The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) designation was confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment in October 1983. The first AONB to be designated was the Gower in 1956 and the most recent the Tamar Valley in 1995.
The total area of the High Weald AONB is 146,170 hectares (1,461 square kilometres). This makes the AONB the largest in South East England and the fourth largest in England and Wales (the largest being the Cotswolds AONB at 2,038 square kilometres and the smallest being the Isles of Scilly AONB at 16 square kilometres).
The designated area extends across parts of four counties (Surrey, East Sussex, West Sussex and Kent), 11 districts or boroughs, and 99 parishes. The administrative map illustrates the overlapping boundaries of the AONB and the local authorities.
With an estimated population of around 124,880 and a density of 0.85 people per hectare, the High Weald AONB is a reasonably populated but essentially rural area: the boundary excludes urban areas such as Tunbridge Wells town and Crowborough, but includes Battle (population over 6,000) - the largest built-up area within a landscape of scattered villages and dispersed settlement. The population is high for a designated landscape but, compared to urban areas and the neighbouring parts of rural West Sussex and north Kent, it is lowly populated.
Built environment and settlement
The High Weald has a dispersed settlement pattern of farmsteads, hamlets, and small villages. There are around 100 villages but 38% of the population lives in the countryside outside villages.
Landform - highest point
The highest ridge of the High Weald AONB rises to 223m (732ft) above sea level on Ashdown Forest and 225m (738ft) at Crowborough Beacon, on the edge of Crowborough Common. As a comparison, the highest point of the eastern South Downs directly opposite the High Weald is Firle Beacon at 217m (712ft ) above sea level.
For hundreds of years agriculture has been concentrated in small livestock farms. It is still the main AONB land use, but in 2007 only accounted for 67.5% of the total area - an increase of 6% from 2000. Agriculture may account for less than half the area by 2010. Only around 4,500 people are now employed in agriculture out of a total estimated population of 124,880.
By Domesday in 1086 the High Weald was the most wooded natural area in England. The total area of woodland in the AONB today is 35,905 hectares, or 24.5% of the total AONB area - compared with the National Average of about 9% of the total area.
18.7% of the AONB is Ancient Woodland, in other words over half of all the High Weald's woodlands are ancient. The area of the High Weald AONB represents only 1% of England yet it has 3.39% of England's woodlands, making it one of the most densely wooded landscapes.
Wildlife conservation value
There are 50 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the AONB, totalling 5535.49 ha in area. There are 202 Sites of Nature conservation Importance (SNCI) totalling 10,663 ha in area.
Archaeological and architectural value
There are 111 Scheduled Ancient Monuments within the AONB and 64 conservation areas in built-up areas (containing many of the listed buildings).
There are 92 visitor attractions within the AONB, including 9 National Trust Properties and 2 Country Parks.
Several long distance paths cross the AONB: High Weald Landscape Trail, Weald Way, 1066 Country Walk, Saxon Shore Way, Vanguard Way and Sussex Border Path. The total lenght of footpaths is 2063 kilometres and there are numerous promoted walks.