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.
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
The wonderful thing about wildlife is it's everywhere, from an urban concrete jungle to a wild national park. My strongest memory of this was when I was in my early teens walking through my home town of Middlesbrough in late July, something caught my eye flying fast over the roof tops. It was a Merlin no doubt on its way from the North York Moors National Park to the marshes of Teesmouth. It suddenly made my boring trip into town exciting!
Unexpected encounters can also happen in or close to our gardens. Mid-summer is a great time to look very closely at ponds large or small. Dragonflies are emerging in the warm weather from their creepy larval cases. Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) spend most of their lives as larva living underwater, larger species can take several years to develop and emerge from a pond whereas the adult dragonfly stage only lasts for a few weeks. The cooler the water the longer the development takes. If you find what you think is a larva count its legs there should be six, the same number as an adult.
This Southern Hawker has only just emerged from its case and is in the process of pumping fluids through its body to give it the strength to fly.
Dragonflies in the Hawker family emerge under the cover of darkness to reduce predation, this is especially important when you consider the whole process can take several hours. The shrivelled case left behind is called an exuvia.
The recent dry weather will have been great news to many species of Odonata, sudden storms or prolonged periods of rain can destroy the larval cases of emerging adults.
Wild flower meadows have sadly become an increasingly rare feature in our landscape. A field full of vibrant colour, delicate scent and the sound of pollinating insects can have a profoundly beneficial effect on our well-being. I was fortunate enough to visit one such meadow recently in the North York Moors National Park. The farmer had sown a special ‘bumble-bee’ seed mix, and wow what a wonderful display of flowers! The dominant species here is Ox-eye Daisy, also called Moon Daisy in some parts of the country. They are not only great for insects they were once used as a tonic to relieve coughs and colds. Ox-eye Daisy is relatively easy to establish in a sown flower meadow, they can also be found growing wild on roadside verges where flowers have been allowed to develop.
Unfortunately not all wild flowers grow so vigorously and commonly as Ox-eye Daisy. Many have become rare in the countryside. Dropwort is a good example of a flower which would have once been common across a large swathe of land from eastern Yorkshire to Cumbria in the west, following the line of calcareous soils created by the underlying geology of chalk and limestone.
I’m always on the lookout for Dropwort at this time of year, the flowering head can be a wonderful mixture of pink closed petals and white open flowers.
One of the most spectacular and common Orchids in bloom this month is the Common Spotted Orchid. It is particularly abundant by the side of limestone tracks in the forests across the National Park, including Dalby and Cropton, where hundreds can sometimes be seen. Above the forests on the wide open heather moorland, try looking for the similar but far less common Heath Spotted Orchid. These grow on more acid soils than Common Spotted and prefer wetter ground.
Check out the flowers of these Orchids. The prominent lobes on Orchids are also known as Labellum and Common Spotted has three of these.
Common Spotted show a series of marks on the central lobe which form a double loop. Heath Spotted has far less prominent lobes with smaller dots or marks which do not form a loop.
Find out more about the Cornfield Flowers project run by local farmers in North Yorkshire to increase the number of wild flowers in our countryside.
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