Northern Hawk's-beard

Latin name: Crepis mollis

Family: Asteraceae

Northern hawk's-beard is a rare wildflower that doesn't occur outside Europe. It can be easily confused with it's close relative the Marsh hawk's-beard or with some Hawkweed microspecies and when not in flower the basal leaves can look very similar to Common Knapwed or Devil's-bit scabious. Consequently, new sitings of Crepis mollis need to be treated with caution, and should ideally be checked by an expert on-site rather than collecting a specimen, due to its current rarity.

Its current British distribution includes the northern half of the Pennines from the Yorkshire Dales to the Cheviot Hills into Northumberland and the Scottish borders, with more scattered records in the east Highlands of Scotland. However its core areas in the UK are Durham and Northumberland. A lot was learned about its current ecology as a result of the Botanical Society of the British Isles Threatened Plants project survey in 2008.

In Yorkshire, it occurs between 210 and 270m altitude on steep limestone pasture on valley sides with a northerly aspect, grazed species-rich banks within otherwise improved pastures or hay-meadows and wooded limestone pavement. There are currently three known sites within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. These are at Colt Park in Ribblesdale, near Worton in Wensleydale and near Starbotton in Upper Wharfedale.

The majority of populations are on protected sites or in grassland managed under agri-environment schemes. It is possible that further sites will be discovered as surveyors become more familiar with its habitats. However, the populations are isolated and small which makes them vulnerable to changes in management, climate change and eutrophication. It is important that the remaining sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park do not become agriculturally improved or have their stocking levels increased in order to safeguard this species.

At risk?

Listed as 'Endangered' on the British Red Data List and listed as a UKBAP priority species since 2007. Although its population appears to have been declining over a number of decades, it is under-recorded and new sites are still being found.

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The unfolding of Grass Wood throughout the year is a story of rich fulfilment. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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