Skip Navigation | Using this site

Natural History

The environment of Malham Moor and the surrounding area, wonderfully rich in natural history, makes an ideal wilderness retreat. Its wealth stems from the climate and the geology. Limestone was laid down beneath ancient seas and capped by sandstone deposits. Raised up, fractured by fault lines and scoured by glaciers it forms the watershed of the Pennines.  Malham Moor spans the headlands of 3 rivers, the Aire, the Ribble and the Wharfe. In the ice ages glacial melt water wore deep valleys now often left dry as the hydrology seeks underground ways. The relic gritstone caps shape the profile of the highest hills. This manifests in craggy edges as well as in erratic boulders abandoned by the retreating ice. The rich variety of landscape thus formed results in diverse habitats.


The line of the mid-Craven fault, stretching from Kirkby Lonsdale via Malham to Pateley Bridge, is unmistakable. It is defined by limestone uplands to the north and grassy pastureland to the south. Because of this fault, the area is richly endowed with minerals. Also on Malham Moor, local roads follow the parallel well-drained line of the North Craven fault.

You will notice that the area is characterised by pot-holes and sink-holes of the fossil-rich limestone with a thin covering of glacial moraine. The shallow lime-rich lake of Malham Tarn is scooped out on a bed of slate. Higher land is cloaked with rich peat bogs, with green grasses in the stream valleys. Scattered farms have islands of in-by fields for hay and grazing. Woodlands are sparse, largely because ancient trees have been felled and sheep prevent natural regeneration. South of the fault line the altitude drops and lower lands support a more general agriculture with scattered villages.

Nature reserve

Adjoining High Trenhouse, Malham Tarn estate, once the country seat of Walter Morrison, is owned by the National Trust. The estate supports a centre run by the Field Studies Council.  As a result young students are able to learn from nature and public courses help people appreciate this wonderful area. Malham Tarn is a designated Ramsar site – a wetland of world class significance. Largely this is because of its particular juxtaposition of calcium rich waters and acid peat bog – a combination that creates unique ecosystems. Consequently the whole area is classified a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).


People know the area best for its birdlife.  The characteristic ground nesting birds of the uplands, pewits, skylarks, curlews and oystercatchers, fill the summer air with sound.  Also many migrant species seek out this rich landscape. Most noteworthy, peregrine falcons nest at Malham Cove. Also many people delight in the flowers of the limestone pastures, on the tarn moss and fenlands, or the rare species found on the upper slopes of Penyghent. The grikes in the limestone pavements house their own secret gardens. The unique flora sustains a diversity of butterflies and insects in symbiotic relationship.

As a result of this unique combination Malham Moor is a perfect place for a wilderness retreat.


Covid-19 - please see the blog for the latest update