‘A staggeringly beautiful spectacle’ - All you need to know about Ripon’s awe-inspiring starling murmurations
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More than 250,000 starlings gather around dusk during the winter and autumn months at Ripon’s Wetlands in what is described as “one of the most awe-inspiring visual displays on your doorstep”.
Although Ripon City Wetlands is currently closed due to flooding, they are forecast to reopen over the coming days as water levels drop and the starlings return.
The spectacle, which attracts thousands of visitors, can be seen late in the afternoon around 4pm, just before sunset.
The Wetlands is a former quarry and located on a natural floodplain between the River Ure and Ripon Canal, the modern wetland designed as a year-round haven for wildlife.
Where to park and how to get to the best viewing spots
The wetlands car park is closed at 4pm as it is leased by the racecourse.
Anyone who parks there will be locked in after this time.
It is advised to park on the hard-standing over the bridge near the river along the B625, also known as Boroughbridge Road.
A short walk down the river leads to one of the main viewing spots for those wanting to get close.
Alternatively, you can park near Ripon marina, and walk down the canal path leading to another popular viewing spot.
The spot is also accessed through Littlethorpe over Rentons Bridge and canal.
The starlings migrate from colder European countries like Scandinavia to roost and protect themselves from predators.
Jono Leadley, North Region Manager for The Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s one of the best murmurations I've seen in Yorkshire.
“Obviously there’s nowhere for them to roost during floods.
“It’s been such a wet autumn and winter, they usually come back over the next few days once the water levels drop down.
“They come over from Scandinavia as it's too cold for them there.
“They tend to disperse during spring, either back to Scandinavia or where they came from.
The shifting shapes and density of flock confuses hawk-like predators, whilst how they communicate to achieve the wave-like dance, remains something of a mystery.
Mr Leadley said: “Flying that in larger numbers makes it harder for predators to focus in on one.
“As you imagine a flock swirling around it makes it more difficult
“From an individual point of view it's more likely to be your neighbour who gets picked off.
“There are more predators this side of winter, so they stay longer in the sky to protect themselves.
“Eventually, when they decide it's safe they settle down for the night.”
Historically, Romans believed the formations indicated the shifting moods of the gods, while Celtic mythology believed starlings were associated with the goddess of healing and fertility.
For centuries the humble starlings' hypnotic displays have fascinated humans.
Although it is now known why they swirl in unison, there is still no definitive explanation for how they to achieve it.
Mr Leadley said: ”Scientists say each starling keeps an eye on six to nine of those flying nearest to them.
“If their neighbours move then they follow, creating a wave without hitting each other.
“Everything about the experience from the sound, to the synchronised aerial dance is a staggeringly beautiful spectacle.”