Yorkshire’s Top 10 Natural Highlights

Yorkshire’s natural retreats are in abundance – stunning peaks, lush valleys, gentle rolling hills and of course a stretch of spectacular coastline – the great outdoors is brimming with opportunities for fun and exploration.  With so much outside space, it’s a challenge to limit Yorkshire’s natural highlights to just 10, but here are some ideas to get you started!

Wildlife Wonders

At the heart of the UK’s largest seabird colony, Bempton Cliffs is one the country’s top wildlife spectacles.  Nearly half a million seabirds swooping, soaring and screeching around towering chalk cliffs on the spectacular Yorkshire coast. Between March and October gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, herring gulls, fulmars and shags make their home here and, between April-July, puffins join the throng. It’s an unforgettable sight. 

Six, safe viewpoints perch on the cliff tops and give incredible views of the nesting birds and along the impressive coastline. Viewpoint volunteers are on hand to help identify the different species and point out the action.

National Parks

Yorkshire’s three National Parks offer more than 3,200 square kilometres of beautiful landscapes and seascapes – all just waiting to be explored.

This is the place where nature and history inspire each other and will inspire you too. Its contrasting landscape has a long imprint of human activity: prehistoric remains, vibrant villages and breathtaking abbeys. Ancient trees, towering coastal cliffs and rolling heather moorland provide habitats for a wide range of wildlife and its wide open spaces and breathtaking vistas bring a sense of peace and tranquility.

The North York Moors National Park is a place for all seasons – in winter wrap up warm for a walk across the snow-dusted moors or along the wild and windswept coast before seeking out the warmth of a roaring fire and lively local tales. Ruined abbeys and towering coastal headlands provide atmospheric locations to catch the colours of winter sunsets and sunrises.

In spring, walk through woodland carpeted in wild flowers or along river banks bursting with cheery wild daffodils while in summer, escape the crowds and head to the relatively flat moor tops for big skies and far-reaching views. The moorland is also a haven for ground-nesting birds such as curlew, lapwing and golden plover. As the evening’s draw in, take advantage of the clear, dark skies for a spot of star gazing. Take a leisurely ramble through swathes of woodland to admire the rainbow of colours found in the turning leaves.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has around 1,600 square kilometres of impressive hill country and moorland, fields and meadows, and gentle valleys, a rich sense of heritage, an abundance of wildlife and countless opportunities for outdoor adventure. The Yorkshire Dales landscape has many moods; it can be wild and windswept or quietly tranquil. It includes some of the finest limestone scenery in the UK, from crags and pavements to an underground labyrinth of caves.

Each valley or ‘dale’ has its own distinct character, set against expansive heather moorland tops. Stone-built villages sit amongst traditional farming landscapes of field barns, drystone walls and flower-rich hay meadows, and show how the area has been shaped over thousands of years by the people who have lived and worked here. Spectacular waterfalls and ancient broadleaved woodland contrast with the scattered remains of former mine workings and other rural industries which remind us of the area’s rich industrial heritage. Together, nature and people have created a special landscape of immense beauty and character.

A big chunk of the Peak District National Park also lies within Yorkshire’s boundaries. It’s a unique landscape of millstone grit, heather moorland, limestone dales and desolate blanket bogs. There are two contrasting landscapes: the White Peak offers gentler rolling limestone hills, while the Dark Peak, including Yorkshire’s part, consists of rugged gritstone uplands.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Discover Yorkshire’s three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; protected areas of high scenic quality which are conserved to enhance the natural beauty of their landscapes.

Howardian Hills: An unusual land form shaped on Jurassic limestone, with a tapestry of rolling hills arable fields, pasture and woodland, and one of North Yorkshire’s best-kept secrets. Walk through the open fields and woodlands or visit one of the area’s historic houses, such as Castle Howard or Duncombe Park.

Nidderdale: A land of contrasts from heather clad moorland, to quaint villages, a tapestry of lush green meadows and the long majestic dale of the River Nidd. Wander around the amazing collection of weird and wonderful rock formations at Brimham Rocks, cared for by the National Trust, which makes a great day out for families, and offers magnificent views over Nidderdale. Discover the once lost landscape of Hackfall, one of the best examples of ancient semi natural woodland in the area and there are pathways, grottos, follies, springs, ponds and waterfalls, on a grand scale.

Forest of Bowland: Internationally important for its heather moorland, blanket bog and rare birds, a small area of North Yorkshire lies within its boundaries. Bentham, the gateway to the Forest of Bowland, is an unspoilt but busy little place, standing on the River Wenning.

National Nature Reserves

Uncover Yorkshire’s 11 National Nature Reserves (NNR), picked as the very best parts of England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest, where some of our most pristine habitats, rarest species and most significant geology is managed, as well as providing great opportunities for visitors to experience England’s natural heritage.

Highlights include Malham Tarn and the limestone pavements at Ingleborough in the Dales, Skipwith Common, between Selby and York, Spurn Point in East Yorkshire, and the Humberhead Peatlands in South Yorkshire, where there are remnants of wetland that occupied the floodplain of the Humberhead Levels thousands of years ago.

Yorkshire Wolds

Explore the unique landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds. Low, rolling hills rising from the River Humber, and ending with the dramatic cliffs of Flamborough Head and Bempton, and, of course, big skies. Its sheltered dry valleys, known locally as ‘dales’ or ‘slacks’ are rich with wildflowers and cut across the white-speckled landscape, the most northerly exposure of chalk in the UK, featuring some classic chalk habitats.

South Pennines

The South Pennines sits between the major city regions of Leeds and Manchester to the east and west, and the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District National Parks to the north and south.

The only upland landscape in England not to have been recommended as a designated landscape, it’s nonetheless stunning to explore. From the Peak District to Brontë Country, discover open moorland, wooded valleys and a strong industrial heritage. With its millstone grit rock, heather moorlands, traditional farmland and variety of birdlife, the South Pennines area is an important place for geology and wildlife.

Yorkshire’s Heritage Coast

Spend a day beachcombing on Yorkshire’s Heritage Coast. The beaches are a vast store of source material – from weathered glass to driftwood and scraps of oxidised metal, shell and bone.

Look for Jurassic mudstones, laid down on the seafloor over 150 million years ago and contain fossils of ancient sea creatures, including ammonites. They can also contain fossilised monkey puzzle tree, better known as Whitby jet, once a favourite of Queen Victoria and used since the Bronze Age to make beads and jewellery.

You won’t go wrong by starting at Runswick Bay, just north of Whitby, named as the best place for beachcombing in the country by Coast presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, and a real treasure trove.

Yorkshire’s Waterways

Discover the secret world of Yorkshire’s waterways, which stretch into every corner of the county, providing the perfect backdrop for a more relaxing break.  Once at the heart of our textile industry, they’re great places to explore and enjoy.  Gently stroll along miles of tranquil towpaths, stopping off in towns and villages along the way, or cruise along at the helm of your very own narrowboat.

Underground Wonders

Explore Yorkshire’s underground wonders. You don’t need to be an expert potholer to experience the Yorkshire Dales’ extensive cave systems and caverns.

Visit one of these show caves instead.

Stump Cross Caverns, near Pateley Bridge: This natural dry stream passage offers fantastic geological formations.

White Scar Cave, Near Ingleton: Britain’s longest show cave, a spectacular, natural cave in the Dales with the massive 200,000-year-old Battlefield Cavern.

Local Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) aren’t just for locals. These special places have wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally but are places to enjoy too. Yorkshire has more than 100 and many have waymarked nature trails around them to help you make the most of your visit. The distinctive habitats range from windswept coastal headlands, ancient woodlands, grassland and flower rich meadows and chalk quarries, to heathland and even disused railways. Here’s a few to take a trip to. ranging from

Nosterfield, near Masham, is generally regarded as North Yorkshire’s premier wetland grassland site for birds.  With 1.5 km of permissive footpaths and three turf-roofed hides, you’ll be able to spot one of over 150 bird species and 25 butterfly species recorded each year.  

St Nicholas Fields, in York, has been transformed from a former rubbish tip into a 24 acre urban nature park and is one of the city’s loveliest green spaces.  Its range of habitats, including neutral grassland, meadow area, thickets and broadleaved woodland is a haven for wildlife.

Country Parks and Green Spaces

Visit one of Yorkshire’s awarding winning Green Flag parks and green spaces where you’ll find plenty for families to get stuck into. The scheme provides a national benchmark for the best green spaces in the country, encouraging sites to raise standards by providing welcoming and clean parks. They must promote activities that are beneficial to health, provide recreational facilities that are safe and regularly maintained, have sound environmental policies in place and actively involve members of the community.

Many Green Flag Award winners are also Local Nature Reserves, including Anglers Country Park, Otley Chevin Forest Park, Shibden Estate, the ancient woodlands of Ecclesall Woods, near Sheffield and St Nicholas Fields in York.  Truly special places to visit.

Yorkshire has many other modern and historical gardens and parks too.  Explore more than 60 beautiful gardens across Yorkshire »

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