Natural England - Hallsenna Moor NNR

Hallsenna Moor NNR

Hallsenna Moor NNR is one of the few remaining lowland heath and peatland habitats in Cumbria.

Hallsenna Moor NNR

County: West Cumbria

Main habitats: Peatland

Why visit: A colourful mosaic of lowland heath and peaty fens makes up this national nature reserve with its varied flora and fauna. The moor is notable for the fact that it has never been cut for peat and supports a diverse collection of plant communities including those typical of woodlands, valley peatland, wet and dry heathland and fen. These habitats are rare in the UK and this is one of the few remaining sites in the county, and the largest in West Cumbria.

Star species: The plant life found on the reserve is both diverse and specialised. The plants growing here are adapted to thrive in a nutrient-poor environment, in constant wet conditions. The insect-eating sundew is an excellent example. Although it’s red and yellow ‘mouth’ is tiny and easily missed by the human eye, it is perfectly adapted for attracting small insects, which is captures and digests. This helps it to flourish in an environment where nutrients are hard to come by. Other peatland plants add a splash of colour to the bleak bog in summer-time. Bog asphodel blooms in bright yellow star-shaped flowers, whilst the cotton grasses soften the landscape with their white fluffy heads. In late summer, the heather flowers covering the Moor in purple hues.

The reserve is also a haven for bird-life. The mix of open moorland and woodland provide the perfect habitat for many species including birds of prey, waders and the seasonal breeding passerines. Watch for buzzard hunting over the moor, curlew hiding amongst the peatland flora and warblers flitting amongst the scrub and tree cover on the reserve edges.

There is an information leaflet: (381kb)pdf document available to download.

What makes it special?

This special lowland Moor features a mosaic of habitats including wet and dry heath, fen, basin peatland and wet woodland.

Hallsenna Moor is one of the best examples of a basin bog in Cumbria. It is particularly interesting as it has developed in a ‘kettle-hole’, a hollow sunk into sands and gravels left after the last ice-age. The bog that has developed here is in places floating on the ground water body, forming a quaking bog or ‘schwingmoor’ that readily bounces underfoot!

The Moor is in a transitional phase as peat deposition continues to build which will eventually develop into raised bog. In other parts of the Moor groundwater flow allows the development of valley bog. This further broadens the mosaic of important bog habitats which are utilised by a range of specialist flora and fauna.

Plants: In the dry heath areas bilberry, crowberry and cross-leaved heath grow among the common heather. In the wet heath, heather is less abundant but the white tufts of hare’s-tail and common cotton grasses dominate the landscape in early summer. The bright red berries of low, straggling cranberry shine in the wetter areas in autumn.

In the wettest parts of the Moor, sphagnum mosses are dominant. Insect-eating sundew, white sedge, the rare royal fern, and deep purple devil’s bit scabious also grow in the wet moss. In July, bright yellow spikes of bog asphodel flowers carpet the ground.

Where the peat surface is below or at the level of the water-table, a nutrient poor fen community can be found. In summer the deep red flowers of marsh cinquefoil can be spotted, interspersed with marsh St John’s wort and bog bean with its feathery white flowers.

On the margins of the bog and in the south-west corner of the nature reserve wet woodland has grown up with dense willow and birch. These areas add to the diverse range of habitats on the Moor and provide important homes for wildlife. Addyhouse Wood to the north-east adjoins the reserve, providing an area of mixed semi-natural woodland fringed by willow and dominated by birch with mature standards of oak and Scot’s pine.

In the wetter parts of the wood at its southern edge, the ground flora is dominated by purple moor-grass. The flora becomes more varied towards the east where the ground is drier and includes bramble, lady fern, scaly male-fern and wood sage.

Wildlife: The site supports a number of bird species year round, including barn owl, curlew, snipe, and buzzard. In spring, the reserve is full of bird song from the resident reed bunting and yellowhammer. Summer visitors add their notes – you may hear whitethroat, grasshopper warbler, chiff chaff, willow warbler, sedge warbler and tree pipit.

Gorse bushes and bilberry attract green hairstreak butterflies in spring and in early summer common heath moths are easily disturbed from the heather. Look out for the male’s feathery antennae! Later in summer, colourful emperor and silver hook moths fly in bright sunshine over the wetter moss. The willow woodlands support a rich community of leaf and flea beetles. Over 60 species have been recorded here including the rare water-lily reed beetle.


Willow has colonised the wetter mire, and birch the drier heath. Whilst, these areas of woodland have some wildlife value in themselves, they will also dry out the peatland through evapo-transpiration. In the past, farm animals grazed on the young trees, limiting their growth and spread. However, because the peatland is hazardous, the only grazing now is from wild roe deer. We therefore manually clear scrub, especially the invasive rhododendron which is not a natural part of this habitat. This will help to conserve the wet peatland habitat and protect the un-common flora that thrives here.

We try to ensure that these peatland habitats are supplied with the unpolluted water they need. We work with local landowners to manage the hydrological catchment area and to limit the threat of eutrophication or drainage. Water from the surrounding farmland contains chemical fertilisers, which would disrupt the natural balance of nutrients on the peatland. This water is therefore taken into an underground pipe and directed away from the nature reserve. In some areas, damns have been constructed to ensure that clean water stays on the reserve, keeping the peatland wet.

Seasonal highlights

Hallsenna Moor shines in spring and summer-time when the bog flora colours the landscape, and the invertebrate and bird life bring a buzz of activity to the reserve. The pathways are also likely to be drier and less hazardous at this time of year.

Spring – Summer breeding birds begin to arrive and fill the reserve with their busy song and nest building activity. Look out for warblers, curlew and snipe. Buzzards become very visible and vocal as they perform displays in the sky over the mosses. In late spring the cotton grasses flower, dotting the landscape with white fluff.

Summer –Many of the bog plants flower, colouring the landscape with a rainbow palette. Look out for the deep purple of devil’s bit scabious’ flowers, bog asphodel’s stunning yellow stars and bog bean’s feathery white flowers. In August the heather comes into flower, covering the Moor in a purple hue. Invertebrates such as the common heath and emperor moth can be seen flying over the bog.

Autumn – Bright red cranberry berries shine from the Moor floor and the heather continues to flower purple into early autumn. Addyhouse Wood provides an ideal autumn time walk as the birch and oak trees shed their colourful leaves. Look for nibbled acorns on the woodland floor – evidence of small mammals such as wood mice busy preparing for the winter.

Winter – Birds of prey continue to hunt across the open Moor, and crepuscular wildlife such as the barn owl are easier spotted during the shorter days of winter. Roe deer too will browse peacefully on the reserve at dawn and dusk. Waders such as curlew can still be spotted on the reserve from time to time.


The landscape at Hallsenna Moor has been shaped over thousands of years by natural processes.

The basin in which Hallsenna Moor sits was carved out by a glacier during the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. Since then water has gathered in the basin, ensuring plants such as sphagnum mosses to thrive here. As these plants die they create peat, which over thousands of years has built up, raising the surface of the bog.

At the moment it is known as a ‘transitional bog’. Provided the Moor is maintained to ensure peat-depositing plants can thrive here, the peat will continue to grow, eventually developing into a raised bog. These transitional areas are in themselves a rare habitat, and their natural processes should be conserved.

Hallsenna Moor is also special because it has never been cut for peat, unlike so many other bogs in Cumbria. However, this is not to say that the Moor has been left untouched by human influence. The Moor is special in being fed by groundwater, as well as rainwater. The groundwater has the potential to feed the moor with certain amount of nutrients, enabling a diverse flora to grow here. However, this nutrient balance is delicate, and chemical fertilisers running-off from the surrounding farmland could disrupt this balance. An underground pipe has therefore been installed in order to gather this groundwater and direct it away from the peatland. This will, to some extent, limit the un-natural chemicals that reach the moor. However, it is difficult to ensure that the water-table of the Moor is wholly untouched by such chemicals in today’s industrial world. In order to ensure the peatland stays wet some areas have also been damned to prevent water from flowing off the bog.

How to get there

Hallsenna Moor NNR is in south west Cumbria, near the village of Seascale.

On foot

The reserve can be accessed on foot using public footpaths and bridleways from Drigg, Holmrook and Seascale. Drigg is the closest village, just 1.5km away.

By train

The nearest train stations are in Seascaleexternal link and Driggexternal link, both served by Northern Rail.

By bus

There are no bus services in the local area.

By car

The reserve lies just off the A595, 1.5km north of Drigg and 3km south east of Seascale. There is no local parking, so it is recommended that you park in local villages and continue on foot to the reserve.

The nearest toilets and refreshments can be found in the local villages of Seascale and Drigg.

Visiting the reserve

The NNR is a fragile habitat and, due to the uneven terrain and numerous water-filled cuttings and ditches, access is difficult and potentially dangerous. It is recommended that visitors keep to the public rights of way and wear sturdy, waterproof footwear.

Public rights of way cross the reserve but can be difficult to use in wet weather. A boardwalk through the centre of the reserve provides an accessible route in all conditions.

Ticks are found on this reserve and Lyme disease is present in this area of the country. Visitors are advised to take adequate precautions such as covering arms and legs, and checking for bites after their visit.

Walking your dog: From 1 March through to 31 July, ground-nesting birds breed at Hallsenna Moor. In order to minimise disturbance to these birds all members of the public are required to keep their dogs on a short lead (of no more than 2 metres) during these months, under the Countryside Rights of Way Act.

Other nearby attractions:  Muncaster Castleexternal link, near Ravenglass features a haunted historic house, 70 acres of stunning Gardens set against the back drop of the Lake District fells, a Meadow Vole maze and the World Owl Centre with over 200 bird species and regular falconry displays.

Drigg Dunes and Gullery Local Nature Reserve (LNR) supports many specialised sand dune plants, insects, breeding gulls and rare natterjack toads. The peak flowering time for dune flowers is late spring-time. There are also saltmarsh, shingle and strandline habitats within the reserve. From Drigg village follow Shore Road (sign-posted beach and station) to the end where there is a parking area. The LNR is then reached by walking south through the dunes or along the popular sandy beach.

Want to get involved?

There are plenty of ways to get involved with the reserve.

Natural England runs a year-round programme of family-friendly events on our National Nature Reserves, including guided walks and other nature-related activities. We advertise these events on the BBC Things To Do websiteexternal link.

We have volunteer opportunities on National Nature Reserves throughout South Cumbria. Whether you have specialist skills you wish to use, or are looking for a chance to get some hands on experience, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Senior Reserve Manager, Steve Benn, on 015395 31604 or email for more details.

Students and professionals are also invited to conduct studies on our National Nature Reserves. Please contact Senior Reserve Manager, Steve Benn on 015395 31604 or email to discuss and gain relevant permissions.

Further information

There is no site office at Hallsenna Moor. To contact site staff please use the following details:
Roudsea Wood NNR Base,
Fish House Lane,
LA12 8PE
Tel: 015395 31604