Exmoor & the Quantock Hills IPA

Location: Exmoor lies on the Devon/Somerset border, south of the Bristol Channel and the A39, extending south from Minehead to Dulverton. To the east, between Taunton and Bridgwater and stretching to the Bristol Channel, are the Quantock Hills.

Grid Reference: SS 855 385 and ST 167 359


With landscapes ranging from dramatic coastal cliffs to windswept heather moors, and densely wooded river valleys to rolling farmland, the Exmoor and Quantock Hills are a rich patchwork of habitats supporting an incredible diversity of plants, fungi and lichens.

This Important Plant Area is home to:

  • All the UK’s populations of Somerset whitebeam and bloody whitebeam
  • One of the UK’s most important populations of river jelly-lichen
  • An exceptional diversity of lichens growing in habitats including temperate shrub heath, broadleaved deciduous woodland, river and stream shores and coastal rocky cliffs, ledges and shores
  • An exceptional diversity of vascular plants growing in broadleaved deciduous woodland
  • Some of the top 5% of old oak and holly woodlands, dry heath and wet heath habitats in the UK
  • Straddling the Devon and Somerset border, Exmoor National Park can boast some very impressive features; the highest sea cliffs in England are found along the northern coast, about a tenth of the world’s Atlantic coastal heath lies within the Park, and it is home to one of the largest and most extensive ancient sessile oak woodlands in the UK. The high central plateau, typically 400 to 450m above sea level, is blanketed with windswept moorland. This upland area is cut through by streams and rivers which, as they descend, create spectacular steep sided valleys and combes, blanketed in woodland. Between the combes are grazing commons, farmland pastures and, in the north, coastal heaths.

    While Exmoor is predominantly made up of sandstone, slates and shales, the Quantock Hills to the east are formed of softer Jurassic limestone. Although less dramatic, they also have a rocky coastline, exposed heathland summits, deep wooded combes and undulating farmland.

    Along the spectacular northern coastline heaths and woodlands clothe the slopes. As well as a diverse and luxuriant fern and lichen flora, these woodlands are home to some exceptionally rare and endemic whitebeams, found nowhere else in the world. Less than 70 trees of bloody whitebeam are known, while Somerset whitebeam is a little more frequent with about 300 trees recorded.

    Along the coastline itself, saltmarsh, shingle and rocky cliff habitats support other plants such as sea aster, thrift, sea campion and rock sea-spurrey, while the rocks themselves are home to sea spleenwort and important lichen communities dominated by sea ivory lichen.

    Inland, many of the ancient woodlands are also of international importance for their incredibly diverse lichens and bryophytes flora, which thrive on the bark of ancient oak and ash trees in the warm, damp climate. Nearly 20 priority species are known, including slender mousetail-moss, spotty featherwort and lungwort lichens. In the wooded Barle Valley, the riverside rocks are home to other rare lichens such as river jelly lichen.

    In summer the moorlands turn pink with heather, bell heather and cross-leaved heath. Bogs and mires abound with wonderful plants like sphagnum mosses, lesser skullcap, bog pimpernel, bog asphodel, ivy-leaved bellflower and cranberry, along with insectivorous round-leaved sundew and pale butterwort.

    Image: Exmoor IPA © Kerry Garratt under CC BY SA 2.0