Peak District Wildlife Visitor’s Guide

Visitors Guide to the Peak District National Park for Wildlife Enthusiasts

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Covering an area of 555 square miles (1,436 square kilometers), the Peak District, at the heart of England, is a rugged landscape with rolling mountain views. Being a protected area, the Peak District is home to an abundance of wildlife, including red deer, mountain hares, and butterflies, among others. Come with me as we journey through this mesmerizing part of the UK and discover more about the fauna that’s found here. 

Peak District Overview

Geographical Overview

The Peak District covers an area of 555 square miles (1,436 square kilometers), most of which is located in Derbyshire. However, the national park also extends along the south side of the Pennies into Manchester, Staffordshire, Cheshire, West Yorkshire, and Greater Manchester. This central location makes the Peak District accessible from many parts of the UK.

Historical Significance & Industrial Heritage

Established in 1951, the Peak District holds the distinction of being the UK’s first national park. Beyond its natural beauty, it serves as a significant economic center, employing over 18,000 residents out of a total population of 40,000. The area boasts a rich historical heritage, with evidence of human activity dating back to the Mesolithic Era.

Throughout history, the Peak District has been a hive of activity, especially where quarrying and lead mining are concerned. Mining began here in the Middle Ages but before this, the Peak District was largely agricultural. 

Cultural Attractions

The Peak District is an area where history is beautifully preserved with picturesque medieval villages, prehistoric burial mounds, ancient stone circles, such as Nine Ladies, and several other historic sites of interest. It’s no wonder it attracts more than 13.5 million visitors each year!

Natural Beauty

The scenic beauty of the Peak District is what sets it apart and, while it is famed for its mountainous regions, it also boasts beautiful limestone dales, quaint villages, moorlands, and plateaus. This breathtaking landscape has been an inspiration for many including the likes of Charlotte Bronte and D.H Lawrence whose respective books Jane Eyre and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were both born out of the muse of this region.


While history is one of the main draws of the Peak District, there’s no denying that this area is a wildlife hotspot. Nature lovers will be enthralled by the diversity of species here including birds of prey, red deer, several butterfly species, and the iconic mountain hare. And it’s not just animals, there are many unique species of flora here that thrive in the limestone-rich soil which gives the park a unique and varied biodiversity.

What’s more, you’ll find several endangered species in the Peak District, including the Derbyshire Dales bat and the water vole. But while they are endangered, it’s good news for these and other species since the Peak District is designated a Special Area of Conservation and boasts several Sites of Specific Interest meaning that the area is protected and an important wildlife conservation spot.

Access & Recreation

Throughout the Peak District, you’ll find several visitor centers where you can obtain a wealth of information and the park can be accessed from all local major cities, including Derby, Nottingham, Manchester, and Sheffield. Even slightly further afield, such as Birmingham, visitors can arrive in the Peak District in just over an hour. 

Once you arrive in the Peak District, there are miles of hiking trails that allow you to explore this unique landscape on foot. One of my personal favorites are the trails at the Longshaw Estate, near Sheffield in the north-eastern part of the Peak District.

Types of Wildlife & Flora to See

The wildlife in the Peak District National Park is among some of the most diverse in the UK. Not only are there plenty of year-round residents, but you’ll also be able to spot migratory species during the spring and fall. These include migrating birds like the wheatear, curlew, and swallow, which makes the Peak District the ideal location for birdwatchers. 

And it doesn’t end there with our avian friends. The Peak District is home to several majestic raptors including the honey buzzard, the kestrel, the goshawk, the hen harrier, and the iconic peregrine falcon.

These amazing birds are often seen soaring through the skies, particularly in areas where there are lots of rock formations and cliffs, like Stanage Edge, where the peregrine falcon makes its nest.

Dovedale, known for its famous stepping stones across the River Dove, is a hotspot for birdwatching. It’s also home to several interesting plant species including Herb Robert and a whole host of rare mosses and lichens.

If you’re keen to spot waterfowl and aquatic birds then I’d recommend heading to Ladybower Reservoir where you may be treated to a glimpse of the common sandpiper or the red-breasted merganser.

The red grouse is common on the heather moorlands but its populations are controlled by local gamekeepers. While there were once black grouse here, they became extinct in the Peak District back in 2000.

Around the waterways of the Peak District is found an endangered species; the water vole. Considered Near Threatened in Scotland and Critically Endangered in Wales, England, despite the Endangered status, still has the highest populations of these rodents, and spotting them in the Peak District is a real honor.

The good news is that conservation programs aim to protect the delicate habitat of the water vole as well as that of other endangered species in the Peak District, including the short-eared owl and the skylark.

The red deer is also of great significance in the Peak District and they’re often spotted on the moorlands. During autumn, the males put on stunning displays as it’s rutting season when they’re keen to showcase their prowess to impress females and nab a mate. Chatsworth House is home to herds of deer that wander through the grounds alongside sheep; it’s quite the sight to behold!

Head up into the heather moorlands in Dark Peak and you may be able to spot the mountain hare which was reintroduced to the area back in the Victorian period. What’s interesting is that this is the only wild population in England. However, spotting them isn’t always easy as their camouflage coats allow them to seamlessly blend in with their surroundings. Plus, their fur changes color with the season; a perfect example of how animals adapt to their environment.

For insect lovers, the Peak District is a real haven for butterflies and provides you with the opportunity to spot species such as the brown argus, the small blue, and the dingy skipper. However, one of the most sought-after spots, when it comes to butterflies, is the green hairstreak butterfly which is often seen flitting around the heathlands. If you’re lucky, you might even spy the rare high brown fritillary or the beautiful green fritillary.

By day, the Peak District is brimming with wildlife but things don’t quiet down at night. In fact, this part of the UK is known for its bat populations including the noctule bat and the brown long-eared bat. However, one of the most amazing bat species here is the Daubenton’s bat which is a rare species often seen hunting over water. While it is rarely spotted, its populations are healthy and it is listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

During the Seasons

As someone who lives right on the edge of the Peak District, I have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful part of the world in all of the seasons. No matter when you go, you’re always sure to be able to spot a vast array of wildlife in the ever-changing landscape. 


Visit in spring to observe migrating birds returning in their droves. Some species of note include swallows and warblers. What’s fascinating about the swallow is that it undertakes one of the longest migrations on the planet, traveling more than 6,000 miles (15,540 square kilometers) between breeding and feeding grounds. They typically arrive in the Peak District towards the end of March or the beginning of April. 

Spring is also a wonderful time to witness the wildflowers starting to bloom across the meadows. This attracts several species of emerging butterflies including the peacock and the orange tip. However, I should urge you to keep in mind that, since the Peak District is at a high elevation, the onset of spring weather doesn’t come as early as in some other parts of the country and you’ll still need to wrap up warm.

Of course, one of the delights of spring is that it’s the season of new life and, in the Peak District, you’ll be treated to sightings of young lambs and a variety of chicks across different species, especially around the waters.


During summer, the weather in the Peak District is at its best with average temperatures hovering around 64°F (18°C). That said, statistics show that there’s around a 29% chance of rain on any given day throughout summer so it’s still best to come prepared.

Exploring the Peak District’s wildlife in summer provides plenty of opportunities to see an abundance of species. Butterfly populations are at their most active so head to the meadows and open spaces to catch a glimpse of things like the meadow brown or common blue. This is also a fantastic time to spot other pollinators like bees which can often be seen buzzing around the colorful wildflowers.

The Peak District skies come alive during summer providing ample opportunities for birdwatchers. While you may catch a glimpse of raptors soaring over rocky cliffs, or waterfowl on the rivers and lakes, the woodlands are an excellent spot for seeing our feathered friends. The lesser-spotted woodpecker can often be heard chipping away at trees while songbirds like the garden and willow warblers can be heard among the foliage.


Moving into autumn, the Peak District becomes a hotspot for wildlife lovers who want to witness the majesty of deer rutting season. Males assert their dominance through impressive displays on a backdrop of changing colors as the leaves begin to turn from deep green to shades of rusty orange and burnt red.

If you’re keen to check out the red deer at this time of the year, I’d recommend taking an outing either early in the morning or at dusk when these mammals are most active. While you’re out, you might also want to take the opportunity to spot unique fungi, such as the fly agaric which can be seen in the woodlands.

Woodland walks in the fall are idyllic and relaxing, although it is worth wrapping up as the temperature has already begun to drop. While you’re hiking through the Peak District in October, you’ll be able to witness the droves of birds that are beginning to take flight for their annual migration.


Winter in the Peak District is a truly magical time of the year. Head to some of the towns and villages for Christmas markets (the one at Chatsworth House is pretty spectacular and you can also see the grounds adorned in beautiful lights.)

But I know you’re here for the wildlife so where is best to go in winter?

As the snow begins to descend on the mountains, the mountain hare becomes a lot easier to spot so, if you’re keen to catch a glimpse, now is the time to do it. While many creatures head into hibernation, there’s still a good chance of seeing certain species, like the pipistrelle bat, which remain active during the milder parts of winter.

A waterside walk in December or January may be chilly but it does provide you with a chance to see gathering waterfowl and wintering species like the redwing, proving that, regardless of the time of year, the Peak District is a haven for birdwatching.

Naturally, winter does mean colder weather so it’s essential to dress correctly. What’s more, keep in mind that there are fewer daylight hours so plan your outings accordingly.

What to Explore & Do?

The Peak District has many wildlife spotting opportunities but that’s far from being the only thing that attracts 13.5 million people every year. You could easily spend a week in the Peak District and still have many more things to return for during your next trip.

Let’s start by looking at some of the best attractions for wildlife enthusiasts and I have to begin by mentioning Dovedale. This is a place that has been a firm favorite of mine since childhood and one of the things I love about it is the wildlife. However, I should warn you that the area around the famous stepping stones can get very busy, especially during summer.

Take the opportunity to paddle in the river and enjoy a picnic on its banks before heading off to explore the trails in hopes of spotting an array of bird species.

If you’re keen to spot raptors, like the peregrine falcon then there’s no better place than Stanage Edge. Not only is this prime habitat for these beautiful birds but there are also plenty of vantage points that give you the best chance of spotting one.

Ladybower Reservoir, in the Upper Derwent Valley, is one of the best places to see waterfowl. Not only is it great for bird watching but the area offers beautiful countryside views, especially from spots like Bamford Edge. 

Derwent Reservoir is another lake where wildlife enthusiasts can spot all kinds of creatures. Again, birds are a prominent feature here but you may also see species such as adders and red squirrels. You might also like to check out Carsington Water, which offers even more bird-watching opportunities, particularly during the migration seasons. 

Hikers will find plenty of challenging trails throughout the Peak District but for those that really want to lay claim to a feat, climbing Kinder Scout is a must. This is the highest point in the Peak District at an elevation of 2,088 feet (636 meters) and can be found in the National Nature Reserve at Dark Peak.

Perhaps one of the most iconic hikes in the Peak District is along Pennine Way. Spanning 268 miles (431 km), this is one of the longest trails in the country and runs from Edale in Derbyshire right up to the Scottish Border. In the Peak District portion of the trail, you’ll enjoy views of the limestone plateaus and wildlife-filled moorlands.

Mam Tor, sometimes called the Shivering Mountain, offers the best panoramic views in the Peak District and there’s a circular trail running from the car park (owned by the National Trust). However, since this is such a popular hike, things can get pretty busy, especially at weekends so be sure to arrive early.

Take the Thor’s Cave circular to discover this natural steep limestone cavern. The Peak District is famed for its limestone and even driving through the quaint villages, you’ll see buildings made from this beautiful material; it really is like being in another world.

Ascend High Tor via giddy edge and walk between Matlock and Matlock Bath on this challenging hike with lots of steep drop offs. Because of the dangers of this hike, it’s not recommended for children but I can personally say that the sense of achievement and the views from High Tor cannot be beaten.

While you’re here, it would be a crime not to check out the quirky village of Matlock Bath. A huge attraction for bikers and families, this quaint village has a seaside feel with ice cream parlors and amusement arcades as well as an aquarium and 3D art museum that has a charm all of its own. Walk down the river and enjoy beautiful views of rocky cliffs or perhaps explore from above with the Heights of Abraham cable cars.

For families, Matlock Farm Park offers the chance to see alpacas, meerkats, and wallabies, as well as enjoy other activities such as the large jumping pillow and indoor play center. Just outside of Matlock Bath, you’ll also find Gulliver’s Kingdom which is a theme park aimed at younger children. Set in the mountainside, it provides some challenging uphill walks around the park to get those steps in. 

Not far from Matlock Bath, you’ll find Chatsworth House. This stately home boasts acres of grounds to explore as well as well-tended gardens with greenhouses containing exotic species. There’s a courtyard with shops and restaurants as well as a children’s farm and impressive play area.

Haddon Hall, a remarkable stately home, offers the chance to immerse yourself in a medieval experience unlike any other. There are regular events taking place throughout the year, including bat-watching, wildlife walks, and live music. If the wildlife walks take your fancy, don’t forget that there are many guided walks going on throughout the Peak District that offer the chance to learn more about the wonderful creatures that live here. 

With so many caves and caverns to explore, your discovery of the Peak District doesn’t need to be limited to above ground. Pooles Cavern and Buxton Country Park (yes, this is the area where the world-famous Buxton water comes from), offers fun for all the family. Check out the exhibition at the visitor center before heading into the cavern to see how natural limestone is formed.

Blue John Cavern, located in Castleton provides another opportunity to go deeper under the Peak District. Here, you’ll find a fascinating cave system and can enjoy guided tours to learn more about the geology of the area.

For the best information and experience, I would strongly advise visiting one of the four visitor centers dotted around the Peak District. These can be found in Edale, Bakewell (famous for the Bakewell tart), Castleton, and Upper Derwent.

Where to Stay?

Covering such a vast area, there are plenty of accommodation options in the Peak District. Where you stay will be influenced by which attractions you’re keen to see. With this in mind, I’d advise taking a look at driving routes or public transport from your accommodation for the easiest access to your chosen attractions.

Being the perfect opportunity to explore the great outdoors, the Peak District is highly attractive to pet owners. While many accommodations welcome furry friends, this isn’t always the case so be sure to check this out before making your booking.

On the subject of booking, it is vital that you book your accommodation well in advance as things can get very busy during the peak season.

Popular Towns

One of the things I love most about the Peak District is the stunning array of picturesque towns and villages. These provide the perfect base for exploring the wider area and each one has its own unique charm as well as several types of accommodation.

Bakewell is located right in the heart of the Peak District and is ideal as a base for discovering as much of the national park as possible. Here, you will be able to explore the market town (the largest in the Peak District) and have direct access to the River Wye and the Monsal Trail which runs 8.5 miles (14 km) to Blackwell Mill. 

Some popular hotels in Bakewell include The Rutland Arms which has excellent reviews and is centrally located as well as the luxury H Boutique Hotel that’s perfectly placed for exploring attractions like Chatsworth House.

You might also take the opportunity to rent a holiday let such as the beautiful Pillarbox Cottage, located a few miles out of the town center, close to Matlock. This gorgeous Grade II listed accommodation offers all of the creature comforts you’ll need for a cozy stay.

Mentioning Matlock, I think this is a wonderful place to stay while visiting the Peak District. With easy access to Matlock Bath, just a mile out of the town, you’ll find plenty to see and do as well as some gorgeous spa hotels such as the New Bath Hotel and Spa which also boasts beautifully manicured gardens.

If you plan to explore the southern part of the Peak District, Matlock is an ideal base, and as well as hotels, there are also some lovely holiday lodges, such as those at the Darwin Lake Holiday Village. Enjoy a relaxing break on the water’s edge and take part in adventures such as kayaking, hiking, and of course, checking out the local wildlife. 

Edale in Derbyshire is a highlight of the Peak District and home to one of the four visitor centers. If you’re looking to climb Kinder Scout, then Edale is perfect, as it is considered the gateway to this high point. There are many accommodation options here, including hostels and campsites (which I’ll explore in the upcoming section), as well as pretty hotels and lodges. 

The Old Winery Loft is a luxury holiday let that’s perfectly placed for exploring Edale and the surrounding area and has excellent reviews and all of the home comforts you’ll ever need. Meadow View, located in the heart of Edale is a holiday cottage that exudes charm, comes fully equipped, and boasts three large bedrooms; perfect for families.

If you want a truly luxurious and comfortable experience check out the Losehill Hotel and Spa which offers various spa treatments, a swimming pool, and a high-end restaurant. 

Stay in Castleton to explore Mam Tor and Blue John Cavern as well as the historical shops, pretty architecture, and the visitor center. Here, there are many types of accommodation, including guest houses and inns. Located on the western side of the Hope Valley, it’s the perfect place to discover Dark Peak. 

Some of my favorite accommodation here includes The Bike and Boots Inn which boasts a terrace and restaurant and is located within driving distance of Chatsworth House as well as the luxurious Four Seasons Guesthouse.

Stay at the Buxton Crescent Hotel for a historical experience that you won’t forget in a hurry. This beautiful Georgian building boasts stunning architecture and houses a bar, pool, restaurant, and spa center, giving you everything you need to unwind after a day exploring nature.

I would also highly recommend Ashbourne which is located on the south side of the Peak District and is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited. Known as the Gateway to Dovedale, Ashbourne is home to boutique shops, Tudor architecture, and amazing places to eat. But one of the best attractions here is Wildhive Callow Hall which not only offers a place to stay but also somewhere that you can truly unwind thanks to the spa. There are lots of wildlife opportunities here and you can sample locally sourced foods in the onsite restaurant.

Camping, Caravanning, & Glamping

If you’re keen to stay in nature, there’s no better way than camping. The Peak District is home to around 95 campsites so there’s plenty to choose from. Again, I think it’s really important to consider what attractions you wish to visit as this will help you to find the perfect camping spot.

Knotlow Farm in Buxton is located in a quiet area that gives you the chance to get back in touch with nature and really relax. Enjoy homemade pizza in the campsite shop and have easy access to both Bakewell and Buxton. There are campsites as well as glamping so there’s something for every explorer.

HoeGrange Holidays offer beautiful glamping pods right in the heart of the Peak District that have all the mod-cons you’ll ever need. Perfectly situated in the Matlock countryside, this glamping site gives you easy access to the southern Peak District for attractions like Ashbourne, the Heights of Abraham, High Tor, Bakewell, and Chatsworth House.

Head just outside of Hartington Village, and you’ll find Scaldersitch Farm, which provides guests with the ultimate glamping experience. Choose from a luxury yurt or tipi that comes with its very own hot tub. The wildlife spotting opportunities here are endless, from young lambs in spring to a variety of owl species once the sun goes down. 

If you’re keen to stay in Bakewell then I’d recommend Peak Pods Glamping, which is situated perfectly for exploring Lathkill and Bradford Dales. There are only four pods on site, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for a quieter, more private experience. Offering comfort and luxury, each of the pods has stunning green views of the local countryside. 

For those that want a more wild experience, Fieldhead campsite is perfect. This is a more basic site, located in Edale that gives you the opportunity to get back to basics and enjoy nature. This is a great spot for hikers who wish to explore Pennine Way, and the village of Edale has some wonderful shops and places to eat. 

Farditch Farm Caravan Park in Buxton is great for families and has a range of amenities, including a laundry room and a communal kitchen. This is a brilliant choice if you’re keen to take wildlife walks as there are numerous hiking trails within easy reach. 

How to Get There?

By Air

The nearest international airport to the Peak District is Manchester although if you are flying in from Europe, you may also wish to use East Midlands Airport which is just a stone’s throw away from the national park. From both of these airports, you can access bus or train services that take you right into the heart of the Peak District.

By Road

Being centrally located in England, the Peak District National Park is easily accessible. Access by road is a breeze from all nearby major cities, including Derby, Manchester, and Sheffield. 

From Derby, simply follow the A6 which will lead you right into the south Peak District and Matlock. If you’re traveling from Manchester, you’ll need to take the M67 and A57 which will have you in the heart of the Peaks within 38 minutes. The A57, also known as Snake Pass, will lead you into the Peak District from Sheffield and also connects to Manchester. It’s known as one of the most scenic routes through the National Park.

The great thing about traveling by car is that the Peak District, being so large, is accessible within an hour or two from most of the nearby cities.

By Train

The Hope Valley Line from Manchester and Sheffield runs directly into the Peak District with train stations at Edale, Bamford, Hathersage, and Grindleford. Train services also run regularly from Derby as well as routes from Birmingham New Street with one change before entering Edale. The duration of train travel largely depends on where you’re coming from but, for the most part, you can expect to be traveling for no more than an hour or two.

Once you’re in the Peak District, there are regular bus services that run between towns including Matlock, Ashbourne, Bakewell, Buxton, and even as far out as Derby City.

Exploring by Bike

Many people also choose to travel by bicycle around the Peak District as this allows you to take in the beautiful scenery. You’ll find many dedicated cycle routes and, even if you don’t have your own bike, these can be rented in Ashbourne, Manifold, Derwent, and Parsley Hay.

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