The twelve days of wildlife Christmas in Yorkshire
- Credit: Amy Lewis
The days may be short and cold, but there is still magic to be seen in Yorkshire’s winter wonderlands. Sam Twyman and Clea Grady from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust share their favourite winter tips
Wild woodland walks
Winter is a brilliant time to spot wildlife due to the lack of foliage. For great adventures, visit Grass Wood (near Grassington) or Little Beck Wood (near Whitby) nature reserves. You could spot foxes, squirrels, deer, tawny owls and all manner of woodland birds. The quieter you are, the more wildlife you’re likely to see.
Feed a robin
Robins have been associated with Christmas ever since Victorian times when postmen were known as Robin Red-breasts because of their red waistcoats, which is thought to be why so many robins appear on our Christmas cards. Did you know you can get robins to feed from your hand? They have rapidly adapted to the gardening activities of people and benefit from how we turn over the soil. They can become very trusting and will even take a mealworm (their favourite snack) or other titbit offered from the hand.
Boxing Day discovering
Residents of York don’t need to travel very far to get a wonderful wildlife treat. The enigmatic and ever-festive roe deer can be seen at Askham Bog nature reserve, which is easily accessible on foot – perfect for walking off that big lunch! If you’re craving a dose of solitude after all the family parties however, you might appreciate the wilderness of Spurn Point – Yorkshire’s very own Land’s End. The Discovery Centre and café only close on Christmas Eve and Day, so despite its remoteness you’ll still have creature comforts close at hand. For more information about all 100+ Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves visit ywt.org.uk.
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Catch the winter sunsets
Cold days and dark afternoons often encourage us to stay indoors, but early evenings can mean beautiful, rich sunsets. Enjoy them on a clear day and relish one of life’s most simple and pure pleasures. Finding a comfy spot at dusk could also reward you with a barn owl sighting, as they prefer to hunt at the start and end of the day. Staveley nature reserve (near Harrogate) and all along the Lower Derwent Valley are great places to spot them.
The sky above the North York Moors is one of the best places in the UK to see stars because of the very low levels of light pollution. Take advantage of a clear night sky and see how many of the major constellations you can recognise, or just make a wish for the New Year upon a star. If there’s any solar weather activity then you could even see the beautiful light of the Aurora Borealis. You can follow @aurorawatchuk on Twitter for updates.
This is a fun family activity that’s made more accessible during winter. Practice your skills after snowfall, a hard frost or even rain – mud makes a superb track trap! Look out for the four imprints of a hare or the ‘slots’ of deer. It is tricky to tell fox footprints from those of a small dog, though. This is a good activity to have up your sleeve when the kids need to burn off some energy.
Walk a coastal path
Yorkshire’s coastline is ever-beautiful and a good old yomp is a great way to entertain extended family and friends. Be sure to look out at the sea wherever you go, as you could catch sight of seals or even a whale. Flamborough Cliffs and Ravenscar are super spots, and there’s lovely walking to be done all along the Cleveland Way.
Learn owl calls
Owls are easier to spot in the colder months, with their silhouettes more visible in the bare trees. Dawn and dusk are particularly active for owls, so why not learn their calls and try to identify them by their sound? There are five species of owl in Yorkshire; tawny owl, little owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl and barn owl, and you are much more likely to see both of the ‘eared’ owls at this time of year.
Build a hedgehog habitat
Hibernation usually starts when the temperature remains relatively low – typically in November and December depending on weather patterns. Pile up logs, leaf litter and any other garden mess and you have the perfect habitat for a hibernating hedgehog. You can also leave out water and food for them to help them on their way; tinned cat or dog food is ideal but they definitely don’t like fish.
Photograph a kingfisher
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Adel Dam (north of Leeds) and Sprotbrough Flash (near Doncaster) nature reserves are great places to see kingfishers. Their vibrant, shimmering blue against the muted tones of winter makes photography a delightful challenge. Can you nab that perfect shot of a fishing kingfisher? If you do, be sure to tag @yorkshirewildlifetrust_ and @Yorkshire_Life.
Look for birds of prey
Birds of prey appear to be more active during the winter, as the shorter days mean a narrow window for hunting. In addition to the owls, you may see a marsh harrier, sparrowhawk, merlin, hobby, kestrel, peregrine and the iconic (and under threat) hen harrier.
The final and most simple of our tips. The holiday season gives most of us a once-a-year-chance to properly relax, so make the most of this special time and explore Yorkshire’s wild places. Go somewhere you’ve not been before or introduce someone you love to one of your most treasured places. It’s the best time of year to remind ourselves that wildlife and nature is not something to take for granted, and that it’s free for us all to enjoy.