Climate Change and the Peak District


Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to our upland landscapes. It has the potential to change the features that make up the National Park’s natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. Climate change will modify the Peak District National Park’s special qualities and alter the opportunities for the public to enjoy them. It will also alter the benefits the Peak District National Park provides. At this time, it is uncertain what the effects will be, but they are likely to be wide ranging. Some potential impacts of climate change on the Peak District National Park are highlighted below.

Biodiversity and Ecosystems

The Peak District National Park is renowned for its natural environment and biodiversity. Some of its native species and habitats are highly susceptible to changes within their environment. Increasing temperatures and severe weather events induced by climate change will directly and indirectly result in habitat alterations and increase the vulnerability of animal and plant species.

It is likely that there will be direct effects on species such as moorland birds and habitats such as blanket bogs. For example, Sphagnum cuspidatum is highly susceptible to environmental changes and faces extinction in the event of severe climatic changes. Climate change could result in species migration and loss of diversity especially for small or isolated habitats. By 2080, the Dark Peak may lie south of the climatic envelope for many characteristic moorland birds (such as merlin, golden plover) while others will be at the climatic limits of their range (lapwing, snipe, curlew).

Climate change may reduce the ability of Peak District National Park habitats to store carbon through the loss of important carbon sinks such as peat, soils and plants. Climate change may reduce the area and sustainability of peat forming blanket bog systems within the UK, and research shows that the Peak District National Park is the third most vulnerable region in Great Britain.

The danger of wildfires may increase across the moorlands as peat soils dry out and woodlands suffer from summer drought. Increased drought could impact on calcareous grasslands, especially on thin soils and river habitats. Drier conditions may result in rivers and streams becoming increasingly seasonal and at risk of drying up, with the risk of losing ponds altogether, especially dew ponds. Climate change could also play a role in the increase of invasive pests and diseases which could impact on trees and moorland dwarf shrubs.

The Peak District National Park is a refuge for many species that used to be widespread, like the small heath butterfly, water vole, curlew and a range of hay meadow plants. Climate change will make this role ever more important. Increasing temperatures, changing habitats and unpredictable weather may force wildlife to move in search of suitable homes. Protected areas like the Peak District National Park where wildlife can thrive are vital to sustaining resilient habitats, particularly as they may then repopulate other areas in the future.

Communities and Businesses

The impacts of climate change will directly and indirectly affect the Peak District National Park’s communities and businesses. In particular, settlements, building and transport infrastructure will face risks and increasing pressures resulting from climate change. This may affect the local economy of the Peak District National Park, particularly farming and tourism.

Heatwaves similar to that experienced during summer 2018 are now 30 times more likely to occur, and extended periods of UK winter rainfall are now 7 times more likely, like the 2019 event just outside the Park in Whaley Bridge, when a month’s rainfall fell in 36 hours.

Extreme weather events increase the risk of flooding to business premises and attractions such as trails and public footpaths, as well as the risk of damage to the transport network from flash flooding, erosion, blocked drains and gullies on roads, and the formation of potholes.

There are also a large number of communities at a higher risk of flooding both within and immediately downstream of the Peak District National Park, with major cities (Derby, Manchester and Sheffield) potentially affected by flood waters originating in the Peak District National Park.

Road and rail routes may face increased obstructions as a result of severe extreme weather events, and increasing vegetation and erosion, as a result of hotter, drier summers and milder, drier winters. However, it is not only increasing temperatures that pose risks, as severe flooding events such as in the summer of 2007 and the increase in cold and snowy winters from 2010 onwards have also resulted in road and rail closures. Over recent years, it has not been unusual for cross-park roads such as the A628 Woodhead Pass, A57 Snake Pass, A53 Leek to Buxton and A537 Cat and Fiddle roads to be wholly or partially closed due to high winds or snow.

The higher temperatures could cause an overall reduction of water available in soils (especially peat and moorland), and streams and rivers, especially in the White Peak. Climate change will put greater stress on the region’s water resources particularly in the summer. Summer rainfall is predicted to decrease and this may have serious detrimental effects upon the water environment and its dependent biodiversity and ecological functionality. Water quality in our rivers and streams and the production of clean drinking water may be reduced.

Agriculture and Land Management

As a result of milder winters, hotter summers and more extreme weather events, patterns and sites for farming and forestry may change to ensure continued sustainable income generation and land use.

Potential implications for farmers and land managers include:

  • a desire for more and better winter livestock housing;
  • higher insurance costs against rain and storm damage;
  • increased pests and diseases and risks to livestock health;
  • longer ripening season for crops;
  • smaller yields because of reduced soil moisture and fertility;
  • reduced area of viable land available for grazing because of either droughts or waterlogged and flooded fields.

Visitors and Recreation

We are not sure what the impacts of climate change are likely to be on visitors to the Peak District National Park. A changing climate and increased incidence and severity of extreme weather events could significantly affect the numbers of people visiting, as well as when and where they are able to visit.

Visitors are likely to be subject to the same transport and travel impacts as communities. Road and rail access into and within the Peak District National Park will be subject to the impacts of climate change, for instance the effects of damage and erosion resulting from flooding and weather and temperature extremes.

Climate change may reduce the opportunities available for tourism and recreation, and to enjoy the many special qualities of the Peak District National Park, the very things that inspire people to visit in the first place.

Wildlife, habitats and the natural beauty of the landscape may be threatened, while increased flooding and storms could impact on caving, hill walking and the enjoyment and appreciation of cultural heritage features. The water logging and erosion of cycleways, trails, and footpaths, could cause temporary and permanent access restrictions. This could in turn impact upon the local visitor economy and businesses dependent upon tourism.

Being surrounded by urban areas makes the Peak District National Park’s protected space of even greater significance as a breathing lung and green oasis for the millions of people who live in close proximity. Warmer, drier summers may also lead to an increase in visitors during summer times due to the number of larger cities adjacent to the Peak District National Park. Land and soil erosion induced by higher footfall can impact species like heather, bilberry and grasses, while already popular sites such as Castleton, Dovedale and Bakewell will likely face further pressures at certain access points.

Find out what the Peak District National Park Authority is doing to tackle climate change.

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