North York Moors

North York Moors logo
Browse section


Farndale daffodils by Catriona McLeesFarndale daffodils by Catriona McLees

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.

Our tip

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

The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their advice on what else to look out for this month. This month Yorkshire Coast Nature’s and North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer, Richard Baines focuses on the turtle dove.

Saving Turtle Doves in North Yorkshire

Birdsong is as important to our wellbeing as any other form of cultural heritage. Certain species bridge the divide between people and nature. Nightingale and turtle dove are two of those birds. Poets and authors such as Wordsworth and Shakespeare wrote so eloquently about the beauty and influence of birdsong. My personal favourite passage was written by Thomas Bewick in 1826 in his iconic book ‘A History of British Birds’:

Singularly tender and plaintive: in addressing his mate, the male makes use of a variety of winning attitudes, cooing at the same time in the most gentle and soothing accents; on which account this bird has been represented in all ages, as the most perfect emblem of connubial attachment and constancy”.

Turtle dove in the North York Moors Credit Richard BainesThe beautiful, soporific purring song of a male turtle dove can be heard from late April until they leave the UK in September. However, the song these iconic authors enjoyed is becoming increasingly difficult to hear. This once common sound throughout lowland England is now rare. Turtle doves have declined in Europe by 30-49% in 15.9 years and Defra figures calculate the UK decline to be 51% in only four years between 2013 and 2017.

Loss of native wildflower seed and unsustainable hunting, both legal and illegal on their migration route, has led to the risk that turtle doves could be extinct in the near future if conditions don’t improve.

Turtle doves have been loved as a Yorkshire bird for a very long time. They increased in numbers at the end of the 19th Century owing to changes in available habitat and nesting opportunities in newly planted forests. Sadly, we are now left with only a small population of these doves in the eastern part of North Yorkshire.

In 2016, I set up the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project and for the past three years have been working part-time for the North York Moors National Park as their Turtle Dove Project Officer. In that short time, we have gone from starting the first ever surveys of turtle doves in Yorkshire to implementing a new North Yorkshire Turtle Dove grant to increase habitat. I am proud of what we have achieved but we are still only at the beginning of a long fight to save these precious birds.

Two ways you can help
  • Come along to our Turtle Dove event on the 25 April at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Find out more about our local project and join a free birdwatching walk. EVENT POSTPONED DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
  • Support Operation Turtle Dove. Visit their national website to find out how you can help.