The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) could be about to get bigger.

For Natural England, the body responsible for ensuring the country's natural environment is protected and improved, is to assess whether the Surrey Hills AONB boundary should be extended.

The Natural England Board has agreed to begin work on the assessment.

The extension could encompass areas of Downs, Wealden Greensand and Low Weald within and around the locally designated Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV).

The decision follows an initial assessment by local AONB partners that concluded there was evidence to support the position that the areas have sufficient natural beauty to qualify for inclusion in an AONB.

The Surrey Hills AONB Partnership’s proposal seeks to extend the AONB boundary by almost 82.5 km2 – an additional 11% of the AGLV – to include diverse countryside ranging from rolling chalk downs and flower rich grasslands, to acid heaths and broadleaved woodland, together with an extensively used network of public footpaths.

Natural England has a discretionary power to designate AONBs or to vary the boundary of an existing AONB by a Variation Order. If Natural England decides to vary the Surrey Hills AONB boundary, a Variation Order will be submitted to the Secretary of State for a final decision, following a period of consultation and detailed boundary setting.

Maddy Jago, Natural England’s director of landscape and biodiversity, said: “The Board decision enables work to begin on formally assessing whether part of the Downs, Wealden Greensand and Low Weald can be given AONB status as part of an extension to the Surrey Hills AONB.”

She said: “We are grateful to the Partnership for the work they have carried out to get the proposal to this stage, which takes us a step further to assessing whether variation to the existing AONB is appropriate.”

The Surrey Hills AONB includes some of the South-east's most striking and accessible countryside, with scenic views, open commons and attractive market towns and villages.

The hills stretch across the chalk North Downs that run from Farnham in the west, above Guildford, Dorking and Reigate, to Oxted in the east. The variety of countryside ranges from rolling chalk downs and flower-rich grasslands, to acid heaths and woodlands. Website: Natural England is the non-departmental public body of the UK government responsible for ensuring that England's natural environment, including its land, flora and fauna, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved.