An area of great scenic beauty, the Upper Derwent Valley is located in the Peak District National Park, to the west of Sheffield, in the UK. It is a very popular destination for tourists, climbers and hikers and on summer weekends and public holidays the area becomes swamped with cars.
There is less human pressure in winter but even then the dams and car-parks attract large numbers of people. However, this is a large area and a short walk will take the birding visitor away from the crowds and onto the moors and woodland.
These are deep bodies of water with steep sides and little or no marginal vegetation or muddy fringes. This means they are of little birding interest except for Red-breasted Merganser, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail in summer and one or two Tufted Duck and Common Pochard in winter.
However, the woodlands are of more interest with some natural oak and mixed woodlands and extensive conifer plantations with pine, larch and spruce. The usual thrushes, tits and finches occur here with Tree Pipit, Common Redstart and Wood Warbler in summer and Redwing and Fieldfare in winter.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk is commonly seen over the woodlands and this is one of the best areas in Britain to see its larger relative, the Northern Goshawk. The birds are resident here and the best time to look for them is early spring when they perform display flights over the forest. Active nests can be watched via CCTV in the Fairholmes visitor centre.
The conifers hold small numbers of breeding Siskin and in some years Common Crossbill are present but both occur in larger numbers in winter. Both Parrot Crossbill and Two-barred Crossbill have also been recorded.
Above the forest the habitat is largely rough grassland with moorland of heather and grass on the highest levels. Red Grouse can be seen here throughout the year with small numbers of Golden Plover and Eurasian Curlew in summer. Northern Wheatear and Whinchat both breed and Northern Raven are now seen with regularity, Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are resident with Hen Harrier hunting the moors in winter.
In winter flights of Pink-footed Goose are often seen over the area.
In June 2002 a Spotted Sandpiper was present at Derwent Reservoir.
Birds you can see here include:
Pink-footed Goose, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Hen Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Red Grouse, Eurasian Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Common Woodpigeon, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Skylark, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Common Wren, Common Dipper, Dunnock, Eurasian Robin, Common Redstart, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Ring Ouzel, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Wood Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Treecreeper, Common Jay, Common Magpie, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Common Crossbill
Probably best known for Mountain hare - try the edges such as Howden Edge, Crow Stones or Barrow Stones. All contain good numbers.
Green Hairstreak are relatively easy on the Moors. Alport Valley nearby has some rare Waxcap fungi and there are scarce moorland plants such as Labrador Tea (e.g at Barrow Stones), Cloudberry, Bog Whortleberry (e.g at Swaines Greave) and round leaved sundew (try the flushes in the Westend Valley)
Mink has been seen in the area but Water Vole can still be traced right up into the moorland catchment. Otter is not yet established in the area but have been seen near by. Roe and Red Deer have been recorded but only on occasion and it was rumoured to have Pine Martin but not confirmed for years. Red Squirrel clung on into the early 1990s but now long gone (there are loads of greys though).
History and Use
The Valley was long coveted as a site where damming could provide water for the expanding demand from the industry and population growth of the East Midlands. Several Water Corporations sumbitted plans for a whole host of dams. In the end, an Act of Parliament in 1899 created the Derwent Valley Water Board with representatives from all of these Corporations and a remit to build two dams - Derwent and Howden.
Work on Howden Dam began in 1901 with Derwent Dam in 1902. Both dams are masonry dams with a tower at each end. At the time, workers on such construction projects followed the work - many of the employees who worked in the Upper Derwent had helped build a major dam in Wales previously and Welsh surnames are still relatively common in the area.
The conditions that such workers (the 'Navis') endured at the time were horrendous, often living in temporary conditions, little in the way of pay and health and safety was an alien concept.
When the 1899 Act was passed, a clause was inserted that due consideration should be made for the workforce. The result was Birchinlee (also called Tin Town), a purpose built village part way between the two dams, on the eatsern side of the Valley. With a population of 967 at its peak, it was a huge step forward in conditions and had all sorts of shops and facilities - including a general hospital and an isolation hospital. 18 people died in the construction of the dams. Horrendous by today's standards but a breakthrough at the time.
Howden was the first to be finished - in 1912. At that point, the population started to decline and some of the buildings were sold off to a prisoner of war camp near Wakefield. Derwent was finished in 1916 and Birchinlee soon became abandoned. Little now remains of Birchinlee today although it is possible to find signs if you take a walk around the area and there are some interpretation boards.
Ladybower Dam came later and is an earth bank rather than masonry. It was built during the second world war and opened by the King in 1945.
The other main thing that the Valley is known for is the Association with the Dam Busters raid. During the run up to the raids, the Valley was a regular spot for low flying training (although many sites were used such as Eyebrook Res in Leics) and the crews had to learn to drop down the Valley sides and level off over the reservoir at 60ft. As they banked and rose out of the Valley the went low over the houses of the residents prompting complaints about joy riding in a time of war.
The links were further cemented by the fliming of the Dambusters film in the 1950's. A good deal of filming took place in the Valley and you can see just how young the conifer plantations are when you watch the film. Today there is a museum of the Dambusters and history of the Valley in the west tower of Derwent Dam, usually open on a Sunday. This is run by Vic Hallam who also raised funds for a memorial to the dams raid by the entrance to the tower. Well worth a look if you are in the Valley.
Areas of Interest
Access and Facilities
Only about 15km to the west of Sheffield, the Upper Derwent Valley is easily reached on the A57, the main road crossing the Pennines. This road crosses the Ladybower Reservoir and from here a minor road signposted to Derwentdale heads north along the western shores of the reservoirs.
There are several car-parks along this road and one at the head of the valley. This road is closed at Fairholmes at the southern end of Derwent Reservoir on Sundays throughout the year and at weekends in summer.
There is a car-park and information centre located here and several footpaths leading up to the moors can be found on this road.
Cycle-hire is available and there is a bus shuttle service up to the head of the valley.
Content originally posted by Steve, and images by Cashie
My local Patch.
Happy to provide information on what to see and where to go if people PM me.
- Scarce Birds such as Raptors
- Red-breasted merganser etc
- Large area to cover. Reservoirs are acidic and don't hold much wildfowl