17 wildlife and outdoor experiences in Yorkshire

Puffins on Flamborough Clifftops by Julie Taylor

Puffins on Flamborough Clifftops by Julie Taylor - Credit: Archant

Tom Marshall of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust picks some of the best wildlife and outdoor experiences for the year ahead

Harbour porpoises off the Yorkshire coast

Harbour porpoises off the Yorkshire coast - Credit: Niki Clear

A sense of porpoise – Scarborough

Scarborough’s Marine Drive (or more specifically the patch of North Sea just beyond it) is one of the finest places in northern England to glimpse our smallest cetacean – the harbour porpoise. Sometimes remarkably close in shore, look out for parents and youngsters on calm summer days.

Marsh orchids at Flamborough

Marsh orchids at Flamborough - Credit: Philip Precey

Purple patch – Flamborough

The cliffs of Flamborough need no introduction for their comical residents, the puffins, but a trip to North Landing and Briel Nook in May will also be rewarded with a profusion of purple orchids just moments from the car park. Skylarks provide the soundtrack to this colourful display.

A bittern

A bittern - Credit: Jamie Hall

Once bittern – Old Moor, Doncaster

The Dearne Valley is building an enviable reputation as one of the finest places in Yorkshire to spot a secretive bittern during spring and summer. A number of pairs bred in 2016, with regular feeding flights enjoyed from a variety of well-placed hides.


Otter - Credit: Amy Lewis

It’s getting otter – Tophill Low, Driffield

After a visit to the new visitor centre, head to the otter hide where these sought-after creatures can make an appearance. A supporting cast of barn owls and kingfishers can also add to the show.

A ring ouzel

A ring ouzel - Credit: n/a

Ouzel clever boy – Rosedale Moor

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The ring ouzel or ‘mountain blackbird’ returns to Yorkshire in March, and for a few short weeks you may get a glimpse of these rare visitors as they sing atop mountain ash and other trees among the jagged, rocky moorland edge.

Water vole

Water vole - Credit: Tom Marshall

Vole in the wall – Redmires, Sheffield

Wyming Brook and other inlets to the Redmires Reservoir complex play host to ‘Ratty’ the water vole. A range of trails follow the bankside so listen for the distinctive ‘plop’ or noisy chewing!

Marbled white butterfly at Brockadale

Marbled white butterfly at Brockadale - Credit: Tom Marshall

Winging it – Brockadale, Pontefract

With its gently warmed, sunny, south facing slopes, the flower-rich meadows of Brockadale are alive with butterflies during spring and summer. Marbled whites can abound in their hundreds, with the stunning dark green fritillary choosing quieter corners. Tiny skippers are joined by the wonderfully-named painted lady and peacock among many more.


Goshawk - Credit: Andrew Mason

Let us prey – Wykeham Valley

East of Scarborough, the sweeping valley of Wykeham with its wooded escarpments is a popular aerial playground for birds of prey, keen to catch thermals as they deliver perfect air to glide on. Buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks are here, while occasional red kites and migrating ospreys may make a summertime appearance. Magnificent goshawks are a real treat, along with the occasional honey buzzard, and the tiny merlin.

An adult grey seal

An adult grey seal - Credit: Tom Marshall

Seal the deal – Whitby, Filey, Bridlington

A range of locally-skippered boat trips can get you eye-to-eye with grey seals and their youngsters beneath the Dover-beating 400ft high white cliffs of the Yorkshire coast. A low-tide walk at Filey and the famous brigg may also find you face-to-face with a snoozing seal in autumn. Be sure to give them space and respect.

Deer at Studley Royal by Terence Irwin

Deer at Studley Royal by Terence Irwin - Credit: Archant

Stag do – Studley Royal, Ripon

Each October, male deer strut their stuff in a bid to gain control of a harem of females for the season ahead. Kings of the hill are the formidable red deer stags with an impressive array of antlers, while fallow deer and smaller sika deer are also in attendance on this stage of furry testosterone.

A greater spotted woodpecker

A greater spotted woodpecker - Credit: Mike Snelle

Knock on wood – Adel Dam, Leeds

Close to the city, the knarled trees of Adel Dam are a favourite haunt of woodpeckers. Great spotted woodpeckers may start drumming as early as January, and the area also provides a chance to seek out the sparrow-sized and increasingly scarce lesser spotted woodpecker, high among the canopy.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel - Credit: Mike Snelle

Go nuts for squirrels – Snaizeholme, Yorkshire Dales

Smaller than its non-native American cousin, the tuft-eared and diminutive red squirrel finds refuge in just a few special places in Britain, including the Dales. Self-guided trails and a feeding station increase your chances of a glimpse.

Salmon leaping

Salmon leaping - Credit: Ken Jensen

Leap of faith – Stainforth Force, Yorkshire Dales

Every autumn, as river levels rise around the county, Atlantic salmon begin their almost impossible and relentless migration upstream to our uplands. At Stainforth and other waterfalls, watch their remarkable leaps into the rushing waters (best in the early morning or evening after recent rains).

Gannets on Bempton Cliffs by Julie Taylor

Gannets on Bempton Cliffs by Julie Taylor - Credit: Archant

Seabird cities – Flamborough Headland

Perhaps Yorkshire’s headline act when it comes to wildlife, the puffins of Bempton and Flamborough Cliffs remain a huge draw from April-July each year. In contrast to their diminutive size, sitting alongside them with a 6ft wingspan you’ll find England’s only mainland colony of gannets – our largest seabird. A supporting cast of guillemots, kittiwakes and more makes this an unmissable sensory experience.

Minke whale

Minke whale - Credit: Tom Marshall

Mighty minkes – Whitby and Staithes

As our nesting seabirds begin to depart in late summer, beneath the waves a new group of visitors arrive to steal the limelight – whales and dolphins. Led by 30ft minke whales, occasionally in the company of pods of white-beaked dolphins, this underwater feeding extravaganza is driven by millions of spawning fish. Boat trips from Whitby and Staithes can get you right in the heart of the action just a few miles offshore.

Dunlin at Spurn Point

Dunlin at Spurn Point - Credit: Tom Marshall

Top of the bill – Humber Estuary

Hull may be the city of culture, but the estuary shores of the Humber can put on a show any day of the year. Starling murmurations, thousands-strong, can mesmerise in winter, while the iconic avocet and stunning bearded tit make a home here. Countless wading birds with their perfectly adapted long beaks gather at the unmistakeable Spurn, all under the watchful eye of peregrines, merlins and harriers.

Marsh harrier at Hornsea

Marsh harrier at Hornsea - Credit: Mandy West

A mere delight – Hornsea

Tucked away on the Holderness coast, Hornsea Mere is our largest freshwater lake, longer than the medieval walls of York. The tranquil lakeside welcomes reedbed specialists like the marsh harrier, bittern and cettis warbler, while otters can appear before the viewing hide at Wassand Estate. Open water in winter attracts a myriad striking ducks and swans, along with sea-going divers and mergansers seeking refuge.