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Parks and open spaces

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are designated in recognition of their national importance, because of their distinctive landscape, and to ensure that their character and qualities are protected for all to enjoy. There are 46 AONBs throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Three AONBs fall partly within Wiltshire - Cranborne Chasethe North Wessex Downs and the Cotswolds. The work of the AONBs is directed by partnerships of organisations, which include relevant local authorities and other key organisations and individuals. The land within AONBs is a mix of public and privately owned; they are living, working landscapes.

Around 44% of Wiltshire is covered by the three AONBs and they have their own management plans to help ensure that their natural beauty is conserved and enhanced.

A small part of the New Forest National Park also falls in the south-eastern corner of Wiltshire.

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Countryside volunteering

There are lots of opportunities to get involved as a volunteer in improving Wiltshire's environment. To volunteer with Wiltshire Council on our countryside sites or rights of way, email countryside@wiltshire.gov.uk or rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.uk.

Rivers and canals

The River Avon rises in the Vale of Pewsey and flows through Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset to the sea at Christchurch. The rivers and its tributaries form one of the most diverse chalk stream systems in the UK, with over 180 plant species, one of the most diverse fish populations, and a wide range of aquatic invertebrates.

Much of the River Avon, its tributaries and some areas of adjacent wetland are designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to the presence of these internationally important habitats and species. SACs receive the highest level of legal protection.

The River Avon SAC Conservation Strategy has been developed by a partnership of organisations involved with the river, including Wiltshire Council. It defines issues affecting the river, ensure the river is being looked after, and identifies any further action required.

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The Kennet and Avon Canal weaves its way from the Thames in the east to the Bristol Avon in the west, linking London to the Bristol Channel. The route of the canal takes it through some of Wiltshire’s most spectacular scenery, from the Vale of Pewsey to historic towns such as Devizes and Bradford on Avon.

We are a key member of the Kennet and Avon Canal Partnership and assist the development and maintenance of the canal through financial contributions and technical assistance. Each year the Canal and River Trust produces a report, which you can download on this page.

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The Cotswold Canals project is a combination of two waterways – the 29 mile (46 km) Thames and Severn Canal and the 7 mile (13 km) Stroudwater Navigation. Both were officially abandoned by Act of Parliament, respectively in 1933 and 1954. When restored, the Cotswold Canals will form a continuous waterway from Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal to the River Thames at Lechlade.

Restoration has started on many parts of the waterway, with several miles having been returned to water and many structures, such as bridges and locks, restored by the dedication and enthusiasm of volunteers. The main focus is the restoration of the western end of the canal near Stroud.

As a key member of the Cotswold Canals Partnership, we assist with the restoration of this canal through the giving of financial contributions and technical assistance. About 4½ km of the canal is located in the county to the north of Cricklade, where it will link with the Wilts & Berks Canal when that is also restored.

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The Wilts and Berks Canal was abandoned in 1914 and is thought currently to be the longest restoration project in Britain. Several miles of the waterway have been returned to water with many structures, including bridges, locks and lengths of towpath, restored or in the process of restoration. The Wilts & Berks Canal Partnership aims to complete restoration by 2025. The main line of the canal runs for 52 miles between the Kennet and Avon Canal at Semington and the River Thames at Abingdon.

We are a key member of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership and assist with the restoration of the canal.

Restoration of the North Wilts branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal is part of a separate multi-partner project to create the Cricklade Country Way project, connecting Swindon to Cricklade, Cotswold Water Park and the River Thames using restored canal, railway, cycleways, bridleways and footpaths.

The Wilts and Berks Canal Trust is aiming to open the entire length of the towpath as a long distance footpath. Other important restoration projects are taking place at Pewsham near Chippenham, Tockenham near Lyneham, and Royal Wootton Bassett.

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The Melksham Link is a new route for the Wilts and Berks Canal, connecting the Kennet and Avon Canal at Semington to the River Avon at Melksham. Find out more about the Melksham Link.

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Last updated: 31 October 2016 | Last reviewed: 31 October 2016