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Things to look out for in the Yorkshire Dales

Spring lambs at Raisgill in Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire
Spring lambs at Raisgill, Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/Peter Katic

The Yorkshire Dales are a great place to relax and explore the outdoors. Discover rolling countryside with steep-sided valleys, vast heather-covered moorland hilltops and a patchwork of dry stone walls and barns.

Upper Wharfedale

As well as traditional hardy breeds of sheep and cattle roaming the pastures, this diverse landscape also offers a home to many plants and animals.

Flowers are the first sign of spring, with wood anemones, primroses and lesser celandines bringing some colour to the area. Later, cowslips, mountain pansies and early purple orchids start to appear. These flowers then start to support the dormant insect population. Bees that have spent the winter hibernating in holes in trees and gaps in drystone walls emerge looking for some sweet early nectar.

In March, you will begin to hear and see oystercatchers, lapwing and curlew, and from April onwards, you will notice golden plover and skylarks on the fell tops on Buckden Pike. Along the riverside you will see dippers and pied and grey wagtails.

The farmers bring their ewes down off rougher hillside pasture to the lower valley lambing fields. These areas are sheltered, and with the farmer's close eye on them, the fields fill up quickly with lambs.

Raisgill Wood in Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire Dales
Raisgill Wood in Upper Wharfedale | © National Trust Images / Peter Katic

Hudswell Woods

Close to the historical market town of Richmond and with the River Swale rushing alongside, you will find picturesque scenery with hints of a varied history.

In spring, ramsons, also known as wild garlic, carpet much of the woodland floor in Calfhall Wood. On a warm spring morning, the garlic fragrance is unmistakable. Bluebells are often associated with ancient woodlands, and patches of bluebell can be found all over Hudswell Woods, including the grassland areas.

Look out for the blue flash of a kingfisher busily inspecting the riverbank for a nest site or listen for the call of buzzards flying overhead. The last week of March usually sees the arrival of the first chiffchaffs, small olive-green warblers returning from their wintering grounds in southern Europe and North Africa. Their repetitive 'chiff-chaff' song is easy to pick out from the other woodland birdsong. Willow warblers arrive several weeks later, and sand martins can also be seen at this time over the Swale, returning to their riverbank nest sites. By early May blackcaps, garden warblers and spotted flycatchers will also have returned to this site.

Family walking through the limestone country in the Yorkshire Dales. The children are climbing on rocks.
Walking through limestone country | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Malham Tarn

The boardwalk at Malham Tarn weaves its way through the National Nature Reserve, a unique and special place with interesting wildlife. Pause on this easy stroll to appreciate the quiet and listen for the songs of our feathered friends. You might even spot the Exmoor ponies grazing in the distance.

The waterfall at Janet’s Foss is a magical place to visit, and legend has it that Janet (or Jennet) the fairy queen lives in the cave behind the waterfall, or foss.

The limestone pavement above Malham Cove is well worth the climb up over 300 stone steps. On top you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views but also the unusual jigsaw of clints (blocks of stone) and grykes (the gaps) and the ferns and flowers living in this distinct habitat.

The first flowers to bloom on the reserve are usually marsh marigolds, closely followed by wood anemones, then bogbean, globeflowers and early purple orchids, all bringing different splashes of colour to Tarn Moss and Fen. The ponds are full of frogspawn, willow catkins adorn the trees, and spring birdsong can be heard all around.

Birds and bird watching

Cowside looking north to Darnbrook Fell. Drystone walls run across the valley dividing up the fields
Cowside looking north to Darnbrook Fell | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish


Fell tops in the Dales generally don't have a lot of trees and are usually either grazed rough pasture, blanket bog or heather moorland. These habitats can be very quiet for birds with meadow pipit being the most frequent sighting. The mournful call of golden plover is certainly a possibility and on Darnbrook Fell red grouse are often found in reasonable numbers. Moorland like this can also support merlin and short-eared owl.

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