North York Moors

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August

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 a month of plenty. Whether you’re raising your family or planning on migration you need a lot of food and this is often the best month to put on weight with lots of insects and fruit around!

Little Grebe copyright Richard BainesThis is a great month to visit wetlands from small ponds to larger lakes where a huge variety of wildlife can be found. One of our most successful water birds is the little grebe, one of four species of grebe which nest in the UK, these very attractive birds are full of character. Their long beautiful rippling call echoes around wetlands throughout the year making it easier to find them. In early August look out for their chicks being fed by both parents. When Richard took this photo, the tiny chicks were being fed on damselfly which they picked from the surface. They can have up to four broods but many chicks are lost to floods washing out the nest earlier in the season.

One of the most graceful seabirds on our coast is the Northern fulmar. Their stiff winged, effortless flight is spell binding to watch as they glide over the waves. They can travel long distances from their nest to find food and be gone for up to 5 days at a time before they return to feed their chick with planktonic crustaceans, squid and small fish. August is a great time to see the chicks but they can choose cracks in the cliffs to hide so you may have to look hard to find them. Try watching to see where the parents fly and listen for their crazy cackling call as they approach the nest.

If they manage to evade the large number of predators, damselflies are fantastic insects to watch and photograph. Our commonest is the common blue damselfly but look out for the very similar azure damselfly. They can be told apart by the shape of the blue and black segments on the abdomen. One of the easiest points to see is the end of the abdomen. In common blue both segments at the end of the abdomen appear blue whereas in azure, only segment eight is blue.

Bog Asphodel and cross-leaved heath copyright Richard BainesUp on the moorland of the North York Moors National Park, the heather or ling is in full flower. This is the best month to experience the purple haze! There is another species of wild heather often found close by, especially on wet ground. Cross-leaved heath is worth looking out for; it has linear leaves arranged in whorls and large distinctly pink-purple flowers. In this photo, it can be seen alongside bog asphodel. This stunning flower has a long history of folklore. Its Latin name translates as the ‘bone breaker’ referring to a mistaken belief that sheep eating the flower developed brittle bones.

In warm weather and during southerly winds originating from continental Europe, insect migration can be a fabulous sight. Many of our common butterflies and moths migrate and August is a great month to look out for some wonderful species on the Yorkshire Coast and beyond. The peacock butterfly and silver Y moth are two of our most familiar migrant insects but few people realise the amazing journeys they can make every year. A UK study at the turn of the new millennia found migrating butterflies flew at speeds up to 100km/hr and even had the ability to adjust their trajectory in adverse conditions such as northerly winds.

The hummingbird hawk moth is another amazing migrant arriving on our shores throughout late summer. They take up nectar and moisture through a tube like proboscis. Suction is provided by an air sac in the moth’s head which contracts and expands to suck up the food. Look out for them anywhere there are irresistible flowers such as buddleia and lavender.
One of our favourite plants in Yorkshire flowering in August is hemp agrimony. Often known as raspberries and cream due to its pink and white flowers it is fabulous for attracting butterflies and its tall structure is great for photographing insects at head height! Look out for it in woodland rides across the county or if you’re designing a wildlife garden consider planting it. Another common flower, good for attracting butterflies is common fleabane. A member of the daisy family its leaves have a slightly soapy smell when bruised and it was once used as a cure for many ailments including dysentery and as a paste to heal wounds.