UK Upland Habitats



The uplands of the UK support a diverse range of open, semi-natural habitats. These include very large expanses of blanket bog and upland heathland, more moderate tracts of inland rock outcrop and scree habitats, mountain heaths and willow scrub, upland flushes, fens and swamps, and upland calcareous grassland, and smaller amounts of limestone pavement and calaminarian grassland. Such habitats occur above the upper limits of agricultural enclosure, usually over 250–400 m altitude, and reflect differences in climatic conditions, under-lying soils, hydrology and management history. Collectively they cover around one-third of the UK land surface. Note that this excludes upland woodlands, upland freshwaters and upland hay meadows, which are covered under other UK habitat web pages.


Upland semi-natural habitats are a priority for nature conservation. They are home to an enormous variety of highly specialised plants and animals, and include some of the most natural, appealing and threatened habitat types in the UK. Accordingly, there are a number of upland priority habitats under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and 21 upland habitat types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive.


Despite their outstanding scenic qualities and importance for biodiversity, the uplands have suffered huge losses of semi-natural habitat and associated species. Since the 1950s, species-poor acid grasslands, 'improved' hill pastures and conifer plantations have replaced many areas of semi-natural habitat due mainly to afforestation and improvements made for agriculture and game rearing. There have also been widespread reductions in the extent and quality of surviving areas of upland habitats due to over-grazing, inappropriate burning, peat extraction, and quarrying, combined with extensive atmospheric pollution.


Use the following page links to find out more about upland habitats:

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