Spring is coming

York’s campus wildlife

Winter is over at last, which means campus is ready to come alive. Current Environmental Science student Ian Kilburn provides a round-up of the diverse wildlife we’re likely to see at this time of year.


The nocturnal and blind flying mammals are very hard to spot. The campus is home to four different species of bat, mainly because it (and the surrounding area) provide very good habitats for roosting.



These are very common around the campus during summer and there are many different sizes, patterns and colours from the different species. They’re normally spotted on bushes and flowers.

Small tortoise shell butterfly (Image:  Lynne Kirton)
Small tortoise shell butterfly (Image: Lynne Kirton)

Grey squirrels

These rodents are widely believed to be nonnative, and an invasive species. Most people believe that these squirrels outcompeted the native red squirrels.

Grey squirrel (Image: BirdPhotos.com)
Grey squirrel (Image: BirdPhotos.com)

However, this seems very unlikely as they do not eat the same food, and forage in different areas. The red squirrel also spends the majority of its time in the canopy of woods, while the grey squirrel more often forages on the floor.

Tree Bumblebee

This is the most common species of bee around the UK. And as everyone knows, they are normally passive unless provoked.

Tree bumblebee (Image: Orangeaurochs)
Tree bumblebee (Image: Orangeaurochs)


These mammals are yet more common – everyone will have probably seen one while walking around campus.

Tree Wasp

Although the wasp has the same colouring as the Bee, and has a sting as well it has a more aggressive nature.

Tree wasp (Image: Sandy Rae)
Tree wasp (Image: Sandy Rae)


These are often seen flitting across the surface of the lakes. They have long thin bodies, comprised mainly of its long abdomen and tail, and long thin transparent wings.

Tansy Beetle

The tansy beetle is a small insect that feeds on the tansy plant.

Tansy beetle (Image: gbohne)
Tansy beetle (Image: gbohne)

The tansy plant is an invasive species, but can be used as an organic pesticide. This is why wreaths of it were often put in coffins, earning it a rather morbid reputation.

Water voles

These mammals aren’t strictly found on campus but are present in the surrounding area, and with the new lake on Heslington East, there’s a chance that they could be introduced to the campus in the future.

Water vole (Image: Peter Trimming)
Water vole (Image: Peter Trimming)

They were once a very common sight around the water ways of the UK, but because of hunting for their fur, these shy creatures’ numbers have dropped dramatically.


These are closely related to the dragonfly, with the major differences being smaller size and that their wings fold along the body when at rest.

Common blue damselfly (Image: L. B. Tettenborn)
Common blue damselfly (Image: L. B. Tettenborn)

Water beetle

This is a name given to any beetle that is adapted to surviving in water, during any stage in it life cycle. 

Normally they trap air underneath their abdomen so that they can breathe under water. But in some cases they have an organ similar to a gill that allows for gas exchange from the water itself.

Water beetle (Image: L. Shyamal)
Water beetle (Image: L. Shyamal)


These shy creatures are again very recognisable, with their spiny backs, and their typical reaction to danger. Often seen giving road safety advice.