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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 Richard Baines' pointers on what else to look out for this month.

Comma on Buddleia (c) Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureNon-native plants often get a justified bad rap because many of them can damage our native flora. Buddleia however brings such a glorious display of colour and valuable nectar source that it is rarely considered a major pest. 

It was first recorded in the UK in Merionethshire, Wales in 1922; since then it has become very common in many parts of the UK.  

August is the best month to look out for this shrub as it attracts large numbers of insects especially butterflies of the genus Vanessa, including Red Admiral, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Painted Lady. 

Keep your eyes peeled for Comma butterflies. 

In flight their colour can be mistaken for the commoner Small Tortoiseshell but the orange covers a greater extent of their wings and is more vibrant. When Commas are at rest, the wavy edge to the wings can be seen and on the underwing, look out for the tiny ‘comma’ mark.  

Four-banded Longhorn (c) Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureLate July this year has seen big numbers of our white butterflies using Buddleia. I counted over 30 on a plant recently. There are three common species to look out for in August: Large White, Small White and Green-veined White.

Another popular flower for insects and these larger butterflies is Hemp Agrimony, look out for its pale pink-white flowers growing along woodland rides such as those in the Great Yorkshire Forest. 

This is also a great flower to seek out Longhorn beetles such as the Four-banded Longhorn. This spectacular group of insects number over 20,000 worldwide with around 60 species in the UK. Their long antennae are used to smell and locate a mate.

Rare and scarce wildlife to look out for

The recent warm summer has seen a surge in rare insect sightings as many species shift northwards from the continent. A recent colonist in our area is the Small Red-eyed Damselfly. It was first seen in the UK in 1999 but there are far fewer found in cooler summers so this is the year to seek one out! 

Look out for their delicate black and blue abdomen and their characteristic red eye. They favour fresh water, often still or very slow moving in ditches or ponds crucially where there is floating vegetation with plants such as Hornwort. The Yorkshire Dragonfly Group is a great website for information and be sure to report your sightings if you find one of these beautiful insects.

Camberwell Beauty (c) Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureLooking closely at butterflies on Buddleia can bring a rare reward. On 25 August 2006 at Flamborough, the late Martin Garner and I caught sight of a larger butterfly flying across my garden. It rested on a wooden post and that’s when I realised it was a rare Camberwell Beauty! 

I was so excited I nearly forgot to take a photo, I managed to capture two images before it flew away never to be seen again. August is the best month to look out for these spectacular continental butterflies. 

Their strong flight helps them make it across the North Sea. One was even seen flying past the Yorkshire Bell RSPB cruise from Bridlington a few years ago.