National Character Area 52

White Peak - Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA.

Further analysis on ecosytem services for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosytem Services section.

Landscape attributes


Elevated, gently undulating, limestone plateau with occasional knolls and crags, dissected by steeply cut dales and gorges with rock outcrops, screes and caves.

Justification for selection:

  • Elevation ranges from 91 m to 475 m, the mean elevation is 295 m and the majority of the plateau sits above 330 m with its highest area at around 460 m near Bradwell Moor and Eldon Hill in the north.
  • The plateau presents a very open landscape, with views often framed by rising hills of Dark Peak and South West Peak to the north, east and west of the NCA boundary.
  • Limestone dales and gorges cut into the plateau mainly running north-west to south-east.
  • Dramatic rock outcrops, tors, reef knolls and pinnacles form prominent features in the landscape offering far-reaching views. They are often individually named with mythical associations – such as Ilam Rock, High Tor, Rainster Rocks, Harboro Rocks, Thor’s Cave, Heights of Abraham, Thorpe Cloud and Wetton Hill.
  • The cave network is very significant in terms of geological interest, with most of the network designated as Geological or Mixed Interest SSSI.
  • The extensive limestone caves and numerous karst features provide valuable and popular recreational destinations, with show caves such as Speedwell Cavern, Treak Cliff and Peak Cavern for visitors/tourists, a much larger network accessible to experienced cavers and many sites for rock climbing.

Clear rivers, streams and springs in some dales; others are dry or only run water in winter.

Justification for selection:

  • The NCA has 63 km of major rivers including the Wye, Manifold, Dove and Derwent, and many smaller streams and tributaries.
  • Seasonally dry valleys include Lathkill Dale (whose name is derived from the Middle English term for ‘summer dry’ (A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire, PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, David Horowitz LLB, 2003).
  • Springs are very important in the area: historically for water supply (still important for some remote properties and farms); culturally, as evidenced by the well-dressing festivals which are still celebrated by a large number of communities with the creation of elaborate murals from natural materials pressed in to clay-covered boards; and, ecologically as recognised by the inclusion of alkaline fen and tufa-forming springs in the Derbyshire Dales SAC.

Dale sides with a mosaic of flower- rich limestone grassland, ash woodland and wildlife-rich scrub.

Justification for selection:

  • Some dale sides are very heavily wooded with semi-natural ash woodlands, such as those along the Wye and Manifold and in Miller’s Dale. They support important populations of woodland birds.
  • Ash is the dominant tree in the dale-side woodlands, with its liking for alkaline soil conditions and its particular facility for rooting in scree.
  • Scrub in the dales is of particular wildlife value. There are three main types: hazel ‘retrogressive’ scrub (developed on formerly wooded areas, with an open canopy and diverse mix of woodland and grassland ground flora), western gorse scrub (on more acidic ground) and hawthorn scrub (that develops on ungrazed grassland).
  • The exceptional wildlife value of the limestone dales is recognised by their inclusion in the Peak District Dales Special Area of Conservation which includes the majority of the dales and covers 2,323 ha within the White Peak. The site is designated primarily for its calcareous grassland, scrub, woodland and white-clawed crayfish. The habitat mosaics of the dales are well connected and mostly uninterrupted by developed or agriculturally improved land, with wooded and open habitats grading into one another and draining down through semi-natural flood plains to the rivers in the valley bottoms.

Improved grassland for dairy and livestock farming dominates the plateau, punctuated by occasional dew ponds, narrow shelterbelts of broadleaved trees and small patches of rough grassland, meadow and heath.

Justification for selection:

  • In 2009 over three-quarters of the area’s holdings were livestock farms (129 dairy, 464 livestock). Most of the remaining holdings classified as ‘other’, are likely to be mixed/livestock due to the general scarcity of arable farming in the area.
  • The fertile stone-less loess soils that were deposited on the plateau at the end of the last ice age are up to 1.2 m thick in some places and support agriculturally productive pastures and meadows/silage fields.
  • 96 per cent of agricultural land is classed as grass or uncropped land and there are over 5,000 ha of upland and lowland limestone grassland, 2,000 ha lowland dry acid grassland and 1,700 ha hay meadows.
  • The limestone heath on the plateau originates from extensive Neolithic woodland clearance.
  • The free-draining nature of the limestone plateau, lacking in natural water bodies, necessitated the creation of large numbers of dew ponds in past centuries to capture and supply drinking water for livestock. Some of these are still in active use, but many have fallen into disrepair, with cracked linings allowing water to drain out.
  • On the open windswept plateau long narrow shelterbelts were planted to provide shelter for farmsteads and livestock and to provide a source of firewood from otherwise unproductive lead-polluted ground. Many remain as distinctive features in the landscape.

Grassland enclosed by grey limestone drystone walls, with small narrow strip fields, often of medieval origin, around villages, and larger rectangular fields away from the villages.

Justification for selection:

  • Sinuous, narrow fields show the remains of medieval field systems around villages, with well-preserved networks in areas such as Chelmorton and Wardlow.
  • Further away from the village the field boundary patterns are larger and typical of the planned, regular enclosures created under the Parliamentary Enclosures Acts.

Nucleated villages and small towns connected by crest and valley roads.

Justification for selection:

  • The historic character of many of the settlements has been very well-preserved and the nucleated pattern of the villages has been retained.
  • The spa town of Matlock Bath and the market towns of Bakewell and Buxton are the largest settlements in the NCA.
  • Major routes include the A515 linking Buxton to Ashbourne and the A6 linking Buxton to Bakewell.
  • The network of small roads carrying large volumes of commuter and tourist traffic are prone to high numbers of accidents and road-signs to improve safety have proliferated as a result, with an impact on the traditional undeveloped character of the landscape in some areas.

A mix of limestone and gritstone used as building materials.

Justification for selection:

  • Some settlements are dominated by limestone (such as Monyash) and some are comprised of buildings constructed with a mix of limestone and gritstone (such as Buxton).
  • Gritstone is an easier stone to work and to obtain a fine finish on than the harder Carboniferous Limestone, so gritstone was often used for larger, grander buildings or as material for the front faces of limestone buildings.
  • Where gritstone and limestone are used on the same building the gritstone is usually used for features such as door and window surrounds and quoins.

Widespread features of special archaeological and historical interest including Neolithic and bronze-age ritual monuments.

Justification for selection:

  • Many of the Neolithic and bronze-age ritual monuments are in eye-catching positions on hill-tops and ridge lines.
  • Arbor Low henge and stone circle is a Neolithic site considered to be a site of immense national importance and the most important prehistoric site in the east Midlands. It consists of an earthen bank and ditch, a circle of 50 limestone slabs, all now fallen, and a central stone ‘cove’.
  • Other important Neolithic sites include Minninglow and Green Low burial chambers.
  • A number of prominent locations are host to multi-phase sites, such as Wigber Low which has bronze-age and Anglo-Saxon burials overlaying a possible Neolithic settlement, and was later also used for lead smelting.
  • There are some very well-preserved historic landscapes scattered with reminders of early human occupation and activity such as hilltop camps, burial mounds and Roman roads.

Many visible reminders of early industry including historic limestone and lead workings, lime kilns and dramatic water mills from 18th-century textile industry.

Justification for selection:

  • Features associated with lead mining pepper the landscape of the limestone plateau, including lead rakes, waste heaps, pits, engine sites and smelt houses.
  • Many lead mining sites support a rare and valuable plant community called calaminarian grassland (for example Gang Mine SAC), made up of low-growing lead-tolerant plants, such as spring sandwort and Alpine pennycress. There used to be large numbers of small limestone quarries used for very local supply of limestone to make lime for agricultural purposes (burning off vegetation, raising the pH and fertility of poor, acidic ground), building purposes (for lime mortars and plaster) and for building stone (for buildings and drystone walls).
  • The landscape is scattered with numerous historic lime kilns and extensive remains of commercial lime production from the mid- 17th to the19th century, such as at Grin Low.
  • 18th century water mills and associated textile factory buildings form dramatic landmarks in many of the dales with larger rivers, such as Miller’s Dale, Cromford, Litton and Cressbrook.
  • Approximately 12 ha of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site falls within the NCA, and 218 ha of its buffer zone. The World Heritage Site status is in recognition that the area was the birthplace of the factory system which harnessed water power for textile production.

Landscape opportunities

  • Maintain the visibility, accessibility and integrity of important geological exposures and features by managing vegetation, directing public access and providing interpretation and educational opportunities.
  • Work with quarrying companies to limit the landscape and environmental impacts of large-scale active limestone quarries and ensure high-quality restoration of disused quarry sites for agriculture, habitat creation and recreational use.
  • Protect the area’s limestone rivers, their clean and clear water and natural courses by working with farmers, water companies, residents, developers and industry to encourage good practice in land, soil, water and waste management and introduction of sustainable drainage systems.
  • Conserve, sympathetically manage and enhance species-rich limestone grassland, securing appropriate grazing/management regimes that protect it from scrub encroachment and soil erosion.
  • Conserve, manage and extend the dale-side ash woodlands through: protecting existing sites, active and non-intervention management; creation of woodland edge habitats and buffer zones; and, planting new woodland to connect existing isolated patches of woodland, where this is appropriate in terms of landscape, biodiversity, historic and recreational interests.
  • Protect and maintain views by managing, thinning and replanting woodlands and shelterbelts.
  • Conserve, manage, enhance and extend the diverse plateau grasslands, including traditional hay meadows and neutral and calaminarian grasslands.
  • Secure sympathetic traditional management of hay meadows management, including appropriate grazing regimes and cutting dates.
  • Conserve, manage and replenish trees and woodland features on the plateau, particularly long narrow shelterbelts, lead rake woodlands and boundary trees.
  • Protect the tranquil and undeveloped character of the steep limestone dales and gorges.
  • Ensure new housing, infrastructure and other development is sympathetically sited and designed to minimise visual impact and that it is appropriate in scale for this sensitive landscape with strong historic character.
  • Protect and manage above and below ground archaeology, particularly Neolithic and bronze-age burial structures and ridge and furrow.
  • Conserve, maintain and restore traditional farmsteads and field barns using traditional building materials/techniques and local styles.
  • Protect and maintain historic structures related to use of the area’s watercourses to power early industry, such as water leats and mill buildings, particularly where associated with the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and where compatible with restoration of natural river function.
  • Protect, manage and maintain traditional historic structures associated with farming on the limestone plateau, particularly the distinctive patterns of drystone walls (medieval and later enclosure), dew ponds and lime-kilns using traditional materials and techniques.
  • Protect the nucleated pattern and historic character of villages, encourage restoration using traditional materials, techniques and local styles and allowing for high-quality, innovative and sustainable design.