North York Moors

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Moorland plants and wildlife

Cotton grassCotton grass

Heather dominates the moorland of the North York Moors National Park. Quite apart from its dramatic beauty – especially when the heather flowers in late summer – the moorland provides a valuable habitat for rare species, including birds such as merlin and golden plover and plants such as sundew and cranberry.

You’ll also see many other species of heathland plants – including crowberry and wavy hair grass – and bog plants too, notably sphagnum moss and the nodding cottonwool-like heads of common cotton grass. The flowers of bog asphodel, a scatter of yellow stars, can occasionally be seen.

Bracken often covers the moor-edge slopes. Although disliked by farmers and grouse moor managers, it can be a home for whinchat (a small perching bird) and a refuge for plants such as chickweed wintergreen, which are otherwise vulnerable to grazing. 

Several of the less common plants found on the moors are relics of the last Ice Age. As the climate warmed, lowland Britain became unsuitable for some species and their numbers dwindled. Juniper, dwarf cornel, bog rosemary and cloudberry can all be found in the uplands of the North York Moors, but they are all rare here and are particularly vulnerable to the threats caused by climate change.

As for wildlife, many species of birds nest, breed and feed on the moors, from red grouse and short-eared owl to skylark and snipe. They feed on the insects, moths and butterflies that make the moors their home, while mice, voles, lizards and other small mammals are prey for the adder, Britain's only poisonous snake.