Exmoor 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


Exmoor 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 populations of:
    River jelly-lichen
    Somerset whitebeam
    Bloody whitebeam
  • The species richness of lichens on rock cliffs, ledges and shores, temperate shrub heath, broadleaved deciduous woodland: oceanic and Littoral zone of inland surface water bodies: rivers and streams
  • The species richness of vascular plants on broadleaved deciduous woodland
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Old oak woodlands with holly;
    Dry heaths;
    Wet heaths;
  • The Exmoor IPA is a patchwork of habitats ranging from dramatic coastal cliffs, windswept open heather and grass moorland, and densely wooded river valleys to rolling farmed hills.

    Exmoor was designated a National Park in 1954.It is the only upland in southern England that reaches the coast and at its northern edge spectacular cliffs, the highest sea cliffs in England, drop to the sea. The high central plateau, typically 400 to 450m above sea level forms a large open, windswept area, dominated by moorland vegetation. The upland area is cut through by streams and rivers, which, as they descend, become more wooded, creating spectacular steep sided valleys and combes, blanketed in woodland. Below the central moorland are commons, and, to the north, coastal heaths. Exmoor contains six habitat types which are recognised as being of international importance; blanket bog, upland heath, western heath, western oakwoods and parkland and Atlantic cliffs (i.e. SAC habitat Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic and Baltic coasts). The Quantocks, lying to the east, although less dramatic, also have a rocky Jurassic coastline, exposed heathland summits, deep wooded combes and undulating farmland.

    The northern most part of this IPA comprises coastal heaths, coastal woods and saltmarshes, including West Exmoor Coast & Woods SSSI, Exmoor Coastal Heaths, Watersmeet SSSI and Porlock Ridge and Saltmarsh SSSI. These areas are important due to their woodlands which include a wide range of nationally rare and scarce plants including nationally rare and endemic whitebeams and a diverse, luxuriant fern and old growth lichen flora. There is an area of salt marsh and coastal shingle towards the eastern end of the coast which supports a variety of vegetation communities as well as a saxicolous lichen community.

    The main bulk of the site is covered by North Exmoor and South Exmoor SSSIs, and the Barle Valley SSSI, through which the River Barle runs. These areas mostly comprise heathland and grass moorland with some blanket bog and ancient woodland, including some of the one of the largest and most extensive old sessile oak woodlands in the UK. Many of the ancient woodlands are of international importance for their lichen flora. The IPA is mainly privately owned with significant areas owned by the National Trust and the Exmoor National Park Authority and has been part of a working cultural landscape for 100s of years.

    Towards the end of August, the moorlands are transformed by the pink flowers of the ling, accompanied by bell heather and cross-leaved heath. In the grassy moorland areas you might see patches of purplemoor-grass, cotton grasses and deergrass. About a tenth of the world’s Atlantic coastal heath habitat lies within the Exmoor National Park, and here you will find bell heather, low growing western gorse, ling and bristle bent grass. Some interesting flowers are found in the bogs and mires. There are sphagnum mosses, and you may seelesser skullcap, bog pimpernel, bog asphodel, ivy-leaved bellflower, cranberry, moorland crowfoot, bog pondweed and the insectivorous sundews, pale butterwort or greater butterwort.

    The rocky coastal areas support plants such as thrift, sea campion, rock sea-spurrey, and silver ragwort. The fern sea spleenwortnestles in rock crevices and sea ivory lichenalso occurs. Plants to be found by the streams and rivers include yellow iris, water forget-me-not, monkeyflower and hemlock water-dropwort. Much of the ancient woodland in the steep river valleys is sessile oak, but birch, beech, ash, rowan and unique varieties of whitebeam are also present. These woods are nationally important for their lichen flora. Exmoor has some particularly rare and internationally important plant communities including lichens, bryophytes and fungi.

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