3 Yorkshire wetlands that you should visit
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Shake off that winter fog and explore some of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s wetlands.
Spring may now only be just around the corner, but it still doesn't feel like it. It's still dark before 6pm, vitamin D levels are running low and we're all feeling increasingly wistful about those long summer evenings lying on the grass watching the sunset. What we need is some excitement; some noise and colour and life to remind us that not everything is sleeping through winter, and that spring really is within our grasp. Out of all Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's nature reserves (and we have over 100 of them), we recommend a trip to a wetland to reinvigorate you out of your winter torpor.
While many mammals are asleep (and maybe we wish we were too) in winter, birds are on the move. Many species migrate to or through Yorkshire from colder climates, often travelling in huge numbers. Late February/early March marks the close of a long winter, but Yorkshire's wetlands are still full of birds, many stopping off on their journey home from wintering further south. In fact, this is the ideal time to visit a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wetland reserve, as not only do you still have large flocks of migrating birds, you may also see the first signs of spring arrivals too, like the orange-billed oystercatcher and the pure black coot with his distinctive white beak.
Here are three of the very best Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wetland reserves to visit this month…
Ripon City Wetlands
One of our newest reserves, Ripon City Wetlands was formed in the footprint of a former quarry. It may sound surprising, but ex-quarries can make ideal wetland habitats. In the case of Ripon, the sand and gravel deposits in the river valley were quarried until they became very low-lying, meaning they now flood easily. Ripon City Wetlands lies between two water bodies: the River Ure and Ripon Canal. The river floods occasionally throughout the year, particularly in late winter and early spring. The low-lying land created by the quarrying floods easily, capturing and storing the flood waters; this not only protects local towns from flooding, it also creates the ideal habitat for wetland species.
A footpath winds around the reserve, navigating you to places of interest and away from those kept purely for wildlife. There is a hide at the edge of the Canal Reedbed, and a screen further along the reserve at the edge of the Riverside Lagoon. The Canal Reedbed was designed to attract birds who love dense foliage; look out for the long-billed snipe stepping carefully among the reeds (particularly if it's flooded), and watch carefully for the skilled marsh harrier stopping in to hunt on his spring migration. Another migrating visitor is the tiny sand martin, which usually start to arrive from early March. They can be seen zipping lightly over the lagoons, feeding on the insects that hatch from the water. Listen out for their distinctive 'buzzing' call!
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Big skies, often full of whirling flocks of birds, stretch out above you. The River Derwent flows quietly by, reeds rustle in the breeze and a mysterious 'plop' in the ditches might signal a pike, water vole or even otter. In fact, at times, in the centre of Wheldrake Ings, it can be so peaceful and remote that you feel like the only person on earth…
Wheldrake Ings nature reserve lies just outside York, and is one of the best Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wetland reserves to experience sheer numbers of visiting wetland birds. Around 40,000 birds come to the Lower Derwent Valley through winter, and most visit Wheldrake. Huge flocks of wigeon, teal and pintail ducks fly around your head, filling the air with a symphony of quacks and whistles before coming to rest on the cold water. Keep an eye on the skies for visiting peregrine falcons, who follow the flocks of ducks to Wheldrake looking for an easy meal. Look out for elegant black-tailed godwits that feed here before heading north to Iceland to breed, and the large herds of whooper swans that pass through in March, also bound for Iceland, from their wintering grounds in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. As the weather starts to warm, the appearance of coots and oystercatchers are the first signs of spring coming to the wetlands.
A visit to Kilnsea wetlands really feels like a trip into the wild. Located just along from Spurn National Nature Reserve, Kilnsea wetlands is right at the inland edge of Spurn Point and marks the beginning of one of Yorkshire's last remaining wildernesses.
Kilnsea wetlands has been specifically designed to provide refuge for wintering birds when the high tide drives them away from the vast Humber mudflats. In winter, large flocks of knot, dunlin and redshank gather at high tide and provide a spectacular aerial display as they fly into the wetland to roost. Look out for the distinctive rounded wings of the lapwing which are displayed beautifully when it wheels around the winter sky. The UK's smallest bird of prey, the merlin, can also be seen searching for a meal on its spring migration back to Scandinavia and the UK uplands.