North York Moors

North York Moors logo
Browse section

July

Common blue butterflyCommon blue butterfly

It's high summer and huge oaks, ashes and beeches in full leaf are supporting hundreds of insects and birds; these ‘natural cathedrals’ are looking magnificent. Have a wander through a wildflower meadow too.

White carpets of cotton-grass on the boggy fell plateaux, heavy with soft white seed heads, will be a glorious sight; the fluffy ‘flower’ heads look like cotton wool balls blowing in the warm breeze. This sedge’s soft fibres were once used for stuffing mattresses and pillows, and in the First World War it was harvested with sphagnum moss to make wound dressings. Look out for it growing on the moor tops in wet, peaty, blanket bog conditions. Blakey Ridge between Hutton le Hole and the Lion Inn is a good place, looking west toward Farndale.

Our tip

At the National Trust managed Bridestones, stroll through the wildflower meadows at Dovedale along the route of the Bridestones Trail and you’ll also see a fine example of an ancient Sessile Oak wood. Alternatively pay a visit to Duncombe Park National Nature Reserve, near Helmsley, home to many gnarled trunks of ancient and veteran trees. It includes the most important northerly lowland pasture oak woodland in England. Find a giant specimen and give it a hug!

Also look out for:

  • The heady rich scent of lavender which will be filling the air now at lavender farms, along with bees and butterflies, hungry for nectar supplied by the beautiful flowers. As harvesting gets underway towards the end of the month, see Wolds Way Lavender’s wood fired distillery, the only one in the country.
  • Dragonflies, damselflies, skimmers, and hawkers will be really active during the warm sunny hours. Look out for them skimming fast over peatland bogs, lakes, and watercourses as they seek out partners to mate with. You'll find Common and Southern Hawkers; Emerald, Common Blue and Large Red damselflies at Goathland Tarn while Banded Demoiselle damselflies with their coloured wings can be seen on a stroll along the river Rye and Derwent in the Howardian Hills.
  • Kingfishers! One of the most brilliantly-coloured birds in Britain. You may be fortunate to see a flash of brilliant-blue when you walk by a river or lake as a kingfisher dashes across water, or it makes a shallow dive to catch small fish. A good place to try is at the pond-dipping pond at Guisborough Forest and Walkway.

Walk of the month

July is a perfect time for a butterfly walk. Butterflies on the wing to look out for this month include ringlet, comma, meadow brown, common blue, small tortoiseshells, small pearl-bordered fritillary, large heath and dark green fritillary. Caukleys Bank near Nunnington (pdf) is a good area for spotting a variety of species and the views into the Howardian Hills AONB and across the Vale of Pickering to the North York Moors make the perfect backdrop.

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

Here's what else experts Yorkshire Coast Nature say you should be looking for this month.

By the time you read this, the mid-summer solstice will have passed and days will be shortening! July is a very busy month for wildlife. Some of our migrant birds finish their breeding cycle and start fattening up ready for their long journeys whilst many insects are on the verge of their busiest season as they emerge into the summer sunshine. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature's Richard Baines explores the contrasting fortunes of shorebird bird migration on the coast, with balmy day’s further inland in search of two of the most iconic butterflies in Yorkshire.

By the middle of July most of our nesting shorebirds will have finished breeding. Look out for the first gathering flocks of golden plover and lapwing as the young birds follow the adults to pasture and open fields in search of water and insect food. Close by on the coast some of our nesting birds may be mingling with the first returning arctic birds such as bar-tailed godwit and black-tailed godwits. 

One of the great thrills of late July is seeing the numbers of wading birds increasing on the whole stretch of the Yorkshire coast, from the Jurassic rocky shores in the north to the vast muddy Humber to the south.

Turnstone Credit Dan Lombard, Yorkshire Coast NatureTurnstones are one of our most familiar birds on the coast. They are brave and hardy souls, regularly found feeding in seaside harbours such as Whitby and Scarborough. Not shy to dodge sun seekers sandals in search of a scrap of food, they are one of the few shorebirds which can be found here in June. The small numbers in mid-summer will be non-breeding birds which have not returned to the Arctic. 

July brings the first returning adults back to our shores after their short and busy breeding season. In north-western Europe, Spitsbergen has some of the highest densities of nesting birds, especially around the western fjords close to the coast; if this population winters on our shores their journey would be approximately 3,000km. 

What a contrast if you’re a turnstone wintering in Australasia… A geo-locator fitted to a bird in Australia in 2009 showed an initial non-stop flight of around 7,600 km to Taiwan in six days. After re-fuelling they flew north to the Yellow Sea coast of China. A final flight of over 5,000 km then took place to their breeding grounds in northern Siberia by the first week of June.

Marbled White copyright Dan LombardA few kilometres inland, nestled amongst the grasslands and forests of North Yorkshire two very different butterflies are on the wing in July. 

The marbled white has got to be one of the easiest insects to identify in the UK. Their stunning black and white checkerboard pattern, strong flight and decent size make them easy to spot. 

Look out for them in chalk and limestone grasslands, and they can just as easily be found on the coast as further inland. 

The females can sometime be seen egg-laying and surprisingly they don’t lay them carefully on a leaf or stem like other species, they drop the eggs out of their abdomen as they fly or whilst perched on a grass stem.

White-letter Hairstreak Copyright Allan RoddaFrom one of the easiest butterflies to spot to one of the hardest, the white-letter hairstreak. The larvae of these small and delicate insects mainly feed on the flowers of elm. They perch with their wings closed and spend most of their short four week adult life feeding on aphid honeydew in the canopy of an elm tree! 

These habits defiantly make it a challenge to find one. However they are often tempted down from the canopy by the lure of bramble, thistle or other tempting flowers under an elm. A great example is this photo taken by local naturalist Allan Roddha in 2013 near Scarborough showing a Hairstreak feeding on Thistle flowers. 

So keep your eyes peeled for these beautiful butterflies in July, if you find any please report your sightings to the Yorkshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation (VC62 for the North York Moors).