Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales is a large upland area in the north and west of Yorkshire that lies within the central Pennines chain. The area was designated a National Park in 1954 and covers appx 680 square miles. The 'dales' themselves are a collection of river valleys that disect this section of the Pennines and, apart from Wensleydale, are named after the body of water that flows through them. The main dales in the National Park area are -

  • Wensleydale (named after the nearby village of Wensley)
  • Swaledale
  • Wharfedale
  • Malhamdale
  • Ribblesdale
  • Dentdale

The smaller dales of Nidderdale, Widdale, Littondale, Arkengarthdale are augmented by the 3 valley areas of Ingleton Glens, Rawthey Valley and Lune Valley.

Wildlife Habitats & Top Sites (map top right)

Hay meadows - traditionally farmed, non intensive meadows that typically occur between 200 - 400m altitude. A declining habitat in the UK with no more than 1000 hectares left in northern England. Some of the best examples are in the Dales and especially around Langstrothdale, Ribblesdale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. The best managed Hay Meadows support a rich mixture of wild flowers and grasses with up to 45 species per sq metre such as green winged, small white and burnt orchids, yellow rattle, birds foor trefoil, meadow saxifrage, meadow buttercup and montane eyebright. Butterflies and insects abound in summer and are a rich source of food for ground nesting birds such as Skylark and Meadow Pipit.

Blanket Raised Bogs - upland habitat in high rainfall areas where peat has accumulated and covers the ground, typical of open moorland in the north and west of the UK. Bog loving plants such as cottongrass, bog asphodel, cranberry and round leaved sundew are typical with cloudberry and cowberry at higher altitudes. Vast areas of moorland are covered in blanket bog in the Dales with some of the best managed (not over burnt) around Chapel le Dale and Ribblesdale.

Limestone Pavement - exposed blocks of limestone (clints) separated from each other by fissures (grykes) formed by glacial movement and erosion over the years. A rare habitat in the UK and the Dales contain more than 50% with good examples around Ingleborough and Malham Cove. Of great botanical interest, the cracks and fissures provide ideal conditions for limestone loving plants such as rigid buckler fern, limestone fern, rock rose and lilly of the valley.

Calcereous Grasslands - typical of rolling hills, limestone rich and occupying shallow soils, such grasslands are noted for their diverse mix of plant species. Upper Wharfedale contains some of the finest calcereous grasslands in the Dales with Coniston Old Pastures and Malham Arnecliffe also holding good examples. Blue moor grass, sheep's fescue, bird's eye primrose and autumn gentian are but a few of the many different wildflowers to be found in these habitats which also support a number of scarce / declining breeding birds such as Twite, Lapwing and Northern Wheatear.

Water Courses - the rivers Swale, Ribble, Lune, Ure, Wharfe and Aire all rise in the Dales and the high water quality in these water courses and their various tributaries support a diverse range of wildlife with freshwater fish such as Brown Trout and Grayling, breeding riverine birds include Dipper, Goosander, Grey Wagtail and Kingfisher. In addition there are 2 freshwater lakes in the national park - Semer Water, a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve and Malham Tarn (National Trust) where a recent scheme has seen many Water Voles reintroduced to the lake and its feeder streams.

Map Key

Designated nature reserve
Local site


Find out more (external links)

Yorkshire Dales National Park website

Nature in the Dales

Yorkshire Dales Community website

Wharfedale Naturalist Society

Craven Conservation Group


Header Image - Malham Cove, Yorkshire Dales