Howardian Hills

Nestling in between the North Yorks Moors to the north and the Vale of York to the south the Howardian Hills are 79 square miles of well wooded, gently undulating hills with patchwork arable fields and historic parkland. Named after the Howard family (Castle Howard), who's estate covers much of the area, the hills were designated AONB status (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in 1987. The hills themselves are a southern extension of the Hambleton Hills in the North Yorks Moors and being limestone in nature make for fertile soils that in turn produce rich pastures and grasslands. There are no towns within the area, the nearest being Helmsley and Malton, both of which lie just beyond the boundary, making the Howardian Hills one of the most tranquil places in Yorkshire.

Main Habitats & Top Wildlife Sites (map top right)

Woodlands - a key feature of the landscape, tree cover accounts for around 15% of the Howardian Hills with much of this classified as ancient (over 400 years old). There is an almost unbroken chain of mixed deciduous and conifer woodlands that straddle the central ridge of hills from Yearsley Moor in the north west to just outside Malton in the south east. All of these woodlands have rich and varied wildlife with the most notable being Yearsley Moor / Ampleforth and Hovingham. Large birds of prey such as Buzzard and Goshawk are regularly seen plus a variety of song birds including declining species such as Redstart and Wood Warbler. Yearsley Moor supports a number of mammals including Roe & Fallow Deer, Foxes, Badgers, Stoats & Weasels.

Parkland - There are several country houses and estates within the area, the most notable being Castle Howard but also Hovingham Hall, Nunnington Hall, Gilling Castle and Newburgh Priory. Around all of these former power houses there is evidence of historic parkland that has remained relatively untamed. Great Lake is situated within the Castle Howard estate and attracts good numbers of overwintering ducks, geese and swans as well as the odd rarity whilst the Yorkshire Aboretum (nearby but not part of the estate) regularly attracts Hawfinches as well as being a haven for wild flowers and butterflies.

Lowlands & Grasslands - the low lying areas of the hills although not as eye catching are equally important for the wildlife with some prime habitat such as the Coxwold-Gilling Gap, a 6 mile long valley that separates the Howardian from the Hambleton Hills where spring flowers including orchid species mingle with breeding Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. The limestone grasslands at Caulkey's Bank near Nunnington are another well known site for ground flora and, on the eastern fringe of the hills, the River Derwent at Kirkham Gorge and the YWT reserve Jeffry Bog support numerous marshland plants including Bogbean, Marsh Marigold and Yellow Flag Iris as well as several species of dragonfly.

Map Key

Designated nature reserve
Local site


Find out more (external links)

Howardian Hills website

National Character Area profile (Natural England publication)

Walks from Hovingham


Header Image - Hagg Head, Castle Howard