South Pennines / Peak District

Designated nature reserve
Local site

South Pennines / Peask District & Selected Top Wildlife Sites (see map)

The Pennine chain of hills, often described as the backbone of England, stretches from the Peak District in Derbyshire northwards up to the Tyne Gap and their influence upon the Yorkshire landscape impacts along the whole of the county's western borders. Apart from the Yorkshire Dales (covered separately) their influence upon the landscape can be seen chiefly in 2 main areas -

South Pennines in Yorkshire: around and to the west of towns like Halifax, Keighley and Huddersfield often referred to as Bronte country, and ...

Dark Peak: one of the 2 main areas of the Peak District of which a small but significant area extends north and east into Yorkshire towards Sheffield.


Main Habitats 

Heather Moorland & Blanket Bog - dominant features of the upland plateau of Dark Peak and the high moorland tops further north such as Rishworth and Marsden Moors, the two habitats generally co-exist with Blanket Bog occurring in wetter, more acidic conditions where deep layers of peat have formed, whilst Heather Moorland occupies the drier slopes where the peat layer is thinner. Cottongrass grows in abundance where Blanket Bog occurs along with the less abundant Crowberry, Bog Ashodel and Cranberry. The vast and more desolate areas of these moorlands support nationally important numbers of breeding birds such as Merlin, Dunlin, Twite and Golden Plover. A further characteristic of these upland moors are the numerous gritstone ridges or 'edges'  - rocky escarpments such as Stanage Edge, near Sheffield.

Steep sided valleys - or 'cloughs' are a common feature of the Pennines and some of the best examples are to be found away from the high and vast expanses of moorland where the land drops to the foothills. Often wooded and predominantly with native deciduous trees these ravines are often rather damp in nature due to the run off from the moorland plateau and provide ideal habitat for plant species such as ferns, mosses and liverworts. The rich insect life in such wet woods combined with the often inaccessible nature of some of these ravines provide the ideal habitats for declining woodland birds such as Willow Tit, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler. Colden Clough (Local Nature Reserve) and Broadhead Clough (Wildlife Trust & SSSI) both in Calderdale, West Yorks are both fine examples of this type of habitat.

Woodlands - most of the woodlands in the southern pennines are on the steep valley sides and covered above. There are however some substantial woodlands to the north and west of Sheffield, notably Grenoside and Wharnecliffe with the latter being a well known site for wild flowers as well as breeding Nightjar and several bat species including Whiskered, Daubentons and Long Eared. Elsewhere  there are fragmented patches of ancient woodland such as Wither Wood near Huddersfield.

Pasture & Grasslands - although sadly declining there are still some good examples of traditionally farmed hay meadows within the Southern Pennines with the best of these being the SSSI sites of Alderman's Head, Spring and Cow Croft Meadows near Penistone. Such meadows contain a rich mix of plant species such as Crested dog's tail, Red fescue and Meadow Vetchling. The enclosed fields and pasture land such as those around Calderdale and the broader valley bottoms of Airedale and Wharfedale are important breeding grounds for birds such as Curlew, Snipe and Lapwing with the grasslands around Hardcastle Crags being particularly species rich for wild flowers and fungi species, especially waxcap species. The upland meadows to the west of Huddersfield are part of a joint project between the RSPB  and Natural England to restore the fortunes of Twite, a declining breeding bird in the UK.

Water courses & Reservoirs - the Southern Pennines are a major water catchment for the north of England with several major river systems such as the Aire, Calder and Wharfe rising on the high plateau as well as lesser rivers such as the Rivelin and Loxley near Sheffield. In addition there are restored canal routes such as the Leeds / Liverpool and Rochdale Canal and numerous reservoirs such as Blackmoorfoot and Damflask. Most of these water bodies support a good selection of flora and fauna with the Rivelin valley and associated reservoir a fine example of riverine habitats, particularly Wyming Brook nature reserve where the rich aquatic insect life provides plentiful food for birds such as Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Agden Reservoir and nearby Agden Bog is another fine site and noted for its amphibian species and the locally scarce Golden Ringed Dragonfly. Many of the buildings associated with collection and use of water such as old mills and around reservoirs provide ideal roosting sites for bats such as Daubentons whilst mill ponds in the area are often suited to native White Clawed Crayfish.


Find out more (external links)

Dark Peak

South Pennines website

Southern Pennines NCA (National Character Area)

Footer Image - The upper reservoir at Redmires
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Neil Theasby -

South Pennines / Peak District