CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Yorkshire Life today CLICK HERE

The wildlife of Wassand Hall and Hornsea

PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:21 05 May 2016

Reeedbed royalty, the marsh harrier is a real treat for visitors to Hornsea, including their exciting food passes - Mandy West

Reeedbed royalty, the marsh harrier is a real treat for visitors to Hornsea, including their exciting food passes - Mandy West

Mandy West

Wildlife is at home in a hidden corner of East Yorkshire. Tom Marshall from the Yorkshire Nature Triangle finds out more

The grass snake is a resident of the meres wet woodlands and they can often be seen basking along the Wassand nature trail in spring - Jamie HallThe grass snake is a resident of the meres wet woodlands and they can often be seen basking along the Wassand nature trail in spring - Jamie Hall

When it comes to attracting our most sought after wildlife, you can’t beat a bit of water. On Yorkshire’s east coast however, there’s a natural haven that has more than meets the eye, and certainly more than a bit of water.

With a length end-to-end of around two miles – rivalling that of York’s famous city walls – there’s no surprise that Hornsea Mere is the largest freshwater lake in the county, and yet this impressive Yorkshire landmark remains quietly nestled away in Holderness, waiting to be discovered.

Dominating the landscape to the west of the small town of Hornsea, the mere is part of the Wassand Estate, and has been enjoyed by residents of the Regency House at Wassand Hall since its construction in the early 1500s. The lake itself was carved by the last Ice Age, to which it owes its phenomenal size yet relatively shallow depth of around 12 feet. When originally purchased by the Constable family in the 16th century, the lake was snapped up for the princely sum of fifty pounds.

Centuries on, and despite its size, the mere only offers tantalising glimpses through the lakeside trees and swaying reeds for those who make their way into Hornsea from the west. It is this enigmatic and elusive character though, that has also allowed wildlife to flourish along the mere’s banks.

Green woodpeckers have a distinctive laughing or yaffling call, and are well at home in the lakeside parkland - Andrew MasonGreen woodpeckers have a distinctive laughing or yaffling call, and are well at home in the lakeside parkland - Andrew Mason

With such an expanse of open water – nearly two square kilometres – the mere has become a major stop off for birds on the great spring and autumn migration highways. From late March, early arriving hirundines like swallows and martins are no doubt thankful for the plentiful supply of insects and the chance to grab a first freshwater drink on British soil after the long migration north from Africa.

The mere’s smorgasbord of fish is also popular with other globe-trotting flyers like common and arctic terns, who find plenty to aim for along the fringes, while a real treat is the osprey, drawn by the fishing opportunities that are more typical of its usual Scottish summer haunts.

The mere’s underwater world isn’t just at threat from the air though, as the charismatic otter is another keen visitor and with all the tools to make light work of any unsuspecting fish. Now faring much better after heavy losses during the high-pollution decades of the 1970s and 1980s, otters are becoming a familiar sight across many of the region’s wetlands with Hornsea Mere no exception. On a calm day, the tell-tale ‘v’ shape of their wake is a classic sign to look out for, especially without seals or other mammals to cause confusion. Their presence though rarely goes unnoticed in the skies above and marauding gulls or other less tolerant birds will readily swoop down and harass the otters – another indication they’re in the area.

The whispering reedy fringes of the mere, broadly comprising the long thin stems and horse tail-like seed heads of Phragmites also hold plenty of secrets. The notoriously elusive bittern – a bird who seems to blend imperceptivity into this habitat – fits right in around the mere, although winter sightings are just as likely to be visitors from the continent as home-grown residents.

Hornsea Meres vast size and good fishing make it a welcome spring and autumn stop-off for migrating ospreys - Emyr EvansHornsea Meres vast size and good fishing make it a welcome spring and autumn stop-off for migrating ospreys - Emyr Evans

In recent years though, it’s another reedbed speciality that has begun to make its mark at Hornsea, the stunning marsh harrier. Like the bittern and other similar reedbed dwellers, the marsh harrier has seen a slow resurgence in numbers as reedbeds have gradually increased in area around the country and Hornsea is now as good a place as any to seek out these birds of prey.

While the female offers a relatively uninspiring chocolate brown plumage, the male’s golden streaked, silvery wings and black wing tips leave little doubt it is the king of the reeds. It’s the extravagant mealtimes however, when marsh harriers really show their status. As a ground nesting species – relatively unusual among birds of prey – the female harrier and the male in particular risk giving away the location of their nest to would-be predators of their valuable eggs or young chicks. That’s why when it comes to getting the rewards from the latest hunting trip back home, the harriers opt for a dramatic mid-air handover, or ‘food-pass’. After a brief confirmation that dinner is indeed on the table, the pair will synchronise a perfect toe-to-toe swap of their quarry well above the reeds – and crucially away from the nest – before the female discretely returns to her hungry family.

Away from the mere, a small woodland adjacent to Wassand Hall offers plenty more to investigate beneath your feet. Warmer mornings in spring find non-venomous grass snakes basking in the sunlit glades, a real treat with their black diamond-covered backs, and yellowy-green scales.

Butterflies also find plenty to enjoy in the sunbeams including woodland specialities like brimstone and speckled wood. If the mere’s summer soundtrack is the rhythmic, if sometimes haphazard song of the reed warbler or the deafening burst of the cetti’s warbler, then the woods echo to drumming great spotted woodpeckers and the laughing ‘yaffle’ of the green woodpecker.

In line with a UK-wide resurgence in numbers, freshwater otters are now often seen from the meres viewing hide - Amy LewisIn line with a UK-wide resurgence in numbers, freshwater otters are now often seen from the meres viewing hide - Amy Lewis

Later in the year when winter tightens its grip, the mere’s large size means when other areas become locked in ice, open water is still on offer for birds like whooper swans en route from the Arctic circle or the striking goldeneye, with males in January and February often indulging in their seemingly neck-breaking mating displays. Such proximity to the unforgiving North Sea can also find species more familiar with the offshore surf flying in for shelter, including long-tailed ducks, great northern divers and Slavonian grebes.

So whenever you visit Hornsea, from a ‘mere’ fifty pounds nearly five centuries ago you can be assured of a great value wildlife experience today.

Where to go

Wassand Hall and Estate is off the A1035 just east of Hornsea, where you can take the woodland trail (around 30 minutes each way) and visit a specially constructed hide built by the estate’s own craftsmen overlooking the mere – where otters and marsh harriers are often seen. There is a charge of £2.50 per person which contributes to the preservation of the hall and gardens, and tickets are available at East Lodge at the estate entrance (look out for the white signs). An entry code is required to use the viewing hide.

Access to the eastern shore of the mere is possible from Southgate in Hornsea, including the café and sailing club, but please note opening times may vary. This area is more suitable for those wanting to feed the waterfowl, or for a wider view back west of the mere itself. For more information go to wassand.co.uk.

Hornsea Mere is one of a series of locations that form the ‘Yorkshire Nature Triangle’, stretching from Filey in the north to Spurn Point and across to the Yorkshire Wolds.

For more on the area and the wildlife that can be found there visit yorkshirenaturetriangle.org.uk

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Yorkshire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Yorkshire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Yorkshire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 00:00

Depending on wwho you ask, Hebden Bridge is a place for artists, commuters and hippies. Walkers also love this market town for its proximity to some fine West Yorskhire countryside.

Read more
Hebden Bridge
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bizarre shapes and many different sizes of rock make this as fascinating for walkers as it is for climbers

Read more
Pateley Bridge
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

We talk to the woman charged with keeping the National Railway Museum on track

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

In recent years, Harrogate has suffered from shop closures like any other town. It’s fighting back with various initiatives designed to bring in shoppers, tourists and businesses, reports Tony Greenway

Read more
Harrogate
Friday, November 2, 2018

The time is right to claim the South Pennines as England’s first regional park, say campaigners

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

The Yorkshire Dales market town of Settle has much to offer at the turn of the season, as Tony Greenway discovers

Read more
Settle Autumn
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Is Doncaster soaring in the slipstream of success created by its award-winning airport?

Read more
Doncaster Sheffield
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thousands of people come through Ingleton every year to tackle the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks, but there are plenty of other walking options available in the area.

Read more
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Explore an historic North Yorkshire town and its countryside with some guidance from Richard Darn.

Read more
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A grand upland walk without too much effort

Read more

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Property Search