Skip to Content

Special Areas of Conservation

1528 Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus

Higher plant species

Description and ecological characteristics

Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus is a an attractive, yellow-flowered perennial that requires base-rich and wet conditions. It is now considered an upland species because its favoured habitats in the lowlands have been destroyed. It has suffered from overgrazing and drainage. Many of the sites for the species are heavily grazed, although moderate levels of grazing are probably beneficial to this plant.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with species 1528 Saxifraga hirculus. Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

Saxifraga hirculus is widely distributed in Europe but it is declining or threatened in most countries.

UK status and distribution

In the UK marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus is found only at a very few sites in the uplands of Scotland and England, and at one site in Northern Ireland. Since the 19th century, it has become extinct in several areas, mostly in Scotland. The centre of distribution of marsh saxifrage in the UK is the North Pennines in England. In this area distributions are very patchy within flushes so that population estimates are hard to obtain, but there are several localities with thriving populations of many thousands of plants. In summer 1999 estimates made accross the main English and Scottish localities suggested a population of well over 300,000 plants, with the largest single population surveyed estimated at 153,100 (Hallam & Kelly 2002). When considered together, the English localities hold over 90% of the UK population of the species. Sites in Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to have much smaller populations, although Craigengar in Scotland supported an estimated 9,666 plants in summer 1999.

View UK distribution of this species.

Site selection rationale

The site series includes the largest extant populations of marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in northern England. To ensure coverage of the geographical range, two localities in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland have also been selected.

Site accounts

  • Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Highlands and Islands
    Species occurrence description not yet available.
  • Craigengar Eastern Scotland, South Western Scotland
    Craigengar in the Pentland Hills contains the largest population of marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Scotland. It is the largest single colony outside the North Pennines, supporting, in 1999, an estimated 9,666 plants in base-rich flushes in an area of upland heather moorland.
  • Garron Plateau Northern Ireland
    Garron Plateau is the only extant locality for marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Northern Ireland. Marsh saxifrage is currently restricted to a small population on one of the flushes that occurs on this extensive area of Annex I habitat 7130 Blanket bogs overlying basalt.
  • Hill of Towanreef Highlands and Islands, North Eastern Scotland
    Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus occurs on the scattered base-rich flushes associated with this low-lying hilly area of dolomitic serpentine in north-east Scotland. About 500 plants grow at this site, which is the most northerly surviving locality for the species in the UK.
  • Moor House - Upper Teesdale Cumbria, Tees Valley and Durham
    This very large site in northern England is the most important site for marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in the UK. The site consists of an extensive upland complex on limestone and gritstone, with acid grassland, blanket mire, limestone outcrops and flushes. Drainage water in many of the flushes is influenced by the underlying geology – Upper Carboniferous mudstones and shales within more extensive limestone. Approximately ten of the flush areas support populations of marsh saxifrage, including areas in the Appleby Fells, Cross Fell and Upper Teesdale, containing a total of over 270,000 plants – >90% of the UK population. In this area distributions are very patchy within flushes so that population estimates are hard to support, but individual populations in these localities can be large, with several localities supporting thriving populations of many thousands of plants. In 1999 the largest population was estimated at 153,100 individuals.

SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

  • North Pennine Moors Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, Tees Valley and Durham

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

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.