The Carneddau is home to a diverse range of wildlife and habitats, from native woodlands, lakes and rivers in cwms and valleys, rolling hills of heath, grass, and peatlands to soaring cliff ledges and the exposed highest summits where rare habitats such as the montane heath seek refuge.

It is because of these special habitats that much of the Carneddau is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Natural Nature Reserves (NNR).

Many of the Carneddau habitats are semi-natural and have been shaped by people over thousands of years. This means that the land needs to be carefully managed through farming and working in partnership with landowners, organisations and stakeholders to ensure these culturally important features in the landscape are maintained and preserved.

The natural environment is under many pressures that affect the health of all these habitats and ecosystems, from climate change and changes in land management, to invasive species and human pressures. The Carneddau Landscape Partnership are working collaboratively to alleviate these pressures, creating a beautiful and sustainable landscape to help nature to thrive in the Carneddau.

Montane heath is found on the highest ground of the Carneddau and is similar to plants found in the arctic. It can cope with the severe exposure, thin soils and low temperatures of the high peaks and ridges, conditions which prevent other, less resilient plants from surviving.

Dwarf Willow one of the shortest woody plants in the World - as seen on the Carneddau
A rare and extreme habitat

Montane heath exists above the natural treeline in windswept open landscapes which can often seem inhospitable. Despite the harsh environment, a surprising diversity of species can be found here.

The Carneddau is home to two thirds of the total amount of the montane heath habitat found in Wales. The vegetation includes a range of plant species, dominated by dwarf-shrubs, lichens and mosses, many of which are rare and important to protect. The vegetation clings to the rocks and bare soils and is so small in size that it is easy to miss it, only usually growing to heights of between 5-10cm.

group of people looking at Montane Heath on the slopes of the Carnedd Dafydd
A habitat on the brink

Montane heath is at risk due to erosion, tramping, grazing pressure, pollution and climate change effects.

Read about our work to protect Montane heath

Glaciation left the Carneddau with an impressive array of rock features from deep cwms and sheer cliffs to scree fields and erratic boulders. Throughout the mountains these distinctive habitats are home to many rare arctic-alpine species such as purple saxifrage and the Snowdon lily, which can be found here, hidden out of reach in inaccessible places. These rare species are surviving at the most southern limit of their range and are vulnerable to potential warming with climate change, so need to be protected and given every opportunity to thrive.

Most heathlands are thought to date from the Bronze Age some 3000 years ago and provide a habitat for many plant and animal species that cannot survive elsewhere. Many mammals such as rabbits, weasels, stoats and hares make heathlands their home and this habitat also supports all six of the UK’s reptile species as well as numerous invertebrates. The warm, shallow pools typical of lowland heaths offer important breeding habitats for amphibians like the natterjack toad.

Heathland thrives in nutrient poor soils. with both grasslands and heathlands occurring in an intimate mosaic. As semi-natural habitats, these require some level of management to maintain these important cultural features in the landscape. With the majority of these habitats in the UK having been lost in the past few decades, it is crucial to strike the right grazing balance for its sensitive management.

Llyn Cowlyd with a spectacular display of purple heather
A purple haze of heather

Heathland is the second largest habitat in the area after grassland. When the heather comes into flower in late summer, parts of the Carneddau become a haze of purple. On the Conwy coastal hills, the combined flowering of Heather and Western Gorse provides a splash of vivid gold and purple.

Peatlands are a type of wetland made up of peat, which is an accumulation of partially decomposed plants. Snowdonia National Park holds around 30% of Wales’ peatlands, with massive areas of globally rare blanket bog habitat found on the Carneddau uplands. As carbon rich ecosystems, peatlands play a vital role in tackling climate change due to their ability to store huge amounts of carbon.

Ffridd is the cultural habitat between the uplands and the more fertile and managed lowlands; an area where farming has created a diverse mosaic of habitats which can change through the seasons. During periods of lower grazing, trees and heathland may be well established whilst at times of heavier grazing, grasslands can spread.

Twite resting on a native tree in the Carneddau
Important for a variety of species

The ffridd is particularly important for grassland fungi which thrive in old pastures where the ground has not been disturbed by ploughing or had chemical fertiliser applied to it. The mosaic character of ffridd also makes it important for a range of species including a variety of birds, particularly the endangered twite.

Read more about the twite

Numerous fast flowing mountain streams cascade down the slopes of the Carneddau massif, creating impressive waterfalls such as the 37-metre high Aber falls. Beautiful lakes and rivers form part of the landscape and are vital in supporting a variety of wildlife and plant species.

The banks of Llyn Crafnant
Rich aquatic life

The rivers, streams and lakes of the Carneddau are especially important for plant species including rare lichens and mosses, as well as providing important spawning grounds and nursery habitat for salmon and sea trout.

Protecting the grasslands

Grassland habitats occupy a larger area of the Carneddau than any of the other main habitat types. Most of the grassland in the uplands is typically short, species-poor grassland where there has been heavy grazing over a long period of time. To manage these semi-natural grasslands, a delicate balance is needed. Too little grazing allows scrub to encroach and coarse grasses outcompete other flora, whilst too much grazing causes vegetation to break down and enriching nutrients not being absorbed by the land due to high levels of dung, all of which contribute to a declining grassland.

Oak and mixed deciduous trees found in both the uplands and lowlands of the Carneddau make up the main woodland covering the landscape and support a huge variety of flora and wildlife.

Doormouse in a tree
Supporting flora and wildlife

The woodlands in the Carneddau support important breeding birds and hedgerows are also important for mammals including foraging bats and Hazel Dormice. The ground flora includes a wide range of species including rare mosses and lichens.