West Pennine Moors: A time to celebrate

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Energy Site designations: SSSI
Peregrine perching on building

Overview

After a wait of more than ten years, Natural England notified the West Pennine Moors as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Lancashire's West Pennine Moors between Blackburn and Bolton have no statutory protection or recognition for their wildlife importance.

Yet its blanket bogs are superior in quality to internationally protected sites, and its breeding birds comfortably qualify it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

Natural England was informed of its importance back in 2007 along with the necessary evidence of bird and botanical surveys. In 2011 Natural England made some faltering progress towards protecting the site but the lack of commitment resulted in some high-quality, deep-peat blanket bog being damaged by twelve wind turbines in 2012.  

A further four turbines were approved in 2016 despite objections from RSPB. More worryingly, a new wind farm proposal has emerged on a wonderful deep peat area that has breeding merlin, dunlin and golden plover. 

Natural England has assured us that plans for a SSSI designation are imminent but proposed SSSIs have no protection so the site remains vulnerable.

Update November 2016

After a wait of more than ten years, Natural England notified the West Pennine Moors as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

 

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

The West Pennine Moors support a fine range of upland breeding birds including merlin, peregrine, raven, curlew, golden plover, dunlin, snipe, whinchat, ring ouzel and twite. In addition, one of the reservoirs holds the UK's largest nesting population of black-headed gulls (>10,000 pairs) and more than 5 per cent of the UK's Mediterranean gulls.

The surrounding woodlands hold wood warblers, redstarts, pied flycatchers, woodcock and willow tits. The area is very interesting botanically too with bog rosemary, Labrador tea plant plus a greater range of sphagnum species than any site in the South Pennines.

Twite (Carduelis cannabina), Balranald nature reserve, Noth Uist, Scotland

Our position

We are urging Natural England to act quickly to give these moors the protection they need.

We are also urging Natural England to take a robust stand against developments which would damage the outstanding wildlife value of these moors. In particular the deep peat blanket bog habitats that are so helpful in absorbing greenhouse gases while they are healthy, but surrender their carbon when they are drained and damaged.

Timeline

  • 17 November 2016
    After a wait of more than ten years, Natural England notified the West Pennine Moors as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
  • April 2016
    Natural England still have not consulted on the proposed SSSI.
  • 2016
    Planning application about to be submitted at a new location for wind turbines on deep peat blanket bog.
  • 2016
    Planning permission granted for four further turbines on deep peat blanket bog.
  • 2015
    A species-rich grassland is destroyed by a development. This grassland was within the boundary of the proposed SSSI.
  • 2015
    DECC grant licences for oil and gas exploration in all four 10km squares that comprise the West Pennine Moors.
  • 2012
    Planning permission granted for 12 wind turbines damaging deep peat blanket bog habitat.
  • 2012
    Natural England commence work on making the moors a SSSI.
  • 2007
    Natural England was given botanical and bird survey data showing the importance of the West Pennine Moors.
Pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, sitting in the branches of a tree, male, Co. Durham

Outcome

After a wait of more than ten years, Natural England has notified the West Pennine Moors as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They notified on 17 November and not a minute too soon as the local council are about to determine an application for three wind turbines on a fantastic area of deep peat with rare flowers and breeding Dunlin. Now the council will have to take account of the special interest of the site, which would not have been necessary had the site not been notified.  

Notification means the site is out for formal consultation and Natural England will decide in eight months time whether to confirm the designation or withdraw. But challenges can only be made on the scientific validity, and there is no doubt about the importance of the site.

The moors and blanket bog are home to nesting dunlins, curlew, golden plovers, redshank, merlin and short-eared owl. There are some interesting plants too, including two types of sundew, lemon-scented fern and Labrador tea plant. The blanket bogs are composed of several types of sphagnum moss, which exceed the internationally designated South Pennine Moors in terms of diversity.  

Now the challenge is to think about how we ensure this wonderful area remains rich in wildlife.