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Expanses of sky above the wild dramatic sweep of open moorland, gentle and tidy lowlands, criss-crossed with dry stone walls and dotted with picturesque farms and villages. This is a place like no other, a place with a strong sense of stepping back in time to a forgotten part of the English countryside, a place known as Bowland – the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Covering 803 square kilometres (300 sq miles) of rural Lancashire and North Yorkshire, the Forest of
Bowland AONB is in two parts. The famous landmark of Pendle Hill is geologically linked to the main upland block but separated by the broad valley of the River Ribble.
An area of national and international importance because of its unspoiled and richly diverse landscapes, wildlife and heritage, Bowland has outstanding heather moorland, blanket bog, and rare birds. The deeply incised cloughs and wooded valleys are particularly characteristic of the Forest of Bowland as are its well managed sporting estates. The AONB also has semi-natural woodlands and wildflower meadows. Thirteen per cent of the AONB is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its habitats and geological features. The extensive heather moorlands of the fells are exceptionally important as a habitat for upland birds, such as the hen harrier, and have been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European Birds Directive in recognition of this.
Land use and farming will continue to change the way the landscape is shaped as it has always done. Today sheep and beef farming predominates in the uplands with dairying being the major land use in the valleys.
The landscape we see today contains many clues to past history – the villages of Grindleton, Waddington and Caton date back to the Saxon period, ‘ton’ meaning fenced area or enclosure. Norse names are also common, these include ‘beck’ meaning stream and ‘laithe’ meaning barn. Even Bowland was formally called ‘Bolland’ meaning cowland.
During the 13th century Cistercian Monks settled at Sawley and toiled for years building the abbey, clearing trees and cultivating the land to grow crops. Ridge and furrow cultivation patterns can still be seen in the long shadows cast by the winter sunlight.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the enclosure of land by drystone walls and hedgerows. Derelict lime kilns, old mineral workings, mills and lodges are all indicators of former industrial activity in the AONB.
A place to enjoy and keep special – the Forest of Bowland offers some of the most beautiful and remote walking and cycling in the country, from the grandeur and isolation of the moorland hills to the undulating lowlands with their distinctive pattern of settlements, woodland cloughs and river valleys.
In 2005 the Forest of Bowland AONB became the first protected area in England to be awarded the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas, and this honour was repeated when the Charter was re-awarded in September 2010. The Charter is awarded to protected areas that are delivering tourism that is both nature and landscape friendly and which contributes to the economic development of the region. The Charter approach ensures that organisations, local people and businesses are working together to protect the area, whilst at the same time increasing opportunities for visitors to discover and enjoy its special qualities.