Dr Tim Thom, Wild Ingleborough Programme Manager at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, tells us about the project to save rare limestone flowers and restore wild habitat around the foothills of one of Ingleborough

What’s so special about Ingleborough’s landscape?

It’s the best office in the world! With wide open vistas of rolling hills, criss-crossed by drystone walls and dappled by limestone pavements, Ingleborough and its foothills are one of the most windblown corners of Yorkshire – and one of our most inspiring places, an icon of our regional heritage. Plants and people have adapted to survive inclement weather and mountainous conditions, and only the hardiest of cattle and sheep can roam the pastures.

The Yorkshire Dales are also home to a third of the UK’s remaining limestone pavements, and Ingleborough has some of the finest examples found anywhere in the world. Limestone pavements are famous for being bare structures, but in their undisturbed state can be covered in a rich variety of plant life.

Great British Life: Glorious green shoots within the limestone pavement. Glorious green shoots within the limestone pavement. (Image: Greg Armfield (WWF-UK))

What wildlife can people see?

The unique mix of limestone grassland, limestone pavement and montane scrub means there are some fantastic wild gems to spot. The unusual depth of Ingleborough’s limestone pavements supports unique ferns, mosses, and lichens, as well as sweet-smelling wild thyme and pretty rock-rose.

Swathes of wildflowers, including orchids, globeflowers, mountain pansies and more fill the grasslands. The mountain is home to some very rare flowers; protected spiked speedwell, with its columns of purple-blue flowers, clings to one tiny ledge on the Ingleborough site, the Teesdale violet makes Ingleborough one of its few homes, and the only place in the world the pale white flowers of Yorkshire sandwort are found is over Ingleborough’s slopes. The limestone grassland and remnants of montane woodland also provide an important home for birds like skylarks, curlews and cuckoos, who usher in the spring with their distinctive calls.

Great British Life: Southerscales limestone pavement and Ingleborough. Southerscales limestone pavement and Ingleborough. (Image: David Berry)

How do you plan to restore Ingleborough’s wild habitats?

Our goal is to provide a larger, joined-up landscape of wild spaces where wildlife can expand and flourish, and to restore and manage this landscape so that rarer species are given the best chance of survival.

So the work is pretty hands-on?

Our specialist high-altitude nursery nurtures seeds collected from our rare montane trees, shrubs and flowers on site to eventually plant out – and some of them have been collected in some slightly daring ways, including abseiling down cliffs! By doing this in the harsh conditions of the Ingleborough massif, we can ensure they have the best chance of survival. Some plants need an even more hands-on approach, and for our rare holly ferns in particular we’ve started using an innovative new re-seeding method involving spraying the spores straight onto the limestone pavement using a bottle – it really works! Our hay meadows and grassland wildflowers are also starting to thrive due to our roaming conservation grazing cattle.

These hardy natives wander across the landscape, creating a mix of grass heights which suits ground-nesting birds, and keeping the more competitive plants down, allowing wildflower seeds to germinate and flourish. As well as providing strong secure boundaries, our drystone walls are a habitat in their own right, and an important part of our cultural heritage. A dedicated team of local volunteers help us keep them in top condition, also helping keep this traditional skill alive.We are working on an enormous scale - across 1,300 hectares. Thanks to the generosity of the local community and long-term supporters, we were able to recently purchase two new reserves - Ashes Shaw and Bellfield’s Pasture – to help us expand the space for wildlife and protect more of this unique landscape. Dedicated volunteers are out in all weathers doing everything from checking on our native breed cattle to repairing drystone walls.