In England there is only 2,300 hectares of montane habitat (an ecosystem found in mountains), which need a colder environment to thrive, and grows at higher altitudes (600+ metres) above the current natural tree-line. In the Lake District, due to historic over-grazing, recreational trampling and nitrogen deposition (nitrogen from the atmosphere entering the soils via rain) this habitat has declined to smaller patches and is fragmented, making it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Increased average temperatures could result in a loss of suitable conditions for key species such as dwarf willow, trailing azalea, dwarf-shrubs such as lichens and mosses. A longer growing season may also increase the growth of grasses and shrub species that can out-compete slower growing montane heathland species, especially mosses and lichens.

This could lead to the local extinction of the beautiful mountain ringlet butterfly, which, in England, is only found in the Lake District.

Increased winter rainfall and milder conditions may adversely affect our native arctic species, such as alpine forget-me-not, which thrive under winter snow cover but cannot withstand longer periods of damp conditions.

Drier ground conditions in summer increase the susceptibility of wildfires, and greater peat and soil erosion again damaging vulnerable montane habitats.

Montane habitats are extensive in the Scottish highlands, but in England are significant because they are at the southern-most limit of their range in Britain.

….Morally, emotionally, and practically do we try to keep these upland habitats going in Cumbria?

Image: Mountain ringlet butterfly by Pete Barron, John Muir Trust