Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)

2.7 Managing habitats for uplands wildlife

Why your farm is important

Many of England's most characteristic upland species have adapted to habitats maintained by agriculture and are dependent on continued farming. The farm management practices of generations have provided what these species need to thrive. Retaining this skill and knowledge is crucial to secure the future of our most cherished upland wildlife. Drumming snipe over rush pastures in spring, hay meadows rich in wild flowers, and purple moorland at the summer's end are all still familiar sights across the uplands of England.

However, studies over the last 60 years have shown that upland wildlife has declined. Reclamation, increased grazing and other moorland management resulted in the loss of 27 per cent of heather moorland between 1947 and 1980. Increased intensity of grassland management has led to the loss of 33 per cent of unimproved meadows in some areas since the 1980s. These factors have caused once common species to become scarcer and some species to be lost from parts of upland England.

Since the introduction of agri-environment schemes in 1987, these declines have slowed dramatically thanks to concerted action by upland farmers. Ensuring continuity and increasing the coverage of agri-environment management in the uplands is therefore crucial in reversing these long-term wildlife declines. Through ELS, simple management measures can be put in place that will make a huge difference to the wildlife across your farm.


Priority areas for uplands wildlife

The wildlife focus for ELS in the uplands is to maintain the extent of semi-natural habitat and the mosaic of habitats present in moorland and the upland fringe, which support a number of species. Some of these species, including breeding waders such as curlew and redshank and butterfly species such as small pearl bordered fritillary, have not always been 'upland' specific but have persisted in these areas due to the habitats and mosaics that remain (whilst similar habitats have been fragmented or lost in the lowlands as a result of more intensive agriculture).


What you can do to benefit wildlife in the uplands

The tables opposite show the four main habitat types in the uplands, with an explanation of their importance and the management practices and ELS options which can benefit wildlife.


Red Grouse, North Yorkshire
© Natural England/Paul Lacey


Moorland - Many species of upland bird use areas of heather moorland, tussocky grassland and wet flushes to breed throughout the summer.
  • Protect habitats through minimising the impact of supplementary feeding and not undertaking any further drainage work, and by maintaining different ages and heights of heather.
  • Follow the Heather and Grass Burning Code to minimise damage where conducted.
  • Allow taller areas of vegetation to develop to provide insects and seeds and potential nesting habitat for wildlife.
Code Option description
EL6 Unenclosed moorland rough grazing
UL17 No supplementary feeding on moorland
UL18 Cattle grazing on upland grassland and moorland
UL22 Management of enclosed rough grazing for birds


Moorland edges - These areas are particularly important for breeding waders and black grouse (in the north), providing chick-rearing habitat through spring and summer months.
  • Encourage a variety of sward heights for breeding waders and other wildlife.
  • Allow taller areas of vegetation to develop to provide insects, seeds and potential nesting habitat for wildlife.
  • Use stock to break up stands of bracken to provide open areas for fritillary butterflies.
Code Option description
EL6 Unenclosed moorland rough grazing
UL18 Cattle grazing on upland grassland and moorland
UL22 Management of enclosed rough grazing for birds


Hay meadows and other in-bye grassland - Hay meadows cut in late summer are often diverse in flowering plants. Tall uncut areas can provide useful habitat for butterflies and other invertebrates.
  • Choose hay making to give plants a chance to flower and increase abundance of seeds for birds. Cut hay meadows in late summer, ideally follow with cattle grazing to increase diversity.
  • Use no cutting strips to allow taller areas of vegetation to develop to provide insects, seeds and potential nesting habitat for wildlife.
  • Reduce fertiliser inputs on meadows and pastures to increase numbers of flowers, bees and butterflies.
Code Option description
EL3 Permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs
UL20 Haymaking
UL21 No cutting strips within meadows
UL23 Management of upland grassland for birds


Small native woodlands and scrub - Areas of native gill woodland are important for spring flowers and woodland birds. Fritillary butterflies may often be found in open bracken glades.
  • Increase numbers of woodland birds and flowers by fencing-off and excluding livestock in small native woodlands.
  • Retain dead wood to enhance diversity.
Code Option description
EC3 Maintenance of woodland fences
EC4 Management of woodland edges
UC5 Sheep fencing around small woodlands
UC22 Woodland livestock exclusion
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