Covering around a third of the UK’s land surface, upland habitats form the bulk of our wildest, most scenic and possibly most romantic countryside. The setting for many atmospheric novels from Wuthering Heights to The Hound of the Baskervilles, uplands are the open habitats of mountains, moors, heaths, bogs and rough grasslands. Most of our upland habitats are found in Scotland, Wales and Northern England, though there are areas of moorland in South West England and Northern Ireland.
Shaped by people
Though they may seem wild, upland habitats have been shaped by people over thousands of years. Originally, these areas were covered in scrub and woodland, but a long history of clearing and burning the vegetation has created the moorlands we see today. Local people used uplands for grazing livestock and gathering materials; gorse was used for fires, bracken for animal bedding, sand and gravel for building, and bilberries and fungi for food. Only the mountain peaks, rock faces, scree slopes and bogs are truly wilderness.
Flushed with wildlife
Upland habitats include acid grassland and marsh, heathland and peat bog. Wildlife-rich flushes accompany flowing water; stands of bracken occur on fells and rocky outcrops support scarce plants and provide nesting sites for birds of prey.
The wildlife associated with upland areas includes birds like ravens, peregrine falcons, red grouse, golden plovers, grey wagtails and wheatears, alongside mammals like red deer, pine martens, wildcats and mountain hares. Typical plants include bell heather, ling heather, cross-leaved heath, bilberry, purple moor-grass and rowan trees.
How we’re helping
Threats to our upland habitats include deforestation and overgrazing, mineral and peat extraction, pollution, development and climate change. Across the UK many Wildlife Trusts are working locally to look after specialist upland species and prevent further damage to these compelling places. We’re clearing encroaching scrub, reinstating grazing regimes and reseeding heathers. This work is vital if our uplands are to survive and keep their wild character.
How you can help
The Wildlife Trusts manage many upland habitats for the benefit of wildlife; by volunteering for us you can help too, and you’ll make new friends and learn new skills along the way.