The South Pennines is a special landscape. It’s a landscape that has inspired novelists, poets and religious movements, and it’s a landscape that ordinary people have risked criminal prosecution to secure access to. Around 45 miles of the Pennine Way National Trail lies within the South Pennines, and almost the entire moorland area is designated an SSSI and a Special Protection Area in recognition of its importance for bird life. And yet despite all of this, very little of the area is protected by any formal landscape designation.
That the area’s scenic qualities cannot be doubted will be confirmed by anyone who has stood on the summits of Pendle or Boulsworth Hills, or Rivington Pike; visited the Bronte Falls and Top Withens; wandered around the beautifully wooded deans of Hardcastle Crags and Crimsworth Dean; or gazed in awe upon the rock formations at Bride Stones and Earl Crag.
However, scenic qualities alone are not sufficient to secure National Park status. In order to do this, an area must also demonstrate considerable recreational potential. Here again, the South Pennines excels. The area is covered with mile upon mile of packhorse tracks, eminently suitable for walking, mountain-biking and pony trekking. There are now many hundreds of acres of Access Land that allow the adventurous walker to really stride out and ‘get away from it all’. Watersports are well catered for at sites such as Hollingworth Lake, and paragliding is developing an increasing army of devotees, Pendle Hill being a particularly favoured site for this.
For the less adventurous, there is also a well-developed network of country parks and other tourist attractions. Howarth in particular, with its steam railway, Bronte Parsonage Museum and easy access to the surrounding moors is becoming a destination of national and international importance. Transport links to the area, both by road and by rail, are excellent, and accommodation is plentiful both within the rural core and in the many surrounding towns and cities.
Existing landscape designations don’t really adequately protect the area. The SSSI / SPA designantions tend only to cover the moorland area, and therefore offer only piecemeal protection. Admittedly, the Pendleside area currently forms a detatched part of the Forest of Bowland AONB. Crucially, however, neither SSSI / SPA or AONB status makes any provision for recreational use of the land.
So, if the area is already well-loved, and is already partially protected by existing conservation designations, why then is National Park status necessary? Well, even the most cursory glance around the area will reveal that it has been exploited for commercial and industrial use for centuries. The moors are dotted with former quarries, and with reservoirs supplying the surrounding towns. More recently, the area has sprouted a small number of communications masts, and wind farm developments have begun to encroach around the margins. It is surely a testament to the area’s scenic qualities that the commercial developments have so far failed to significantly impact upon its beauty. However, we believe that it is vital to act now, to ensure that this special landscape can continue to be enjoyed by generations to come, and can continue to provide a habitat to its internationally important wildlife.