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Honey Bee on heather by Tammy AndrewsHoney Bee on heather by Tammy Andrews

Take in the scent of summer. Our moors will soon be a magnificent purple blaze as the heather flowers, alive with the buzz of honeybees, damselflies, moths and butterflies.

From mid to late August and into September, the moorland is an unsurpassed attraction when all the tiny flowers of heather burst into bloom and the landscape in transformed into a seemingly endless carpet of pink and purple. Three types, ling and cross leaved heath, together with deep dark pink/purple bell heather, provide the most continuous and extensive display compared to anywhere else in England.

Our tip

Take a closer look at Fylingdales Moor, the vast heather moorland inland of Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar. Notice anything special? Unlike most other moors in the National Park, grouse-shooting isn’t permitted here and instead it’s managed as a conservation area by the Hawk and Owl Trust.

That means it’s home to over 90 bird species (including birds of prey like the merlin, Britain’s smallest falcon), plus otters, water voles, orchids, butterflies, moths and adders – forming a wonderful web of moorland wildlife. And of course it’s a great place to have a wander amongst the heather at this time of year. It’s open access land, which means that walkers don’t have to stick to footpaths or other public rights of way (unless they are accompanied by a dog).

Also look out for:

  • Bilberries fruiting on the moors. Globe-shaped, pink flowers appear among the green shoots of this low shrub from July to September. The flowers mature into small, globular black berries that have a bluish, waxy ‘bloom’, like grapes. Go bilberry picking for cooking in bilberry tarts - delicious with cream!
  • Day-flying moths as well as butterflies abound this month, making the most of summer’s nectar rich flowers; beautiful yellow-underwing moths feed on the moorland heather. Why not set a moth trap overnight, and see the plethora of moths that are drawn to the lights? Returning to the trap in the morning to discover what’s inside is always fascinating.
  • Porpoise, dolphins and seals. If it’s a still day when you’re out at the coast and the tidal surge on the North Sea isn't strong, it’s worth keeping an eye on the water, especially from sea-top cliffs. With few cresting waves, it’s easier to spot the tell-tale fins of harbour porpoise and dolphins swimming offshore. If you’re lucky you may also see the bobbing head of a seal or two. You may also spot the Great Skua and Arctic Skua offshore as they migrate along the eastern coast back to Africa for winter. Binoculars are useful here!
  • Go on a spot of fossil hunting too. The coast around Whitby and Staithes is also renowned for its rich seams of fossils encased in the rocky cliffs and in pebbles on the shore. 

Responsible fossil hunting

Fossil hunting is great fun but please do follow our guidelines to prevent any unnecessary damage to our natural heritage.

  • Look for fossils in loose beach material
  • Only collect a small number
  • Keep detailed records (what, where, when)
  • Keep hammering to a minimum
  • Avoid disturbance to wildlife

We always recommend that you check local tide times. You can buy a copy of the tide timetable at the Gateway Centre in Staithes and various shops up and down the coast. Find it in the Bayfair newspaper or check the tide times online. Set out at least an hour before low tide to give yourself enough time to walk out and explore before heading back.

Stay well away from the base of steep cliffs and wear appropriate footwear and clothing.

Walk of the month

Take advantage of the long summer days to enjoy the National Park in a nutshell on a longer 11 mile walk from Ravenscar to Robin Hood's Bay. From the craggy heights of Ravenscar, the route runs across Howdale Moor for some classic moorland scenery before dropping down to the old Scarborough-to-Whitby railway line and along to the famous smugglers' haunt of Robin Hood's Bay. Both here and at nearby Boggle Hole you can indulge in a spot of rockpooling, before returning along the clifftop for exhilarating sea views along the Cleveland Way National Trail.

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their pointers on what else to look out for this month.

August is arguably the best month in North Yorkshire for dragonflies and damselflies (belonging to the order Odonata). The combination of a relatively warm and settled summer this year has created ideal conditions for these wonderful insects to flourish. In this blog, Richard Baines focuses on four species of dragonfly you should be looking out for in the coming weeks.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly copyright Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureThe first thing to make sure when you are looking for these species is to check the wings are held forward or at right angles to the body. Damselflies are often smaller and hold their wings parallel to the body or abdomen.

Different species are often associated with varying habitat and acidity of wetland pools. On heathland, acidic forest edge and moorland look-out for one of our largest dragonflies, the golden-ringed dragonfly. 

This magnificent insect is the only dragonfly in the UK belonging to the genus Cordulegaster. They are fearsome predators even as larvae (nymph), which can take 2-5 years to develop into the adult phase. During this time they live partially buried in mud at the base of a pond.

Keeled Skimmer (male) copyright Richard Baines Yorkshire Coast NatureLess common is the smaller keeled skimmer and even more of a specialist than the golden-ringed dragonfly. They prefer upland mire, bog and stream habitats. In our region they can be found in small numbers in the North York Moors National Park. 

Try Fen Bog, a great Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve. Keeled skimmer can be identified from the similar black-tailed skimmer by the lack of an area of obvious black on the base on the abdomen and by their pronounced keel on the dorsal part of the abdomen. At rest the wings of both males and females are often held well forward of the body.

One of our smallest dragonflies in these acidic habitats is the black darter. You have to keep keen eyed to spot these insects as they are very small but the males are our only black dragonfly. 

They prey on small flying insects often perching at a look out. In a similar way to other species, the head can turn through 180 degrees and the huge eyes give them amazing vision. Look-out for black darters across many large sites in the North York Moors National Park.

Migrant Hawker copyright Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureAs we move closer to September, look-out for one of the widest ranging species which can be found almost anywhere where there is a supply of insects to eat, the migrant hawker. 

These large dragonflies can be identified from other similar species by the presence of a clear golf-tee shaped yellow mark on segment two at the top of the abdomen. This species derived its name from status as a genuine migrant insect from the continent in the early part of the 20th Century. 

During recent warmer decades, it has colonised many parts of the UK and now breeds in our country. Look-out for them from late August and even later in the season, they have even been seen in November!