalent exists and is under the management of nature scot.
Heritage coasts were established to conserve, protect and enhance:
- The natural beauty of the coastline.
- Their terrestrial, coastal and marine flora and fauna.
- Their heritage features.
- Encourage and help the public enjoy, understand and appreciate these areas.
- Maintain and improve the health of inshore waters affecting heritage coasts and their beaches through appropriate environmental management measures.
- Take account of the needs of agriculture, forestry, fishing and the economic and social needs of the small communities on these coasts.
The national policy framework and objectives for heritage coasts are ratified by government, and the National Planning Policy Framework states that local authorities should: ‘maintain the character of the undeveloped coast, protecting and enhancing its distinctive landscapes, particularly in areas defined as heritage coast, and improve public access to and enjoyment of the coast.’
In 2022, there are 43 designated Heritage Coasts in England and Wales. Scotland has a different system and these were initially known as Preferred Conservation Zones and later included under National Scenic Areas as marine areas.
- Ancient woodland.
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Blue belt.
- Civic Amenities Act.
- Common area.
- Designated land.
- Local interest list.
- Local Nature Reserve.
- Nature improvement area.
- Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI).
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
- Special areas of conservation.
- Special protection areas.