Stretching from Torbay to the outskirts of Plymouth, the AONB coastline is one of many moods and also a Heritage Coast.
It ranges from sheltered hidden coves to the jagged pre-Cambrian cliffs of Bolt Head and from the long golden expanses of Slapton Sands to the cool, tree-shaded serenity of the Dart and Kingsbridge estuaries, some of Britain’s finest ria coastline.
Inland, the AONB protects the fertile, sheltered South Hams peninsula. This is ‘deepest Devon’ country, a pastoral landscape of flowering hedgerows and ancient sunken lanes, carved into by the richly wooded valleys of the Avon and Dart. The AONB’s built environment of thatched, white, pink and ochre cottages and picturesque fishing ports such as Dartmouth and Salcombe is intrinsic to its quality.
The entire AONB coast is county-designated as a coastal preservation area and contains many Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The peninsula provides a haven for one of Britain’s widest range of birds and the reed beds and freshwater lakes of Slapton Ley are a notable habitat. Much of the cliff top land has been acquired by the National Trust. At the western end lies the Plymouth Sound and Estuaries proposed Special Area of Conservation.
The South Hams is traditional Devon mixed farming country and the rural economy depends on agriculture, tourism and fishing. The AONB’s population of approximately 33,000 is mainly concentrated in larger settlements such as Dartmouth, Wembury and Salcombe. The AONB villages are increasingly popular with commuters working in Torbay and Plymouth.
The AONB’s coast is the prime day trip destination for nearby resorts such as Brixham, Paignton and Torquay as well as for city dwellers from Plymouth and Exeter, and each summer sees a huge casual visitor influx. Dartmouth and Salcombe are long-established local and holiday sailing centres and the South Devon Coast Path and local network of footpaths are increasingly well-used.