Natural History - Wildlife of Upper Wensleydale

Upper Wensleydale has a wealth of wildlife for the visitor to enjoy. In winter, when there is snow on the ground, the tracks of badger, roe deer, fox and the ubiquitous rabbit can turn a winter walk into a detective story. The many waterfalls are at their most spectacular when filled with snowmelt and not hidden by leafy trees.

A carpet of wood anemones in the woods at Aysgarth Falls

A carpet of wild flowers 
in the woods at 
Aysgarth Falls

At Easter the wading birds have returned to the Dale to nest and the air is full of their evocative call. The plaintive note of the golden plover on the moors, the tremulous cry of the curlew over the rough pastures, and the raucous "rubber duck" sound of the showy black and white oystercatcher by the river, are all signs of spring here. April too sees the woodlands in full bloom. At Aysgarth, the ancient woodland beside the famous falls, has sheets of wood anemones and violets and the strange herb paris. Barracks Wood beyond West Burton waterfall is a good spot for primroses.

Wood Anemones in the woods at Aysgarth Falls
Wood Anemones in the woods
at Aysgarth Falls
Wild violets in the woods at Aysgarth Falls
Wild Violets in the woods
at Aysgarth Falls

A bank of cowslips at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Seata Quarry in May
A bank of cowslips in the
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
nature reserve at
Seata Quarry -
photographed in May.

By May the limestone pastures are full of wildflowers. A walk along the Dale sides, where the soils are thin, can have drifts of early purple orchids and cowslips. Discover the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Seata Quarry or the Kennel Field, both near Thornton Rust, for a particularly good display. Look out for old lead mines to see the rare plants that have adapted to the special conditions here, such as spring sandwort (leadwort), whose tiny white stars were used by the Romans to find lead.

Wild flowers near Carperby
Wild flowers near Carperby
Copyright ©
John & Sue Reay

The famous Dales hay meadows are at their best inJune. Walk beside the river below Askrigg or beyond Appersett to see fields full of blue cranesbill, but remember this is a hay crop for feeding sheep and cattle in winter, so keep to the path. By the river there is a constant piping of common sandpipers and sharp eyes may spot a dipper bobbing up and down on a rock, flashing its white bib.

In July the yellow water lilies are out on the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Semerwater and the geese and ducks will have their families in tow. A walk around the lake via Stalling Busk and Marsett will pass through marshland where you can hear the snipe calling and enjoy the variety of marsh plants.

Crossing the fells in August is akin to crossing an ocean of purple heather; this is red grouse country. Any of the high paths to such as Buckden Pike, Oxnop Common or Fleet Moss will take the hardier walker through true Pennine moor where cloudberry, bilberry and cranberry thrive. In the ghylls on the way up look out for ring ouzel, the mountain equivalent of a blackbird with a white bib.

Autumn brings the clearest skies and best views of the year. From Shunner Fell, the highest point in upper Wensleydale you can stand in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and see the Lake District National Park to the west and the North York Moors National Park to the east. You might share this spot with a peregrine falcon, a short-eared owl or a black grouse, it can awesome.

Compiled by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

If you would like to know more about the work of the Trust, or visit other nature reserves click on


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