Yorkshire Seabirds And Raptors Special Day Five North Cave Wetlands

Great crested Grebe adult Aug 1

Great Crested Grebes one of the many species taking advantage of new habitat.

Our last day of this bird filled Birdwatching Trip to Yorkshire and we headed west to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserve of North Cave Wetlands. This is an inspiring reserve as it is totally man made of the site of gravel extraction works, which are still in progress. The Trusts has transformed the bare industrial areas in to wildlife rich wetlands with trails and hides to allow visitors to enjoy it all.

History of North Cave Wetlands - Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The 40 ha. original Reserve to the north of Dryham Lane includes some 20 ha. of water, following extraction of sand and gravel by H. Agg over the 20 years leading up to acquisition of the site by the Trust in 2000.

We inherited 6 deep and bare holes. Over the next 3½ years H. Agg made a wonderful job of moving some 250,000 tonnes of material into, out of, or around the site to our specification, with considerable design assistance from Roger Mitchell of Potteric Carr. The 10m deep Reedbed Lake was infilled with inert material to make a shallow lake with islands and reedbeds. The 1½ ha. Island Lake was made into a 3 ha. shallow lake with numerous islands. The water level in Village Lake was reduced to expose gravel beds. All the lakes were connected underground with a gravity driven water level management system and with the overflow taken into Black Dyke to the north. We now submerge shallow gravel islands in the winter with rain ground and spring water, to limit vegetation. We expose them in the spring for passage and breeding waders and ducks.

Common Sandpiper run

We watched a Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of one pool.

The infrastructure was completed with 3 large hides (2 with disabled access), paths, rafts, interpretation boards, seats, screens and bird tables. The perimeter path and hides were positioned to give optimum viewing for serious birders, novice naturalists and photographers alike. The eastern boundary was planted up with winter berry-bearing bushes to create a visual and noise screen from the main road and to add habitat. Wader scrapes and small dragonfly ponds extended site biodiversity. Dryham Lane was surfaced, a car park created, and from 2008 Angela Brown’s Wild Bird Cafe has been dispensing hospitality 7 days a week.

In 2004 H. Agg bought 42 ha. of farmland to the south of Dryham Lane and to the west of our original boundary, and asked us to partner them in a planning application for a Phase 2 development. Planning approval was subsequently granted to “extend North Cave Wetlands by the extraction of 3.4 million tonnes of sand and gravel”. Quarrying of the 17 ha. Dryham Ings started in 2008 and was completed in 2011. By 2013 restoration work had been largely finished, creating three flat interlinked cells of flood meadowland to the design of Phil Fermor of Middlemarch Environmental. YWT staff specified the splendid 60 sq.m. Crosslands Hide, built of timber frame with straw bale infill, to overlook the new meadowland to the east, H. Agg’s silt pond and future extensions to the west.

The Future – the Western Extension

By 2013 the original Reserve plus Dryham Ings and the silt pond extended to some 60 ha. The remaining 20 ha. of Phase 2 will be excavated and restored up to 2016 as deep water lakes; this is the area of deepest aggregate deposit. But expansion won’t stop there, for in 2008 we partnered H. Agg in a successful planning application again to quarry a further 57 ha. of farmland to the south and west of Phase 2. The aggregate deposits to the west are shallower, enabling H. Agg to restore this land for us to a mixture of shallow water, more flood meadowland and reedbeds over the next 12 years. This wonderful reserve owes a huge debt of thanks to Steve Martin who has been and still is a major driving force to create this habitat and maintain it and to keep it growing. Steve Martin is a real wildlife hero, we need more people like him!

Anyway, back to our visit, we first had a look over the lake opposite the entrance, where a very good tea van is usually present and where the toilets are. Lots of birds to enjoy and a Red Kite circled over the area as we arrived, new for our trip list. Great Crested Grebes were showing off in the sunshine along with families of Shelduck. An Avocet fed in a small pool swishing its bill back and forth through the water and it was joined by a Lapwing, surprisingly also new for our trip! Can you imagine ten years ago waiting five days to see a Lapwing on a birding trip just about anywhere in the UK? Their decline has been terrible and rapid and it’s all down to our mismanagement of the countryside, we need more places like North Cave Wetlands where wildlife can still survive. We then picked out a Garganey at the back of the pool, a scarce bird and always a thrill to find, this Teal sized duck was asleep making it tricky to identify but through the Leica telescopes we could see the eye-strip and mottled flanks. Luckily the Garganey woke up and moved about allowing us much better views and we shared the news so others might enjoy this scarce visitor.

We spent the morning visiting the hides and walking the main trail on this great reserve. At least five Mediterranean Gulls were watched amongst Common and Black-headed Gulls and good to compare these three species and the various plumages of Mediterranean Gulls. Common Snipe and Green Sandpipers lurked around a muddy pool where Reed Buntings dashed about. On one of the deeper pools we watched Pochards and more Great Crested Grebes along with our first Common Sandpiper of the trip. From the same hide we were surprised to enjoy really great views of Blackcaps. These warblers, at least eight of them, were feeding in the vegetation just below the hide. Along the track we watched a pair of Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tits and a Lesser Whitethroat.

We then headed into nearby Howden for a really delicious lunch before we all headed off for home having enjoyed over 120 species of birds and a lot of fun!

If you are looking for a short break this Autumn our North Wales tour might be of interest. We have a great selection of birds and habitats all within a few miles of our home here in Llandudno. Come and join us in September for our five day “Best of North Wales Tour” where we visit a wide range of habitats enjoying over 120 species of birds at a pace that gives us plenty of time to really enjoy the birds. The tour is based at a lovely country hotel with lots of birds around the hotel, great food throughout too! For all the details or to book your place please email us.

Please email us here to arrange your very own Birdwatching Trip…..


We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds and great fun with you soon!

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