Photo: Chris Gilbert.
The combination of contrasting landscapes and dramatic geology across the Peak District National Park creates its famous beautiful views. The area’s geology is often revealed in spectacular ways. Visitors stumble upon stunning panoramas when landscapes suddenly change, like the hairpin bends at Crowdecote with their unexpected view across the ‘dragon’s back’ of Chrome and Parkhouse Hill. Others explore the ‘shivering mountain’ of Mam Tor, following the dramatically collapsed road. Those walking the Manifold Valley in the summer see the river ‘vanish’ at Wetton Mill, running through caves and underground passages before reappearing at Ilam Park.
Many of the contrasting landscapes that give the Peak District National Park its well-known views have been produced by the interaction between people and nature over thousands of years, giving different areas their own individual character and sense of place.
The Dark Peak’s Millstone Grit horseshoe has scattered rock outcrops and deep cloughs across a moorland landscape, its elevation giving panoramic views that contrast the perceived wilderness of the moors with the neighbouring cities. Walk on Holme Moss and enjoy uninterrupted moorland views across miles of blanket bog, heather and peat and out over the neighbouring cities. Experience the unique position of the Peak District National Park, with beautiful views surrounded by urban life.
Views across the White Peak’s rolling limestone plateau reveal a farmed landscape enclosed by dry stone walls and interspersed with deeply dissected wooded dales and grasslands. These views are accessible and intimate. Visit Monsal Head to take in spectacular views across the green valley, where the historic railway viaduct spans the gorge. The viaduct is part of the Monsal recreation trail, giving users a bird’s-eye view of the river and the surrounding pastures.
The South West Peak’s sweeping views reveal iconic ridges and valleys with unusual features like the ‘Winking Man’ rock formation at Ramshaw Rocks. Discover the Upper Dane Valley and pause on Axe Edge to enjoy breath-taking views as far as the eye can see in all directions, with the outlines of instantly-recognisable Peak District hills stretching away to the east in sharp contrast with the flat expanse of the Cheshire plains to the west
# Key data trends
The landscape of the Peak District has been shaped by both natural and cultural influences. The variations in geology, landform, soils and biodiversity combined with farming practice, land use and settlement patterns make the landscape what it is today. This interaction between people and nature has created a powerful sense of place that resonates across the different landscape types and is central to the designation of the Peak District National Park, which has the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. While change is inevitable in the landscape, it should be managed in a way that maintains and enhances the core elements of landscape character.
Currently, there is a lack of data on views in the Peak District. Over time, this key trends section will be expanded as more data is gathered.
A Peak District Landscape Character Assessment was carried out in 2009 and splits the Peak District into Landscape Character Areas, Landscape Character Types and Landscape Description Units:
The Peak District has been divided into eight character areas: Dark Peak; Dark Peak Western Fringe; Dark Peak Yorkshire Fringe; South West Peak; White Peak; Derwent Valley; Eastern Moors; Derbyshire Peak Fringes
Within each Landscape Character Area, a number of Landscape Character Types have been defined based on the pattern of natural and cultural characteristics.
The UK has been split into 159 National Character Areas, three of which cover the Peak District:
- Dark Peak
- White Peak
- South West Peak.
- The last full land cover assestment in the National Park showed a large loss of field boundaries specifically; The PDNP lost 42km of hedgerows, 230km of dry-stone walls, but gained 14km of wire fences.
- Between the 1970’s and 1980’s the area of enclosed farmland increased overall although the main source of change was movement between one sort of enclosed farmland and another. There was considerable change between rough pasture, improved pasture and cultivated land as land was continued to be improved for agriculture, cultivated or allowed to revert at different times. The general trend however was one of intensification of framing.
- Covering around 650km² of northern England, the Land Cover Map by Moors for the Furture Partnership provides us with a ‘baseline’ data set which shows us the location, extent and boundaries of the different habitats and land covers present at a particular point in time. This can be used to help identify areas requiring restoration interventions as well as areas for science and monitoring.
- At least 50% of the Peak District land cover is improved grassland for agriculture (can vary due to classification schemes and mapping methodology)
Development in the landscape:
- Applications have been granted contrary to policy via the PDNPA planning system. The aggregated impact is unknown.
- The natural zone has protected the PDNP from harmful development
- It clear that a significant proportion of development overall does take place outside named settlements. However, the majority of development outside of Named Settlements is for change of use from farm buildings to holiday, ancillary, agricultural or to open market dwellings. There are very few applications for new build dwellings outside of named settlements.
The majority of development happens in accordance with the spatial strategy. However, as noted in the Local Development Framework Annual Monitoring reports, there are also negative effects on landscape character emerging due to pressure from factors such as:
- development justified on the grounds of supporting agricultural and land management businesses, including large agricultural buildings and infrastructure for grouse shooting
- establishment or expansion of non-land management businesses in the open countryside
- development just outside the boundary of the NP
- ‘glamping’ sites
- There is no evidence either way to say whether the distinctive and valued historic character of the settled, agricultural landscapes of the White Peak have been protected nor whether the wild character and diversity of remoter areas has been enhanced.
- There is no evidence either way (particularly with regard to the enhancement of woodland and biodiversity) to say whether the settled, agricultural character of the Derwent Valley landscapes, has been protected and managed.
- Significant positive work is happening to underground major UK Grid 400kv pylons in the PDNP. Less is known about smaller kv pylons
# Drivers for change
# Climate change
Climate change is already altering natural beauty and views in the Peak District. To date, climate change impacts include increased temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, increased frequency of extreme events such as flooding and changes to the start and length of seasons. This is predicted to negatively affect many habitats within the Peak District and, consequently, many landscapes and views. Additionally, human responses to climate change, particularly changes to agricultural practices, could have profound effects on some landscapes and views.
# Agriculture and land management
The way the land is managed impacts the natural beauty and views of the Peak District, with farming subsidies having a significant impact. Currently, the future UK environmental land management scheme is still being developed. This means that it is uncertain how subsidies will impact the future landscape. Agriculture and land management can also impact cultural heritage assets; for instance, changes in farming practices is a key factor leading to redundancy in historic agricultural buildings and scheduled monuments are vulnerable to plant growth and scrub and tree growth.
Despite being a national park, the Peak District is not immune from development pressure. Although the population is relatively small at around 38,000 residents, there is continual demand for additional housing, especially affordable housing to support local communities, large agricultural buildings, retail and other business premises. Other development pressures include upgrades to road infrastructure to accommodate increasing road traffic, renewable energy infrastructure and expansion of extractive industries to meet growing national demand. Such development can negatively impact natural beauty and views by physically altering or destroying it.
# Recreation and tourism
Enabling visitors to enjoy the Peak District is an important aspect of achieving the purposes of a national park. However, large number of visitors, especially at high intensity ‘honeypot’ sites, can exacerbate issues that have a negative impact on natural beauty and views such as erosion along popular access routes, vandalism or erosion of important monuments and buildings and causing fires.
We do not yet fully understand the impact of Covid-19 on Peak District natural beauty and views but is likely to be very variable and it may be some time until the data reflects the true impact of Covid-19.
Covid-19 will have impacted land management in the Peak District in as-yet-undetermined ways. Land management impacts natural beauty and the views that visitors are familiar with.
Covid-19 has also led to a huge fall in volunteering, which has impacted many landscape improvement projects where volunteers are key.
# Policy and government
The Landscapes Review, which reported to the UK government in 2019, reviewed UK protected landscapes (national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty) and set proposals for their improvement. A whole section of the report focuses on landscapes and natural beauty: “Landscapes Alive for Nature and Beauty”.
Both the Environment Bill and 25 Year Environment Plan will impact natural beauty and views in the Peak District. For instance, the Environment Bill will require all areas in England to establish Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs). The LNRSs will help bring a broad range of groups together – from farmers to businesses to local communities – to deliver priorities for nature recovery at a local and national level. The pilots will also help kick-start the creation of over a million acres of habitats for wildlife . And a flagship element of the 25 Year Environment Plan will be a new Nature Recovery Network, which will benefit people, landscapes and wildlife by increasing, improving and joining-up wildlife-rich places across England .
Brexit and ELMS: With the UK leaving the EU, a new Environmental Land Management Scheme is being developed that will subsidise farmers for specific actions. Trials are currently underway to determine what the scheme will consist of and one of the trials is taking place in all three national character areas of the Peak District. This scheme will impact natural beauty and views in the Peak District National Park.
# Data gaps that remain
“We need to know where change is occurring and whether those changes matter to people in terms of the way change affects the thing about landscape they value”. (CQC, 2007)
# Monitoring at a landscape scale
Many factors exist when monitoring at a landscape scale and considerable resources need to be set aside for monitoring . Any landscape monitoring programme needs to ensure that landscape character can be described consistently at different points in time so that judgements about the significance of any identified changes can be made . For successful landscape monitoring, data at different temporal and spatial scales need to integrate or work together to provide evidence of landscape change or condition.
Data typically exists as single survey observations or on an ad-hoc basis and does not constitute regular repeatable monitoring. This means it can be difficult to upscale such data to a landscape monitoring level. This is even more difficult for a large-scale landscape such as a UK national park.
Scaling up of data can be further complicated due to the fact that natural ecosystems interact at all spatial scales. Collecting data over a large area is also inherently costly, so methods that can provide robust information at low‐cost are particularly valuable .
Two typical focuses for measurement are outcomes and outputs. Measuring outcomes is difficult, time consuming, expensive and in some cases near impossible. Conversely, outputs are clearer, more defined measures; however, measuring outputs typically provides less information about the impacts of our delivery on the ground.
Many existing examples of monitoring at landscape scale are actually surveillance rather than monitoring. There are important differences between surveying, surveillance and monitoring:
- Surveying: Making a single observation to measure and record something.
- Surveillance: Making repeated standardised surveys in order that change can be detected. Surveillance is used to detect change but does not differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable change.
- Monitoring: Surveillance undertaken to ensure that formulated standards are being maintained (JNCC 1998 ).
If we are monitoring aspects of a landscape and its condition against a desired state, then this reveals actions that could reverse or continue a trend as desired. Using a surveillance-only approach would not set a desired state for the National Park’s landscape features, so this type of approach would not allow assessment of their condition. Therefore, it is important for any landscape scale monitoring to prioritise monitoring methodologies where possible.
# Monitoring framework
In assessing landscape change and condition, there will be many different data sources, as outlined above. These are likely to include fixed point photography, earth observation, public perception research, site based surveys and expert opinion. These will inform many areas of National Park policy contained within the 25 Year Environment Plan . A landscape monitoring task group within the PDNPA is currently working to determine a methodology for landscape scale monitoring across the National Park. Once a methodology has been agreed with partners, an initial assessment of landscape changes across the National Park will be made.
Gathering data from projects at different temporal and spatial scales, we will need to integrate or work together to provide balanced evidence of landscape change or condition.
RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/futurescapes/resources/how-to-impliment-landscape-scale-conservation.pdf ↩︎
Countryside Quality Counts: 2010 ↩︎
British Ecological Society (BES): https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01917.x ↩︎
JNCC: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2198 ↩︎
GOV.UK: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan ↩︎