Lake District IPA

Location: North west corner of England in the county of Cumbria.

Grid Reference: NY 268 243


Lake District IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important population of Euphrasia and Marsh Flapwort
  • The species richness of bryophytes in Broadleaved woodland and flushes
  • The species richness of desmids in surface standing waters and flushes
  • The species richness of lichens in broadleaved deciduous woodland: oceanic and Miscellaneous inland habitats with very sparse or no vegetation: metalliferous mine-spoil
  • The species richness of vascular plants in broadleaved woodland
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation (can occur at sea level);
    Blanket bogs (extensive areas of peatland);
    Dry heaths;
    Ungrazed upland cliff ledges on calcareous rocks;
    Juniper scrub on heaths and calcareous grasslands;
    Wet heaths;
    Old oak woodlands with holly;
    Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
    Acidic alpine grassland;
    Acid rocks with crack & fissure vegetation;
    Acidic montane scree
  • The Lake District is approximately 34 miles (55 km) across and its landscape was formed by periods of glaciation, the most recent of which ended some 10,000 years ago.

    The ice carved wide U-shaped valleys, many of which are now filled with the lakes that give the area its name. The upper regions contain a number of glacial cirques, which are typically filled with tarns. The higher fells are rocky, with lower fells being open moorland. Below the tree-line, native oak woodlands sit alongside nineteenth century pine plantations. Its location on the north west coast of England, coupled with its mountainous geography, makes it the dampest part of England, and much of the land is often boggy.

    Plants you could see

    Amongst the cliffs and gullies of the Lake District high fells the steep ground provides refuge from grazing sheep, and in many cases offers the specialised soils and climatic conditions favoured by upland plants. The best examples of heathland have many different types of heather - ling, bell heather, bilberry, crowberry, cow-berry and bearberry can all be found.

    There are more trees on the crags than on the open fellside. Young trees are nibbled away by sheep, and only on the steeper slopes (or where grazing pressure is very low) can they get beyond the seedling stage. Some of the Lake District upland trees are rare and specialised. A specialist dwarf type of juniper inhabits the crags above 500m. Even rarer is the downy willow, a bushy tree, with leaves that are downy white underneath, and restricted to 10 individual plants growing in the Helvellyn Coves. The oakwoods and deep gills of upper Borrowdale are home to a rich variety of ferns, including oak, brittle bladder and polypody.

    The Lake District is a stronghold for arctic-alpines - plants thriving in the cold and harsh conditions of high latitudes and high altitudes. When the last ice age came to an end they dominated the Lake District vegetation, but now they are restricted to the highest ground, especially north- and east-facing coves and gullies. The arctic-alpines include purple saxifrage, moss campion, alpine cinquefoil, mountain avens, alpine lady’s mantle, alpine catchfly and alpine mouse-ear. These species often flourish where the soils are rich in basic minerals which in the high fells generally equates to the gullies or flushes.

    The gully sides and areas with richer and deeper soil are also home to a type of plant assemblage called tall herb ledge vegetation. Resembling a Pennine hay meadow, tall colourful herbs such as wood crane’s-bill, globeflower, water avens, wild angelica and roseroot cover ledges and gully bottoms. Common in damp areas and by high tarns is the so-called cotton grass (actually a sedge), and in some of the tarns the pinky- white flowers of the bog bean may be found or water-starwort, quillwort, shoreweed, water lobelia or floating bur-weed.

    Where there is sodden ground, look for the butterwort, a mauve-flowered insectivorous plant, and, also in damper areas, bog asphodel, bog orchid, sundew and bladderwort. Typical species in mixed woodland include primrose, wood anemone, snowdrop and bluebell. In high summer, waste areas are a mix of rosebay willow herb, knapweed, wild parsnip, sneezewort, yarrow, angelica, fleabane, scabious and betony, while harebells appear on dry banks.

    Image: Lake District © Sue Nottingham/Plantlife