Lake District IPA
Location: North west corner of England in the county of Cumbria.
Grid Reference: NY 268 243
Home to England’s highest peak, deepest lake and wettest inhabited place, the famous Lake District landscapes shelter rare arctic-alpine flowers and an abundance of mosses, liverworts, lichens and freshwater algae.As the ice retreated from Cumbria 10,000 years ago, it left behind a dramatic landscape of carved peaks, wide U-shaped valleys and 99 lakes, tarns, meres and waters. Today, with more than two metres of rain falling each year, the mountains and valleys here are home to an exceptional diversity of plants, mosses, lichens and habitats, giving the Lake District a unique character.
The highest cliffs and gullies are a stronghold for arctic-alpines - plants that thrive in the cold and harsh conditions. Out of reach from grazing sheep, plants like purple saxifrage, alpine cinquefoil, mountain avens, alpine lady’s mantle and alpine catchfly flourish, especially in north and east-facing coves and gullies where the soils are slightly richer in minerals.
These damp cliffs and ledges are also home to some very rare eyebrights, including upland eyebright and, particularly, Cumbrian eyebright, which has its headquarters here. With nine species and numerous hybrids recorded in total, the Lake District is a veritable hotspot for eyebrights!
Gully sides and cliff ledges with deeper, richer soil are home to a remarkable community of plants resembling a Pennine hay meadow, with tall colourful flowers such as wood crane’s-bill, globeflower, water avens, wild angelica and roseroot.
Some of the Lake District upland trees are rare and specialised. Juniper inhabits many crags forming a wonderful Tolkeinesque forest in places. Even rarer is the downy willow, a small tree with white-felted leaves. Just ten individual plants grow in the Helvellyn coves. Lower down the slopes are often wooded with oak and ash and are carpeted in spring with bluebells, primroses and wild daffodils, while the damp climate encourages the growth of a huge diversity of mosses, liverworts, lichens and other fungi.
The lakes, tarns, meres and reservoirs are low in nutrients, their clear water supporting lawns of water-starwort, quillwort, shoreweed, water lobelia and floating bur-weed. Less visible but just as important are the many species of desmid – single-celled freshwater algae that float in water – for which the Lake District is a stronghold.
Another special habitat comes from the long legacy of mining in Cumbria. From the 16th to 19th centuries, large quantities of metals such as copper, lead and silver were extracted and the mine spoil tips remain largely unvegetated today except for a large diversity of metal-tolerant lichens including the very rare copper lecidea and two-toned rock-foam.
Image: Lake District © Sue Nottingham/Plantlife