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We use a quantitative approach to identify fifty-eight species of birds which breed in association with the British uplands. Similarities and differences between this list of ‘upland birds’ and previous more subjective lists are discussed. We then study pattern in the distribution of these species throughout the uplands. A high degree of regionalization is found, and interpreted in terms of the habitat composition of different regions, and known bird–habitat associations. Different regions differ widely, not only with respect to their bird species composition, but also in the number and conservation importance of their upland bird assemblages. In particular, we contrast the uplands of Wales and England with those of Scotland. The Welsh and English uplands contain a relatively low number of upland bird assemblages and are divided into a few large regions, each dominated by a single assemblage type. In comparison, the Scottish uplands are more varied, both in terms of the total number of assemblages, and the range of assemblages found at a small scale. The study provides a means of viewing any upland region within the national context.