Bowland is essentially upland country forming part of the Pennines, sharing many of the characteristics of other upland areas like the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Park but its essential landscape character is one of grandeur and isolation. The area is dominated by a central upland core of deeply incised gritstone fells with summits above 450m and vast tracts of heather-covered peat moorland.

The fells’ fringe of foothills is dissected by steep-sided valleys which open out into the rich green lowlands of the Ribble, Hodder, Wyre and Lune Valleys. Well-wooded and dotted with picturesque stone farms and villages, these lower slopes, criss-crossed by drystone walls, contrast with and complement the dramatic open sweep of the gritstone heights. On its south-eastern edge, famous Pendle Hill forms the outlier of the Forest of Bowland AONB.

The combination of ‘wild’ expanses of open moorland and estate landscapes on the moorland fringe together with the transitional landscapes to the lower lying river valleys gives this area a distinctive quality of its own. The cloughs, steep sided and wooded valleys, provide a strong link between the upland and lowland landscapes.

Bowland’s ecological features make it a nationally important area for nature conservation and 13 per cent is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The moors are a major breeding ground for upland birds and the major part of the Bowland Fells is designated as a Special Protection Area under the European Birds Directive. The lowlands contain important ancient woodland habitat.

Building in Bowland uses local gritstone and has a strong vernacular style which adds to the quality of the landscape. The AONB is sparsely populated with over three-quarters living in villages, and the remainder in loosely-knit hamlets or isolated dwellings in open countryside. Traditional villages such as Slaidburn, Downham and Newton have seen very little modern development.

Sheep and beef farming predominates in the uplands with dairying being the major land use in the valleys. There is some forestry, water catchment, mineral extraction, and grouse shooting. Increasingly, tourism is adding extra income to the local rural economy.

In December 2008, Lancashire County Council commissioned Chris Blandford Associates to prepare a Landscape Character Assessment for the Forest of Bowland AONB.

The Landscape Character Assessment has confirmed the diversity of the Forest of Bowland's landscapes, identifying, mapping and describing 14 Landscape Character Types and 82 Landscape Character Areas within only 803 square kilometres.  For more details follow this link to the Landscape Character of the Forest of Bowland AONB.

Access Land

In September 2004 parts of Bowland became open to walkers for the first time as the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave general right of access to the public to ‘Access Land’ for the purposes of open-air recreation on foot.

For the most up to date information on where you can go in Bowland and what local restrictions may apply, call 0845 100 3298 or visit the Countryside Access website

The Forest of Bowland AONB and Lancashire County Council Countryside Service have produced an information leaflet about Access Land, outlining your rights and responsibilities. In addition, this leaflet has six circular walks exploring the best that Bowland’s Access Land has to offer. You can download the Access Land Leaflet (PDF, 6.1mb) in PDF format, but please be aware this is a very large file and it may take a while to download.

If you plan to do any walking in Bowland it is essential to use Ordnance Survey Map OL41, ‘Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale’. Maps after September 2004 show Access Land in yellow.

Much of the Access Land in the Forest of Bowland AONB is within a Special Protection Area (SPA). This European designation recognises the importance of the area’s upland heather moorland and blanket bog as habitat for upland birds. Bowland’s moors are home to many threatened species, including merlin, golden plover, curlew, ring ouzel and the rare hen harrier; symbol of the AONB.

Treading Carefully is a leaflet that has been produced in partnership with the RSPB, English Nature and Lancashire Countryside Service and illustrates how walkers and birdwatchers can help ground nesting birds. This leaflet also folds out into an attractive bird identification guide.

Key messages to remember:

  • Be safe - plan ahead and follow the signs.
  • Observe the local dog restrictions where they apply: e.g. Dogs are usually excluded all year round from grouse moors and seasonally from lambing enclosures. On all other land they must be on a 2 metre lead during the bird-nesting season (1st March to 31st July).
  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Tread carefully - much of Bowland’s Access Land is important for ground-nesting birds, upland farming and game management.