Abstract Upland areas provide UK society with many important functions, goods and services, but have experienced a number of disturbing trends and face an uncertain future. This paper outlines historic, current and future drivers of environmental, economic, socio-cultural and policy change in UK uplands, and assesses how these have affected or are likely to affect ways in which land is used and the provision of ecosystem services. Information is synthesised into scenarios summarising a range of possible futures anticipated for UK uplands to 2060 and beyond. Finally, innovations in science, technology, governance and policy are evaluated that could enable uplands to continue providing key ecosystem services under a range of scenarios. The paper concludes that many upland areas will need to be prepared for significant reductions in grazing and prescribed burning. Conversely, other areas could experience agricultural intensification, for example significant increases in grazing or an expansion of arable or bioenergy crops into upland valleys, due to anticipated increases in global demand for food and energy. These scenarios will take place in the context of climate change. Many may take place together and may interact with each other, with complex and unpredictable implications for the upland environment, economy and society. In this context, a number of advances are needed in science, technology and policy to maintain viable upland communities and the future provision of ecosystem services. These may include funding for ecological and hydrological restoration via carbon offsetting or other means. It may also involve advances in ecosystem service modelling, mapping and valuation, which through stakeholder participation could facilitate more integrated rural planning. New forms of environmental governance need to be explored that can empower those interested in developing upland economies to maintain thriving upland communities, while managing the ecosystem services they provide as efficiently as possible.