Kestrels on the Minster, barn owls at the theatre (1932)

Digitised report

Wildlife in York, 1932

While looking for information in association with the plans for Bootham Park, I found the document above, from 1932. It’s from a report from the British Association for the Advancement of Science, part of an appendix entitled ‘A Scientific Survey of York and District’, prepared for the York meeting. The Association met in York for its annual meeting from 31 August to 7 September 1932. (Its very first meeting had also taken place in York, in 1831.)

A J A Woodcock’s report includes the following interesting observations on the city’s wildlife in the early 1930s:

No account of the natural history of the district would be complete without a reference to the special charms of York itself. Though not at all a small city, its associations are essentially rural. Its older parts have generous gardens, even in the centre of the city, and the extent to which these are frequented by birds is quite unusual. The dawn chorus in the spring and early summer causes comment from the visitor from another town, when he hears it for the first time.

For several years a pair of kestrels has nested in the main tower of York Minster, a pair of barn owls in the turrets of the Theatre Royal, and another pair in Bootham Bar. A pair of tawny owls frequents Bootham Park, and another pair the Museum Gardens. The kingfisher, which is found along the banks of the Ouse, may be regularly seen on the river within the city boundaries. A few minutes’ walk from the houses in Clifton will enable one to put up a snipe, and curlews may often be heard calling when we walk through the streets during the quiet of night.

A pair of otters has for some years reared young on the river Ouse, and usually they may be seen during the night watches in the vicinity of the old Guildhall and Common Hall Lane — in other words, in the very heart of the city. Otters are often found along the course of the river Foss, and at several other points on the outskirts of the city. The grey squirrel frequently comes into the gardens of the houses in Clifton.

source document, via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

I’ve read this several times and can’t quite believe that there was so much wildlife activity so close to the city centre back then. But it must be the case, this being a reliable source found in the archives.

Back then, the city’s suburbs were much smaller, of course, and owls and kestrels wouldn’t have had to fly so far to find open fields. There was also a larger area of open green space close by, not just the Bootham Park ‘gala field‘, which still exists, but what was then a cricket field to the north of it, where the city’s main hospital now stands.

Tawny owls can still be heard calling in the night, in the area around Bootham Park and the nearby football ground at Bootham Crescent. I’ve not heard anyone mention barn owls nesting in the city centre, or kestrels — though there are peregrine falcons on the Minster.

I recall reports a few years back of otters on the Ouse, and I know that kingfishers have been seen on the Foss. I think we’ve all seen grey squirrels, in and around the city centre. Not mentioned in the above, but now fairly common, are urban foxes.

If you’d like to read more about the wildlife and wider environment in the area around York at that time, you can view the document in full on this link.

Your comments and coffees welcome as always.


About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink

One comment

  1. Beverley Foster

    I live off Bootham and regularly hear tawny owls. I’ve heard the peregrine falcons too. A few years ago I saw a baby otter on the terrace at the City Screen. But curlews, I can’t imagine them here. That would be lovely.

Leave a Reply to Beverley Foster Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Thank you for adding a comment. Please note that comments are moderated, but should appear within 24 hours.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.