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What plants and animals live on Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa)?

Updated: Jun 26

Located in the counties of Gwynedd and Conwy, Eryri National Park is the largest National Park in Wales. Yr Wyddfa, also known as Snowdon, is the highest mountain in Wales and a National Nature Reserve.


Mountain goats with Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the background

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is a mountain habitat which is home to a vast array of flora and fauna. Grassy fields dotted with sheep are the most obvious sight. Look a little closer and you will find a hillside teeming with insects, rare alpine flowers, birds of prey and so much more.


Geography & climate of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) stands at 1,085m (3,560ft), making it the highest mountain in Wales and the highest in the British Isles south of the Scottish Highlands. The mountain is located in the Snowdonia range in North Wales.


The climate on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) varies greatly, often with arctic conditions at the summit and temperate conditions at lower elevations. The mountain has been extensively sculpted by glaciation, forming the pyramidal peak of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and the arêtes of Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd.


Wildlife on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is abundant with flora and fauna. A selection of the most interesting and visible inhabitants you are likely to see have been included in this guide. To learn more about the plants and animals which make the tallest mountain in Wales their home consider booking onto one of our walks.



To the casual observer Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) may appear to be a natural habitat but much of the land is in fact managed for grazing.


Plants on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Yr Wyddfa's (Snowdon's) plants are fascinating and can always be spotted even in the depths of winter. Spring and summer time is when the mountains burst to life with an abundance of flora, especially alpine flowers. In the past many of the plants had culinary or medicinal uses. It is unlawful to pick or uproot any plant from the wild without the landowner's consent.


Rare alpine species

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is home to many rare and endangered alpine flowers, including the Snowdon Lily. The mountain’s unique climate and geology support a wide range alpine flowers most of which are found in spring and early summer.


Mossy saxifrage is one of the alpine flowers which can be found on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) during the summer months

Mossy saxifrage

Saxifrages such as purple saxifrage and starry saxifrage are some of the more common and beautiful arctic alpine flowers. Probably the most common of upland saxifrages is Mossy saxifrage. This plant forms fine moss-like mats which protect it from drying winds. They can be found on damp rock ledges and near streams.


Tormentil is the most common alpine plant found on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and can be seen from spring to autumn

Tormentil

A small but common yellow alpine flower which is seen in grassy areas on the hills from around April to October. The medicinal uses of tormentil are legendary. It has been used as a cure for coughs, colds, chest complaints, fever, diarrhoea, cholera, colitis, chapped anus, cracked nipples, piles, burns, bed-wetting, mouth ulcers, inflamed eyes, infected gums, irritable bowel syndrome, sore throats and toothache. It's latin name is Potentilla erecta!


Adaptations to high-altitude environments

Plants on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) have adapted to the harsh, high-altitude environment in unique ways, such as low growth habits and hairy leaves.


Clubmoss is well adapted to the harsh mountain environment found at higher altitudes

Clubmoss

This unassuming plan is our favourite mountain plant! It grows at high altitude so a meeting with it must be earned.


Clubmosses have been around for around 400 million years making them one of the oldest plant groups alive today. To survive for this long they have beaten the odds and lived through four of the five mass extinction events in earth's history, including the one that killed off the dinosaurs.


They were the preeminent plant life during the Carboniferous period (360-300 million years ago). They are likely to have grown up to 30m tall and make up the bulk of the organic material from which coal is formed.


Spring plants

Often blanketed in snow during the winter months the hillsides are filled with life and colour in the spring.


Cottongrass can be see on all of Yr Wyddfa's footpaths

Cottongrass

Abundant in Snowdon's wet, acid bogs, Cottongrass is a good indicator of where not to walk. It has been used for stuffing pillows and was gathered to use as wound dressings during the First World War.


Bluebells are a woodland flower which can be found on Snowdon's lower slopes, especially on the Watkin Path

Bluebells

Sheets of spring bluebells are a sight to behold and vast swathes of them can be found at the bottom of the Watkin Path and continue up beyond the tree line and to Snowdon's waterfalls.


Bluebells are a woodland plant so their existence at the bottom of the highest peak is evidence that woodland stretched much further up the hillside than it does today. Almost half of the worlds bluebells can be found in Britain.


Summer plants

Life and activity in the mountains peaks in summer so this is the perfect time to visit if you are looking to take in the wildlife of Snowdonia.


Bog asphodel can be found throughout much of Snowdonia

Bog asphodel

The yellow star like flowers atop leafless stems are part of the Lily family. The modern scientific name ossifragum (bone breaker) derives from the belief that grazing the plant made the bones of sheep brittle. It was not the bog asphodel that caused this but the calcium poor soils in which it grows.


It has been used as a substitute for saffron and yellow hair-dye.


Foxglove is found on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) throughout the year but is most noticeable in June when it's pink flowers are on display

Foxglove

This towering pink flower is a delight on the hills in June. Also known as fairy gloves and fairy bells the foxglove isn't just a pretty sight. The digitoxin and digoxin found in the plant are used to treat irregular heartbeats and heart failure. Dosage is critical though and too much will stop the heart altogether.


Plants for year round interest

Many of the plants can be found all year. Soft rush can be seen poking it's head above even the deepest snows and mosses, lichens and hard fern are not put off by winter conditions.


Bell heather is a purple plant which can be found on many mountains in Eryri

Heather

Vast swathes of heather can be seen on some hillsides in Eryri (Snowdonia) and are particularly noticeable in late summer after flowering.


Large areas of it are called 'heaths'. Heathland develops when trees are cleared on poor acidic soils and grazing animals such as sheep prevent them from re-establishing.


It is another plant which had many uses including fuel, fodder and ropemaking. Perhaps it's most popular use was to make a very good beer.


Soft rush thrives in Snowdon's wet environment

Soft rush

Soft rush grows in abundance in wet areas of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). Well into the 19th century soft rush was used as a basic source of illumination in most cottages in Snowdonia. The green stems were stripped to the white central pith and soaked in animal fat producing a candle like wick. This produced a good light for over an hour.


Animals on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

You are likely to see plenty of sheep on the slopes of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) without too much effort. The other animals which inhabit the mountain are more difficult to find especially on the busier footpaths. Escape these highways and you might be lucky enough to spot one of the more elusive residents.


Mammals:

Foxes, cattle, mice and other mammals can all be found on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). Sheep are the most successful colonisers of it's slopes and you will find it difficult to walk up the mountain without spotting any.


Sheep

Wales is synonymous for green fields dotted with white sheep. They are usually the largest and most common animal you are likely to see on the slopes of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) - except humans of course. They live on the mountain year-round, periodically rounded up and brought down off the hill to be sold, for sheering etc.


Introduced by the Romans in 43AD, sheep have had a major impact on the mountains since then. Without sheep and other grazing animals, much of Snowdonia would be covered in native Celtic Rainforest.


Sheep live in family groups and get to know every corner of their range, and become 'hefted' to it. They think of it as home, so try to return to it when moved elsewhere.


Welsh Mountain Goat (title picture)

The Welsh Mountain Goat is a common sight on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), with a population of around 1000 individuals. The goats do not originate from the area but are what is left of flocks which were owned by Cistercian monks in medieval times. These days the goats are feral after escaping domestication hundreds of years ago.


There are numerous myths and superstitions attributed to the animals including banishing evil spirits from mountain summits.


Voles are elusive but can be found on Snowdon's footpaths

Vole

Voles are abundant in rough grassland throughout Britain. Their populations fluctuate wildly every four to five years. In peak years voles become so numerous that their tunnels can destroy the surrounding area. In 1934 they reached plague proportions around Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales, stripping the local hillsides bare of grass, weeds and young trees.


Carneddau ponies don't actually live on Snowdon but reside instead in the Carneddau mountain range

Carneddau ponies

The breed of Welsh mountain pony found in Snowdonia is the Carneddau pony, which lives in the Carneddau range (not the Snowdon range).


DNA testing has revealed that they have been isolated in these remote hills for hundreds of years and it is believed their history dates back to the bronze age.


The ponies graze differently to sheep eating many of the plants left alone by sheep. In addition to eating gorse they trample down bracken to create pathways and are essential in maintaining the unique landscape of the Carneddau.


Mountain Birds

Ospreys, cormorants, choughs, terns, and birds of prey can be found on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). The unique geology and climate of Snowdon support a wide range of bird species.


The most obvious avifauna is the herring gull (seagull). These versatile scavengers are not native to the hills but have migrated from the nearby Welsh coast due to the abundance of free lunches.


Buzzards are the biggest bird of prey in Eryri (Snowdonia)

Buzzard

Standing at over 50cm tall with a wingspan of well over 1 meter this is the largest bird of prey in Eryri (Snowdonia). Once off the ground they are incredibly efficient at soaring, circling and gliding effortlessly on set wings in search of prey.


Peregrine Falcon

Special mention has to be given to the Peregrine Falcon which can also be found in Eryri (Snowdonia). These birds have binocular vision eight times more efficient than humans and they can dive at speeds exceeding 200mph. When pulling out of this dive the birds can experience 25G. Humans lose consciousness at 9G.


Medow Pipits are the bird you are most likely to spot on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdonia)

Meadow Pipit/ Skylark

Meadow Pipit's are the most common songbird of the hills. These hyperactive little insect eaters remain in Britain year round moving to the uplands during the summer and returning to the lowlands for winter.


Both Meadow Pipit's and Skylarks can be frequently seen in pairs fluttering acrobatically above grassland and perform their songs in flight. Meadow Pipits are in the air for shorter periods before parachuting to earth with a gentle spiral whereas the Skylark plummets rapidly.


Corvids

There are many varieties of the corvid family which make their home in the hills of Eryri. Crows or ravens are probably the most widely known. The collective noun for ravens is 'unkindness' and for crows it is 'murder'.


The most likely corvid spotted on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is a Jackdaws, especially at the bottom of the Llanberis Path. They pair for life and couples are almost always seen together. They are very social birds, gathering at dusk in a small 'clattering' where they maintain a chatter of conversation quite loudly.


Are there eagles in Snowdonia?

Golden Eagles were historically widespread throughout Wales until the 1850's. The last breeding pair made their home in the remote hills of Eryri (Snowdonia). Eagles favour open country and mountainous regions making Eryri the perfect habitat for them. Golden Eagles can still be found in the highlands of Scotland.


The origin of the word 'Eryri', the Welsh name for the National Park is shrouded in the mists of time but it could be a corruption of 'eryr' which means Eagle.


Insects on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

It is estimated that insects constitute two thirds of the biomass on earth and Snowdon is likely no exception. Half of the worlds insect biomass is beetles.


Snowdon Beetle

The Snowdon Beetle, or Rainbow Leaf Beetle, is a rare and distinct insect found on Snowdon. The beetle has coloured metallic bands going down the length of its body.


Reptiles on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Spotting a reptile or amphibian on the mountain is rare and most likely done in spring or summer as they are cold-blooded so hibernate through the winter.


Frogs can be found near streams, bogs, rivers, lakes and pools on Snowdon

Frog

Every year frogs return to the sites where they were born and produce up to 4000 eggs (frogspawn). Roughly around half of these are not eaten and develop into tadpoles and around five survive to become frogs which can live for up to eight years.


Frogs can breathe through it's skin as well as it's nostrils.


Discover Snowdon's wildlife with Walk Snowdonia

See the wildlife which inhabits Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) with one of our local Mountain Leaders.


To really learn about the flora and fauna join one of our Snowdon guided walks. Alternatively, we can organise a bespoke day in the hills focusing on wildlife.



FAQ's

What is the best footpath for wildlife?

All of the footpaths up Snowdon have plants and animals of interest. To see the rarer plants and animals such as the mountain goat the quieter western or southern side of the mountain is probably best.


The Ranger Path or Rhyd Ddu Path are rich in wildlife. The South Ridge is one of the finest ridge walks there is and has a wide variety of plants ranging from woodland species to alpine flowers.


Is the Snowdon Ranger Path good for wildlife?

The Snowdon Ranger Path is a popular route up Snowdon, starting from the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel car park. The path travels along the western boundary of the National Nature Reserve. Mountain birds can be see on the lower slopes and the soft rush, tormentil, gorse, foxglove and hawthorn add interest.


What is the best footpath to see glaciation?

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the glaciation is the Snowdon Horseshoe Walk. From the Pen y Pass car park, this 11 mile long route has over 900m of elevation gain. The route begins on the PYG Track and finishes on the Miners Track and includes Yr Wyddfa and Crib Goch.


What is the best time of the year to visit Snowdonia for wildlife?

Many of the flora and fauna can be found year round. Mosses, lichens and many other plant species can be seen even in the depths of winter as can much of the wildlife such as birds, goats and mountain ponies.


It is in the spring and summer that the mountains really come to life splashing the hillside with the colour of mountain flowers and sound of birds. Foxgloves, for example are there all year but it is in the early summer that they put on their dazzling display, peppering the hillside pink with their towers of bell shaped flowers.


Autumn is also fantastic time to visit too as the vibrant colours of summer transition into the deep, rich hues of autumn.


Are there dangerous animals on Snowdon?

Ticks are the animal which pose the greatest risk to hikers on Yr Wyddfa. Up to 10% of ticks carry Lyme Disease so are best avoided. The danger can be managed by sticking to defined footpaths and wearing long trousers.


Learn more about the dangers of Snowdon


Are there snakes on Snowdon?

Adders live on Snowdon and are the only poisonous snake in the British Isles. They are not frequently seen in the mountains and human deaths from adder bites are uncommon. They do however pose a significant risk to small children and dogs.


Further information

Alternative access: Snowdon Mountain Railway

The Snowdon Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway that travels for 4+3⁄4 miles (7.6 km) from Llanberis to the Summit station of Snowdon.The railway offers an alternative way to access the summit of Snowdon but you will only see the wildlife from afar and will miss many of the delights such as the alpine flowers.


Protecting habitats and species in the National Park

Natural Resources Wales and the Snowdonia National Park Authority work together to protect habitats and species in the national park. Conservation efforts focus on maintaining the delicate balance of the mountain’s ecosystem.


Visitors are encouraged to practice the 7 'leave no trace' principles. This includes:

  • Plan ahead & prepare.

  • Travel & camp on durable surfaces.

  • Dispose of waste properly.

  • Leave what you find.

  • Minimize campfire impacts.

  • Respect wildlife.

  • Be considerate of others.


Hikers in the National Park including on mount Snowdon should follow the countryside code:

  • Keep dogs on a lead

  • Take your litter home

  • Respect plants and wildlife

  • Follow signs and directions

  • Stay on the path

  • Leave gates as you found them

  • Be considerate of other walkers


Importance of conservation efforts and responsible tourism

Responsible tourism is essential to maintaining the health of Snowdon’s ecosystem and supporting conservation efforts. Visitors can help by respecting the mountain’s wildlife and habitats, taking litter home and supporting local businesses that prioritize conservation.


A short history of Snowdon's landscape

To the casual observer Yr Wyddfa's (Snowdon's) landscape looks timeless. However, over geological time it has changed significantly.


Most of the rocks from which Snowdon is formed were produced by a series of volcanic eruptions during the Ordovican period 495-443 million years ago. In addition to this there was a nearby sea which added some sedimentary deposits which mixed with the volcanic rocks over time. The tectonic plate on which the Snowdonia Volcanics sat (Avelonia) collided with the plate the Scottish Highlands sat (Laurentia) thrusting the land up into a huge chain of mountains as high as the alps known as the Caledonian Mountains.


Over the last 400 million years or so erosion has reduced the size of the mountains to their current stature.


The physical shape of the land has changed very little since the end of the last ice age. Since then the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated leaving a blank canvas ready to be colonised by plants and animals. Like much of Britain the land was soon populated by a vast forest. The 'hyper-oceanic zone' of the west coast with it's high levels of rainfall and relatively mild, year-round temperatures provide just the right conditions for Celtic temperate rainforest. This Celtic rainforest stretched from the valleys high up the hillsides with only the highest, rocky and exposed hillsides were free of this forest (hence the name 'Moel' (Bald) of many hills eg. Moel Siabod).


Over the last 8000 years or so humans have cleared this vast and ancient forest to use as firewood, building materials and for land clearance. As recently as 2000 years ago much of Snowdonia was covered in trees. Iron age people lived on the top of the hills as the valleys were inhospitable and did not offer the defensive protection and extensive views that hilltops offered.


Today there are just small pockets of the Celtic Rainforest clinging on in small isolated islands in the valleys of Snowdonia.


Other useful resources you might be interested in include...

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