Author: Philippa Kaye
We tend not to think of Yorkshire as having much wildlife, other far flung destinations have secured the monopoly on that. Africa is an obvious choice, famous for the Big 5, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and cape buffalo, and of course there are also zebra and giraffe; I always wonder what the early explorers must have thought when faced with these strange looking creatures. Naturally, being the author of a book set in a wildlife reserve in India, I strongly advocate the wildlife of this extraordinary subcontinent, there are lion, leopard, tiger, rhinoceros, elephant, bear, wolves, wild dog, the list goes on and I’ve created in the past not just the Big 5 but three versions of the Magnificent 7 for India. But, and here’s the thing, we can’t travel right now, that comment just in case anyone has been hiding in a bunker for the last 9 months, and so, I like everyone have had to adapt.
In case anyone has missed it from previous articles, I’ve been based in India for the last thirteen years and wildlife is a passion of mine. This time of year would normally see me flitting between India’s national parks, clad in khaki, camera in hand in search of species' that have somehow still managed to remain elusive. However, I’m back in Yorkshire, wings officially clipped, a bird in a cage, frustrated by an inability to be on the road, or so many people think. But actually, it’s not the case. I’ve thought about this, why is someone who is renowned for having itchy feet so happy to be back home?
I think the first point is that of being from Yorkshire. Let’s face it, if one has to be brought back to the UK, what better place is there to be from? We know that ‘us’ Tykes are proud bunch, but over the last few weeks I’ve truly begun to discover just why. For 13 years I’ve lived in a destination that everyone says would take a lifetime to discover, and I’ve just begun to realise that the same can be said for Yorkshire. There is such an array of riches to discover here whether natural, or man-made and historical that it’s almost embarrassing. Fortunately, modesty isn’t really in our genes, so we cope. However, I certainly think that having reached the age of 50 there may not be enough time to discover all that Gods’ Own County has to offer. The second point is curiosity. Far from killing the cat, curiosity is at the heart of travel, it is that desire to discover, to learn to experience something new that fuels our sense of adventure.
‘But what has all this to do with wildlife?’ I hear you ask. Well, wildlife is a passion of mine, you don’t jack in a great job in London with a decent salary to go and run a lodge in a tiger reserve in India for peanuts unless there’s good reason. So, what does a girl with a passion for wildlife who is stuck in Yorkshire do over the winter?
Well, I started out by hitting that well-known search engine that we have all come to rely on and discovered that there’s an awful lot more wildlife in Yorkshire than we realise.
Let’s start with the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Having spent a lot of time in Africa and India, I am not a big fan of animals in captivity, but, most of the animals have been rescued from much worse environments (their magnificent lions in particular) or are part of a conservation project, which makes it more acceptable. There’s also the fact that many people may never get the opportunity to visit such far-flung destinations and may never therefore have the opportunity to see such animals. My father is a case in point, that poor poor long-suffering man and grammatical pedant proof-read my book several times before it went to print. I then took him to India and to the park where the book is based, but the tigers weren’t being obliging and so he returned not having seen any.
The chances are he’s not going to get to India again and so the Yorkshire Wildlife Park was the obvious choice. We managed to see lions, leopard, and tiger up close, no amount of TV documentaries can give you the sense of size, power and magnificence that these big cats possess, as well as many other species such as giraffe, zebra and okapi and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, more so than I would have expected. It was also somewhat amusing that all the other parent/child visitors were aged 5/30 and not 50/80! But it made for a great half day out.
Last weekend saw me in the Yorkshire Dales, in search of Red Squirrel which have mostly been chased away from their home environment by the grey imposters from America. I wasn’t successful but, that’s wildlife, there’s always a next time and one can never consider a couple of days spent in the Yorkshire Dales to be a waste of time. October and November is a particularly interesting time for Yorkshire’s wildlife.
This weekend its back up to north Yorkshire again, as it’s salmon spawning season and I’ve always wanted to see them leaping upstream, yes, that doesn’t just happen in Scotland or Canada. Next on the list is Studley Park near Ripon as its rutting season, I dream of taking my own perfect shot, early morning with the mist starting to rise and the stags replete with impressive antlers fighting over the unsuspecting doe. Then there’s Ravenscar for seals, I had no idea we had seals in Yorkshire and the starling murmurations which take place from Nov – February at dusk and which by all accounts are a mesmerising spectacle! The list is growing. You see, the more you discover, the more you discover that there is more to discover and that is where curiosity and travel converge.
But it’s not just the witnessing of wildlife that is important. We are also living in a time of crisis, not just Covid-19 but climate change. We need nature and wildlife in order to survive, we need bees and insects and local species and trees to form the eco systems that give us the very air that we breathe. We all, and me in particular, have often looked to what is overseas to take us out of ourselves, but actually, we have so much here to discover in our own back yard. In short, Yorkshire, in terms of natural heritage has an embarrassment of riches and now is the time to educate ourselves and our children on just how lucky we are to have all of this in our own county. We must inspire them to have a passion for nature and wildlife and all right here in our own back yard, after all, they don’t call it God’s Own County for nothing!