Green fields highlighted by sunrays through heavy clouds from Curbar Edge

#70People70Years - Penny Anderson

Penny Anderson

Penny Anderson BSc MSc FCIEEM, CEcol - ecologist, specialist in habitat restoration and creation

Penny Anderson is a professional ecologist, a specialist in habitat restoration and creation and, for over 50 years, has been a supporter and promoter of nature conservation in the Peak District.

She was born and brought up in Kent, but fell in love with the uplands - and especially the call of the curlew - during a biology field course in Scotland.

With a degree in Botany and Geography from Southampton University and MSc in Conservation from University College, London, she moved with her husband to the Manchester area for his job. And so began her exploration of the Peak District.

The couple moved into the Peak District in 1972 and Penny developed her ecological consultancy, Penny Anderson Associates, based first in Chinley before outgrowing the accommodation there and moving to Buxton. Though Penny ‘sort of’ retired in 2013, the consultancy continues to operate in Buxton.

Penny says: "Over many years, we conducted a number of commissions for the Peak District National Park Authority and others in the Peak District, including the National Trust, Natural England (and its predecessors) and local water companies. This was a fantastic and very special way of exploring the many, often remote, nooks and crannies of the Peak District.

"We focused especially on moorland/peatland restoration and became recognised experts on this. The combination of this, plus voluntary botanical monitoring for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, many excursions into all corners of the Peak District and teaching/lecturing at Losehill Hall when it was a study centre, gave me a unique, special knowledge and familiarity with the area and its nature conservation interests and needs.

"This knowledge and understanding has been the background to all my involvement with the National Park Authority and the Peak District as a whole. It is an area I love and care about deeply."

She adds: "The Peak District is at a crossroads for northern and southern species – plants, mammals, birds and invertebrates amongst others. It is also the first upland area travelling north from south-east/central England. These features make it very vulnerable to climate change.

"Some habitats and species will disappear whilst others will arrive/develop. We are all working as hard as we can to increase the resilience of our landscape - re-wetting our peatlands, diversifying our woods, increasing the extent of wildflower meadows. The restoration and management measures all need to be checked to ensure they are working. That is where monitoring comes in.

"Long term studies all help to show how our wildlife is faring in the face of so many pressures. I help with all sorts of monitoring and do some analyses to see how our habitats and species are responding to management and change. This gives us confidence in the adopted measures or provides distress signals to which new responses are needed. All are essential to ensure we have as much wildlife as possible in the future for everyone to enjoy. The Peak District would not be the Peak District without the haunting cries of the curlew and golden plover, would it?

"Although I have surveyed and assessed habitats and species all over the UK and Ireland as part of my work, these serve only to place those in the Peak District into perspective. I have learnt so much about the Peak District through observation – the minutiae of slope, aspect, soils, climate, hydrology and their effects on the plant communities and therefore the host of other species these support. I have discovered new plants (a rather esoteric hybrid sedge) and re-found others (for example royal fern returning after centuries of air pollution, a rare rose hybrid in Cressbrook and Monks Dales).

"Every new discovery is a thrill – the feeling that you are the first to find it (even if you aren’t) and you are learning all the time. It is the wonder of watching and recording wildlife."

For 21 years, Penny was chair of the Peak Park Wildlife Advisory Group – a group of volunteer nature conservation organisations interested in the National Park. This was replaced by the Biodiversity Action Plan process and Penny was then involved in one of the monitoring groups for moor and heath.

She is a member of the Local Nature Partnership, Nature Peak District, which evolved from the BAP process.

From 1979 to 1998, Penny was part of the National Park Authority’s Moorland Management Project (MMP), which paved the way for the Moors for the Future initiative. She says: "I was involved with much of the experimental work and contributed to, or wrote, numerous reports on behalf of the MMP, for example, on the incidence and effect of wildfires; the use of the moors for recreation and its likely effects on wildlife; bracken expansion; and moorland restoration methods. I helped the National Park Authority apply for the initial national Lottery Heritage Fund support for what became the Moors for the Future Project. This whole project and its subsequent success through MfF is a special achievement."

During the 1980s, she provided ecological expertise for the National Park Authority before it took on its first full time ecologist and was involved in surveying and preparing management plans for most of the Authority’s land-based estates.

Penny served as a Member of the National Park Authority from 2015 to 2019 and is currently a Board member of the South West Peak HLF Project, which she helped to establish. She is also a member of the Glorious Grasslands Steering Group, which is one of the project’s individual initiatives, and has been helping to monitor some of the restoration sites.

Penny's other published works include Wildflowers and Other Plants of the Peak District (Moorland Publishing, 1981), co-authored with David Shimwell, and Habitat Creation and Repair (Oxford University Press, 1998), co-authored with the late Oliver Gilbert, another Peak District naturalist who lived in Sheffield. Much of what she had learned from the moorland restoration work can be found in this.

In 2016, she wrote The State of Nature in the Peak District for Nature Peak District, which highlighted the shrinking cover of many of our habitats and species and made a plea for a major wildlife recovery programme.

Her latest work, The New Naturalists no 144 - Peak District is expected to be published by HarperCollins in December 2021. This brings together all the many years of her Peak District experience, embellished with help from many local experts to tell the stories of the Dark, White and South West Peaks.

Penny says: "Now retired, I seem to be botanising for anyone who wants any help in the Peak District. I enjoy helping others identify plants and contribute to a number of different projects and to local recording. I have also been learning some grassland fungi – we are only just finding out how important the Peak District is for these lovely little waxcaps and allied species.

"I am involved voluntarily with the National Trust, Natural England, South West Peak project and some local Wildlife Trusts. I monitor hay meadows, moorland condition and Miller’s Dale Quarry. I have 45 years of botanical data from the latter which needs analysing in relation to climate change and nitrogen deposition - a job for cold, wet winter days.

"I also monitor different habitats in the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve and search for good waxcap grasslands and rare plants in different places."

Penny contributes to different aspects of her professional organisation, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management - she was its President from 2010 to 12.

She chairs its Registration Authority (dealing with all aspects of chartered ecologists) and participates in its Habitat Restoration and Creation Special Interest Group and its climate change group, 2030.

Recently, Penny produced a review paper on carbon and ecosystems to provide guidance on carbon capture in habitats and soils, with another on carbon and gardens for the 2030 group. She delivers webinars and presentations on carbon and habitats and on habitat creation and restoration.

"In between all these, I have a large garden, managed largely for wildlife, and grow flowers, fruit and vegetables as much as I can at 1000ft altitude!" she says.

Learn more about Penny’s work:

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