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Spring gentian

The flowers and plants of Cumbria’s mountain landscapes are the work of the primary elements of the upland environment: the rock, the climate and the passing of time. Some flowers have survived for over 10,000 years, whilst others are relative newcomers, opportunists taking advantage of the continually changing natural circumstances to make their mark.After the last ice age the climate was much cooler than today and plants we now call ‘arctic-alpines’ dominated the landscape.

Adapted for survival
Since then climate has slowly changed and only a remnant of this ancient flora remains, with plants like purple saxifrage and spring gentian tucked away in gullies and on the high summits. As climate has changed so new habitats have developed bringing with them characteristic flora all adapted for mountain life. Woodlands in the Lake District are full of rare mosses and lichens. Plants of the bogs and damp places have had to devise ingenious ways to survive where there are few nutrients. Some, like the sundew and butterwort, are carnivorous.

Rooted in rock
Cumbria’s varied geology has produced an incredible diversity of plants, each exploiting the subtle differences in soil and habitat. A variety of lime-loving plants like birds-eye primrose and yellow marsh saxifrage can be found of the flanks of the North Pennines and on the limestone fells. In the Lake District, plants thrive which have adapted to the local acid soils.

Man in the mountains
Man has also played a part, introducing sheep and grazing animals and, over time, this has had a dramatic effect on the range of mountain flora. Without sheep the flora of Cumbria’s mountain landscape would be richer, but its culture would be poorer. What is needed is a balance which benefits both. Recent changes in government policy may alter how the fells are looked after and help achieve this.

Yellow Marsh Saxifrage




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