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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.

‘Did you hear that? it sounded like flying tin foil’ A female golden-ringed dragonfly buzzed passed us at close range showing off her sparkling wings. ‘Wow’ was the next word from the impressed wildlife enthusiast as she watched Britain’s largest dragonfly disappear across the purple heather.  

Large Red Damslefly copyright Richard BainesJuly is a great month to lookout for dragonflies and damselflies (belonging to the order Odonata). The first thing to remember when searching for these species is to check how the wings are held. Damselflies hold their wings parallel to the body or abdomen. Dragonfly wings extend out from their body at right angles.

Different species are often associated with varying habitat and acidity of wetland pools. On heathland, forest edge and moorland look-out for the golden-ringed dragonfly. This magnificent insect is the only dragonfly in the UK belonging to the genus Cordulegaster. They are fearsome predators even as larvae (nymph) which can take 2-5 years to develop into the adult phase. During this time, they live partially buried in mud at the base of a pond.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly copyright Dan LombardGolden-ringed dragonflies are hard to miss, but our only common all red damselfly; the large red is easy to overlook. The recent wet weather in June has provided new opportunities as previously dry forest ditches are now full of insect life. I found an overflowing ditch in Harwood Dale last week and counted over 50 large red damselflies. A study in 2008 found these damselflies react to chemical traces left by predatory dragonflies. When they detect danger, they forage less, staying motionless on a leaf.  

The great thing about the North York Moors National Park is you don’t always have to visit nature reserves to find these dragonflies and damselflies. A walk along one of the many footpaths in sheltered valleys or along forest edges where there are wet ditches or ponds will provide many opportunities to see these and other species of Odonata.

Golden-ringed aren’t the only big dragon to look out for in the coming weeks. If you see a large dragonfly along a forest ride it could be a southern hawker. At the other end of the scale is our smallest and only all black dragonfly (males) the black darter. They prey on small flying insects and often perch at a look out. In a similar way to other species the head can turn through 180 degrees and the huge eyes, give them amazing vision.