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The AONB forms the eastern end of a great arc of designated landscape stretching from the East Hampshire and Surrey Hills AONBs.
The Kent Downs AONB continues from the Surrey border in a widening ribbon of rolling countryside to meet the sea at the cliffs of Dover. Inland, the Downs rise to over 240m, cresting in a prominent escarpment above the Weald to the south. It is traversed by the three prominent river valleys of the Darent, Medway and Stour.
The AONB roughly follows the southeast’s outcrop of chalk and greensand, the two ridges running parallel with each other to the coast. The chalk ridge, with its characteristic dip slope and dry valleys, has great wildlife importance in its unimproved chalk grassland, scrub communities and broadleaved woodlands. The well-wooded greensand ridge is particularly prominent in the Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling districts and supports heathlands and acidic woodlands.
Other distinctive landscape elements include the fast disappearing traditional Kentish orchards and hop gardens and the rich wooded foreground of the upland ridges, together with many fine historic parklands including Knole and Winston Churchill’s Chartwell. The AONB’s ancient settlements include picturesque half-timbered Charing and Chilham on the old Pilgrims Way to Canterbury. Since prehistory, this has been the invasion gateway to England and the North Downs are noted for their archaeological remains and military legacy.
A prosperous farming area, its highgrade land is in intense agricultural and horticultural use. The AONB, bordered by large and expanding urban areas including Ashford, Maidstone and the Medway towns, as well as the ports of Dover and Folkestone, has a large commuter population and the North Downs are a heavily used local recreational resource. The area also receives visitor traffic from London and the Kent resorts, and the AONB forms an integral part of tourist promotion of the ‘Garden of England’. The North Downs Way National Trail runs along the length of the escarpment and loops up to Canterbury.