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Special Areas of Conservation

Lake District High Fells

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Cumbria
Centroid* NY303318
Latitude 54.67611111
Longitude -3.080833333
SAC EU Code UK0012960
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 27003.07
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Lake District High Fells SAC

General site character

  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (0.1%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (14.5%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (29.2%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (34%)
  • Humid grassland, Mesophile grassland (10.9%)
  • Alpine and sub-Alpine grassland (1.9%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (0.5%)
  • Mixed woodland (0.2%)
  • Inland rocks, Screes, Sands, Permanent Snow and ice (8.7%)

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Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Lake District High Fells has many upland tarns throughout, representing the habitat type in the uplands of north-west England. The tarns are typically species-poor, but species occurring throughout include water-starwort Callitriche hamulata, quillwort Isoetes lacustris, shoreweed Littorella uniflora, water lobelia Lobelia dortmanna and floating bur-weed Sparganium angustifolium. Awlwort Subularia aquatica, a locally rare species, occurs in Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns (Scafell Pikes), Dock and Blea Tarns (Armboth Fells). The rare powan Coregonus lavaretus (locally called ‘schelly’) occurs in Red Tarn in Helvellyn and Fairfield.

  • Lake District High Fells is representative of wet heath in the uplands of north-west England. The habitat generally occurs throughout the complex in a mosaic of other habitats such as 7130 Blanket bogs and 4030 European dry heaths. Armboth Fells, Shap Fells, Skiddaw Group and the Buttermere Fells have good examples of M15 Scirpus cespitosusErica tetralix wet heath characteristic of the north and west. Shap Fells also has an area of M16 Erica tetralixSphagnum compactum wet heath. Heather Calluna vulgaris is dominant, with cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix and Sphagnum species. Purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea can be locally abundant.

  • The Lake District High Fells complex is representative of European dry heaths in north-west England. The site comprises of acidic rocks, predominantly of the Borrowdale Volcanic Series and Skiddaw Slates. Dry heath occurs throughout the site, and it is very extensive on a number of component SSSI such as Buttermere Fells, Skiddaw Group, Armboth Fells and to a lesser extent Pillar and Ennerdale Fells. Smaller areas are found throughout the other sites. The principal NVC types present is H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath, however at higher altitudes the subalpine H18 Vaccinium myrtillusDeschampsia flexuosa heath is present. There are good transitions to 4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths and grasslands on many sites. Smaller amounts of H9 Calluna vulgarisDeschampsia flexuosa and H10 Calluna vulgarisErica cinerea heath and H21 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillusSphagnum capillifolium heath are found at Scafell Pikes and Pillar and Ennerdale Fells. Heather Calluna vulgaris and locally bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus are the dominant species present. Associated species include cowberry V. vitis-idaea, and locally bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and crowberry Empetrum nigrum. Pillar and Ennerdale Fells is bryophyte-rich with a number of oceanic species present including Anastrepta orcadensis, Herbertus aduncus, Bazzania tricrenata, Lepidozia pearsonii and Ptilidium ciliare in higher altitude dry heath. Dwarf juniper Juniperus communis ssp. nana is found in some of the heaths on Buttermere Fells.

  • Alpine and boreal heaths form an important component of the Lake District High Fells. Whilst they cannot be compared to those of the Scottish Highlands in terms of diversity and development they are an important geographical element, representing some of the most southerly examples of this vegetation type in Britain. The main NVC type present is H19 Vaccinium myrtillusCladonia arbuscula heath, a very local type south of Scotland. H19 tends to occur on the steeply-sloping, less-exposed ground below some of the summits of the Fells, mainly within the Buttermere Fells and Skiddaw Group. There are good transitions to the subalpine heath community H18 Vaccinium myrtillusDeschampsia flexuosa heath and at lower altitudes to H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath, as well as to U10 Carex bigelowiiRacomitrium lanuginosum alpine grasslands on the summits.

  • The Lake District High Fells represents Juniperus communis formations on upland acid substrates in north-west England. Three of the component upland SSSIs have extensive areas of juniper Juniperus communis, whilst scattered juniper occurs on many of the inaccessible cliffs and slopes throughout the complex. The NVC type is W19 Juniperus communis ssp. communis – Oxalis acetosella juniper woodland. Birk Fell supports the most extensive stand of juniper in the Lake District. The juniper is associated with open silver birch Betula pendula woods with scattered rowan Sorbus aucuparia, ash Fraxinus excelsior, bird cherry Prunus padus, holly Ilex aquifolium, hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and dog rose Rosa canina. Bracken Pteridium aquilinum or fescue – bent grassland with bryophytes and wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella predominate over the woodland floor, although locally there are richer areas. There are good transitions to upland oak woodland and upland habitats such as dry heath and blanket bog. Helvellyn and Fairfield and Skiddaw Group support extensive stands of juniper. Associated species here include ash F. excelsior, sessile oak Quercus petraea, birch B. pendula and rowan S. aucuparia. The ground flora is either NardusFestucaAgrostis grassland or dry heath.

  • Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands are widely distributed through the Lake District High Fells above 700 m. The acidic rocks are of the Borrowdale Volcanic series and Skiddaw Slates. Some of the summits (particularly Helvellyn and Skiddaw) have frequent areas of disturbed ground due to frost-heave and solifluction. The NVC type present is the species-poor U10 Carex bigelowiiRacomitrium lanuginosum moss-heath. Wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa and sheep’s fescue Festuca ovina dominate the sward, with bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus, woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, stiff sedge Carex bigelowii, fir clubmoss Huperzia selago and the lichens Cladonia uncialis, C. coccifera, C. squamosa, C. subcervicornis, Cornicularia aculeata and Cetraria islandica. Dwarf willow Salix herbacea, R. lanuginosum and alpine clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum can be locally abundant, the latter particularly where there is late snow-lie.

  • This site is representative of hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities in England. Although the communities are not as rich in species as high-altitude sites in the Scottish Highlands, a representative montane flora is present including a number of rare arctic-alpine species. The Lake District High Fells include the largest continuous areas of land above 760 m in the Lake District. Rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Series form the underlying geology of much of the area. Although these rocks are generally acidic, many cliffs are particularly rich in base minerals and weather to produce pockets of fertile soil. Many of the high-altitude gills also support this vegetation type. It is these areas of moist, basic soils that support species-rich tall herb vegetation. It is these areas of moist, basic soils that support species-rich tall herb vegetation. Tall herb ledge communities are mainly found in Helvellyn and Fairfield (probably one of the most important areas in England for calcareous montane flora found on the extensive cliff ledges), Honister Crag, Scafell Pikes, Pillar and Ennerdale Fells and Wasdale Screes, with scattered species rich ledges elsewhere. The tall herb communities are characterised by wood crane’s-bill Geranium sylvaticum, wild angelica Angelica sylvestris, water avens Geum rivale, and globeflower Trollius europaeus. Often associated with these ledges but also found on the bare outcrops and ledges are many montane and northern species such as roseroot Sedum rosea and mountain sorrel Oxyria digyna. Scarcer plants that occasionally occur throughout include alpine saw-wort Saussurea alpina, alpine meadow rue Thalictrum alpinum. The gill ledges support a wide range of ferns including lemon-scented fern Oreopteris limbosperma, beech fern Phegopteris connectilis and oak fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris. A number of rare arctic-alpine species occur, including alpine cinquefoil Potentilla crantzii and alpine meadow grass Poa alpina, black alpine sedge Carex atrata and alpine saxifrage Saxifraga nivalis at Helvellyn and Fairfield. Buttermere Fells is also a locality for the rare alpine catchfly Lychnis alpina.

  • 7130 Blanket bogs (* if active bog)  * Priority feature

    Lake District High Fells represents blanket bog in north-west England. Blanket bogs are generally scarce in the cSAC as there is so little flat land where peat can form; however there are relatively extensive areas of blanket bog in a number of the component SSSI (Armboth Fells, Shap Fells and Skiddaw Group) with smaller areas in Buttermere Fells and Birk Fell. The main NVC type present is M19 Calluna vulgarisEriophorum vaginatum blanket mire but M18 Erica tetralixSphagnum papillosum raised and blanket bog is also present at Shap Fells and M17 Scirpus cespitosusEriophorum vaginatum blanket mire is found in Buttermere Fells. Much of the bog is dominated by heather Calluna vulgaris and hare’s-tail cottongrass Eriophorum vaginatum with varying amounts of cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix, deer-grass Trichophorum cespitosum and crowberry Empetrum nigrum. There are often carpets of Sphagnum and Sphagnum-filled hollows with species such as S. papillosum and S. magellanicum. Other species found locally in the bogs include bog rosemary Andromeda polifolia and cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, particularly on the higher ground. On some bogs purple moor grass Molinia caerulea and bog myrtle Myrica gale can be locally abundant and are typical of bogs in the western part of their range. The site also has transitions to many other upland habitats including dry heath, rock and lake habitats.

  • This complex is representative of siliceous scree communities found at high altitude in north-west England. The site has the most extensive development of screes with parsley fern Cryptogramma crispa in the UK. The main rock, the Borrowdale Volcanic Series (but more locally Skiddaw Slates), varies much in base-status, but the screes are chiefly base-poor. Siliceous screes are one of the most extensive habitats within the Lake District High Fells, covering large areas on moderately steep ground, always interspersed with other habitats. The screes vary from recently-formed loose scree in lower sections of gullies and below cliffs to stable areas colonised by grasses, bryophytes and ferns. The main scree NVC type present is U21 Cryptogramma crispaDeschampsia flexuosa community. It is found throughout the complex, but major scree areas occur in Wasdale Screes, Helvellyn and Fairfield, Buttermere Fells, Scafell Pikes, Pillar and Ennerdale Fells and Skiddaw Group. The communities are well-developed and diverse with a wide range of characteristic species, including an abundance of parsley fern Cryptogramma crispa with associated species such as alpine lady’s mantle Alchemilla alpina, stone bramble Rubus saxatilis, heath bedstraw Galium saxatile, sheep’s fescue Festuca ovina and common bent Agrostis capillaris. Lemon-scented fern Oreopteris limbosperma is also found on the screes within Pillar and Ennerdale Fells. Bryophytes such as woolly hair-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, R. fasciculare, Rhytidiadelphus loreus and R. squarrosus can be frequent. The screes provide a suitable microclimate for many oceanic moss and liverwort species such as Scapania ornithopiodes and Kiaeria starkei, found in Helvellyn and Fairfield.

  • Lake District High Fells represent high-altitude siliceous slopes with chasmophytic vegetation in northern England. These communities are found throughout the complex, but predominantly in Helvellyn and Fairfield, Wasdale Screes, Scafell Pikes, Pillar and Ennerdale Fells, Honister Crag, Buttermere Fells and Armboth Fells. The communities have developed on long lines of cliffs and coves formed largely of acidic rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Series, with considerable amounts of calcite in the eroding gullies. On the predominantly acid crags, there are extensive communities of silicicolous vegetation. The species present are characteristic of north-west England and include alpine lady’s mantle Alchemilla alpina, starry saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris and stiff sedge Carex bigelowii. Crevices and wet rock faces support a number of uncommon ferns including green spleenwort Asplenium viride, brittle bladder fern Cystopteris fragilis and Wilson’s filmy fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii. Scattered trees on crags include aspen Populus tremula and rock whitebeam Sorbus rupicola. Wasdale Screes also has many more typical lowland species such as royal fern Osmunda regalis.

  • This site includes Side Wood, Ennerdale, an example of old sessile oak woods with rich bryophyte and lichen communities. There are large tussocks of the moss Polytrichum strictum mixed with bog-moss Sphagnum spp. Birkrigg and Keskadale Oaks and Young Wood are also included within the site. These are on steep south-facing slopes near the altitudinal limit for oak in Cumbria. In Birkrigg and Keskadale bryophytes and lichens are abundant and include species such as Hedwigia integrifolia. Birk Fell also includes substantial areas of bryophyte- and fern-rich oak woodland. Notable bryophyte species include Breutelia chrysocoma, Saccogyna viticulosa and Pleurozia purpurea. Fragments of this habitat also occur elsewhere throughout the site, mostly in gills or other areas less accessible to grazing animals.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Not Applicable

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.