National Character Area 53

South West Peak - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity


The South West Peak is an area of upland and associated foothills in the southwest region of the Pennines. It lies in the south-west part of the Peak District and 65 per cent of the National Character Area (NCA) falls within the Peak District National Park, which was Britain’s first National Park, being designated in 1951. The South West Peak stretches from just south of Stockport in the north to Leek in the south, and is contained by the fringes of Buxton and Macclesfield to the east and west.

It is an upland landscape characterised by Carboniferous age Millstone Grit and Coal Measures and is often scenically and distinctly diverse. The area has an open moorland core. Strong ridges such as Morridge run north to south. The moorland core fringes fall away to gentle slopes, dissected by steep wooded cloughs, and fast-flowing streams are found at lower elevations. These open out to form wider upland river valleys, some of which include reservoirs such as Errwood and Tittesworth, and are also characterised by permanent grassland with rushy pasture, species-rich hay meadows and improved productive farmland. This working landscape is dominated by livestock farming; the fields are medium to small in size and bounded mostly by drystone gritstone walls, with some hedgerows at lower elevations. The settlement pattern is dispersed with small settlements, traditional farmsteads and isolated field barns predominantly built of local stone, reflecting the geology, history and local building traditions.

Key habitats of international importance amount to 12 per cent of the area which is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) – Peak District Moors (South Pennine Moor Phase 1) SPA and South Pennine Moors SAC. Some 13 per cent of the NCA has also been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which range from the large-scale Leek Moors to the significantly smaller Colshaw Pastures.

The area supports internationally important mosaics of habitats including moorland with heath and blanket mire, rushy pasture and species-rich hay meadows. These support a number of species including birds such as hen harrier, merlin, golden plover, curlew, short-eared owl, twite, red grouse and dunlin. It also includes nationally important historic landscapes and heritage assets including Registered Parks and Gardens such as Lyme Park, listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

The peaty moorland soils, where they are in good condition, store significant volumes of carbon and water, which bring important environmental benefits for water quality, climate regulation and habitat conservation. With rainfall of over 140 cm a year and impervious geology, it is an important area for water supply, with several reservoirs supplying water within the NCA and to nearby conurbations including the Stockport, Macclesfield, Leek and Stoke-on-Trent areas. The rivers Bollin, Churnet, Dane, Dean, Dove, Goyt, Hamps and Manifold all have their sources in the uplands of this NCA.

The South West Peak is important for recreation and tourism because of the extensive open access areas, wide-ranging views, dense network of footpaths, country lanes, and the sense of tranquillity that they offer for quiet enjoyment of the countryside, along with the ease of access from adjacent towns and cities.

Future pressures for the NCA include the management of water for public supplies and maintaining river levels, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, maintaining agricultural businesses, the restoration and continued management of species-rich moorland and grassland, management of woodland especially on steep valley sides, managing biodiversity, geodiversity, cultural and heritage assets, and managing visitor and recreational activities while retaining the sense of tranquillity and remoteness that is valued by so many.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

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


Protect, manage and enhance the open, expansive moorlands of the South West Peak and internationally important habitats and species that they support, protecting both soil and water resources.


Protect, manage and enhance the moorland fringes and valleys, with their mosaics of habitats including moorland, heathland, woodland, meadows and pastures, strong field boundary patterns defined by drystone walls and hedgerows, and small, dispersed settlements, to safeguard water quality, enhance biodiversity and ecological networks and strengthen the distinctive historic landscape character of the South West Peak.


Protect and manage the South West Peak’s Upper Mersey, Weaver and Trent catchments, watercourses and reservoirs to maintain their high water quality and significance to water supply and flood risk mitigation, to enhance their nature conservation interest, and to strengthen their contribution to landscape character, and the recreational opportunities that they provide for public enjoyment.


Protect and manage the geological, cultural and historical features of the South West Peak, including The Roaches, Leek Moors, Errwood and Tittesworth reservoirs, and Lyme Park, to reinforce the strong relationship between the landscape, its history of land use, wildlife, and natural, archaeological and cultural heritage, by encouraging interpretation, understanding, access and recreational opportunities which would increase public enjoyment and understanding of this tranquil upland working landscape.