Nature suddenly bursts into life bringing fresh green shoots, leaves and flowers, the heady scent of wild garlic in woodlands, while the sounds of bird song and bleating lambs fill the air.
The famed Farndale wild daffodils appear alongside the river Dove in time for Easter, subject to the weather of course! They're said to have been planted by the monks from nearby Rievaulx Abbey. Wild daffodils are smaller and more delicate, and the trumpet shaped flower is a paler yellow.
Head to the coast to see kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, gannets, fulmar, shag and everyone’s favourite – the puffin – returning to the Yorkshire cliffs after spending the winter out at sea. Kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmar nest on Cowbar Nab headland, sheltering the picturesque fishing village of Staithes.
Head further south to Flamborough Cliffs and Bempton Cliffs to enjoy the sight of puffins nesting, or marvel at the only mainland gannet breeding colony in England at Bempton Cliffs. These large streamlined white birds are renowned for plunging into the sea at astonishing speeds when they hunt for fish. They pair for life and return to the same nest. By midsummer the huge colony is an amazing sight, sound and smell!
Also look out for:
- Blackthorn, one of the earliest trees to blossom, with a froth of clustered white flowers on thorny branches appearing before the leaves have burst bud. Make a note of it flowering now in woodland, scrub and hedgerows, then remember to come back in the autumn to harvest some of its fruits – sloes – to make traditional sloe gin!
- The soft, bubbling call of the curlew really heralds the start of spring. This ground nesting bird prefers wet marshlands, rough grassland and moors. Look out for overhead flocks – easy to spot with their long curved beaks. The North York Moors has the UK's highest density of breeding curlew on open moorland so you've got a good chance of seeing them on any moorland walk. You'll also find them in the Howardian Hills in the Coxwold-Gilling Gap, Dalby Bush Fen and the River Derwent floodplains.
- Ring ouzels will be arriving on the moors around Rosedale, Farndale and Spaunton having flown back from their wintering grounds in Spain and north west Africa. This bird is in decline and this is one of just a few upland areas where they still breed. See a blackbird with a distinct white bib flying up out of the heather? It’s a ring ouzel. They favour dense ground cover so count yourself lucky if you see this charismatic little bird. Find out how the This Exploited Land of Iron landscape partnership project is supporting these birds.
- Emperor moths are spectacular orange and yellow day-flying moths with striking eyespot patterns on their four wings, emerging from cocoons on the moors on warm April days, having fed on heather the previous year. Spot them in the Hole of Horcum or at Fen Bog , near Goathland.
Walk of the month
Follow our famous Daffodil walk from Low Mill to Church Houses; you'll find them along the riverbanks and in the churchyard at Church Houses.
Fantastic wild daffodil displays also appear in Rosedale and Hell Bank Wood near Appleton le Moors. Equally stunning are the planted displays in the grounds of Castle Howard in the Howardian Hills or along the riverbanks in Helmsley.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
One of my favourite experiences on a nature walk is the thrill of discovering something special, something new which may have been missed by others. We don’t need to go far, often the best place to start looking is right where you are now! On the edge of our gardens, in our local urban parks or a little further away in our local woodlands, there is a fabulous spectrum of colour hiding under our feet. Plants are a great way to start on a journey of nature discovery.
Spring is the best month for getting deep under the trees and searching for ancient woodland indicator plants. A good definition of what we mean by an ancient woodland is provided by the Woodland Trust:
'Ancient woods are areas of woodland that have persisted since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. This is when maps started to be reasonably accurate so we can tell that these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years. They are relatively undisturbed by human development.'
Ancient woodland indicators are therefore a range of plants, which by their nature are very slow at growing and lack the adaptability to colonise new land. This means that if we find them, it may mean the land is either an ancient woodland or may have been at some point in history covered in trees and very old. However, we don’t need to be in an ancient woodland to find these special plants, which is what I find so cool, it's nature detective time! I often look for them under hedgerows. If I find lots of indicator species, it could mean the hedge is ancient and was once linked to a very old woodland.
Here are three ancient woodland indicator species to look out for.
Shining like a white star under the canopy of a woodland, Wood Anemones are wonderful flowers of early spring. They spread very slowly often only six feet in a hundred years! Every patch of this beautiful flower is precious.
Of the three flowers here, they are the most restricted to woodlands. However, I once found them covering an open field, which must have been a woodland, not that long ago.
Unmistakable and easily recognised, primroses are often planted in gardens.
The native variety is easily spotted in woodlands and an important early nectar source for early emerging butterflies such as Small White and Orange Tip.
You get the biggest prize when you find one or more of these beautiful flowers close to home.
However, watch out, many gardens or hedgerows have the non-native Spanish Bluebell.
You can make sure by checking if the flowers are growing on one side of the stem and drooping. Spanish flowers are arranged around the stem, the plant structure is more upright and less delicate than the English Bluebell.
Lockdown has kept me closer to home and reminded me that the most amazing things in nature are often closer than you think.
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