Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.

Codes of conduct

England has a Countryside Code. It’s been going for quite a while in various incarnations. It suggests how people should act responsibly in the countryside offering guidelines for ‘using’ the countryside so as not to leave a detrimental effect and damage the resource.

The 20th century saw a big rise in leisure time across society in Britain. People had the time and the inclination to go somewhere else from where they spent their week days living and working – for a lot of people the seaside and the countryside were appealing destinations. This casual movement of people had implications. There were struggles to assert or abjure a right to access the countryside, outcomes of which included the formation of English and Welsh National Parks in the 1950s and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. By the 1950s an official Country Code had been formulated to guide the new visitors to the countryside as if it were a foreign land, presumably to go some way to reassure the native population – providing a framework for the practising of freedom.

The different versions of the code provide an historic primary source over time. The main tenet in the 20th century was that the countryside isn’t just a playground, it was the property and livelihood of fellow citizens. According to earlier codes there was an implied and sometimes direct separation between the industrial town dwellers and the countryside population of farming folk, with a suggestion of ‘while you are there, try and fit in’. Now this separation is much more blurred between town and country, and far fewer of the rural population are directly employed in agriculture. The current code which takes into consideration open access rights, now also includes responsibilities of landowners.

The similarity between the earlier codes and the current code demonstrates how the fundamentals of controlling stock, leaving plants and animals alone, and not dropping litter are still valid for economic, environmental and aesthetic reasons. But there are also differences between the versions as well as telling changes in emphasis and tone, like the reference to a carelessly knocked pipe and a sense of being told off in the 1960s, the use of public information films in the 1970s to educate and inform society using working class caricatures to convey simple messages, and the prominence of Health & Safety advice and shared responsibilities in the 2016 version. The long length of the 2016 version results from trying to take all eventualities into consideration and not leave anything to chance. There is still a noticeable sense that the countryside is different, a bit alien.

Edge of arable field. Copyright NYMNPA.

 The Country Code circa 1966

GUARD AGAINST ALL RISK OF FIRE
Every year costly damage is done by fire to crops, plantations, woodlands and heaths. Picnic fires not properly put out are one cause. A cigarette thrown away or a pipe carelessly knocked out can start a raging inferno. Be careful – a spark may do terrible damage and destroy a lifetime’s work.

FASTEN ALL GATES
Animals, if they stray, can do great damage to crops and to themselves too. Tuberculosis-tested cows may mix with others and become infected. Wandering animals are a menace to themselves and to others on country roads. Even if you find a gate open, always shut it after you.

KEEP DOGS UNDER PROPER CONTROL
It is normal for a dog to chase anything that will run. Keep yours out of temptation’s way. Animals are easily frightened. The chasing of a ewe or a cow may mean the loss of valuable young. Town-bred dogs run great risks from traffic in narrow roads. When near animals or walking along the road, keep your dog on the lead, if he cannot be kept under close control.

KEEP TO THE PATHS ACROSS FARMLAND
Crops are damaged by treading at any stage of growth. Patches of flattened crops in a field make it difficult to harvest. Grass also is a valuable crop, remember. So please walk in single file on field paths. This keeps the track well defined and saves the crop on either side.

AVOID DAMAGING FENCES, HEDGES AND WALLS
If you force your way through a fence or hedge, you will weaken it. Where a man has gone an animal my follow. Stones from walls rolled down slopes may injure people and animals, destroy fences and damage crops or machines. Use gates and stiles.

LEAVE NO LITTER
All litter is unsightly. Broken glass, tins and plastic bags are dangerous; they very easily maim livestock. Tins, bottles, and stones in fields damage costly machinery. This may hold up work which is vital to finish while the weather holds. So take your picnic remains and other litter home with you.

SAFEGUARD WATER SUPPLIES
Water is precious in the country. Never wash dishes or bathe in somebody’s water supply or foul it in any other way, or interfere with water-troughs set for cattle.

PROTECT WILD LIFE, WILD PLANT AND TREES
Wild flowers give more pleasure to more people if left to grow. Plants should never by uprooted. Trees are valuable as well as beautiful; if they are damaged their health and beauty is harmed. Birds and their eggs, animals, plants and trees, should be left alone.

GO CAREFULLY ON COUNTRY ROADS
Country roads have special dangers. Blind corners, hump-backed bridges, slow-moving farm machinery and led or driven animals are all hazards for the motorist. Walk carefully, too. It is generally safer to walk on the right, facing oncoming traffic.

RESPECT THE LIFE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE
The life of the country centres on its work. While you are there, try to fit in. The countryman has to leave his belongings in the open; roads and paths run through his place of business, and the public are on trust. His work often involves hard labour. He has to keep early hours. So make as little noise as possible when you pass through his village in the evening. Be considerate, leave things alone, and so repay the local people for the pleasure their countryside has given you.

Countryside Code 1971 – public information film

Joe & Petunia – Acceptance of the Country Code. The National Archives - public information films.

The Countryside Code (2016)
RESPECT – PROTECT – ENJOY

Respect other people:

  • consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available

Protect the natural environment:

  • leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
  • keep dogs under effective control

Enjoy the outdoors:

  • plan ahead and be prepared
  • follow advice and local signs

Respect other people
Please respect the local community and other people using the outdoors. Remember your actions can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.

Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
Respect the needs of local people and visitors alike – for example, don’t block gateways, driveways or other paths with your vehicle.

When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow down or stop for horses, walkers and farm animals and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse- riders on bridleways.

Co-operate with people at work in the countryside. For example, keep out of the way when farm animals are being gathered or moved and follow directions from the farmer.

Busy traffic on small country roads can be unpleasant and dangerous to local people, visitors and wildlife – so slow down and where possible, leave your vehicle at home, consider sharing lifts and use alternatives such as public transport or cycling.

Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
A farmer will normally close gates to keep farm animals in, but may sometimes leave them open so the animals can reach food and water. Leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs. When in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.

Follow paths unless wider access is available, such as on open country or registered common land (known as ‘open access land’).

If you think a sign is illegal or misleading such as a ‘Private – No Entry’ sign on a public path, contact the local authority.

Leave machinery and farm animals alone – don’t interfere with animals even if you think they’re in distress. Try to alert the farmer instead.

Use gates, stiles or gaps in field boundaries if you can – climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.

Our heritage matters to all of us – be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.

Protect the natural environment
We all have a responsibility to protect the countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don’t harm animals, birds, plants or trees and try to leave no trace of your visit. When out with your dog make sure it is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, horses, wildlife or other people.

Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
Protecting the natural environment means taking special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife, and add to everybody’s enjoyment of the countryside.

Litter and leftover food doesn’t just spoil the beauty of the countryside, it can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals – so take your litter home with you. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.

Fires can be as devastating to wildlife and habitats as they are to people and property – so be careful with naked flames and cigarettes at any time of the year. Sometimes, controlled fires are used to manage vegetation, particularly on heaths and moors between 1 October and 15 April, but if a fire appears to be unattended then report it by calling 999.

Keep dogs under effective control
When you take your dog into the outdoors, always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control. This means that you:

  • keep your dog on a lead, or
  • keep it in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command
  • ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have a right of access

Special dog rules may apply in particular situations, so always look out for local signs – for example:

  • dogs may be banned from certain areas that people use, or there may be restrictions, byelaws or control orders limiting where they can go
  • the access rights that normally apply to open country and registered common land (known as ‘open access’ land) require dogs to be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July, to help protect ground nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals
  • at the coast, there may also be some local restrictions to require dogs to be kept on a short lead during the bird breeding season, and to prevent disturbance to flocks of resting and feeding birds during other times of year

It’s always good practice (and a legal requirement on ‘open access’ land) to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals and horses, for your own safety and for the welfare of the animals. A farmer may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner.

However, if cattle or horses chase you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it. Your dog will be much safer if you let it run away from a farm animal in these circumstances and so will you.

Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections, so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly – ‘bag it and bin it’. Make sure your dog is wormed regularly to protect it, other animals and people.

Enjoy the outdoors
Even when going out locally, it’s best to get the latest information about where and when you can go. For example, your rights to go onto some areas of open access land and coastal land may be restricted in particular places at particular times. Find out as much as you can about where you are going, plan ahead and follow advice and local signs.

Plan ahead and be prepared
You’ll get more from your visit if you refer to up-to-date maps or guidebooks and websites before you go. Visit Natural England on GOV.UK or contact local information centres or libraries for a list of outdoor recreation groups offering advice on specialist activities.

You’re responsible for your own safety and for others in your care – especially children – so be prepared for natural hazards, changes in weather and other events. Wild animals, farm animals and horses can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they’re with their young – so give them plenty of space.

Check weather forecasts before you leave. Conditions can change rapidly especially on mountains and along the coast, so don’t be afraid to turn back. When visiting the coast check for tide times on EasyTide – don’t risk getting cut off by rising tides and take care on slippery rocks and seaweed.

Part of the appeal of the countryside is that you can get away from it all. You may not see anyone for hours, and there are many places without clear mobile phone signals, so let someone else know where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Follow advice and local signs
England has about 190,000 km (118,000 miles) of public rights of way, providing many opportunities to enjoy the natural environment. Get to know the signs and symbols used in the countryside to show paths and open countryside.

Farndale Daffodil Walk. Copyright NYMNPA.

ADVICE FOR LAND MANAGERS

Know your rights, responsibilities and liabilities
People visiting the countryside provide important income for the local economy. Most like to follow a visible route, prefer using proper access points like gates, and generally want to do the right thing – but they need your help.

The Ordnance Survey’s 1:25,000 maps show public rights of way and access land. These maps are not ‘definitive’. If in doubt you can check the legal status of rights of way with your local authority. You can find out which areas of open access land are mapped under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 on the open access web pages.

For guidance on your rights, responsibilities and liabilities, contact your local authority or National Park authority. The Country Land and Business Association on 020 7235 0511 and the National Farmers’ Union on 0870 845 8458 can also offer advice. For specific queries about open access land, check the open access pages on GOV.UK, or contact the open access contact centre, on 0300 060 2091.

By law, you must keep rights of way clear and not obstruct people’s entry onto access land – it’s a criminal offence to discourage rights of public access with misleading signs.

Trespassing is often unintentional – for advice on tackling trespass contact your local authority.

Make it easy for visitors to act responsibly
Most people who visit the countryside are keen to act responsibly and problems are normally due to a lack of understanding. There are a number of ways you can help them to realise their responsibilities:

  • keeping paths clear and waymarks and signs in good order and up to date will help people stick to the right routes and access points. Contact your local authority or National Park Authority to find out what help is available
  • where there is public access through a boundary feature, such as a fence or hedge, create a gap if you can – or use an accessible gate or, if absolutely necessary, a stile. When installing completely new gates and stiles, make sure you have the permission of the local authority
  • encourage people to respect your wishes by giving clear, polite guidance where it’s needed. For example, telling visitors about your land management work helps them to avoid getting in your way.
  • rubbish attracts other rubbish – by getting rid of items such as farm waste properly, you’ll discourage the illegal dumping of rubbish and encourage others to get rid of their rubbish responsibly

Identify possible threats to visitors’ safety
People come to the countryside to enjoy themselves. They have the first line of responsibility to keep themselves and their children safe while there, but you need to ensure that your activities do not knowingly put them at risk:

  • consider possible man-made and natural hazards on your land and draw any ‘hidden’ risks to the public’s attention
  • try to avoid using electric fencing or barbed wire where people may accidentally touch it, particularly alongside narrow paths and bridleways
  • if electric fencing is used, ensure warning signs are visible
  • use and store any chemicals or poisonous substances responsibly on your land. They may kill wildlife or cause harm to people or pets. Any pest control you undertake must be planned with this risk in mind
  • animals likely to attack visitors should not be allowed to roam freely where the public has access – you may be liable for any resulting harm
  • your duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984 depends on the type of access right people have – so it’s important to know what rights, if any, apply to your land. By voluntarily dedicating land for permanent public access you may be able to reduce this liability

Hitching a free ride

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

You might remember at least something about photosynthesis from school – it’s the chemical process by which plants absorb light energy, which reacts with carbon dioxide and water, and produces glucose and oxygen. Photosynthesis provides food/energy for plants, which ultimately provide food/energy for every animal on the planet. It’s also the reason most plants are green – photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts within plant cells, which contain the green chlorophyll that absorbs the light energy.

However some plants have evolved ways to get the energy they need without having to photosynthesise. Instead, they do it by parasitising other plants. Orobanchaceae is one such family of parasitic plants. There are varying levels of parasitism within the family, ranging from those that are hemiparasitic (only deriving some of their nutrients from other plants) to those that are holoparasitic (obtaining all of their nutrients from a host plant).

Toothwort is an example of a holoparasitic plant. I’ve found some particularly nice specimens of Common toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) growing on our doorstep in Helmsley. Note the lack of green colouring because the toothwort doesn’t photosynthesise, and also the resemblance to teeth. Toothwort feeds off the roots of woody plants, such as hazel, elm alder, and also walnut. There is a particularly fine walnut tree close by.

Common toothwort - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Common toothwort, also sometimes known as the Corpse Flower - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

As I mentioned above, hemiparasitic plants are those that derive only some of their nutrients from the host plant but photosynthesise as well. Examples include Yellow rattle, Eyebright, Bartsia, Lousewort and Birds-nest orchid. We’ve commended Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) before on this blog. Yellow rattle can photosynthesise but also parasitizes grasses and other plants nearby. Because of its parasitic nature it can be a useful plant to reduce the vigour of grasses which in turn allows other wildflowers better opportunity to thrive. A recognised technique for establishing a wildflower meadow is to sow Yellow rattle initially to help ensure the grasses don’t out-compete everything else during the establishment phase. But it’s important to remember that Yellow rattle is an annual and like most annuals, it shouldn’t be cut or grazed until late July so it has had time to set seed and so has the chance to grow again next year.

Yellow rattle - copyright NYMNPA.

Plant relationships definitely aren’t as straightforward as you might think – and we haven’t yet featured the carnivorous sundews or butterworts (a future blog post). So the next time you’re out and about where ever you are have a closer look at what’s growing around you – it may not be as innocent as it seems!

Recipes for meadows

Aside

Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

30,000 words on water quality

Rosie Nelson – Masters Student

Rosie, geared up for outdoor working - copyright NYMNPAI have finally finished my research masters. All that stands between me and the real world is corrections and actually printing a 30,000 (ish) word document. So did I actually achieve anything. Well I’d like to think so, but first up I’ll tell you a bit about what I did, and how I did it.

I spent six blissful months walking three beautiful watercourse catchments in the North York Moors – Toad Beck, Danby Beck and Great Fryup Beck which are all tributaries into the River Esk. Aside from sun kissed skin and being chased by sheep, dogs and cows, I somehow managed to collect what I was after – a lot of useful data. To establish the water quality of a river a variety of sampling techniques is required. My favourite was using a probe which measures dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, salinity, temperature and much much more. Imagine, dangling a very expensive cable off the side of a bridge and waiting in anticipation for the numbers on the screen to settle. I loved it. Although once or twice the probe did ricochet off rocks to produce an alarming sound.

As my data collection evolved, I also started to gather water samples to take back to the laboratory for COD, BOD, DOC, anion and cation analysis. You might think I’ve just put some letters together to appear clever, but they do actually stand for things:
– COD is chemical oxygen demand (amount of oxygen required to oxidise the organic matter in the solution);
– BOD is biochemical oxygen demand (amount of dissolved oxygen being used by aerobic microorganisms when decomposing the organic matter in the solution);
– DOC is dissolved organic carbon (amount of organic matter in the solution);
– An anion is a negatively charged ion, a cation is a positively charged ion, and an ion is an electrically charged atom.

So what did I actually find out in these three catchments? Well I analysed the spatial and temporal variations of a variety of water parameters. The significance of focusing on both spatial and temporal variations within a catchment is it can easily identify areas of point source pollution at a small scale, something which isn’t done often enough.

For this post I’m focusing on dissolved oxygen and conductivity. The very important key species Freshwater Pearl Mussels require dissolved oxygen levels between 90 – 110% (Oliver, 2000). Other aquatic life like fish can survive on much lower saturations of dissolved oxygen, as low as <30%. The graph below shows how dissolved oxygen (a vital parameter for ascertaining the health of a river) changes through the year. Changes in water levels and plant growth can have serious effects on the amount of dissolved oxygen available for organic and aquatic life. During the summer months, plants will become abundant in a river, thus using up more oxygen and depleting the overall amount of dissolved oxygen available in a river. Once rainfall increases in the autumn dissolved oxygen levels should be replenished. As you can see September 2016 was a particularly poor month for dissolved oxygen, with average levels as low as 80%. Similarly, August on Toad Beck was low as well with an average of 75% saturation. But aside from in September for all three watercourses, and in August for Toad Beck, the dissolved oxygen levels remained within or above the proposed dissolved oxygen threshold.

2016 Dissolved Organic Carbon data graph - copyright Rosie Nelson

Next up – conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of a watercourse’s ability to conduct electrical flow and is therefore related to the concentration of ions in a river. Particular aquatic species need higher or lower conductivity – the Freshwater Pearl Mussel likes a lower conductivity. There are variations between suggested thresholds for conductivity: Moorkens (2000) suggests it should be 65µs/cm, whilst Bauer (1988) suggests <70µs/cm and Oliver (2000) suggests <100µs/cm. So I chose the only logical way forward and used all three thresholds. Focusing again on the month of September 2016, I produced the map below.

2016 Conductivity levels map - copyright Rosie Nelson

This is where analysing data spatially comes into its element. First up, the circles represent sampling locations (every now and again samples were missed out say if there were a herd of cows approaching as I climbed the style into their field, needless to say my flight or fight response would always be flight as advised in the National Park Authority’s Risk Assessments). Using a traffic light system, green circles represent good conductivity levels. As you can see, September was a poor month for both dissolved oxygen and conductivity. What I found particularly interesting was the variations that could occur in a small watercourse like Danby Beck, where as tributary field drains entered the beck conductivity levels could spike or decrease dramatically; how fantastic!

So to round off I thought I’d quickly summarise my thesis’ findings. Water quality is good in the three catchments, but it’s not good enough for Freshwater Pearl Mussels, and that’s the gist of it. The work of the River Esk catchment officers at the National Park to address the issues is great, the water bodies are reaching and maintaining ‘good’ ecological status, unfortunately the Freshwater Pearl Mussels require pristine water conditions and ‘high’ ecological status. However the future direction is positive for the health and conservation of Freshwater Pearl Mussels. And I too am looking forward to the future; I shall be taking a few weeks off from being chased by animals and I can’t wait*.

 

 

 

 

* Editor’s note: Rosie didn’t get much time off – she’s gone off to pastures new and is now a Community (Water Quality) Modelling Project Officer at Thames21. We wish her all the best.

Busy counting

Aside

NOT TOO LATE – we’re nearly at the end of this year’s Great British Bee Count but there is still a chance to join in and record bee sightings in the North York Moors up to the end of June. Reported records will help to build up a snap shot picture of the national bee population in 2017.

Bees, like all pollinators, are a vital cog in the workings of biodiversity. Volunteers are a crucial constituent in data recording that means trends and issues can be recognised and understood. With understanding there is a chance of addressing the issues.

A to Z: a number of Ns and Os

N and O

NATRIX NATRIX

There are three native UK snake species. Although Adders and Slow worms are common in the North York Moors, Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) aren’t. However they are found at at least one known site on the western edge of the National Park which makes them locally rare. They like rough grassland near to water and are known to swim (they’re also sometimes called Water snakes). Neither Grass snakes nor Slow worms are venomous, but Adders are.

Natrix natrix from www.herpetofauna.co.uk

All native snake species are protected. Please leave them alone and they should leave you alone.

NETWORKS

What is a network? In ecological terms it is basically the infrastructure through which species and habitats survive and flourish. In our 2012 Management Plan we identified the key ecological networks that we wanted to consolidate and enhance. Following the Lawton Principles (More, Bigger, Better and Joined) we’re working to ensure these networks and the associated habitats and species not only survive but become more resilient and sustainable into the future.

So what does a network actually look like? When we talk about networks and connectivity (which we do quite a lot on this Blog) we mean all sorts of things corridors, connections, linkages and stepping stones which whilst contributing to the same ecological goal, might look very different on the ground. For example, the Rivers Rye and Esk are important riparian linear networks, winding their way through other interconnected patchwork woodland and farmland networks. Some networks might be important for their great trophic diversity whilst others are essential for the survival of a particularly rare species. Promoting one particular network over another may impact on different species in different ways. For example, some farmland waders such as lapwing tend to nest in open fields with a low or short structure and areas of bare ground. One posited reason for preferring these open and large fields is that Lapwing want a clear line of site to any potential danger approaching their nests. So then planting hedgerows, usually a positive way to increase network connectivity, through good lapwing territory may negatively impact on this wader species. Similarly, native broadleaf woodland planting is usually something to be encouraged but not if it would break up a precious species-rich grassland network and adversely impact upon the important species that rely on it.

The North York Moors hosts a diversity of plants, animals and habitats. The challenge we’re grappling with is a putting together a jigsaw of different habitats and species; connecting up networks at varying spatial levels all within a framework of unpredictable future land use and climate change. It’s as difficult as it sounds.

And talking of different types of network, the National Park Authority is keen to foster a network of land managers in the North York Moors so we can share information and opportunities, and enable the North York Moors area to be a sounding board for new ideas in relation to land management and land use. If you are a local land manager and you’d be interesting in joining in – please contact us.

NEWTONDALE

Newtondale is a narrow valley cutting through the southern central moorland. It is the narrowness and steepness of Newtondale and its resulting inaccessibility which makes this dale unusual in the North York Moors which is renowned for its open landscapes. It contains important SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) successional habitats including wet woodland, flush communities and species rich grassland.

Newtondale - copyright NYMNPA

Newtondale was formed in the last Ice Age at least partly as subaerial overflow from the glacial lake in Eskdale to the north of the higher ground drained south into the glacial lake in the Vale of Pickering. The two lakes formed from meltwaters dammed in the west by the ice sheet in the Vale of York and in the east by the massive North Sea ice sheet. Recently it has been suggested that Newtondale existed already at this time and the overflow scoured and deepened an already existing feature.

This naturally formed cutting was exploited by the always practical George Stephenson when he built the Pickering to Whitby railway (opened 1836). The railway connected up the northern and southern parts of the North York Moors divided by the large central area of high moorland. For centuries the only connections had being inhospitable and difficult trods and tracks. The railway line is still used – by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and Newtondale has its own request stop.

NICHOLAS POSTGATE

Nicholas Postgate was born in or near to Egton Bridge in Eskdale at the end of the 16th century. He was a Catholic. Although Anglican Protestantism was the official state religion by this time, there was much insecurity and uncertainty and an international element was attached to Roman Catholicism that meant not following the protestant religion as prescribed by the state implied potential treachery. In the first half of the 17th century refusing to attend Anglican Protestant services was illegal, this recusancy marked people out as non-compliant and dangerous .

Nicholas Postgate decided to be an active Catholic when passivity was definitely safer. He went to a seminary in France where he was ordained a priest and returned to England where after ministering to catholic gentry families he finally came back to Eskdale in the 1660s to practice his faith and serve persevering Catholics in the wider North York Moors travelling from house to house. The situation of the North York Moors, on the edge and out of the way, has allowed non conformist religions to survive and flourish over the centuries.

Father Postgate survived the Civil War and Commonwealth periods in England, but the Restoration re-ignited the fear of Catholicism which blew up into the Popish Plot in 1678. The plot didn’t need much substance, it suggested that internationalist Catholics were conspiring to murder the King and destroy the State just as many Protestants had long feared and gave credence to some not very latent animosity towards Catholicism and Catholics. There followed a short lived period of persecution and settling of scores.

Father Postgate was arrested in Littlebeck near Whitby, reportedly carrying out a christening. He was charged with being a Catholic priest in England and therefore causing Catholicism to spread ‘of purpose…not only to withdraw … subjects from their due obedience … also to stir up and move sedition, rebellion and open hostility … to the great endangering  … and to the utter ruin, desolation and overthrow of the whole realm’ (Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists, 1585). In line with the punishment for high treason as the highest crime imaginable, Father Postgate was hanged, drawn (disembowelled) and quartered at York on 7 August, 1679. He was 83.

Nicholas Postgate has been beautified by the Catholic Church as one of 85 English Martyrs. His beatification means he is known as the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, intercessional prayers can be addressed to him, and his image and relics are venerated. Reportedly a lock of his white hair is kept in a reliquary at Egton Bridge, a jawbone at English Martyrs Church in York, and a hand with a blood soaked cloth at Ampleforth Abbey.

There is an annual local rally in honour of the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, held alternatively in Egton Bridge (where he was born) and Ugthorpe (where he lived up to his death).

NORTH YORK MOORS

A lot of people get the name wrong. The North York Moors means the moors north of the city of York. There are other areas of North Yorkshire moors and moorland, but only one North (of) York Moors.

OPPOSITE-LEAVED GOLDEN SAXIFRAGE (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is a creeping perennial plant which can form extensive mats in damp, shady areas. So look out for it alongside becks, flushes and springs. It produces tiny golden flowers (3 to 5 mm) from February through to July. The plant has square-stems with directly opposite pairs of leaves.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium from freenatureimages.eu

To make identification more complicated there is also an Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) which shares the same genus. This species is very similar to the Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage except, as the name suggests, the leaves are alternate rather than opposite, and on triangular shaped stems. Its flowers can also be a bit bigger and brighter. The Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage is less common than its Opposite-leaved relative and it prefers a more limey habitat, but occasionally the different species can be found growing together.

Chrysosplenium alternifolium from freenatureimages.eu

ORCHARDS

In the North York Moors 19th and early 20th century farms and a lot of village houses had their own small orchards (still visible on Ordnance Survey historic mapping). Orchard fruit and other soft fruit provided part of a multi source income to people living hand to mouth and making the most of what they had. The fruit season ran from July through to winter – starting with gooseberries, then red and black currants and raspberries, then plums and finishing with apples and pears. The fruit wasn’t just sold at local markets, fruit could be sold on and because of the railways could end up in towns like Scarborough or end up in jam factories in Liverpool and Grimsby, or at the Rowntree’s factory in York to make jelly.

Apple and pear trees, as well as other tree species, are susceptible to canker (fungus). To counter this people used to whitewash orchard tree trunks with lime and spread lime on the orchard floor. Lime is still used as a fungicide.

Main local orchard species for the moors and dales are recorded as being:
Cooking Apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Lane’s Prince Albert, Old Cockpit
Eating Apples: Green Balsams, Winer Pippins
Pears: Hazels

Taken from Life and Tradition in the Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingleby

The loss of orchards since WWII has been a major change in the landscape, biodiversity and culture of the North York Moors.

ORTHOSTATIC WALLING

An orthostat is a vertical ‘upright’ set stone. If its old enough i.e. prehistoric, it is likely to be called a standing stone. Less dramatic orthostats can also be found in drystone walls where farmers have made use of the stones to hand. Big stones have been reused over time and set vertically into the ground amongst the horizontally laid smaller stones more commonly found in drystone walls. Orthostats are also very useful within a wall as gate posts or as the edges of a sheep creep (to allow sheep but no other stock to rove) providing added strength and structure.

Orthostatic walling is rare enough here that where it does occur the walls are often recorded on the NYM Historic Environment Record.

Stone sheep creep built into wall in Raisdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M

Turtle Doves: back with a purr

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

In my time as a birdwatcher I have learnt to identify any large pigeon-like bird crashing through the trees as a blundering Woodpigeon. These very successful birds are with us all year round fattening up on our winter bird tables.

Turtle Doves however are a very different story* – more remarkable and more refined, no clattering of wings, just a delicate flutter and an enticing soft purr. The Turtle name is presumed to come from the latinisation of their call: turr turr. The Turtle Dove is currently considered a high conservation priority in the UK because of severe population decline, and is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

NYM Turtle Dove - coyright Steve Race

The Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) is the smallest member of the European dove family but it flies the furthest during migration; a bird nicknamed Titan was radio tracked in 2014 and found to have flown 11,200 km from Mali back to its nesting site in Suffolk. He flew up to 700 km per night, at speeds up to 60 km per hour!

This year our North York Moors Turtle Doves have arrived back from Africa on time despite the cold north winds in early spring. Our first bird was seen on 16 April near Pickering. This was perfect timing for the start of my role as the HLF funded Turtle Dove Project Officer a few weeks later.

As the spring has developed our vital group of volunteer bird surveyors have been out and about recording Turtle Doves in known sites where they were present last year and in new sites offering similar habitats. Our project area survey is one of only two formal, locally based Turtle Dove surveys in the UK this year and the only one in the north of England. We’ll be looking to extend this surveying into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 2018.

One of the known sites for Turtle Doves is the National Park Centre at Sutton Bank. Up to three birds were recorded here in May visiting the bird feeding station, usually when there were fewer visitors around. Turtle Doves can be shy and wary. We are collecting lots of data on the birds at Sutton Bank and have a special Turtle Dove sightings book in which we want visitors to note their sightings – so if you are up at the Centre and you see the Turtle Doves, please add your report.

Using reported sightings we’ve identified the initial villages along the southern edge of the North York Moors which have small populations of the bird (< 6) and where we hope to start building community links and engagement.

During the next couple of months if you’re lucky enough to see or hear a Turtle Dove in or around the North York Moors, please let us know. The best time to hear them is either very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Example of Turtle Dove habitat - forest edge, Cropton Forest - copyright Richard Baines

*Footnote: The Turtle Dove has long been culturally associated with true love and devotion.

“..Oh yonder doth sit that little turtle dove
It doth sit on yonder high tree
A making a moan for the loss of his love
As I will do for thee, My dear
As I will do for thee”

Going with the flow

Anne-Louise Orange – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

Following the success in securing Heritage Lottery Fund money to support the development of our Ryevitalise programme, the team are now in place and working towards a Stage 2 application*.

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Landscape Partnerships programme is for schemes led by a partnership of local, regional and national interests which aim to conserve specific areas of distinctive landscape character.

River Rye at Lower Locker, Snilesworth - copyright Liz Bassindale, HH AONB.

The Ryevitalise landscape incorporates the main upper Rye catchment, made up of the upper valleys of the Rye including the River Seph and the River Riccal. The Ryevitalise programme aims to protect and enhance the area’s natural and cultural heritage, resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape.

River Rye in Duncombe Park - copyright NYMNPA.

We’ve got a remarkable abundance and variety of priority habitats and wildlife; a number of rare and priority species are strongly linked to the river valleys, including one of only three known UK populations of Alcathoe bat. The catchment is also a national hotspot for veteran trees – iconic and irreplaceable features of both our natural and cultural heritage.

River Rye - crow foot beds in the Vale of Pickering - copyright.

Ryevitalise projects will cover four themes:

  • River Riccal at sunset - copyright Rosy Eaton, Natural England.Water Environment, investigating aquatic habitats of the Rye and rare and threatened species;
  • Water Quality, working with land-owners and managers to reduce pollution;
  • Water Level Management, working alongside our delivery partners to harness natural processes to manage the sources and pathways of flood waters; and
  • Reconnecting People, improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.

The new team – that’s me and Alex Cripps, Catchment Restoration Officer – are keen to hear from anyone with an interest in the Rye catchment. We will be consulting with partners, local landowners and wider communities over the coming months as we develop the projects we want to deliver, ensuring we incorporate peoples’ ideas and knowledge under the four themes. We look forward to meeting with/talking to as many people as we can as we develop our Stage 2 application.

Aerial view of River Rye and Nunnington Hall - taken by NEYEDC.

*The Stage 2 application will be submitted to Heritage Lottery Fund in the autumn of 2018.

Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Two Turtle Doves, one Turtle Dove, and then there were none

We’re beginning a new three-year project (Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor) with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund* through their ‘Our Heritage’ grant. We want to try and help our local population of Turtle Doves. The species is declining dramatically in the UK and is considered vulnerable to global extinction. The North York Moors still has a small population of the birds which currently breed here over the summer before migrating back to Africa.

Turtle Doves - copyright RSPB.

We know that Turtle Doves have been recorded mainly around the forests on the southern fringe of the North York Moors. Through our project we want to establish what it is that the Turtle Doves favour in terms of farmland/forest edge habitat here and then provide informed advice and carry out conservation work to secure and enhance these habitats to maintain our local population. We’re aiming to assist the birds by ensuring there are suitable plants for seed to eat throughout the summer, and also by providing clean supplementary seed in spring. The spring seed will help the birds reach breeding condition quickly once they arrive back following migration and this should hopefully improve breeding success.

We will be commissioning annual surveys and working with local volunteers on supplementary surveys, as well as asking the general public to submit sightings. The conclusions from the data collected will build up an understanding and help target and tailor advice to land managers whose land is, or could be, supporting the species though simple actions or help into an agri-environment scheme. The idea is that this will not only benefit Turtle Doves, but other declining farmland birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge and wider biodiversity interests such as cornfield flowers, wildflower grasslands and pollinating insects.

We’re looking to build on synergies developed with the Cornfield Flowers Project, a long term arable flora conservation initiative and its existing network of conservation-minded farmers which provides a model for engagement and a source of farmer champions. We want to expand this engagement and use farm and woodland managers as advocates to share knowledge and best practice.

We’ll also be involving other parts of local communities as well as visitors – through interpretation, events and talks – sharing how to identify the Turtle Dove, where it goes on its perilous cross continent migration, why it needs assistance and what that entails. The more people appreciate the species as part of their natural heritage, the better placed the species will be to get the active help it needs to survive. We will be working with Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils to manage public land for the benefit of the species e.g. roadside verges, village greens, churchyards, cemeteries; and we’ll be advising what people could do in their own gardens. Hopefully small actions will have beneficial consequences for the birds and for the people who then get to see and hear Turtle Doves in their own locality.

As well as the HLF and the National Park Authority, other project partners include the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, Scarborough Borough Council, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and crucially volunteers as well as the land managers and the local communities on the ground.

Turtle Dove - copyright THINKSTOCK.

We want to do what we can to prevent local extinction and to contribute as much as we can to the conservation of the species nationally so as many people as possible can get to hear the Turtle Dove’s evocative purring call first hand.

We’ll let you know what’s happening and how to get involved as the project develops.

* The project is part of the HLF’s campaign – Yorkshire’s Back Garden – to re-connect people to their natural heritage.