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Wildlife at Hardcastle Crags

A Roe deer partly hidden by foliage, looking directly at the camera
Roe deer in woodland undergrowth, Borrowdale and Derwent Water | © National Trust Images / John Malley

Hardcastle Crags is home to an amazing array of wildlife. From bats to beetles and skylarks to bluebells there's ​plenty to be discovered at Hardcastle Crags. If you're looking to get close to nature, here are some of the wonderful wildlife highlights that you might be lucky to see on a visit.

Walking at Hardcastle Crags

The valley is criss-crossed with over 15 miles of footpaths, just waiting to be discovered. From family-friendly walks in the woodland to challenging hikes at the top of the valley, there are plenty of adventures to be had on a visit to Hardcastle Crags.

Top tip: Take a photo of the map in the welcome hut to use as you head out on the various trails through the Yorkshire countryside.

The mixed woodland at Hardcastle Crags is managed to encourage natural regeneration of native broadleaved species. Fallen trees and standing deadwood are habitats for invertebrates, birds and bats.

You'll often hear woodpeckers drumming on the trees and the sound of birds singing from the treetops. Look out for pied flycatchers, treecreepers and song thrush amongst the trees; see if you can identify their unique tunes.

Life in the hay meadows

Species-rich hay meadows can be found high on the valley sides, close to the Widdop Road. The meadows are cut in late summer after the plants have flowered, allowing the seed to be collected.

Types of birds and insects commonly found on meadows include the skylark, twite, meadow pippet, and beetles. The meadows are a favourite with bees and butterflies, with various species seen throughout the spring and summer.

The northern hairy wood ant

Perhaps the most famous residents of Hardcastle Crags are the colonies of northern hairy wood ants that live throughout the woodland.

These little creatures live in huge nests which can be as large as six feet tall. The nests extend a couple of feet below the ground with an extensive labyrinth of tunnels that are tended to by female ants from the colonies.

Water wildlife

Mill ponds from a past industrial age now provide aquatic habitats for invertebrates, fish, amphibians and birds. Dippers, herons and wagtails can often be seen darting across the water’s edge and the ponds themselves are home to frogs, toads and newts.

The fast-flowing streams of Hebden Water and Crimsworth Dean Beck flow through Hardcastle Crags too. Here you'll see a variety of different birds and insects such as damselflies and dragonflies, as well as a variety of fish darting around beneath the surface.

A close up of a pink waxcap fungus nestled in grass
Pink waxcap fungus | © National Trust Images / John Malley

Mammals at Hardcastle Crags

If you're lucky, you might see some of the resident roe deer on a visit. These are the largest mammals found in Hardcastle Crags and they are easily recognised by their characteristic white rumps. Early morning is the best time to see the deer, as they head back into the trees to hide.

It's not just the deer who prefer the Crags after dark, when everything is still and quiet. The valley is also home to eight species of bat, including pipistrelle, whiskered, Natterer's and noctule.

A birdwatcher's paradise

Hardcastle Crags is a haven for birdwatching. From the early dawn, the woodland is filled with the songs and sounds of resident bird life.

Common sightings include blue tits, great tits, chiffchaffs, wrens and robins, but if you're lucky you might spot some of the less-common sightings too. Look out for green woodpeckers, redstart, grey wagtail, bullfinch, willow warbler, wood warbler and song thrush which also call this place home.

In the upland areas surrounding the woodland, you might see curlew, lapwing and twite. In the skies above the treetops, buzzards and other birds of prey can often be seen circling.

Plant life at Hardcastle Crags

This ancient semi-natural woodland is a mixture of native broadleaf trees, including oak, birch and alder and planted areas of beech and pine.

A rich variety of plant life can also be seen, with species such as great woodrush, bilberry, wood sorrel and climbing corydalis. These flowers poke up from the woodland floor, hidden amongst the greenery, providing a splash of colour throughout the trees.

Fungi, bryophytes and lichens

Lichens and bryophytes thrive in this area because of the high humidity in the deep valleys. The fields around Hardcastle Crags are home to some incredibly rare species of fungi, with over 400 species noted by local naturalists.

Many of the incredibly rare fungi found here are on threatened species lists, as they only grow in very specific conditions. Luckily, they are thriving in parts of Calderdale.

As part of the Grassland Fungi Project, we're working with local landowners to look after these important ecosystems.

Visitors on a bridge at Hardcastle Crags with Gibson Mill in view, West Yorkshire

Discover more at Hardcastle Crags

Find out how to get to Hardcastle Crags, where to park, things to see and do and more.

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History of Hardcastle Crags 

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