The North Pennines National Character Area (NCA), at the northern end of the Pennine ridge, has a distinct identity, with its remote upland moorlands divided by quiet dales. It is characterised by a sense of remoteness, with few settlements, slow change and cultural continuity. It comprises some of the highest and most exposed moorland summits in England, with several major rivers, including the South Tyne, Wear and Tees, draining out to the north, east and south-east. It is bordered to the west by the Eden valley, to the north by the Tyne valley, to the east by the Durham lowlands and to the south by the Yorkshire Dales. There are dramatic and panoramic views both across the moorlands and outwards, especially towards the west. The area’s natural beauty is reflected in the fact that 88 per cent of it has been designated as the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The geology of the North Pennines is internationally significant, with the area being designated as a UNESCO European and Global Geopark. The largely Carboniferous rocks with mineral veins have given rise to a long history of mining and quarrying. Intrusions of igneous rock (Whin Sill) form dramatic outcrops with iconic waterfalls. The mosaics of moorland habitat are of international significance, with 46 per cent of the area designated Special Protection Areas (SPA) for the populations of birds such as merlin, black and red grouse, ring ouzel and golden plover. The peat soils underlying the moorland habitats, especially blanket bog, store significant volumes of carbon. Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) cover 44 per cent of the NCA, and include upland heath, blanket bog, rare assemblages of arctic-alpine plants, species-rich grasslands, rivers, woodlands and freshwater habitats.
This is a largely undisturbed landscape, with sheep and cattle rearing the predominant farming practice over centuries. There are few villages, and dispersed hamlets and farmsteads, mostly built with local stone. There is widespread evidence of a long history of mining, and the conservation and interpretation of historic landscapes and geological features provide key opportunities for future environmental management. With its strong sense of wildness and remoteness, and its tranquillity, the area provides an important setting for outdoor recreation, including walking, riding, fishing, canoeing, grouse shooting, birdwatching and star gazing.
Future challenges for the area include the continued management of the land that enables the restoration and enhancement of important habitats, especially blanket bog, heath, calcareous grasslands, upland hay meadows, calamarian grasslands, and broadleaved woodland and scrub – especially juniper. With its high rainfall and impervious rocks, it is an important area for water supply and regulation, and there are opportunities to continue improving water quality and managing water flows to reduce downstream flood events.
10 North Pennines (NE428)