Wildlife in Yorkshire in 2015

Couple watching deer in the deer park at Studley Royal

2015 has been another challenging year for wildlife across the country. The topsy turvy weather has led to some wildlife highs and lows, and some unusual sightings.

It’s been a mixed year for wildlife across the country due to the weather, and it’s no different in Yorkshire. The sunny weather in early spring allowed some native species to get off to a flying start but the cold, wet weather that followed had a negative impact on our native and breeding seabirds as their ability to feed was hugely restricted. Milder weather later in the year saw many species recover, but also some unusually unseasonal sightings.

Wildlife winners in Yorkshire

Barn owls were spotted for the first time in over 40 years at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. They have reappeared and seemingly flourished this year as a result of improved conditions for hunting, through a reduction in grazing pressure and the planting up of areas of young woodland, leading to good numbers of their favoured prey, the field vole. Barn owls were are also now regularly spotted at Ravenscar on the Yorkshire Coast and at Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate.

Barn owl
A barn owl in flight

Also in the Yorkshire Dales, otters successfully bred for the second time in three years at Malham Tarn. Regular Otter activity was also reported on the river Skell at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal and on the river Rye at Nunnington Hall.

At the start of the year rangers and volunteers at Marsden Moor surveyed the mountain hare population. 16 mountain hares were recorded over a 12km radius in a survey that was conducted in partnership with Moors for the Future. The survey is continuing again this winter and the findings will help to understand more about the strength in population of this native species across the whole of the Peak District.

A mountain hare on Marsden Moor
A mountain hare shelters in a burrow

Without any late frosts to catch them out this spring, hundreds of little froglets hatched in the American Garden at Beningbrough Hall, making for quite a sight as they emerged!

Unusual wildlife sightings in Yorkshire

A purple hairstreak butterfly was recorded for the first time at Hardcastle Crags, in west Yorkshire – more commonly found in the south of England - it was one of the few positives for butterflies at National Trust places this year, with outdoor staff at many sites reporting decreased sightings whilst out working.

The rare purple hairstreak butterfly
A purple hairstreak butterfly

A bioblitz on the Yorkshire Coast in August recorded 360 species. Wildflower fields, mammals, birds, woodlands, and coastal heath were all surveyed with the help of local Field Naturalist groups, property staff, consultants, specialists and members of the public. Recorded species included barn owls, roe deer, harvest mice and brown hares. In the rockpools an usual find included a yellow sea slug (Berthella plumose) at Ravenscar, where previously only recorded at Cayton Bay and Ravenscar. 

Family rockpooling on the beach
Family rockpooling on the beach

Unusual bird sightings at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal included a cormorant stopping by at Studley Royal Lake – the first recorded on site, as well as an osprey and a pair peregrine falcons. The latter had been spotted many times in 2014, but only reappeared in late November this year. 

Small birds fared well at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, with a robin family choosing inside the bird hide to make their nest in 2015. They raised three chicks in one nest before building another in the hide and raising a further six chicks. Our volunteers were even able to ring the new chicks.

A newly ringed robin chick
A robin chick gently sits in a volunteer's hand after being ringed