Dark Peak NIA

Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area (NIA)

Nature Improvement Areas are large, discrete areas that delivered a step change in nature conservation, where local partnerships shared vision for their natural environment – with the Dark Peak NIA representing the only upland landscape.

Through the Nature Improvement Area (NIA) Programme, announced by Defra in the Natural Environment White Paper (2011), £7.5 million funded 12 initial NIA partnerships across England.

This brochure (left) provides an introduction to Nature Improvement Areas, their benefits and profiles the first 12 NIAs.

The Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area Partnership (Dark Peak NIA) was a three-year pilot landscape-scale conservation initiative, to improve, expand and link up existing wildlife-rich areas within the Dark Peak; connecting nature with nature and nature with people.

With the support of Natural England, Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission, nine partners (RSPB, National Trust, Peak District National Park Authority, United Utilities, British Mountaineering Council, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Moors for the Future Partnership and Natural England) delivered significant improvements for wildlife and people through the sustainable use of natural resources, restoring and creating wildlife habitats, connecting local sites and joining up local action.

Major achievements included: the felling of the Burbage conifer plantation below the Burbage Edges to allow native broadleaf woodland and heath development; access improvements across the Eastern Moors and beyond; meadow restoration at Longshaw; flower-rich grassland establishment at Dovestone and Blanket bog conservation works to provide biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage and sequestration benefits. 

Examples of how we have helped connect nature with nature and nature with people are highlighted in the poster (right).

The Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area Partnership enabled the primary conservation works required to replace the impoverished, alien conifer plantation in Burbage Valley with open moorland habitats and Sessile Oak woodland. With a net gain across the NIA project area of 14.40 ha of woodland, 8.58 ha of upland heath, through the removal of this significant conifer plantation. This work was to be the biggest project within the biggest of the 12 new national NIAs.
This case study explains more: Transforming the Burbage Valley - the story of "the biggest project in the biggest NIA".


The programme’s Monitoring and Evaluation framework helped to evidence success as well as improving our knowledge and understanding of the impact of these works on a landscape scale. It also provided a standardised monitoring approach across the Dark Peak’s upland habitats. Together, with the help of much appreciated volunteers, we monitored the success of conservation activities within the NIA on biodiversity, local communities and visitors.

Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area profile

Location: Network of areas across the Dark Peak (see right).

Time scale: April 2012 - March 2015

Activities on:

  1. Blanket bog - enhancing 5,800 hectares of moorland through reintroduction of sphagnum moss and blocking of erosion gullies in bare peat.

    The impact of works on hydrological integrity and biodiversity were monitored through the Catchment Restoration Fund.

  2. Heathland - creation and enhancement of wet and dry heath. 

    Monitoring continued, building on previous survey work, to evidence the impact of conservation work on vegetation species and structural diversity, and on upland bird population trends. Results are presented in the following reports.

    Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area monitoring of dry heath restoration: vegetation surveys.

    Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area Upland bird survey catalogue

  3. Woodland - creation and enhancement of native woodland, which with the dry heath, will act as ecological corridors and 'stepping stones'.

    Bird surveys to monitor the effect of native woodland creation and improvement on bird populations were undertaken: Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area Monitoring of native woodland restoration and creation:Woodland bird Surveys report.

  4. Grassland - over 60 hectares of wildfire rich grasslands reconnect moor and farmland and create a dynamic, landscape scale habitat mosaic.

    Baseline (June / July 2012) and post-management (June / July 2014) grassland vegetation monitoring were undertaken: Dark Peak NIA Upland Grassland - botanical surveys report.

  5. Visitor awareness and attitude - the Dark Peak NIA partnership part funded a CASE (Collaborative Awards for Science and Engineering) / BESS (Biodiversity and and Ecosystem Service Sustainability) PhD studentship, under the supervision of Dr Evans, to investigate the cultural and ecosystem services provided by green spaces. This research provided a more in depth study of how people use green spaces within the NIA as well as their attitudes towards them.

    The final report is available here: Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area Visitor Surveys Final Report 2015.

A Monitoring and Evaluation Report, celebrating the success of the first 12 NIAs between 2012 and 2015 is available here:

Collingwood Environmental Planning (2015) Monitoring and Evaluation of Nature Improvement Areas: Final Report (2012-15). Defra Research Project WC1061.

The Landscape-scale ambition of the NIA is embodied in the Sheffield Moors Partnership and Moors for the Future Partnership's new MoorLIFE2020 project.  Future opportunities to support collaborative landscape-scale conservation are currently being investigated by DEFRA, and we hope that there may be initiatives that build  on the successes of the Dark peak NIA project.


Further information

 Funding: NIA Programme, as announced by Defra in the Natural Environment White Paper (2011), and partnership match funded to a project total of £3 million.


  RSPB, Natural England, National Trust, Sheffield County Council, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, British Mountaineering Council, Peak district National peak, United utilities and Moors for the Future


Natural England NIA Project page: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/biodiversity/funding/nia/default.aspx

RSPB: http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/318547-making-space-for-nature-in-the-dark-peak

The Wildlife Trusts: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/NIA


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