Bird Watching in the Peak National Park


Local bird enthusiast Simon Currie tells us how and where to see Derbyshire’s varied bird population in this detailed account, complete with grid references and tips on the best times of year to arrange your visit.

The diversity of habitats in this region make it an excellent and very rewarding place for bird-watching. In the north of the Peak District lies an area known as the Dark Peak, characterised by large expanses of heather moorland with peat bogs and outcrops of granite whilst to the south are the beautiful rolling hills and limestone dales known collectively as the White Peak.

Outside the Peak District to the south, Derbyshire is typically an agricultural landscape with wide river valleys and parklands while the east and north-east of the county is a largely industrial landscape where country parks and ponds have been reclaimed from former collieries and other related sites.

This guide has been produced to help you discover and enjoy the diverse bird-life of this area. You should be aware that parts of the area can be physically demanding, particularly in the winter, and stout footwear and appropriate clothing should be worn. Great care should taken when venturing out onto moorland, certainly if you intend on walking any great distance it is recommended that you carry spare clothing, food and drink, a map and compass.

Please observe the Birdwatchers Code and respect landowners wishes when out bird-watching or indeed walking.

Derwent Valley/Derwentdale

The Derwent Valley has three reservoirs with wooded slopes all within the beautiful Peak National Park. This extensive area, accessible from the A57 Sheffield - Manchester road, has a variety of habitats including open water fringed with wooded valley sites. Beyond the mainly coniferous plantations, high on the hill tops, are the heather moorlands of the Dark Peak.

To access the three reservoirs of the Derwent Valley take the A57 (Snake Pass) west from Sheffield until you reach Ladybower Reservoir and turn right up a small road directly after crossing the viaduct.

Follow this road for approximately 3 miles until you reach the visitors centre and car park at Fairholmes. During peak times (summer weekends and bank holidays) the road beyond here to King’s Tree is closed to motor vehicles, although there is a bus service.

This is a great area to explore as there are numerous footpaths and bridleways. It is possible to take paths through the woodland high onto the surrounding pastures and moorland, follow the source of the Derwent up the valley, or if you prefer, you can just wander along through the woodland along the waters edge. There is also a cycle hire centre at Fairholmes for those who like to explore on two wheels.

Around this area between March and June it is possible to see Red-breasted Merganser, Common Sandpiper and Dipper on the reservoirs and river, whilst Golden Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Winchat and Stonechat occur on the moorland. Red Grouse, Raven, Merlin and Peregrine are present throughout the year and sometimes Crossbill occur in late summer.

Windy Corner (Grid Ref. SK 168 932)

This is a great spot for observing birds of prey gliding on thermals, including Goshawk and Peregrine, between mid February and May. Mornings are best at this vantage point where you can park and scan the wooded valley and surrounding moorland.

Beyond here, at the northern end of Howden Reservoir, the road ends at Kings Tree and a footpath continues up the valley running parallel to the River Derwent. This area offers good views of Dipper, Red-breasted Merganser and wagtails as the river weaves its way through the woodland before opening out onto rough grassland and heather moorland. It is often very quiet up here, especially on weekdays, offering a great birding experience.

If you intend to venture out on to the open moorland it is essential that you are well prepared as the weather conditions can change dramatically, even on the clearest of summer days. It is important to keep to the footpaths and prevent dogs from roaming across the moors as it may disturb breeding birds and other wildlife.


Northeast Derbyshire Moors and Matlock Forest.

This area is largely a treeless expanse of moorland and bog to the west of Chesterfield, accessible from the north via the A619 or the B5057 from the south. Beeley Moor (SK 29 68) East Moor (SK 29 70), Harewood Moor (SK 30 67) and Gibbet Moor (SK 28 70) make up this superb area for moorland birds. Between the months of April and July Golden Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Ring Ouzel are breeding.

The area adjacent to the Arkwright Plantation (SK 30 68) seems to be a good spot for birds of prey whilst the area adjacent to Beeley triangle (SK 29 67) and surrounding fields are particularly good for Curlew. There is no access to the moorland as it is designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary but there are ‘lay-byes’ on some of the roads that where the expanse can be easily viewed.

Nearby, to the south of Beeley Moor, is Matlock Forest (SK 300 647), good for woodland birds throughout the year. Much of this area is privately owned land but access is available to some parts. Flash Lane seems to be the centre of attraction.

In June and July Nightjar can be heard ‘churring’ between the time of 22.00 and 23.00. There are also owls and ‘roding’ Woodcock present in this area. This is probably the only site in Derbyshire where Nightjar are present so please act responsibly to avoid disturbance. Park sensibly, adhere to any signs and keep to the roads and footpaths.


Longshaw Estate

This site is a wide expanse of farms, open moorland, plantations and open woodland. The estate, open throughout the year, offers great scenic views of the dramatic landscape. This National Trust site is sign-posted on the A625 Sheffield - Hathersage road at the Fox House Inn along the B6055.

The car park and information centre at Longshaw Lodge (SK266 800) is 200 metres south of this junction. There are alternative car parks to the south of here along the B6055 at the junction with the B6054 (SK267 790) and at Hay Wood (SK256 778) along the B6054 towards Calver.

The woodland at this site can be productive at any time of year with species such as Nuthatch, Tree Creeper, Long Tailed Tit and Goldcrest present all year round. During summer you can expect to see Redstart, Woodwarbler and Pied Flycatcher. Woodcock are also present as are roving flocks of Crossbills in some years. The moorland holds Red Grouse, Curlew, Ring Ouzel and other upland species whilst the stream usually bears Dipper and Grey Wagtail.

Chatsworth Park and Chatsworth House

This world famous estate and house stands in a large wooded park through which the River Derwent flows. There are scattered trees across large open pastures where livestock, Red and Fallow Deer roam. There are also oak woods and plantations of mixed tree species.

Access to the park from the south is via A6 Matlock - Bakewell road at Rowsley from where the B6012 Baslow road takes you through the park. From the north access is along the same road through the park, the B6012, from the A619 Bakewell - Baslow road. The park is the private property of the Duke of Devonshire with the southern area open to the public all year round. Other parts of the estate, such as the house, gardens and farm open from late March.

The River Derwent provides habitat for Sand Martin, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goosander and Common Sandpiper. Large flocks of Siskin and Redpoll can sometimes be seen feeding on alder trees along the riverbanks during winter. Throughout the year species present include Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Dipper. The woodland holds Nuthatch, Tree Creeper and sometimes Hawfinch.


Monsal Dale

Monsal Dale is a scenic limestone dale with wooded slopes and pastures on the banks of the River Wye. Car parking is available near the Monsal Head Hotel (SK185 715) on the B6465 or at the southern end of the dale on the A6 Buxton - Bakewell road at SK170 707.

Also nearby is Cressbrook Dale (SK1773) and Millers Dale (SK1473). These three dales are definitely worth exploring between the months of April and July for birds such as Dipper, Kingfisher, Woodpeckers, Wagtails, Woodwarbler, Redstart, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Common Sandpiper.

Monsal Head is a focal point and can be busy at peak times. Under such circumstances it is advised to seek out the other car parks at the grid references supplied above.


Hardwick Park and Hardwick Hall

Although situated about ten miles from the eastern edge of the Peak District, Hardwick remains in the county of Derbyshire and should prove well worth a visit to the bird enthusiast.

The estate of Hardwick Hall, one of the finest Elizabethan mansions in Britain, has a series of ponds, wooded pastures and woodland. Hardwick (SK456 651) is situated 9 miles Southeast of Chesterfield near the M1 motorway at Junction 29. From here follow the A6175 Clay Cross road, take the first left following the brown signs for Hardwick Hall.

Access to the Hall is near Stainsby Mill. For the park only follow the road for another mile and turn left just after passing under the bridge. The park is open throughout the year but a small charge applies during peak times. This area is the focus of much birdwatching attention and there is an information board with site maps situated here.

The ponds and surrounding habitats are particularly fruitful throughout most of the year so it is recommended you take a circular walk round the ponds. This will take you by willow trees, through pastures with scattered trees, woodland, carr and marsh.

Throughout the year there are birds such as Great Crested Grebe, Heron, Tufted Duck, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, finches, tits and other common species. In summer there are warblers such as Chiffchaff and sometimes wagtails.

For keen birders there are two other sites nearby worth visiting. Approximately 4 miles from Hardwick is Williamthorpe Ponds Nature Reserve (SK43 66) on reclaimed colliery workings. Again take the A6175 Clay Cross road and turn right at the first roundabout and follow the road round onto the industrial estate.

Just after the large white unit on the right hand side turn down the small track by the sewage works. There are a few ponds here but the first is usually the most productive as it is fringed with reeds and mud banks. Good for passage waders in late summer, winter wildfowl, gulls and terns.

Summer is excellent for Reed Bunting, Grasshopper warbler, Sedge warbler, Reed warbler and Chiffchaff. Also there are usually a few Kestrel about and the sewage works attract large numbers of Pied wagtails, up to several hundred in some winters.

Also nearby is Carr Vale Nature Reserve (SK46 69). This series of pools, known as flashes, was formed due to the collapse of colliery workings. There are several flashes, some fringed with reed beds, others with islands and scrapes for breeding waders.

There are pastures and areas of scrub surrounding the flashes and the River Doe Lea flows in a northerly direction through the site. Carr Vale is at the bottom of the hill below the town of Bolsover (SK47 70) and its castle, off the A632 Bolsover - Chesterfield road. Access to the Nature Reserve is along Villas Road near the roundabout on the A623.

This site is excellent all year round with a great list of birds. It is situated on a migration route and attracts many passage migrants and winter wildfowl. Carr Vale also has an impressive list of breeding birds including many warblers and other passerines.

There is a mound from which the flashes can be viewed that is accessible to wheelchairs.

Ogston Reservoir

There are 84 hectares of open water at Ogston surrounded by pastures and 36 hectares of mixed woodland. Situated 2 miles to the south of Clay Cross off the A61 Derby – Sheffield road at Stretton along the B6014. Widely regarded as one of the best birding sites Derbyshire has to offer, Ogston can be truly excellent at any time of the year.

Ogston is renowned for having a long bird list which is probably due to its size, the multitude of habitats there and its location along a migration route. It is excellent for winter wildfowl, passage migrants, and it also has a large winter gull roost attracting Glaucous and Iceland gulls.

As this site attracts many birds the best place to start is the car park on the west bank where the public bird-hide is situated. There is usually information detailing recent sightings posted on boards around the car park area. There is no public access to the waters edge or surrounding land without permission. For more information about Ogston including a site map, what birds occur and a catalogue of recent sightings visit the Ogston bird club website.

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015