Fountains Abbey is the UK's largest monastic ruin
and a World Heritage Site.
in 1132, this majestic abbey attracts 300,000 visitors a year. It's also a wildlife
sanctuary in winter and boasts a stunning display of Snowdrops.
abbey is a haven for birds and boasts stunning gardens|
the first monks arrived at Fountains, it was described as a place "more fit
for wild beasts than men to inhabit".
A hundred years later the Abbey
was one of the richest religious houses in England with 400 Cistercian monks and
800 lay brothers.
The power of Fountains was felt far and wide with the
Abbey's economic activities embracing farming, lead mining, quarrying and horse
But Henry VIII was to put a stop to the Abbey's power with the
dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century.
It was bad news for
the monks, but good for the wildlife especially the bird life.
Fountains is the most complete example of a Cistercian abbey remains in the country.
towering walls of its ruins act as a cliff face for a resident colony of nesting
Fountains is also one of the best spots in the North of England
for some of our smallest birds.
Simply find yourself a quiet spot just
beside the Abbey and watch out for Goldcrests, Coal Tits, and Great Tits.
The Goldcrest is amongst Britain's smallest birds, weighting the equivalent
of a five pence piece.
Winter feeding very important as the birds use desperate
survival tactics to survive the cold snap - 80% of Goldcrests die during winter.
tits are the smallest of the tit family - and are probably the best gymnasts.
coal refers to the bird's black head being broken by white cheeks and its distinctive
Also worth checking out is the river that flows right by the
Abbey where there are winter feeding birds such as Dippers.
Abbey's grounds boast a great network of paths which means that nature watchers
can really stride out and explore.
And there are a couple of treats that
you should keep your eyes peeled for.
Bats and bees are normally tucked
away in cracks and crevices in winter, waiting for warmer weather
you get your compass out - and most importantly you have to do this on a sunny
day - find a south facing wall.
If you're a Pipistrelle Bat or Black Bee,
a warm wall is the perfect place to soak up a bit of heat.
Look out for
200 species of bat at Fountains.
And see if you can spot a Black Bees -
some think these busy creatures may be descended from the original Black Bees
that the monks kept in Medieval times.
Abbey sits in the River Skell valley and this sheltered aspect gives the area
a mild micro-climate.
As a result, the plant life at Fountains is a couple
of weeks ahead of the rest of the UK.
The snowdrops are a special attraction
for visitors in January and February.
Another plant to look out for is the
green Hellebore - it's poisonous to eat, but what makes it special is that it
blooms in winter.
The Hellebore is large, growing about two feet tall and
is characterised by its smell and rich nectar designed to attract insects.
it a sniff but don't confuse this plant with the stinking variety of the Hellebore
family, or you could be in for an unpleasant surprise!
is great for getting close to some amazing wildlife and the parkland around the
Abbey is one of the best places to see it.
There are 750 deer on the Fountains
estate with three distinct species - Fallow, Red and Sika.
The Fallow Deer
were introduced to Fountains Abbey in 1577 - they were the classic hunting species,
popular in royal hunting parks.
The ones we see in the wild today are some
of the lucky escapees.
The most obvious thing about the Fallow Deer is his
coat - the dappled pattern is a Fallow classic.
But there are three other
distinct patterns - one is paler, another is black, and the final one is white.
You'll often see them together in the same herd.