Our special spider                                                                                                                             September 2017

A visiting naturalist found the Purse Web spider (Atypus affinis) at Brockadale a couple of years ago, and we are trying to find how widespread it is on the reserve, This spider is the only member of the Tarantula group of spiders in the UK, and is unusual because its jaws work vertically, not horizontally as in all the others. It is mostly a southern species, and Brockadale is well north of any other site in the east of the country, though it has been found in the special conditions around Arnside in Cumbria. The spider spends most of its life in a flattened tube-shaped web which lies on the ground and bends down into the soil. When, for example, a woodlouse walks over the web the spider reaches through the web, grabs it and pulls it through the web to eat it. We can look for the finger-sized webs among short vegetation on south-facing slopes, but it very rare to see the actual spider.

Yellowhammer success                                                                                                                    February 2017

A project to provide our Yellowhammers with supplementary food over the winter has been a major success. We became concerned that, because of modern farming practices, there are no wildflower seeds available to birds in any of the agricultural fields which surround the reserve. So a small team of volunteers has been putting down grain and other seeds at 2 feeding stations every day since October. At this time there were occasional Yellowhammers about, but it was unusual to see more than 2 or 3. However, in mid-December numbers began to build up, and now (mid-Feb) there are regularly 30 birds or more between the car park and the far end of Asquith’s field, and on one occasion Darren counted 52, In the last month, Corn Buntings have appeared and up to 10 are seen daily. We have to hope that at least a few will stay to breed.

Disappearing larch                                                                                                                         Autumn 2016

Foresters from Earnshaw and Son are removing all the European Larch from the west end of the reserve. It was planted by the Forestry Commission when they owned the land in the 1960s, but it is not a native tree, and its dense foliage and layers of needles prevented wild flowers from growing among it. Sapling sycamore and ash trees have managed to grow between the rows, and these will largely be left, and other native trees and shrubs will be planted in the area in the next year or two. At the other end of the woodland about a quarter of the mature beech trees, and some sycamores, will be felled to allow the remaining trees to develop better and to allow light to the woodland floor for wild flowers.

Moths galore                                                                                                                                   Summer 2016

By having regular moth-trapping sessions over the last few years we have raised the total of moth species found on the reserve to well over 400. This includes the larger moths as well as micro-moths. The Pretty Chalk Carpet moth is found nowhere else in Yorkshire, and we have other locally scarce species like Dark Umber. A particularly colourful moth that we found for the first time this year was Green Silverlines.

A new plant and one refound                                                                                                        May 2016

It is great to know that there are still new plants to find in the reserve. This spring we found Woodruff, a species which can be plentiful in limestone woodlands, so it was surprising that it didn’t occur in Brockadale. Perhaps it will spread from the small patch that there is at present. We also re-found Yellow Archangel on the steep wooded slopes at the western end of the reserve. It is very thinly scattered, but over a fairly large area.

Two new species found                                                                                                                September 2015

First sightings of Essex Skipper, and of the Purse-web Spider were made (and photographed) in September - see Wildlife page.

Harvest Mice refound!                                                                                                                  April 2015

Well not actually the mice - but a nursery nest. We had found nests prior to 2007, but the severe summer floods that year seemed to wash them out of the valley. Since then we have looked for them in vain. However, whilst raking up some cut grass, Joyce found a nursery nest  in a different part of the reserve. We will look for more of these, and their golf-ball sized individual nests, later in the summer. The tiny mice, which have prehensile tails, are very difficult to spot.

New species for Brockadale                                                                                                        June 2014

A 4-Spot Chaser dragonfly made an appearance in the reserve in late May - we think this could be the first record in the reserve. See the photo above.

We continue to find new moth species, though most of them are micro-moths. We hope to reach 400 moths for the reserve by the end of the summer - about 20 more to go! Cinnabar moths (see above) are a colourful day-flying species.

A boardwalk to get over the mud                                                                                                May-Sept 2014

The footpath leading to the Hunting Bridge could get very muddy and slippery in wet weather, and so we decided to try to raise money to build a boardwalk. YWT put in a  bid to Selby District Council’s Community Engagement Fund, and were granted £5000. The Smeatons Magazine committee also granted us £2000. So we planned to build 50 metres of boardwalk to get us over the worst of the quagmire.

Work started in May, and despite it being quite slow work, after several sessions during the summer it is now complete. The third session was done in foul weather, and the ground conditions showed why it was much-needed. The job was led by Karen McDiarmid, YWT’s Reserve Officer, with volunteers from the local group and from the BWs team based at York.

Appeal target reached!                                                                                                                Dec 2013

The appeal by the YWT for funds to purchase more land for the Brockadale Nature Reserve has been successful, and legal work to transfer the land to YWT ownership is well under way. The new land is on the south side of the river, just below the Smeaton Industrial Estate. It is made up of a flood-plain meadow - rather nettle-rich at the moment, and an attractive hazel coppice on the slope.

Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Butterfly record                                                                                                                            Sept 2013

This year we have seen more butterfly species than ever before - the  previous best was 24, but this year we have found 26! There are 2 main reasons for this, but the main factor has been the fantastic summer weather which has allowed most of our butterflies to thrive and appear in large numbers.

The more unusual butterflies we have seen this year are - White-letter hairstreak which feed on honeydew on elm trees, Purple Hairstreak (see photo top middle) which feed on honeydew at the top of oak trees - both of these are only found in small numbers and generally need to be watched through binoculars. Also present this year were small numbers of migrant species from the continent - Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow - which we haven’t seen since 2004.

A new woodland                                                                                                                         March 2013

As hoped (see below), the cleared areas of woodland have been replanted with 600 trees, of about 14 different native species. We will monitor the changes in the ground plants and the the insect and bird life over the coming years.

Woodland action                                                                                                                        Jan 2013

Now that the grasslands have been largely brought up to the standards we expect to see, attention is being turned to the woodlands. All woodlands in Britain have become rather neglected in the last 50 years as their previous uses have become redundant. This lack of management has caused woods to become too crowded and shady, resulting in fewer plants as the light levels have fallen. This in turn reduces the food supply for insects such as butterflies, and woodland butterflies have declined nationally. YWT have been able to arrange a woodland management grant from the Forestry Commission to allow staff and the volunteer team to undertake felling in different sections. The aim is to remove a proportion of the sycamores, which are too abundant in some parts of our woodland, and to replace them with a variety of native species. Most of this year’s felling has been completed and we hope that the replanting can take place during March. The purchase of the replacement saplings has been funded by various donors, including The Smeatons magazine, the United Reform Church, and private individuals.

Amazing birds and Fantastic flowers                                                                                     June 2012

The photo above right shows a fantastic bird confrontation over the reserve in mid June. The top one is a hobby, an uncommon small falcon, who is pestering a red kite. The battles lasted for nearly 10 minutes before each went their separate ways.

The bursts of warm weather seem to have brought about a wonderful show of flowers in the reserve this spring and early summer. Swathes of spring cinquefoil in Long Crag Meadow have been followed by a yellow carpet of rock rose on most of the south facing limestone slopes. Then the vetches have followed on with excellent shows of kidney vetch, bird’s-foot-trefoil and some patches of horseshoe vetch, all continuing the yellow theme.

In mid-June the orchids have appeared on schedule, and there are more spikes of bee orchids than for many years, common spotted orchids are doing well, and the new meadow (Asquith’s field) will have hundreds of pyramidal orchids showing in a couple of weeks.

Unusual birds                                                                                                                            April 2012

A couple of new species have been sighted, migrants making their way north. A wheatear was probably on its way to the northern moorlands, whilst an osprey seen overhead was probably making for Scottish lochs. Willow tits seem to be breeding on the edge of the reserve - they are quite a scarce species now, and a records 3 pairs of nuthatches are using tree holes for their nests on or near the reserve.

Hedge laying                                                                                                                            January 2012

A contractor will be laying the hedge alongside the new field over the next couple of weeks. This will involve cutting down the larger trees and shrubs and then laying selected stems so that they will shoot and grow upwards over the next few years. He will be planting new saplings in the spaces where there is no hedge at present. It will mean a temporary reduction in the cover and food supply available to insects and birds, but in the medium and long term, wildlife will gain from the process. Most of the berries on the hedge have now been eaten by the fieldfares, redwings and blackbirds, and the neighbouring hedge we planted in 2002 will be a good source of berries next winter.

Butterfly research                                                                                                                    July 2011

A team led by Dr. Audrey Zannese of the University of East Anglia is carrying out research into the reaction of butterflies to climate change on the reserve this summer.  They are comparing the distribution and behaviour of gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies here and at other sites in North and West Yorkshire to try to find out why some species are moving north as the climate warms, whilst others seem to be staying put - in fact the gatekeeper was moving north, but has stopped just north and west of here. The researchers are marking butterflies and recapturing them - this allows them to work out the total size of the population, as well as seeing where and how quickly the butterflies move. They are also watching individual butterflies, often for an hour or more, to see how they behave and move - you may see the coloured flags which show the tracks of individual butterflies. We will hear the results of their research later this year.

Fritllary update (see ‘New butterfly arrival’ below)                                          

This year 19 dark green fritillaries have been seen on the reserve, so we can now be confident that they have bred and have formed a successful colony. One of them was watched while it lay eggs on
violet leaves, so we can look forward to seeing them next year too.

Nuthatches galore                                                                                                            April 2011

Well, at least 3 pairs. This species had not been seen until a few years ago, when a pair bred successfully in the lower part of the woodland north of the river. It bred again in the same nest the following year, and there has been one pair during most years since. Last year’s breeding bird survey indicated 2 pairs were breeding, and possibly a third. This year however there are certainly 3 pairs widely spread across the reserve, and another pair in woodland towards Kirk Smeaton. The reason for the increase seems to be the increasing size and maturity of the woodland trees. It is probable that almost all the woodland in the valley was clear felled 100-150 years ago. There are very few very old trees. Only now are the trees well-enough grown to have the nooks and crevices for the insects that the nuthatches need to feed on. Treecreepers and woodpeckers have increased too. Look at the bird survey results for 2010 and 1887-2005.

New field fenced                                                                                                               Jan 2011

The new field (see below - ‘Brockadale gets bigger’) has now been fenced to allow it to be grazed.  Kissing gates have been installed to allow access to public and permissive footpaths. Some tree and hedgerow clearance was necessary to allow the fences to be put in, but there are plans to put new hedging plants in gaps in the current hedges, and to plant trees in them at intervals. Alder trees will also be planted at the bottom of the field, near the river. Scrubby bushes which have sprung up on the western side of the field in the last few years will also be removed to allow the rare natural flora to re-establish. A south-facing patch of brambles near the path will be allowed to re-grow because it is a haven for butterflies in the summer.

New moth species                                                                                                         July 2010

An impromptu mothing session on one of the many balmy evenings we have had this year resulted in the finding of a new species for the reserve - pretty chalk carpet. When the county moth recorder was informed he described it as a ‘wonderful record’. It is the first record of adults of this moth for Yorkshire (though caterpillars have been found at Stapleton, not far away). They feed on traveller’s joy, which is only found on the magnesian limestone belt. Seven of the moths were found - clearly a breeding colony.                                                                                                                        

New butterfly arrival                                                                                                       June 2010

Up to 6 specimens of the dark green fritillary butterfly have been seen during the last few days  of the month - a new species for the reserve. A single individual was reported last year, but the presence of several butterflies over at least a week, and in different parts of the reserve suggests that they had developed from larvae on the reserve, rather than just flying through. This is one of our larger butterflies, and it is fast-flying and very mobile. They are found on the moors, but Brockadale has plenty of its food plant (violets) and it breeds in similar situations in Derbyshire dales, so hopefully these 6 have laid plenty of eggs here and we will see them again next year.

Brockadale gets bigger!                                                                                                 May 2010

In the last few weeks, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has completed the purchase of the large set-aside field just beyond the reserve car park. The field belonged to the Asquith family of Little Smeaton, and has been in permanent set-aside for about 10 years. This former arable field, which used to grow rape and corn crops, has gradually developed a very promising limestone flora - it already has good numbers of 3 species of orchids (common spotted, bee and pyramidal), as well as over 70 other wild flower species. Because of this potential it has been a field which the Asquiths have long wanted to see as part of the Nature Reserve, and which the YWT has long wanted to acquire. It all came together when the Trust made a successful bid to the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund for the purchase of the field and the development of this and other magnesian limestone sites in South and West Yorkshire. It is a rare habitat, and Brockadale will hold an even more significant part of it.

The field will shortly be fenced to allow it to be grazed in the autumn and winter. Kissing gates will be put in the fence to allow people to walk through more or less as at present (as far as I understand). It will also prevent the dumping of rubbish which has made parts of the field something of an eyesore at times – the current piles will be removed. The YWT have put out an appeal for funds to help to manage this field both for its wildlife and for the village residents and others who walk through it. The full costs of its maintenance and development were not covered by the grant. Please give generously to make it an even more spectacular part of the reserve!

    Winter work                                                                                                                    March 2010

There have been 2 strands to the work carried out over the winter. In the limestone meadows there has been considerable scrub clearance to ensure maximum space for the special plants of the reserve. In the woodland the work of last winter to open up rides and create new clearings has been continued. This will allow more light to reach the woodland floor, allowing the woodland plants to flourish and spread.

    Birds galore                                                                                                                  January 2010

The cold and snowy weather between Christmas and New Year resulted in some of the highest bird numbers recorded. Whilst elsewhere there was probably a covering of snow on fields, it had thawed here, so birds were able to feed in the stubble fields and rape fields alongside Leys Lane and just north of Little Smeaton. The highlight was nearly 300 skylarks, but there were also 75 golden plover, 50 lapwings, 150 fieldfares, 50 redwings, and 50 stock doves. And there are always plenty of wood pigeons and starlings. The heavy fall of snow on Jan 5th covered their feeding grounds and so they all disappeared - except for the wood pigeons of course, and some of the fieldfares.


    Record moth count                                                                                                        July 2009

    The moth night on July 22nd produced a record list of 93 species. About 30 of these were micro-moths which were identified by Harry Beaumont and Frank Botterill, two of Yorkshire’s top entomologists. Besides their traps, there were another 5 traps working, so it is perhaps not surprising that we caught so many moths.

    Brockadale on YouTube                                                                                                July 2009

   Regular Brockadale visitor Gary Smith has made a number of videos, four of which feature Brockadale. You can see the videos by clicking on the links or copying and pasting them into your Internet browser.

        Brockadale woods - The beauty of British meadows (butterflies)


        Brockadale woods nr Pontefract. The time of the butterflies


        Brockadale in bloom


        Brockadale fox  (includes sequences shot elsewhere)



   Hazel coppicing                                                                                                                Jan 2009

    Volunteers have spent time this winter coppicing an old hazel plantation at the western end of the reserve below the main ride. The idea is to produce a ‘coppice with standards’, ie hazel bushes growing below mature trees. However, over the years the number of trees has increased so that the woodland floor has become too shaded, so a proportion of the trees, mainly sycamore, have been felled. Since this part of the woodland is south facing, the primroses which are already present in small numbers should flourish, as should early purple orchids and other woodland flowers.

   Lilac removal                                                                                                                    Dec 2008

    Staff and volunteers have spent time this winter cutting down a large number of lilac bushes which have spread stealthily up the butterfly ride and along the main ride westwards. Lilac is not a native plant - it was originally planted in the gardens of the foresters cottages. In the woodland conditions it does not flower, it just forms dense clumps which shade out the natural plants.

    Unusual fungus found                                                                                                    Sept 2008

    The dog stinkhorn, Mutinus caninus (above right), was found in the beech wood during a ‘fruits and fungi’ walk on Sept 7th. Other species found included the colourful but poisonous fly agaric and the handsome Amanita solitaria. The wet weather has been good for the growth of fungi, and there should be plenty more species to see as autumn progresses.

    Longhorn cattle arrive                                                                                                     Aug 2008

   About a dozen longhorn cattle, owned by Anthony Wiles, a local stockman, are now grazing the reserve, along with about 40 sheep. Whilst the sheep are in Long Crag Meadow the kissing gate will be locked, to reduce the possibility of conflict with dogs. Sadly some of his lambs were killed by dogs earlier in the year.

    Stiles replaced                                                                                                                    May 2008

    The high stile at the bottom of Thompson meadow has now been replaced by a kissing gate sited nearer to the hunting bridge. This will make it easier for walkers, but also make it easier to get tractors into the bottom meadow. The stile next to the crag in Long Crag meadow has also been replaced by a kissing gate to allow everybody easier access to the crag as a view point. There is no path beyond this point.

   Crags fencing extended                                                                                                    May 2008

    The fences above the more dangerous cliff tops have been extended. The most obvious one is alongside the public footpath. The second fence forms part of the work done to clear an area around the woodland crag where our rare snail Truncatellina lives, hopefully extending its habitat. The fencing, woodland clearance and stile replacement described above were all carefully done by contractor Nick Haslewood.

    Butterfly find                                                                                                                       July 2007

     A YWT Butterfly workshop led by Paul and Joyce Simmons made a great discovery in the Butterfly Ride (would you believe!) After sheltering from a brief rain shower, we continued down the ride, and one of the participants spotted a butterfly on the grass at the side of the ride. She captured it and put it in her specimen pot for us all to see - a purple hairstreak - the first record for the reserve (photo top centre).

    Floods                                                                                                                                 June 2007

    The torrential rain of June 14th and 15th, and again on the 24th and 25th brought the levels of the River Went to its highest level for at least 30 years. Fortunately little real damage was done. The only physical effect was that some fence posts were pushed over by the force of the water. Some birds nesting at ground level in the riverside meadows will have had their nests washed out, and small mammals will have suffered similarly. However, and perhaps surprisingly, butterfly numbers continued to be high after the rain, and the display of flowers has been the best for many years.


    New species                                                                                                                       April 2007

    A few redpolls have been feeding on larch cones over the last week or so. This species has not been recorded before, and it is possible that they have been attracted by the good numbers of cones produced last year. We will watch to see whether they stay to breed. Chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, 3 bullfinches and a brambling were all seen in a feeding flock on the cones at the end of March.

    Winter gales                                                                                                                        Feb 2007

    A number of large ash trees have been brought down by the gales in January. Those which fell on to fences have been dealt with by YWT staff and volunteers, and the fences repaired. The centre of the trees all showed signs of rot, though it was not really apparent before they fell. The wood will be left in situ as food for beetles, fungi etc.

    Ash tree deaths

    Well over a hundred ash trees have died in the last few years. All of these trees are in the central part of the woodland, on top of the ridge which runs through the reserve. Adrian O'Vastar is investigating the causes of the problem, and is in contact with the Forestry Commission research station at Alice Holt in Surrey. He believes that the problem dates back to the drought years of the early nineties when the trees in this area with shallow and free-draining soils came under water stress. This may have led to them becoming much more susceptible to fungal attack which has gradually killed the trees over the years since.

    The ash trees in wetter parts of the reserve seem to have fared much better. Trees which have survived in areas where the ash have died include oak, wych elm and sycamore. Hawthorn is becoming dominant in the areas with the most die-off and we may need to thin this out to prevent the growth of impenetrable scrub. A decision will then need to be made about what trees to plant in the area - the usual advice for a tree species to plant in a dry limestone area is ash!

   Rare snail news

    Half a dozen members of the management committee spent an hour or more lying flat on the ground examining soil and leaf litter with a hand lens for our rare snail, Truncatellina cylindrica. We were led by mollusc expert Adrian Norris, formerly of Bradford Museum. To our delight and Adrian's surprise we all found specimens - 9 shells altogether of which 4 were still alive. This is probably the greatest number of specimens found here at any one time, and also extends the area in which it is known to be present.

    Truncatellina has been known from Went Dale since 1874, and at this particular site in Brockadale since 1975. There is only one other site known in England - the base of a roadside wall in Bedfordshire. The snail has disappeared from several other sites in the last 30 years, though it is not uncommon in most of Europe, especially on Mediterranean cliffs. Finding other sites will prove difficult - the snail is only 2mm long!

   New species found

    We are still finding new species at Brockadale. We found a colony of lily of the valley in an area which has been opened up by tree felling alongside the main track through the reserve. Whilst it is possible that it is a garden escape, lily of the valley is a limestone species native to Britain. We also found 2 viviparous lizards in the quarry below the scree. Surprisingly there has not been a record of this species since before 1975.

    Sheep join the management!

    The YWT has recently been donated a flock of about 40 Hebridean sheep and their first task has been to work on the Magnesian limestone slopes at Brockadale. They have quite a bit to do before moving on to other reserves. Their arrival has meant that fencing has to be made secure, and brambles and gorse must be removed because their small size and light weight can result in them becoming badly tangled.

    The importance of keeping dogs on a lead where they are grazing must again be emphasised - see below.

    Information Boards

    Four explanatory boards have been erected in different parts of the reserve to explain the relationship between the habitats and the wildlife to be found in it. They have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and are a much-needed addition to the reserve.

    Disabled Path -now open!

    The path from the Leys Lane car park to the edge of the valley has been surfaced and widened to allow wheelchair access to a viewpoint overlooking the valley. There is also a seat kindly provided by Jeff Goodwin and his wife from Pontefract.

    The path was officially opened on May 28th 2002 by visitors from the Askarne Day Centre in Askern, with Michael Krause, the Business Development Manager of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

    New seats

    There are now 3 seats in the wood provided by the late Grace Kennedy of Thorpe Audlin. Have a rest and enjoy the views!

    Can you find them all?


    New fences have been erected in various parts of the reserve. These are mainly to allow a much greater control of grazing in different areas. The slopes need to be grazed by cattle or sheep in winter, whilst the valley floor needs to be grazed in the summer. A new water supply has been provided on the south side of the valley to ensure that all fields can support stock. Many of the stiles have been replaced by gates to make access easier for walkers.

    Dogs - a reminder

    One sheep has had to be put down, and 5 others were injured, probably because they were forced over one of the crags by an out-of-control dog. Please keep all dogs under very close control.

    Please remember that some ground nesting birds start to nest in the woodland as early as February, and nesting continues until July. These birds are easily disturbed by roaming dogs - please keep them on leads.