North York Moors

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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 Richard Baines from Yorkshire Coast Nature says you should be looking for this month.

I have grown up with the haunting sound of Curlews inspiring my senses and lifting my spirit. They have always been there... On many of my walks I have been followed by a ‘courlieu’, from the valleys and moorland of the North York Moors National Park to the lowland flood meadows by the River Derwent. But in recent years many of these fields have fallen silent. I don’t need to read the stats to know these amazing birds could well be in trouble, I can hear the loss with my own ears.

Eurasian Curlew II copyright Richard BainesIn my work I am lucky enough to meet some wonderful landowners who actively help turn the tide of fortune for these and many other ‘farmland’ birds.

In May of this year, I rolled up at a farm to carry out bird surveys for the North York Moors National Park and was greeted by exactly such a farmer.

When I meet a landowner who tells me he wants to do anything he can to help wildlife, I am naturally inspired to invest more time and encouragement to help his work.

Nestled in a wide valley of small grass fields, flanked by moorland on the higher ground near Danby, this small farm was full of birds.

At least four pairs of Barn Swallow flew out of the stock yard as I got out of the car, followed by the wonderful sound of lapwing and curlew singing nearby.

On my second visit in June, the same fields had changed beyond recognition. The short grass with few flowers had grown into a beautiful swaying sward, awash with delicate colours. And there in the same fields were the Curlew I found in May, but this time they were protecting a precious youngster.

Curlew chick copyright Richard BainesThe mosaic of short and tall grassland created a perfect environment for it to hide. Just as importantly, the farmer had left a wet corner in the field where the soft mud provided a home for invertebrates. This simple choice by the farm to value a small area of wet ground created excellent feeding habitat for the Curlew family.

The farmer had grazed some of the fields earlier in the spring with small numbers of sheep, then moved the grazing to allow the grass to develop and recover. In other adjacent fields, he had resisted pressure to take a silage cut at the end of May. Instead, he left the fields to develop with a view to cutting for hay later in the summer or early autumn.

This simple balance of farming with the need of nature had a huge benefit for wildlife. A silage cut of all the hay fields at the end of May would have either left the Curlew chicks vulnerable to predators or killed these and many other ground nesting birds. Watching closely where the Curlew and Lapwing were on his farm allowed him to achieve that balance.

Inspired by his work, I looked out across the valley from above his farm for other signs of balance. Sadly, many of the fields had been cut with virtually no sign of safe fields for Curlew. Not surprisingly, these fields were the ones with large numbers of Crows and Gulls feasting on the remains of nesting birds.

As many people flock to this and other National Parks in the UK to enjoy our amazing landscapes and communities, I sincerely hope we can help our natural heritage by putting a higher value on wildlife. Communities need sustainable local advice and long-term financial support otherwise these inspirational farmers will be lost along with these amazing birds.