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Wildlife on Holcombe Moor and Stubbins Estate

Skylark in a grassy meadow
Skylarks are one of the bird species attracted by nature-based farming activities | © National Trust Images/Derek Hatton

Holcombe Moor and Stubbins Estate expands over a variety of different habitats, including heath, grass, wetland, scrub and woodland. This variety provides homes to a range of species, many of which are only found in these upland areas, and some of which are increasingly rare in the UK.

Importance of protecting habitats

By carrying out vital conservation work, such as our peatlands restoration project, we aim to protect and enhance the natural habitat for many different species of animals. Habitat protection is not only essential to protect those relatively few species whose endangerment is established, but also an important pre-emptive approach to species conservation.

Moorland Birds

A large number of bird species across this moorland landscape nest on the ground, leaving them susceptible to predators and disturbance from people and dogs. Between 1 March and 31 July, when birds are nesting, please keep your dog on a short lead and keep to the footpaths. Adult birds need to be able to sit tight on a clutch of eggs and brood chicks to keep them warm and dry during cold weather and to keep them out of sight of predators.


Throughout spring and summer, visitors can enjoy walking the moors to the unmistakable sounds of the skylark. A small brown bird, they can be identified by white flashes at the base of their wings and the sides of their tail feathers.

Golden plover

During summer the golden plover has a distinctive gold and black plumage, that changes to light brown and white in winter. They typically stand upright and run in short bursts and are very shy and wary while on breeding grounds.


A curlew is identifiable by its long, slender, downcurved bill (perfect for probing for prey) and mottled brown plumage. Listen out for its very recognisable eerie, 'cur-lee' call that can often be heard from February through to July on its breeding grounds.


A breeding dunlin adult has a bright rusty back and crown, white underparts with a black belly patch. They forage by picking and probing in mud, walking slowly and usually in large flocks.


Medium in size, these wading birds have short legs and long, straight bills. Both sexes are mottled brown above, with paler buff stripes on the back, dark streaks on the chest and pale under parts.

Barn owl with prey
Barn owl with prey | © Shaun Boyns

Short-eared owl

A medium sized owl, they have long wings and a small, rounded head. Their plumage is pale yellow-brown and buff-white in colour. Restoring degraded peatlands helps to preserve the moorland habitats they use to hunt.

Long-eared owl

A skilful hunter, the long-eared owl has mottled orange-brown feathers, distinct white eyebrows and striking orange eyes. Our most nocturnal owl, they enjoy a diet made up of small mammals, particularly voles and mice.

Little owl

Standing at only 20cm in height, they are the smallest owl in the UK. With piercing yellow eyes and mottled brown and cream colouring across their head and body, they mostly eat small mammals and birds but will also feed on large invertebrates too.

Tawny owl

The size of a wood pigeon, they have a rounded body and head, with a ring of dark feathers around their face surrounding the dark eyes. Good sight and hearing allow them to locate rodents, and their soft wings allow for a soundless flight.

Barn owl

There’s no mistaking the barn owl, with their bright white feathers and a signature heart-shaped face. They catch prey with ease thanks to their incredible long-distance vision, sensitive hearing, and silent flight.


The merlin is the UK’s smallest bird of prey, not much bigger than a blackbird. They chase small birds, flying low to the ground or hovering in the breeze because of their small size. The males have a blue-grey back, whilst females have a brownish-grey one.

A brown hare on alert in a field at Gramborough Hill, Norfolk
A brown hare on alert | © National Trust Images / Rob Coleman


Brown hare

Known for their long, black-tipped ears and fast running, they can reach speeds of 45mph when escaping predators. They graze on vegetation and the bark of young trees and bushes, and shelter in 'forms', which are shallow depressions in the ground or grass.


With a distinctively pointy nose and tiny eyes, the shrew lives life in the fast lane, eating every 2-3 hours to survive, and only living for a year or so. They are very territorial and aggressive for their size and snuffle through the undergrowth for their prey.


These animals may look cute, but they make light work of eating voles, mice and birds. Related to otters and stoats, they are the UK’s smallest carnivore and have a russet-brown back and a creamy white throat and belly.


A small predator, the stoat has an orange body, black-tipped tail and distinctive bounding gait. It hunts small rodents and rabbits and are active day and night. They are found on grassland, heaths and in woodlands across the UK.


Very common in grassland, heathland and moorland habitats, the field vole eats seeds, roots and leaves. They’re not great climbers, preferring to move along the ground through a network of well used runs that lead to their burrows.

Green hairstreak butterfly on a blade of grass at Bradenham, Buckinghamshire
Green hairstreak butterfly on a blade of grass | © National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole

Lizards and Insects

Common Lizard

Partial to a sunbathe, you’ll often find these lizards around heathlands, moorlands and grasslands. If threatened by a predator, the common lizard will shed its still-moving tail in order to distract its attacker and make a quick getaway.


A wide range of butterflies can be found up on the moors and in woodland areas. From the green hairstreak with its unmistakable green wings, to the orange-tip, which are one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring. If you are lucky you may spot the purple hairstreak on the native oak woodlands.

Rangers and volunteers on Holcombe Moor


Everyone needs nature and outdoor space, now more than ever, and as a charity we rely heavily on your support and generosity. Your support plays a vital role in allowing us to protect Holcombe Moor and Stubbins Estate’s natural landscape and rich wildlife for everyone to enjoy.

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