2.1 Reference has been made, in describing the District, to the extremely high environmental quality of the Eden Local Plan area. In considering the natural environment, and the aims which the Local Plan will seek to achieve, it is important to bear this context in mind.
2.2 A substantial part of the Local Plan area comprises landscapes which have been recognised for their high quality. These include the North Pennines AONB and a number of areas including parts of the Eden Valley, the Pennine foothills, Westmorland Fells, Howgills, and the Greystoke Forest, all of which are designated Landscapes of County Importance. The south and west boundaries of the Local Plan area abut National Parks, reflecting the quality of the landscape.
2.3 The protection of areas of wildlife or geological interest must also be a prime concern. Within the Local Plan area are many Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), designated and accorded protection due to the national significance of their flora, fauna or particular geological value. The area also has, at Orton Scar and Great Asby Scar, some of the most extensive areas of limestone pavement in Britain, these enjoy special protection. In addition, the River Eden and its tributaries, are currently being evaluated for designation as an SSSI for their exceptional water quality and fauna communities. These areas together with a variety of sites which are of regional or local value also warrant the exercise of particular care in order to maintain corridors and habitats which contribute to species and habitat diversity.
2.4 The District contains a number of areas already designated as SSSIs which have been recently notified by the Government as qualifying for designation as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, due to their international value. These include the Asby complex of limestone pavements; a number of areas of hay meadow grouped under the title North Pennine Dales Meadows, which include some in the Lune valley as well as among the Pennines; and, the Moorhouse and Upper Teesdale area which incorporates a range of rare habitats. This latter area is also a proposed Special Protection Area (under European Commission Directive 79/409 on the Conservation of Wild Birds) due to its value for birds. These areas of international significance warrant especial care and protection.
2.5 Throughout the area the Council has a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to protect endangered species. This issue can become particularly significant where development, such as the conversion of traditional buildings, may disturb the nest or roost sites of protected species including bats and owls. All of the concerns outlined in preceding paragraphs support key approaches to sustainability including the maintenance of biodiversity, that is, variety of habitats and species, and protecting the best of the environment for future generations.
2.6 Notwithstanding the constraints imposed by its landscape and nature conservation importance, Eden's countryside is a living and working environment. It is necessary that the needs of farmers and local communities are met in a sensitive way. It is important to preserve the best and most versatile agricultural land and, in some parts of the District where land quality is generally poor, lower quality land which is important to agriculture in the local context. Equally there is a need to facilitate the diversification of the rural economy, in order to support agricultural holdings and other rural enterprises and to maintain the vitality of communities.
2.7 In relation to these issues and in particular to the application of Plan Principle 1 on sustainability and Plan Principles 2 and 3, a number of objectives concerning the natural environment have been identified. These, and the policies which derive from them, are intended to define and protect the natural assets of the District. These objectives and policies therefore provide a context and in some respects a constraint within which the Council's development strategy has been formulated.
Objective 1 to protect the character and amenity of the District's landscapes by ensuring that development normally takes place within or adjacent to established settlements.
Objective 2 to afford special protection to areas of recognised landscape or nature conservation value including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Landscapes of County Importance, and areas of internationally, nationally and regionally important scientific or nature conservation value.
Objective 3 to protect the best and most versatile agricultural land.
Objective 4 to support appropriate forms of diversification in the countryside.
Objective 5 to afford protection to species and habitats of identified value including those protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.