North York Moors

North York Moors logo
Browse section


Otter in waterOtter in water

Our great outdoors is full of colour now that summer is taking hold while the main breeding season has well and truly kicked in.

June and July are the best times for seeing the 21 beautiful orchid species that grow in the North York Moors. You'll most likely see the common spotted orchid, with its delicate pale pink flower spikes which grows in many different areas. If you're keen to see more of the other species, join Yorkshire Coast Nature on one of its wildflower tours.

A little further to the east, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Wharram Quarry reserve is a former chalk quarry home to pyramidal and spotted-orchids and sometimes an abundant display of bee orchids, whose flowers mimic bees to attract pollinators.

Our tip

Common seal pups are at their peak in June and July, watch out for nursing seal mothers along the Yorkshire Coast. Pups can swim straight away, so look out for them amongst the waves too. This sleek visitor to our shores is a demon fisherman, and will even nobble seabirds if they bob too close. The colony on the rocky shoreline below Ravenscar are very easy to spot. Enjoy the wildlife, but please respect the seals and their pups and keep your distance.

Also look out for:

  • Visit Marine Drive in Scarborough and see if you can spot the famous pair of peregrine falcons that usually nest on the cliffs here every year. Peregrines, our fastest bird of prey – reaching an incredible 200 mph and more in their high speed hunting dives or ‘stoops’ - are splendid to watch, with a regal air, sharp eyes, and bright yellow beak and claws. RSPB staff and volunteers will be on hand at the viewpoint every Friday and Sundays between May and July.
  • Otters living on the rivers Derwent, Rye, Dove and Esk will be very active now, supporting their fast growing cubs. A summertime stroll along the riverbanks might reward you with a glimpse of one of the area’s more elusive creatures. Visiting at dawn and dusk will increase your chances of spotting this shy mammal. Nunnington Hall, on the banks of the river Rye, is one place where you may be fortunate. But patience is key. Tread carefully and quietly, and keep upwind, as they are highly sensitive animals.
  • If you hear a gentle ‘splosh’ whilst walking beside a slow moving stream it may well be a water vole taking the plunge. Look out for telltale round burrows excavated in the banks of rivers, ditches, ponds, and streams. These cute little mammals look like little clockwork toys, paddling quickly through the water. Equally at home in upland pools and streams, and as elusive as the otter, count yourself very lucky if you happen to see one.
  • Our species-rich special road verges are at their best in early summer; meadow cranesbill, common knapweed, ox-eye daisy, field scabious, meadow vetchling and yarrow make for a colourful combination. You may even spot a greater butterfly orchid at Hutton le Hole. Rievaulx Terrace is another excellent place to visit; the wooded bank between its two temples will be simply awash with wildflowers. They are also thriving in the open areas at The Yorkshire Arboretum which are being turned into wildflower meadows.
  • Head out at dusk to our forests to hear the curious soft churring calls of a nightjar, it's quite a surreal experience. They feed on midges and moths and like to hang out in young conifer plantations. Try Broxa, Wykeham or Cropton Forests.

Walk of the month

Enjoy a wonderful array of wildflowers that blanket the floor of Little Beck Wood and Sneaton Forest next door, with a wealth of birdlife. You're likely to see redstarts, pied flycatchers and woodwarblers in spring and summer, while green and greater-spotted woodpecker live here all year round.

Falling Foss, the 9m waterfall found in a secretive wooded valley, is particularly impressive after heavy rain and is complete with magical tea garden. Think homemade cakes and pots of tea served at outdoor tables in a rustic glade. Children will love paddling in the beck and playing pooh sticks on the bridge too. Take our short walk from May Beck or start in Littlebeck hamlet and head straight through Little Beck Wood Nature Reserve, a delightful broadleaved woodland, to reach Falling Foss.

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.

Summer is almost upon us, the new colours of May become a familiar sight as huge numbers of insects take flight. “Green was the silence, wet was the light; the month of June trembled like a butterfly.” (Pablo Neruda). 

Painted lady Credit Dan Lombard Yorkshire Coast NatureButterflies bring joy to many of us, in Yorkshire we have some wonderful species to see. On the coast or inland, look out for a painted lady in June. These amazing insects fly thousands of miles every year to reach our shores from southern Europe and North Africa. Once here they mate, lay eggs and die. The resulting new generation emerge in late summer. 

The great thing about seeing a painted lady in June is you can be fairly sure it’s a true migrant; they are often paler or worn from their long journey. They are sensitive to cold temperatures so they cannot overwinter here, many die in the autumn and some fly south attempting to reach warmer weather on the continent. Coastal habitats can be good but they can travel inland quickly so keep a look out in your garden wherever you live.

June is also a good month for another migrant butterfly the vivid clouded yellow. These are usually seen in much smaller numbers than the painted lady apart from during invasion years. In 1947 36,000 individuals were counted! Look out for their brilliant yellow during periods of warm weather with gentle winds from any southerly direction. Meadows and cliff top habitats with wild flowers are good places. 

Grey Wagtail copyright Richard BainesAs I write this in mid-may our resident birds are busy feeding nestlings, by June many will have flown the nest. Grey wagtails are such elegant birds and must be one of our most overlooked species sporting a wonderful mix of slate grey, black and bright yellow. Their tails are shorter than the similar pied wagtail which has no yellow in its plumage. They are most likely to be confused with the yellow wagtail but this species doesn’t have a slate great mantle and head. Look out for grey wagtails along streams and rivers. They can also be equally at home in towns and villages with watercourses. On a recent visit to Pickering town centre I saw a male grey wagtail carrying food to its nest.

Foraging for wild food has undergone a recent resurgence in our country. One of the most exciting edible fruits must be the wild strawberry. The fruits pack a taste punch for such a small offering and they are fruiting in June. Look out for them in woodland glades, clearings and unimproved grasslands. Strawberries have a rich history of culinary uses and spiritual meaning. They were a symbol for the goddess of beauty, love, and fertility in ancient Rome. The closely related barren strawberry is often confused with the fruiting variety but they can be separated from wild strawberry by the terminal tooth of the leaf being shorter than those on either side in barren.

Common Fumitory copyright Richard Baines Yorkshire Coast NatureLook out for common fumitory on the edge of arable fields and on rough disturbed ground. This once common flower has recently become much less common due to arable intensification. Rich in medicinal folklore, fumitory was used to treat many ailments including stomach and gall problems, although herbal practitioners had to be extremely careful as the stems are poisonous. 

Turtle doves were once a common bird throughout England and Wales. They have undergone a large decline in numbers not only in the UK but also in Europe. 

These beautiful birds undertake a long migration from Africa each year to reach us. 

June is a great time to see them and hear the soft purring song which is such a soothing and unusual call. On their migration they not only have to survive natural hazards, they are also shot in large numbers in the Mediterranean. In parts of North Yorkshire they can still be seen in small numbers. 

Best places to look out for them are around the North York Moors National Park Centre at Sutton Bank and in the Great Yorkshire Forest. If you see or hear one be sure to log your sighting or if you would like to donate to this valuable conservation cause see the national Turtle Dove website.