Situated in mid Yorkshire and bordered by the Yorkshire Dales to the west, Nidderdale was declared an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in 1994. The region covers 233 square miles and extends from the market towns of Otley and Ilkey on its southern boundary up to Masham in the north, and along with Pateley Bridge at its centre, these are the only areas of major habitation. As well as Nidderdale itself in the valley of the River Nidd, the region also encompasses the northern half of Lower Wharfedale, the Washburn Valley and parts of Wensleydale; its highest peak is Whernside (704m) on the border with the Yorkshire Dales. Although an increasingly popular destination for outdoor pursuits, Nidderdale's low level of tourism when compared to the Yorkshire Dales is to the benefit of wildlife.

Main Habitats & Top Sites (map top right)

Moorland: More than a quarter (28%) of Nidderdale is open moorland with nationally important areas of blanket bog. Two large moorland complexes, the East Nidderdale Moors and the West Nidderdale, Barden & Blubberhouses Moors, both SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) pretty much dominate the western half of Nidderdale. Both areas are important refuges for some of our most threatened breeding birds birds such as Golden Plover, Curlew, Short Eared Owl and Merlin, as well as a wide range of plants and wild flowers including Bog Asphodel, Butterwort, Cranberry and nationally scarce Pale Forget Me Not.

Woodlands: Although scattered with notable concentrations around Masham, Pateley Bridge, Otley and the Washburn Valley, 8% of Nidderdale is classed as woodland (slightly lower than the national average of 10%) and several projects are underway to replace conifers with native deciduous trees, for example on the Summerstone Estate in Upper Nidderdale and Yorkshire Water's work on restoring ancient woodlands around their reservoirs. Some of the less natural wooded areas such as Fountains Abbey and Hackfall are paradoxically some of the best for wildlife, certainly for common woodland birds, whilst the more remote woodlands still support scarcer species such as Redstart, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.

Water Courses: The Nidd is the main river of the region rising on the slopes of Whernside, feeding several reservoirs including Angramm, Scar House and Gouthwaite, before tumbling through Nidd Gorge near Knaresborough and joining the River Ouse in the Vale of York. Gouthwaite is the pick of these from a wildlife point of view - good for wintering ducks, geese and swans, passage wading birds, and wetland plant communities of sedges and wetland flowers. The Washburn Valley, further to the south, includes the reservoirs of Swinsty, Fewston, Thurscross & Lindley Wood - renowned for its displays of orchids and other wild flowers including Betony, Wild Angelica, Marsh Cinquefoil, the valley is also well known for its array of fungi species.

Map Key

Designated nature reserve
Local site

Find out more (external links)

Nidderdale AONB

Nidderdale 'State of Nature' report 2020 (summary)

  • Full report

Harrogate & District Naturalists Society

Wharfedale Naturalists Society


Header Image - Brimham Rocks.