North York Moors

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June

Otter in waterOtter in water

Our great outdoors is full of colour now that summer is taking hold while the main breeding season has well and truly kicked in.

June and July are the best times for seeing the 21 beautiful orchid species that grow in the North York Moors. You'll most likely see the common spotted orchid, with its delicate pale pink flower spikes which grows in many different areas. If you're keen to see more of the other species, join Yorkshire Coast Nature on one of its wildflower tours.

A little further to the east, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Wharram Quarry reserve is a former chalk quarry home to pyramidal and spotted-orchids and sometimes an abundant display of bee orchids, whose flowers mimic bees to attract pollinators.

Our tip

Common seal pups are at their peak in June and July, watch out for nursing seal mothers along the Yorkshire Coast. Pups can swim straight away, so look out for them amongst the waves too. This sleek visitor to our shores is a demon fisherman, and will even nobble seabirds if they bob too close. The colony on the rocky shoreline below Ravenscar are very easy to spot. Enjoy the wildlife, but please respect the seals and their pups and keep your distance.

Also look out for:

  • Visit Marine Drive in Scarborough and see if you can spot the famous pair of peregrine falcons that usually nest on the cliffs here every year. Peregrines, our fastest bird of prey – reaching an incredible 200 mph and more in their high speed hunting dives or ‘stoops’ - are splendid to watch, with a regal air, sharp eyes, and bright yellow beak and claws. RSPB staff and volunteers will be on hand at the viewpoint every Friday and Sundays between May and July.
  • Otters living on the rivers Derwent, Rye, Dove and Esk will be very active now, supporting their fast growing cubs. A summertime stroll along the riverbanks might reward you with a glimpse of one of the area’s more elusive creatures. Visiting at dawn and dusk will increase your chances of spotting this shy mammal. Nunnington Hall, on the banks of the river Rye, is one place where you may be fortunate. But patience is key. Tread carefully and quietly, and keep upwind, as they are highly sensitive animals.
  • If you hear a gentle ‘splosh’ whilst walking beside a slow moving stream it may well be a water vole taking the plunge. Look out for telltale round burrows excavated in the banks of rivers, ditches, ponds, and streams. These cute little mammals look like little clockwork toys, paddling quickly through the water. Equally at home in upland pools and streams, and as elusive as the otter, count yourself very lucky if you happen to see one.
  • Our species-rich special road verges are at their best in early summer; meadow cranesbill, common knapweed, ox-eye daisy, field scabious, meadow vetchling and yarrow make for a colourful combination. You may even spot a greater butterfly orchid at Hutton le Hole. Rievaulx Terrace is another excellent place to visit; the wooded bank between its two temples will be simply awash with wildflowers. They are also thriving in the open areas at The Yorkshire Arboretum which are being turned into wildflower meadows.
  • Head out at dusk to our forests to hear the curious soft churring calls of a nightjar, it's quite a surreal experience. They feed on midges and moths and like to hang out in young conifer plantations. Try Broxa, Wykeham or Cropton Forests.

Walk of the month

Enjoy a wonderful array of wildflowers that blanket the floor of Little Beck Wood and Sneaton Forest next door, with a wealth of birdlife. You're likely to see redstarts, pied flycatchers and woodwarblers in spring and summer, while green and greater-spotted woodpecker live here all year round.

Falling Foss, the 9m waterfall found in a secretive wooded valley, is particularly impressive after heavy rain and is complete with magical tea garden. Think homemade cakes and pots of tea served at outdoor tables in a rustic glade. Children will love paddling in the beck and playing pooh sticks on the bridge too. Take our short walk from May Beck or start in Littlebeck hamlet and head straight through Little Beck Wood Nature Reserve, a delightful broadleaved woodland, to reach Falling Foss.

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's Richard Baines' pointers on what else to look out for this month.

As I walk across the open windswept hills of the North York Moors National Park in search of wading birds my eye is taken by a riot of colour under my feet. Amongst the burnt dry heather, patches of new life thrive on waterlogged ground. Vibrant moss everywhere I look!

The only way to really appreciate these beautiful plants is to get down into their world. I drop onto my belly to see them really close, against dark storm clouds. The protective tips which contain the spores (sporophyte) of dwarf haircap reach for the sky like a forest of tiny lanterns. Small droplets of water glistening at the base of each cylindrical capsule.  Dwarf Haircap moss II credit Richard Baines

By the side of the spore tips is a blazing carpet of dwarf haircap at a different stage of growth. Each tiny structure like a flower. A riot of colours; yellow, green and red in a fabulous spiked rosette. Looking back at my photos I am struck by the contrast between this new life and the black and grey of the surrounding burnt ground. A fabulous colour palette; death of winter and the re-birth of spring side by side.

It is this precise combination of bare ground and tiny plants which bring waders such as golden plover, lapwing, snipe, curlew and with luck, migrant dotterel to our National Park. This hidden, wet dwelling place harbours the insect food these birds need to thrive.  

Common Haircap Moss - Polytrichum commune credit Richard BainesWithout the water, the burnt land remains dry. No burgeoning forth, the seasonal cycle is lost and a dead world, empty of bird song follows in the summer. If we really treasure these birds, we must look after and promote water retention on the moors. Dry ground soon falls silent.    

So now I’m hooked on mosses, a gorgeously geeky world ignored by big foot but appreciated by tiny toed waders. Look-out for dwarf haircap moss on the moors and in many other parts of the UK. If you fancy delving deeper into this small and beautiful world, Nature Spot has a really good moss photo guide.