National Character Area 53

South West Peak - Key Facts & Data

Landscape and nature conservation designations section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

27,888ha of the Peak District National Park fall within the South West Peak NCA (Natural England, 2011).


Designated nature conservation sites

The NCA includes the following statutory nature conservation designations (Natural England, Special Protection Areas; Special Area of Conservation; Ramsars; National Nature Reserves; Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves, 2021):

Please note: (i) Designated areas may overlap (ii) all figures are cut to Mean High Water Line, designations that span coastal/marine areas below this line will not be included.

Condition of designated sites
All designated sites within England are covered by Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) units. The condition to these SSSI units within the NCA are as follows (Natural England, Sites of Special Scientific Interest Units, 2021):



Landscape and nature conservation designations map for NCA53

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Landform, geology and soils section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Elevation

The lowest elevation in this NCA is 110m. The highest point is at Shining Tor, 559m on the ridge between Cats Tor and Whetstone Ridge. The mean elevation across the NCA is 312m (Natural England, 2010).

Landform and process

The area is one of upland flanked by lower hills and indented by valleys. The hills and ridges have a north-south alignment with the highest land to the north and with lower discontinuous ridges in the south and east. The fringes are dissected by river valleys which make deep and irregular indentations into the upland edge. To the west the valleys broaden into gentler undulating lowlands towards the Cheshire Plain (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, South West Peak Natural Area Profile).

Bedrock geology

The geology of the area comprises an interbedded and folded succession of Carboniferous age shales and sandstones (‘gritstones’) with isolated areas of Coal Measures and outcrops of limestone and shale to the south-east. The NCA is dominated by scenery produced through the erosion of the Millstone Grit Series, which Now deposited as a series of large river deltas, during the Carboniferous (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Natural England, 2010).

Superficial deposits

Although the NCA Now almost certainly covered by glaciations in the early Quaternary, there is little landform evidence of this episode. The area Now not glaciated during the last (Devensian) glaciation but shows evidence of intense periglacial conditions in the form of ice wedge casts, sediment wedge polygons, and solifluction and slope deposits. Tors formed on some summits as a result of deep chemical weathering in pre-glacial and interglacial times. Peat deposits occur across large parts of the area (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description).

Designated geological sites

The NCA includes the following geological sites (Natural England, Geological and Mixed Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 2021):

wdt_IDNCA_IDNAMENCAAreaHaInterest typeArea (ha) 2021Percent of NCA (2021)Count
2361NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Geological6.80.01
2371NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Mixed1,029.52.75
2382NORTHUMBERLAND SANDSTONE HILLS72,694.6Geological45.40.14
2393CHEVIOT FRINGE51,591.3Geological17.10.02
2404CHEVIOTS36,487.9Geological165.00.52
2414CHEVIOTS36,487.9Mixed3,488.99.61
2425BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Geological85.70.18
2435BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Mixed35.80.01
2446SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Geological7.20.02
2456SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Mixed5,569.25.74

There are 30 Local Geological Sites within the NCA (Natural England, 2011)

Soils and Agriculture Classification

The high altitude and heavy rainfall has created acidic soils dominated by moorland vegetation. In the north, large areas are covered by blanket peat deposits (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description).

The main grades of agricultural land in the NCA are broken down as follows (as a proportion of total land area) (Natural England, Provisional Agricultural Land Classification, 2019):


Landform, geology and soils map for NCA53

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Key waterbodies and catchments section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Major rivers/canals

The following major rivers/canals (by length) have been identified in this NCA (Natural England, data informing the 2014 National Character Area Profiles, 2010):

wdt_IDREF_CODENAME_1NameLength (km)SumOfShape_Length
11NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Aln7.67,587.2
21NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Coquet5.55,516.0
31NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINWhiteadder Water2.92,904.9
410NORTH PENNINESBlack Burn11.911,853.4
510NORTH PENNINESCroglin Water10.010,042.3
610NORTH PENNINESCrowdundle Beck4.34,337.4
710NORTH PENNINESDevil's Water20.520,464.6
810NORTH PENNINESHarwood Beck9.79,740.2
910NORTH PENNINESRiver Allen4.94,889.0
1010NORTH PENNINESRiver Derwent15.315,268.4

Please note: other significant rivers (by volume) may also occur. Tidal stretches of rivers are not included, which may include some major rivers.

Watercourses throughout the South West Peak dissect the landscape, with fast flowing streams cutting deep valleys or ‘cloughs’. The upland streams which rise on the moorland edge are fast flowing with stony beds and can show considerable variation in flow rates after heavy rain. In the upper reaches they are of very good water quality, but this declines as they reach the lowland valleys mainly as a result of agricultural runoff, sewage effluent and, locally, industrial discharges. Reservoirs occur in some valleys, both in the far north and south of the NCA, as well as more isolated areas on the moorland edges around Buxton. Ponds are a scarce feature; a few can be found on the moorland, or in some valleys in the form of old oxbows and millponds. In some locations, flooded bell- pits and sections of canal add to the variety of wetland features (Natural England, 2010).

Water quality

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. These can impact surface water (waterbodies and waterways located above ground) and groundwater (water bodies and waterways located below ground).

Waterbodies such as lakes can also be designated as “eutrophic waters” if the enrichment of the waterbody by nitrate pollution causes accelerated growth of algae, impacting the quality of the water and the balance of organisms within it.

The following NVZs are located within the NCA (Environment Agency, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Designations, 2021):

Water framework directive

River basin management plans cover river basin districts and describe the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed and funded. The plans include the classification of water quality of surface waters and ground waters.



Click on the Water Framework Directive layers on the below map to view the corresponding river names.

Key waterbodies and catchments map for NCA53

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Trees and woodlands section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Total woodland cover

Ancient woodland is any area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. National Forest Inventory (NFI) woodland includes all forests and woodlands (0.5 hectares and over). The total woodland cover within the NCA is as follows (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021; Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Distribution and size of woodland and trees in the landscape

Broadleaved woodlands are generally limited to the steep sheltered valley heads. Small windswept groups of sycamore, beech or oak are associated with isolated farmsteads and are commonly enclosed by the dry stone walls (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description).

Woodland types

A statistical breakdown of the area and type of woodland found across the NCA is detailed below (Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Area and proportion of ancient woodland and planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS) within the NCA (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021):


Trees and woodlands map for NCA53

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Boundary features and patterns

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Boundary features

Gritstone walls enclose the higher fields while hedgerows are more common on lower ground and the foothills, with a prevalence of holly in valley bottoms in the south-west (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Field patterns

Grazing land in the upland areas includes both large enclosures on lower, better drained and flatter margins to the moor and small, clean, in-bye enclosures around isolated farmsteads. Many of the large enclosures are areas of land that have been reclaimed from the moor in the past (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Agriculture section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

The following tables provide the most recently available statistics from Defra on agriculture within the NCA.

Farm type

The following farm types are located within this NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Farm size

The following table outlines the sizes of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm ownership

The following table outlines the ownership of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Land use

The following table outlines the types of agricultural land use within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Livestock numbers

The following livestock are farmed within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm labour

The following table outlines the types of farm labour within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Please note: (i) Some of the Census data are estimated by Defra so may not present a precise assessment of agriculture within this area (ii) Data refers to commercial holdings only (iii) Data includes land outside of the NCA where it belongs to holdings whose centre point is recorded as being within the NCA.



Note that the below map only shows agri-environment scheme coverage, and not other schemes.

Agriculture map for NCA53

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Key habitats and species section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Habitat distribution/coverage

Blanket bog covers extensive areas of the highest parts of the northern moors. The thick peat, at least half a metre deep, lies as a mantle over the gentle slopes.

The breeding bird community associated with blanket mire is of international importance, holding significant breeding populations of a number of birdslisted on Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive.

Roughly 4 per cent of the British breeding population of merlin and 2 per cent of golden plover can be found across the Peak District Moors (including the South West Peak). Other important species include dunlin and teal. Dry heath occupies the lower moor, where the peat is thin, or on the more peaty mineral soils.

The majority of the semi-natural woodland remaining in the South West Peak comes into the category of upland oakwood. Woodland cover is restricted and is now largely confined to the cloughs and moorland fringes and the steeper valley sides in the south-west, such as those along the River Dane. A large number of epiphytic lichens have been recorded in these woodlands, although none are nationally scarce, the grouping is significant.

Recent plantations of conifers are found in the north of the NCA, some, such as Macclesfield Forest and the plantations of the Goyt Valley, cover extensive areas. Nightjar is partly associated with recent clear fell and young stands of conifers. Goshawks often breed in conifer plantations and black grouse also use this habitat.

Purple moor grass grasslands are principally restricted to the higher moorland blocks in areas of impeded drainage where they form mosaics with other moorland habitats.

Flushes characteristically occur in the cloughs and along the river valleys of the main moorland areas of the South West Peak.

Mires usually occur as more extensive features on gently sloping ground on the moorland fringes and higher enclosed land.

The wetlands of the South West Peak support a number of important animals, many of the lower reaches of streams and rivers have populations of water vole and one or two ponds have great crested newt colonies.

Farmland is the principal habitat in the lower-lying southern and western parts of the NCA, complementing the high moors to the north and east.

Gritstone tors and edges together with their boulder strewn slopes and screes are locally important landscape features in the South West Peak, providing important habitats for some specialist wildlife.

The exposed rock is colonised by a lichen community which includes species of regional interest as well as those which are nationally scarce.

Nesting birds are important too, with ravens re-colonising in small numbers in the South West Peak (South West Peak Natural Area Profile).

Key Habitats

The NCA contains the following areas of key main habitats, as mapped by the national Priority Habitat Inventory (Natural England, Priority Habitats Inventory, 2021):






Key habitats and species map for NCA53

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Settlement and development patterns section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Settlement patterns

The settlement pattern is characterised by a very high degree of dispersal. Many of the farmsteads are of medieval origins often in former royal and private forests. There are nucleated villages to the south-west (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Main settlements

The main settlements in the NCA are Bollington and Whaley Bridge (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Local vernacular and building materials

Gritstone is the predominant traditional building material with brick more commonly used towards the west. Sandstone flag and later Welsh slate were used for roofs. Some buildings contain remnants of 16th century or earlier timber frames, the latter often surviving as cruck-framed buildings with later stone infill (South West Peak Countryside Character Area Description, Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Settlement and development patterns map for NCA53

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Key historic sites and features section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Origin of historic features

Mesolithic and Neolithic activity is widely reflected by the discovery of stone tools and flint scatters and the settlement and field systems at Lismore Fields to the south-west of Buxton. There is evidence of occupation of the lower hills from prehistoric times. Many barrows from the Bronze Age are visible around the margins of the valleys, above the range of prehistoric cultivation. Many farmsteads are of medieval origin. Coal mining took place from the medieval period up to the early 19th century with numerous deep shafts. Evidence of this mining industry can be found in the form of large spoil heaps and associated buildings, which mark the sites of the deeper mines. Roads and tracks in the upland core – including those linked with upland grazing to lowland settlements – are visible as hollow ways, superseded in the 18th and 19th centuries by the present road system (Countryside Quality Counts Draft Historic Profile, Countryside Character Area Description).

Designated historic assets

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Listed buildings

The NCA includes the following listed buildings (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Heritage at Risk Register

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets listed within the Heritage at Risk Register (Historic England, Heritage at Risk Register, 2023):



Key historic sites and features map for NCA53

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Recreation and access section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Public access

The following areas of public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; National Trust, 2021):


Please note: Public access areas may overlap.
The following linear routes or public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; Sustrans; 2021):

Recreation and access map for NCA53

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Experiential qualities

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Tranquillity

Based on the CPRE map of tranquillity (2006) the highest scores for tranquillity are found on the remote high ground, away from centres of population and road corridors. The lowest scores for tranquillity are generally found along the boundary of the NCA where the main population centres are. When compared to adjoining NCAs the tranquillity score remains relatively high.

A breakdown of tranquillity values for this NCA are detailed in the table below (CPRE, Tranquillity Map, 2006):

Dark skies

Light pollution is a generic term referring to artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed, and can impact on people’s experience of the countryside within the NCAs. CPRE host an interactive map, depicting the light pollution and dark skies within the NCA.

Intrusion

The 2007 Intrusion Map (CPRE) shows the extent to which rural landscapes are ‘intruded on’ from urban development, noise (primarily traffic noise), and other sources of visual and auditory intrusion. This shows that it is mainly the upland areas that remain relatively undisturbed, though there is a significant level of disturbance around the urban areas to the north of the NCA and along the road routes that cut across the NCA in an east/west direction.

A breakdown of intrusion values for this NCA is detailed in the table below (CPRE, Intrusion Map, 2007):

Notable trends from the 1960s to 2007 are a slight increase in the area of disturbed land by 9 per cent, matched by a similar decrease in the areas of undisturbed land by 10 per cent. Urban areas only increased by 2 per cent.