The campaign to establish the South Pennines as a regional park
PUBLISHED: 22:30 10 July 2013 | UPDATED: 22:31 10 July 2013
‘We’ve had quiet advocates for a long time - now we need some noisy champions.’ So says Pam Warhurst, proud and passionate resident of Todmorden, who is spearheading a campaign to put the South Pennines on the map as one of England’s great landscapes and tourist destinations.
If you can’t quite pinpoint where the South Pennines starts and finishes, you are not alone and have hit on one of the area’s major problems. Despite its lofty moors, breath-taking views and ‘higgledy piggledy’ towns and villages, it has been described as a Cinderella area, a vista on the horizon to tourists on the way to more distant national park honeypots.
But this sleeping beauty is beginning to stir and gaining in self-confidence. Very soon it could also become a rarity in England – a self-proclaimed regional park.
Straddling the Yorkshire and Lancashire border, the South Pennines’ western portion encompasses Bacup, Greenfield, Littleborough and Rawtenstall, while Yorkshire towns include Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Marsden, Keighley and Baildon. Whatever white and red rose loyalists might think, this area shares a distinctive Pennine heritage which cuts across the county line and sets it apart from the rest of both Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Natural England refers to it as Area 36 in its landscape appraisals, which misses the romance and drama of a setting which was home to the Brontes and which has inspired the likes of Ted Hughes, Barbara Hepworth and modern artists such as Simon Armitage.
Designated landscapes cluster around it with the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales to the south and north and Nidderdale and the Trough of Bowland Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on either flank.
But if history had taken a different course the South Pennine landscape itself might have enjoyed elevated status. Back in the 1940s the Government’s Hobhouse Committee recommended areas suitable for designation as national parks and AONBs and the South Pennines figured amongst these.
But with its mills still working belching smoke into the valley bottoms, the review concluded that it was too industrial in character to be designated in the same way as the Peaks, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, which all came into being between 1951 and 1954.
Today things are different- most of the working mills have gone and attitudes have evolved. Relics of the area’s industrial past such as surviving mills – once ‘dark and Satanic’ - Rochdale Canal and Standedge Tunnel are now viewed as major assets adding to the distinctiveness of this unique corner of England.
‘It’s a startling fact that the South Pennines is the only upland area of England that is not a National Park or an AONB,’ said Pam Warhurst, who is the chair of Pennine Prospects, a multi-agency partnership set up in 2005 to promote the area, comprising local authority and private sector members.
‘That’s given us a recognition problem in the public consciousness. But rather than push for some kind of ‘top down’ designation from Government, we want to find our own solutions and one possibility is to declare the South Pennines a regional park. That would be very much in keeping with the Pennine traditions of self-reliance and also help us protect the environment in coming decades. ‘As part of our local distinctiveness project we asked people to come with words they thought best described the area. Quirky, eccentric, non-conformist and creative all cropped up, so it’s very much in the DNA of Pennine people to find local solutions that work for them.’ What the South Pennines lacks in overall landscape status it makes up for in other ways.
It has one of England’s highest proportions of nature designations (two Special Areas of Conservation and 15 Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and rights of way (4,190 kilometres) including two national trails (Pennine Way and Pennine Bridleway).
It is the only breeding location in England for the globally threatened Twite (the Pennine Finch) and the Watershed Landscape Project, a key initiative run by Pennine Prospects and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has overseen the restoration of 74 hectares of hay meadows, with a further 98 hectares managed sensitively for the bird.
The Watershed project – which also has a vibrant community archaeology strand which has seen people venture onto the hills to record, monitor and discover relics dating back more than 7,000 years old – has been widely acclaimed and last year won the UK Landscape Award.
Topping that this spring it also claimed an EU sponsored European Nostra award - the only UK winner in the ‘Education, Training and Awareness-raising’ category.
Pam Warhurst added: ‘There is a huge amount going on across the area and a tremendous vitality. What we want to do is to nurture and package this and promote it to the world.
‘When people think of the Cotswolds an image springs into their mind and we want the words South Pennines to evoke a similar instant evocation of what this landscape and its people are all about.’
Many people will already know Todmorden as the cradle of the organic Incredible Edible movement, started off by Pam, and Pennine Prospects has taken this on and pioneered a Food Mapping Project to promote local food and drink.
Moves to improve recreational access have also been undertaken and a two-week Walk and Ride Festival takes place in September. Other projects have been funded through the £2.4m South Pennines LEADER Local Action Group including the imaginative Stanza Stones collaboration between Marsden-based Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival.
‘Escapism is something the South Pennines delivers in spades and when the Tour de France arrives next year will offer the perfect international showcase,’ said Pam.
To find out more about the South Pennines visit southpennines.co.uk