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The Wye Valley, winding sinuously down from Hereford to Chepstow, is both one of the finest lowland river landscapes in Britain and the only protected landscape to straddle the border between England and Wales.
In the north, the river meanders through the broad meadows, dotted woods and hedgerows of the Hereford plain renowned for its farming and orchards. The most dramatic limestone scenery, including the famous Symonds Yat Rock, lies downstream from Ross-on-Wye. Deeply incised meanders have cut into the plateau to form sheer wooded limestone cliffs with superb views down to the valley floor. Between the gorges are broader valley reaches, with rounded hills and bluffs and a gently rolling skyline.
In recognition of its immense nature conservation importance, the Wye was the first major river to be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest along its entire length. Within the AONB it is renowned both as a refuge of rare species, particularly those of limestone woodlands, and as one of the few remaining areas with comparatively large tracts of ancient broadleaved woodland. The pastures, hay meadows, hedges and copses within the farmed landscape of the AONB are also rich natural habitats.
Farming in the AONB still follows a traditional pattern of mixed arable and dairying plus fruit orchards in the fertile north, and is an essential part of the landscape’s value.
Forestry has been an industry for centuries both here and in the nearby Forest of Dean and the Forestry Commission both in England and Wales has substantial landholdings in the AONB. Limestone continues to be actively quarried.
Tourism is a major contributor to the rural economy. The AONB includes a number of picturesque riverside settlements such as Ross-on-Wye, Goodrich with the magnificent Goodrich Castle and Tintern with its 12th century medieval abbey. Annually, an estimated two million people visit the Wye Valley, which is highly accessible from urban South Wales, Bristol and the Midlands. The Wye Valley AONB has also benefitted from a heritage lottery funded scheme Overlooking the Wye which has conserved, improved and interpreted over forty sites throughout the area which will add to the visitor experience.
The Wye is a premier salmon fishing river and a major national focus for canoeing and other water sports. Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail passes through the AONB and the Wye Valley Walk is one of the region’s most heavily used recreational footpath routes.