What is the value of Britain’s mountains, moorlands and heaths?

The 2011 UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) was the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of its value to society and continuing economic prosperity. Some of the report’s key findings of the value of mountain, moorland and heathland (MMH) ecosystems which cover 18% of the UK included:


  • About 70% of the UK’s drinking water is sourced from MMH, and these habitats buffer water quality against the effects of atmospheric, diffuse and point source pollutants. The high quality water that drains from upland environments sustains healthy aquatic ecosystems and provides drinking water to the majori3 – What is the value of Britain’s mountains to UK water customers. The soils and biota of intact MMH ecosystems can retain a significant proportion of airborne pollutants, thereby reducing pollution runoff into freshwater habitats and the drinking water supply.
  • About 40% of UK soil carbon is held by MMH, mainly in upland peaty soils.  This presents opportunities for short-term reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions, both through reducing ongoing losses of soil carbon and further sequestration.   The active restoration of Moorland, notably ‘degraded’ blanket bog, should enhance its capacity for carbon storage and some sequestration.
  • Mountains, Moorlands and Heaths are nationally treasured landscapes which provide breathing spaces for people.  They are particularly cherished for their ‘wildness’ and as sources of inspiration. Recreation and tourism make significant contributions to their total economic value; their ‘non-use’ or existence value is also high. The majority of UK National Parks are located within MMH habitat; in England alone, these generate 69.4 million visitor days per year.
  • Steeped in history, MMH are important cultural landscapes.   Moorland and Heath habitats are shaped by society’s long-term and continuing use of the land, and underpin livelihoods, as well as creating distinctive cultural identities and a sense of place. Mountain landscapes are often part of iconic imagery that is used to convey a national or regional sense of identity. The relatively low levels of physical disturbance (e.g. ploughing, building) makes them valuable sources of palaeo-environmental and archaeological evidence of past landscapes, management and culture.
  • Mountains, Moorlands and Heaths are of great importance for biodiversity: large parts have national and international conservation designations.  Whereas lowland heaths are highly fragmented, upland MMH habitats form the largest unfragmented semi-natural landscapes of the UK and are a refuge for many species that used to occur throughout the country. Due to a long history of deforestation, grazing and, more recently, grouse moor management in the uplands, UK MMH contain the majority of the world’s heather-dominated landscapes. The blanket bogs and oceanic mountain habitats are also of international importance. They provide a home to some of the UK’s rarest species, and communities comprise a unique mixture of temperate, alpine and arctic species.

Consolidate your thinking

In groups discuss the following scenarios:

  • At present MMH ecosystems such as the Lyn provide 70% of the UK’s high quality drinking water.  What costs would be incurred if this was only 35%?  What savings might be made if this was increased to 80%?
  • Each year 2 million people make day visits to Exmoor National Park.  Try to work out an average spend per day visitor.  What would they be likely to spend money on during the day and where would they be likely to spend it?  What jobs might depend on this spending?
  • About 200 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the peatlands of England such as in the Exmoor blanket bogs.  As a country what savings might be made if this storage capacity was increased in the future?
  • Places such as the Bronze Age standing stones and burial site at Aldermans Barrow on Exmoor (Image here) help to convey a national and regional identity referred to above for people who visit.  Why do you think this type of connection with the past and having a sense of identity is important and how might it contribute to promoting emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
  • Hill farming in places such as Exmoor covers a greater area of the UK than any other type of farming.  Apart from its economic value in terms of employment (for every full time job on a hill farm in the UK another 0.5 of a job in associated and ancillary services e.g. feed manufacture is dependent on it) what else do you think hill farming ‘delivers’?  Have a read of to focus your thinking.

Now go to Investigation 4: How can geographers evaluate the "value" and "worth" of River Lyn Drainage System?