The campaign to establish the South Pennines as a regional park
PUBLISHED: 22:41 10 July 2013 | UPDATED: 22:41 10 July 2013
Plans for a South Pennine Regional Park could bring Lancashire and Yorkshire together
‘We’ve had quiet advocates for a long time – now we need some noisy champions.’
So proclaims Pam Warhurst, proud and passionate resident of Todmorden, who is spearheading a campaign to put the South Pennines on the map and punching its weight 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 brimming with character, 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.
Prosaically, Natural England refer 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 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 among 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, Dales and Lake District, which all came into being between 1951 and 1954.
But things have changed – 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. And with more breweries per square kilometre than any other part of the UK the area offers plenty of choice to quench a thirst.
Moves to improve recreational access have also been undertaken and a two week Walk and Ride Festival takes place in September, while other projects have been also been funded through the £2.4m South Pennines Leader Local Action Group, made available through the Rural Development Programme for England, jointly funded by Defra and the European Union. These include the resurfacing the Rochdale Canal tow-path and the remarkable Stanza Stones collaboration between Marsden-based Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival. Comprising poems inspired by the Pennine Watershed carved onto stones across the upland they form a permanent Poetry Trail.
‘Seven million people live within one hour’s travel time and most of what they seek as a visitor destination can be found on their doorstep,’ said Pam. ‘Bracing yourself against the wind on top of Stoodley Pike near the Yorkshire and Lancashire border it’s incredible to think that Leeds and Manchester are so close, yet seem a world away. Escapism is something the South Pennines delivers in spades and when the Tour de France in 2014 arrives next year it will offer the perfect international showcase.’
To find out more about the South Pennines visit www.southpennines.co.uk.