National Character Area 17

Orton Fells - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The Orton Fells National Character Area comprises a limestone plateau with a complex mix of limestone pavements, upland heath, and calcareous and acid grassland. The fells are open, exposed and sweeping, with long-distance panoramic views out to the skylines of the adjacent uplands – the Cumbria High Fells, the Howgills, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines. Nine per cent of the NCA lies within the Lake District National Park.

The Asby Complex is an extensive Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated for its karst features, particularly its long stretches of limestone pavement as well as its mix of acid and alkaline habitats; part of the SAC is also designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR). Smardale Gill, with its ash woodlands and calcareous grasslands that support outstanding butterfly populations, is likewise designated as an SAC and an NNR. The predominant land use is livestock rearing, with some dairy farms, so that along with the rough grazing there are extensive managed grasslands in pastures and meadows defined by drystone walls on lower-lying land. Some of the best upland hay meadows can be found here, together with wide species-rich verges along the quiet straight roads, making it an exceptional experience to travel through the area.

On the higher land there are occasional ash trees, as well as copses sheltering the dispersed farmsteads. Otherwise woodland cover is low, with upland ash woodlands largely restricted to the steep sides of lower valleys, and small shelterbelts including conifers, especially in the north. There are few settlements, making it a very quiet rural area, with the exception of one main north-south transport corridor of motorway, roads and rail in the west. With little development over time, the farmsteads and small villages have a high degree of historical integrity and visual unity, as they are built of local stone. There are also many archaeological features and earthworks, making it a very rich historic environment. There is plenty of scope for quiet recreational use, such as walking, cycling, riding, wildlife watching and angling, and interpretation of the area’s rich geological and heritage assets would increase its interest and enjoyment by residents and visitors alike.

Several tributaries of the River Eden rise here and flow down through narrow valleys and, as they flow over both limestone and sandstone, they comprise a range of habitat types that support diverse plant and animal communities, warranting their SAC designation. The River Lune is also of good quality and offers good angling opportunities.

With some soils vulnerable to compaction and erosion, some of the main issues to address here are the management of grazing to avoid poaching and trampling of river banks, and managing riparian buffers to capture sediment and nutrient run-off. The storage and application of fertilisers, slurry and manure also need to be carefully handled to avoid compaction and nutrient run-off. Ensuring that the upland heath and other habitats on the fells are in good condition will also assist with improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and reducing downstream flood risk.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.


Conserve, manage and enhance the open fells on the limestone plateau, with their mix of karst features, upland heath, and calcareous and acid grasslands, for their inspirational and recreational values and their international biodiversity and geodiversity interest, improving water quality and mitigating climate change effects.


Manage and enhance the enclosed farmland with its diverse pastures, leys and meadows, dispersed farmsteads and quiet villages, strong field patterns and drystone walls, and species-rich road verges, to maintain livestock and dairy farming, the soils, and the sense of place and history, and to enhance its landscape character and biodiversity value.


Manage farmed land and semi-natural habitats to protect and improve the condition of the streams and rivers, enhancing their ecological value and water quality, strengthening the contribution they make to the local landscape and providing high-quality angling and wildlife-watching opportunities.


Identify, protect and interpret geological and historic features and encourage quiet recreation focused on enjoyment and appreciation of these features within the landscape.