Animal and plant life at Brimham

Ashy Mining Bee

Heather moorland is a unique habitat that is home to varied plants and offers shelter to numerous insects and ground nesting birds. Discover what you may come across on a stroll across the moor.


On the heathland parts of Brimham, the dominant ground cover is heather along with patches of bilberry bushes and some bell heather. You can find cowberries/ lingonberries here too, which are a northern moorland species found mostly in Yorkshire. Purple moor grass is common on barer patches of heathland, in woodland areas and around the Rocks. Brimham is home to Yorkshire’s largest colonies of bog asphodel on wetter parts of the heathland

Heather moorland is internationally important because it is rare worldwide and is mostly found here in Northern Britain.  Moorland is a patchwork of dwarf shrubs such as Heather and Bilberry.  It is an open landscape into which we don’t want to introduce shade and must remove trees.  Moorland is a semi-natural habitat created by the removal of woodland by humans thousands of years ago.

Three types of Heather make up the moorland at Brimham Rocks.

Common Heather (Ling)
Introduction to Brimham - Common Heather
Common Heather (Ling)

Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris) flowers from August onwards and is the most common type of heather found at Brimham Rocks.

It is often refered to as Ling, a name that comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for Fire 'lig' . This reflects that, in the past, it has been used for fuel to build fires. Other uses for it inclued broom making, basket making and as a flavouring in beer.

The leaves are so small and close to the stem that they almost look like scales overlapping one another. The tiny flowers are quite pale purple and it is possible to tell the petals apart upon close inspection.

Bell Heather
Introduction to Brimham - Bell Heather
Bell Heather

Bell Heather flowers from June onwards.  This type of heather tends to be found on drier parts of heath and moorland.

It is a much deeper shade of purple that the Ling and the petals are joined most of the way down forming a tube containing the stamen. This has been likened to a bell and is where the plant gets its name.

The leaves of this plant are much bigger than ling (although still pretty tiny) and are bunched in whorls up the stem. This species of heather prefers the drier bits of moorland and so is good to aim for if you want to keep your feet dry.

Crossed Leaf Heath
Introduction to Brimham - Crossed Leaf Heath
Crossed Leaf Heath

Cross-leaved Heath flowers also from June onwards. This is the least common heather at Brimham Rocks.

The flowers are a paler purple, almost pink but the shades can vary across individuals. The leaves are in whorls of four up the stem, forming a cross shape if viewed from the top down, this is where the plant gets its name. This species likes its feet wet and so is found in the wetter parts of the site.

Bilberry flowers from July onwards.  Bilberry is also called Blaeberry and Whortleberry.  The small black berries can be eaten and are ripe from late July.  Dried leaves have been known to be used as a substitute for tea.

Cowberry flowers from May onwards.  Cowberry is also called Red Whortleberry.  Fruits appear from August onwards and these red berries are edible.  The leaves are glossier than the Bilberry.


Brimham is home to a number of invertebrates, some of which are unusual in the area. It is particularly rich in species of spiders and beetles, including the Green Tiger beetle and solitary Ashy Mining bees, which feed exclusively on heather flowers and whose burrows you may spot around the paths and main rocky outcrops.

Ashy Mining Bee
Ashy Mining Bee
Ashy Mining Bee

Birds, such as red grouse and meadow pipits, prefer the more remote areas. The woodland areas support birds such as robins, tits and finches, while swallows and house martins nest among the rocks and buildings.

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