Yorkshire Dales Limestone IPA

Location: North of England, covering the central Pennines in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

Grid Reference: SD 905 809


The breathtaking limestone scenery of the Yorkshire Dales are home to some of our most thrilling wildflower spectacles. Hillsides are clothed in sweet flower-rich pasture, glorious hay meadows fill the valleys and in a few places one of our rarest orchids, lady’s-slipper, can be seen again.

This Important Plant Area is home to:

  • Some of the UK’s most important populations of lady’s-slipper orchid, arctic sandwort, Yorkshire feather-moss and slender yoke-moss
  • An exceptional diversity of freshwater algae growing in lakes, ponds and pools
  • An exceptional diversity of vascular plants growing in dry limestone grassland and lime-rich fens
  • Some of the top 5% of the following habitats in the UK: limestone pavement, limestone rocks with fissure vegetation, flower-rich calcareous grasslands with scrub, purple moor-grass meadows, Juniper scrub on heaths and calcareous grasslands, raised sphagnum bogs, lime-rich fens, hard water springs, low-nutrient pools and lakes with stonewort algae.

    Wildflowers love limestone country and the Yorkshire Dales are no exception. Unique and breathtaking flower-rich landscapes can be found here along with a multitude of rare and special flowers, lichens and mosses, all fostered by the underlying geology. Laid down some 300 million years ago, the Great Scar Limestone is concentrated in the uplands around Ingleborough, Malham and Wharfedale.
  • On the steepest cliffs many plants escape drought by being succulent (such as biting stonecrop) or growing through the damp winter. Such winter-annuals include common whitlowgrass, hairy rock-cress, thale cress and the rare hutchinsia.

    Where acidic rain water has dissolved the joints in flatter areas of bedrock, limestone pavement has formed with its characteristic clints and grikes (blocks and crevices) in the rock. Along with wild thyme, common rock-rose and bloody crane’s-bill rarer jewels like birds-eye primrose grow here. Down in the grikes, the moist and shaded conditions allow ferns and woodland plants to flourish, a luxuriant surprise in such a harsh landscape. Dog’s mercury, ramsons, hart’s-tongue fern, maidenhair spleenwort, wood anemone and wood sorrel predominate, along with sanicle, enchanter’s nightshade and, occasionally, herb-Paris, angular Solomon’s seal and lily-of-the-valley.

    Out on the hills and fells, where the limestone grassland is grazed sympathetically by sheep, flowers can be abundant. Common species include bird’s-foot trefoil, fairy flax, mouse-ear hawkweed, wild thyme, rock-rose, small scabious and mountain pansy, these being joined occasionally by autumn gentian and mountain everlasting.

    The queen of the floral show in this area is undoubtedly lady’s-slipper orchid. A single native plant of this fabulously exotic species survives on a well protected wooded hillside, but a successful reintroduction programme means it’s now growing in many of its former sites. A few of these are open to the public and at Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve (Silverdale) and Kilnsey Park (Wharefdale) you can now see Lady’s-slipper orchid in the wild again, often in breathtaking numbers.

    But just as breathtaking are the Dales hay meadows. Set in their ancient landscape of dry stone walls and hay barns, these meadows have developed in harmony with centuries of farming tradition. One of our most threatened habitats, just 870 hectares survive in England. Although characterised by special species such as wood crane’s-bill, bistort, great burnet, lady’s-mantles and northern hawk’s-beard, it’s the quantity of common meadow flowers that leaves a lasting impression, with buttercups, yellow rattle, eyebright, common sorrel, pignut and red clover in joyous abundance. Perhaps the finest hay meadows in Britain can be seen walking up Swaledale from the village of Muker; it’s the rarest of treasures - a whole landscape of meadows, a glimpse of what our countryside once was.

    Image: Ingleborough © alh1 under CC BY-ND 2.0