National Character Area 53

South West Peak - Landscape Change

The full NCA Profile landscape change page, is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Monitoring Landscape Change

Drivers for change
The South West Peak is a distinctive upland ridge and valley landscape with a moorland core, and its tranquil and remote character is under various pressures from recreation, tourism and climate changes. The NCA supports internationally important habitats, but prolonged droughts may dry out peatlands thus affecting their carbon-storing capacity, and hotter temperatures may lead to plant diseases which affect moorland species. Changing economic factors and climate change may alter agricultural practices which may result in changes in landscape character.

Monitoring landscape change
This section is temporarily unavailable until publication of the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan Indicator G1 later in May 2024.

Additional information on landscape change

Landscape change reported in 2014

Recent changes and trends (reported in 2014)


  • Agriculture is dominated by upland livestock farming. 97 per cent of the NCA is grassland or uncultivated land and this has remained stable since 1990. Survey data from 2000 to 2009 shows a significant decline in the numbers of livestock. Livestock numbers have dropped significantly since 2000 with 16 per cent fewer sheep, 15 per cent fewer cattle and a third fewer pigs. There has been a noticeable trend in the loss of dairy farms throughout the NCA, 35 per cent have been lost since 2000, with a rise in the numbers of beef and sheep farms.
  • Census data shows that there has been an increase in the number of farms, particularly those less than 5 hectares in area, since 2000, but it is considered that this is may be the opposite to what is probably the true trend. This increase is due to registration improvements for animal health requirements since the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001, with inactive farms staying on the register and a requirement for smaller farms to register. Since 1990 the number of holdings greater than 50 ha has increased by 30 per cent, and holdings greater than or equal to 100 ha by over 200 per cent which indicates farms taking on additional land from those between 20 and 50 ha which have reduced in number by a third. The number of farm workers has decreased by 5 per cent between 2000 and 2009.
  • Uptake of agreements for Environmental Stewardship schemes is below the national average. Grassland management options are the most common for agreement holders.

Boundary features

  • In parts, most notably in the Upper Manifold Valley area, the historic field pattern has been quite heavily modified, resulting in both a loss of drystone walls and hedgerows and through lack of maintenance, dilapidated field walls and gappy/overgrown hedges. Although field walls closer to the upland core tend to be more intact, many of the hedgerows are in poor condition. Associated features such as gateposts, sheep folds, stone troughs and parish boundary markers are also at risk. This is leading to a loss of in the historic field pattern throughout the NCA. With smaller field sizes in this NCA there is a high proportion of gritstone drystone walls and still scope for continued management and restoration of boundary features including drystone walls and hedgerows.
  • The past Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme was popular with farmers seeking walling grants towards the cost of renovation and rebuilding of drystone walls. The condition of boundary features has improved with considerable restoration and maintenance of drystone walls under the Environmentally Sensitive Area and Countryside Stewardship schemes, continuing under Environmental Stewardship. In 2011 there were 231 environmental stewardship agreements restoring, protecting or maintaining 299,797 m of drystone wall; and 147 agreements for the restoration or management of 120,751 m of hedgerows.

Coast and rivers

  • The steep topography, narrow valleys and limited floodplains combine with high rainfall to produce watercourses that respond rapidly to rainfall. The resultant increase in volumes of water increase fluvial flood risk occurring in downstream NCAs in the Trent, Mersey and Weaver catchments.
  • The South West Peak is a major water catchment area and many of these rivers feed into upland reservoirs Errwood, Fernilee, Lamaload, Trentabank, Ridgegate, Bottoms and Tittesworth; which provide water and recreational resources to the NCA and urban areas on the fringes.
  • In the upper reaches the rivers and streams are of very good water quality but this declines as they reach the lowland valleys outside the NCA mainly through agricultural runoff, sewage effluent and, locally, industrial discharges. The England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative has helped farmers and land managers to undertake measures to reduce diffuse water pollution from agriculture to protect water bodies and the environment.

Historic features

  • Historic, archaeological and cultural assets (above and below ground) including scheduled monuments, listed buildings, vernacular buildings and boundary features (drystone walls and hedgerows) are all at risk where the local farming economy becomes more marginal. For example, a lack of short-term maintenance tasks such as replacing dislodged coping stones to a drystone wall over a period of years can cause wholesale instability and then ruin over a few years.
  • Historic quarries (other than one small quarry) are closed and this shortage of active quarries in the NCA may result in scarceness of traditional building materials for repairs to the historic fabric of buildings and drystone walls, leading builders and developers to seek alternative sources for matching materials outside the NCA.


  • There is only one small-scale active quarry within the South West Peak which provides local building stone. This is helping to conserve the local character of the historic built environment. There are the remains of former quarries throughout the area and there is pressure to open up some of these quarries to meet the needs of local building repairs and new developments.

Semi-natural habitats

  • There are 5,553 ha of SSSI within the NCA with approximately 90 per cent in either favourable or unfavourable recovering condition. Positive changes to management have increased this figure from 39 per cent in 2003, demonstrating the value of Environmental Stewardship schemes and other landscape scale conservation initiatives, in delivering environmental benefits.
  • In the uplands, drainage schemes, and agricultural improvement have reduced the extent and diversity of blanket bog and heath locally, while on the lower land grassland diversity has been reduced by changes in farming methods such as the change from hay to silage production. Coniferous plantations have, in places, replaced more diverse semi-natural grasslands such as at Goldsitch Moss near Quarnford.

Settlement and development

  • Green Belt status applies to 11 per cent and National Park status to a further 65 per cent of the NCA and to a degree this protection limits the demands for new build development pressure in those areas. However it does increase the development pressures on the edges and beyond those designated areas. For example, high increases in housing stock, measured in units per hectare between 1998 and 2003, are recorded at Bollington, Whaley Bridge, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Dove Holes which lie outside the National Park or Green Belt.
  • In the National Park the pressure for residential development is somewhat less intense in the South West Peak than elsewhere in the Park. However, there is still a need to provide affordable housing for key workers and to ensure that development is sensitive and appropriate to landscape character and the historic settlement pattern. In some areas, changes in the agricultural sector have led to farms being bought as large domestic properties rather than as working entities. Such ownership changes can be associated with separation of farmstead and land holding, resulting in increasing trends for isolated, modern farm buildings, located away from farmsteads.
  • Urban areas in the South West Peak, such as Whaley Bridge and Bollington with greater demands for development are noticeably less tranquil than the rural parts away from main roads. This has a corresponding effect on light pollution where it is greatest at urban centres.
  • There is an increasing demand for renewable energy schemes, in particular wind power. There may be opportunities for micro small-scale renewable, for example, wind and solar where it could be accommodated avoiding adverse impact on biodiversity, landscape character, the setting of historic features and landscapes, amenity value and tranquillity.
  • There is demand for infrastructure including road signage, communications and power supply, such as, telecommunications masts and overhead electricity cables. In recent years there has been an increase in visual intrusion of communications infrastructure, particularly telecommunication masts, which can impact on landscape character and the setting of cultural heritage features, buildings and historic landscapes.

Trees and woodlands

  • The total area of woodland is 3,247 ha which amounts to less than 8 per cent of the NCA; 3 per cent is coniferous, 5 per cent broadleaved; and under 1 per cent is mixed. 438 ha of this is ancient woodland.
  • Woodlands are not a common feature in the NCA. The moorland areas are typically un-wooded and open, apart from occasional large coniferous plantations. However there are opportunities to enhance the structure and diversity of both semi-natural and plantation woodlands where it will not adversely affect priority habitats, cultural heritage features and key viewpoints.
  • Woodland diversity has been reduced by the isolation of woodland blocks, grazing, lack of management and invasion by rhododendrons. Coniferous plantations have, in places, replaced more diverse semi-natural landscapes.
  • Woodland cover in 1999 was 2,478 ha. From 1999 to 2003 the area of woodlands receiving annual management grants under the WGS increased from 50 ha to 130 ha which indicates an increase in scheme uptake for the management of mature woodlands. By 2010 woodland cover was 3,247 ha.
  • Upland deciduous woodlands are known to support priority bird species of pied flycatcher, redstart, wood warbler and tree pipit.
  • There are opportunities for planting native woodland and improved woodland management to prevent fragmentation linking to small scale local wood fuel usage and renewable energy schemes. This may also enhance existing access provision and improve recreational opportunities.

Drivers of Change (reported in 2014)

Climate Change

  • Evidence from UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCP09) shows that over the coming century the Peak District climate is expected, on average to become warmer and wetter in winter and hotter and drier in summer.
  • Extreme weather events are likely to occur more frequently, resulting in increased or more energetic rainfall that may cause soil/peat erosion and sedimentation and discolouration of watercourses (and flooding) downstream. In addition, increased flows could cause rivers to change course.
  • Peatlands may dry out during prolonged droughts, increasing the risks of soil erosion and wildfires, resulting in loss of habitat and stored carbon. Changing soil conditions are likely to lead to changing habitats and species migration as species move and adapt accordingly.
  • Climate change may play a role in the spread of plant pathogens such as Phytophthora, with potentially very significant consequences for moorland dwarf-shrubs in particular. It may also play a role in the spread of other pests and diseases which may affect woodland and livestock.
  • Increasing pressure to accommodate renewable energy installations, for example. wind turbines, including small scale for individual settlements, communities or large scale schemes in the upland core; small scale hydro power schemes in watercourses; or solar PV for domestic, agricultural or commercial buildings.
  • Freshwater habitats and water supplies may be affected by drought, reduced flows and draw-down from reservoirs and increasing summer water surface temperatures.
  • There may be changes to agricultural practices as a result of changing climate conditions, such as a longer growing season or wetter ground surfaces at times of high rainfall. Opportunities exist to drive good agricultural practices that can deal with change and yet still manage, conserve and enhance the mosaic of habitats.

Other key drivers

  • Changing economic factors may lead to a decline in livestock numbers, an increase in marginal farming and abandonment of some upland hill farms which will have a detrimental impact on the character of the South West Peak Uplands and its component parts.
  • Agricultural specialisation, intensification, and farm amalgamation with attendant impact on landscape character and its component parts.
  • Environmental Stewardship schemes are under review as part the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. There will be a need for continuing support to ensure flexible land management for upland landscapes, especially to address climate change, soil erosion, water quality, the conservation of valuable habitats, the movement of species, and the protection and enhancement of the historic environment and landscape character.
  • The trends towards separation of farmstead from land, hobby farming and diversification are likely to continue.
  • Ongoing need for of appropriate moorland management regimes, to secure good condition of the vegetation and water quality, including the enhancement and conservation of peatland habitats.
  • The need for management of woodlands including clough woodland where appropriate, to enrich diversity, build resilience and enhance habitat value.
  • Development, traffic and light pollution both inside and on the fringes of the NCA.
  • Managing increased pressure for new development and barn conversions in open exposed landscapes to ensure that landscape character is protected and enhanced.
  • Managing increased access and challenges of recreational activities at key visitor sites.