Way! Hey! It’s Lamprey!

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

My friends in the world of fresh water have always tried to convince me that lampreys are beautiful creatures that are an essential part of our eco-system. I was somewhat unconvinced! Their slippery skin, suckers and razor teeth never quite made them the most attractive of animals. Having grappled with measuring elvers in plastic trays in the last Ryevitalise blog post, I was never convinced that neither eels nor lamprey were anything other than something out of a horror film. However whilst Riverfly monitoring on one hot sunny morning recently along with one of our (socially distanced) experienced volunteers, we came across one of the blighters. Even though notoriously difficult to catch, one landed right in our net after our 3 minute kick sample. As our volunteer excitingly popped it onto his hand and waved it in my face, I really wasn’t sure why he was that excited … so he explained how fantastic they were for our rivers.

Young lamprey temporarily caught during recent Ryevitalise Riverfly Monitoring. Copyright Amy Carrick, NYMNPA.

So why the Rye?

Firstly we have three species of lamprey in this country – sea, brook and river lamprey. These have been a rare sight recently in this area until the past few years. As a result of an improvement in water quality, the removal of migratory obstacles and the installation of special tiles that help movement, the lamprey are navigating through the River Derwent. The population has become so important that the lower reaches of the Derwent now have protected status, reflecting the spawning distribution of the species in the catchment.

That this ancient species has made it back up to the River Rye towards the top of the Derwent catchment is very encouraging. Small numbers have been recorded in the past few years by our Riverfly monitors.

So why should we care?

Well over the past few decades high levels of pollution in our rivers has nearly wiped out any chance of seeing lamprey in the UK. All species of lamprey require clean sandy gravels to spawn. The young larvae then swim off to the soft marginal silt of the river to grow; feeding on the algae, bacteria and detritus. Sediments can also smother spawning gravel sites, also effecting other species of fish too. Dramatic changes in water flow and levels also affect these spawning sites. The migratory sea and river lamprey require good water quality to survive their long journey from sea to spawning sites.

This means that if you do have lamprey in your river, something is going right!

So what can we do to help?

Although the fate of the lamprey population depends on the goings on in the lower catchments, the more we can do in the upper catchments to keep lamprey here the better for our freshwater ecosystem, and that’s exactly what the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme is trying to achieve. The reduction in sediments is one of the biggest factors; reducing Himalayan Balsam eroding our river banks, stopping cattle predation in rivers, changing the way riparian land is farmed to reduce runoff, all helps in the battle against sediment. Water level management and the planting of trees also helps with reducing the dramatic water level changes during the winter. And most importantly (slightly biased) is engagement! If people don’t know why we should care for lamprey, then they never will. Sharing the beauty and importance of this slippery creature with as many people as possible will help in protecting these quirky river species.

Did you know for example lamprey predate dinosaurs by 200 million years?! And my favorite – apparently during the Middle Ages, lampreys were widely eaten by the upper classes throughout Europe. It is thought King Henry I died from overindulging on lampreys.

So while I will still recoil in horror at seeing one, I now know how special lamprey are and I will attempt to make these as popular as the cuddly otter or water vole….well one can try…..

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logo band

A miscellany of wildlife encounters

During the last few months, alongside everything else that has been going on, there has been the chance for additional up-close and personal nature experiences. Here’s a few from the (mostly) home life of the Conservation Department – some in pictures some in words.

Here’s a stunning patchwork green view that could be seen when looking over towards Whitby from Borrowby while completing a grassland survey. Copyright Victoria Franklin, NYMNPA.

Golden ringed dragonfly being pointed at. Copyright Rachel Pickering, NYMNPA.“A golden ringed dragonfly let both our children [very gently] touch it. For me I guess one of the more striking things about this encounter was that we were in Cropton Forest – part of Forestry England’s ‘commercial conifer forestry’ which some people write off as having no wildlife value. My family and I have spent many happy hours in Cropton Forest during the past couple of months enjoying wildlife and cultural heritage and just for that time not seeing another soul.

There was a nesting blackbird squashed into a hole in a wall in my parent’s potting shed which successful fed and raised a brood of chicks. On our usual dog walk near home we came across a cobweb of small eggar moth caterpillars. We took some home for a week or so and they enjoyed living in our kitchen fed on blackthorn. We let them go back into the hedgerow when we realised that when they form a cocoon they stay in it overwinter and perhaps even for 2 or 3 winters! So much better off back in the hedge.”

“Last week after a dawn bird survey I stumbled across a fantastic small quarry … With three species of orchids; Bee, Butterfly and Fragrant (maybe Chalk Fragrant) … I was as they say Well Chuffed!”

“I’ve been seeing loads of wildlife; it’s photographing the pesky thing’s that’s the problem – for some reason they don’t seem to want to cooperate! There’s the barn owl that’s been hunting at the bottom of the garden and in our neighbour’s field almost every morning and evening for the past couple of months; I’ve seen more badgers this year whilst out running than ever before, including an adult with two cubs; then there’s the hare that’s taken up semi-permanent residence on the lawn; the herd of 10 fallow deer in the barley field next door that I see from the kitchen window most evenings; and I’ve been dived bombed by lapwings when running on the moor above Kepwick.”

“I came across this delightful critter in my garden yesterday – it’s a Nicrophorus Nicrophorus Investigator. Copyright Briony Fox, NYMNPA.Investigator – it is a burying beetle and like other burying beetles they bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and mice as a food source for their larvae. They are common and widespread (although I’ve never seen one before!). They have a very good sense of smell and are reputed to be able to smell a carcass up to two miles away (ewww!). It was quite a big bug – around 2cm long.”

“I had a rather unpleasant wildlife encounter at Falling Foss on Thursday when our friends dog ‘found’ a nest of agitated bees on the path and they swarmed and chased us. I evaded the inevitable but the others all got stung so that wasn’t fun. We did see a toad later on so that made up for it a bit!”

“Me and my family have spent hours watching the wildlife in our garden and in and around the village throughout lockdown, this is my favourite event because I love a happy ending…We have a troop of sparrows who eat their way through a big feeder of bird seed every day. I enjoy watching them line up on twigs waiting for a go and squabbling over the perches on the feeder. They have a dust bath under the hedge often alongside our chickens. The group fledged lots of young and my two children loved watching the fluffy youngsters hanging around under the feeder waiting for attention from their parents. Just before the children’s bath time one day we heard a loud thump on the lounge window. I ran out followed closely by the children and found a stunned just fledged sparrow lying on the ground. I picked up the little bird and we all peered down at her – she opened an eye! We decided to put her in a big cardboard box while the children had their bath and see what happened . . . After the quickest bath on record we opened the box and there she was standing up and looking up at us. The children carried the box out into the garden and off she went back to the troop…”

Swallow Beard - Alasdair wearing a swallow chick. Copyright NYMNPA.“Earlier in the year I had about 50 whooper swans fly low over the house! What a noise! I’ve had a pair of redstarts nesting in the eaves of the house…A pair of swallows built a nest in the chicken coop and the chicks fled the nest early to escape the temperature of a hot day (nest was very close to the tin roof). So I moved the nest, scooped up the chicks and popped them back – one got attached and found comfort under my beard for a while before I popped it back with siblings – happy to say all four have fledged! Good work mum and dad!

Being at home more has meant that I’ve gotten to see the green woodpeckers more often rather than just hearing them ‘yaffling’ in the woods…”

“My main experiences with wasps have mainly been negative…it normally involves providing a glass of sacrificial cider to keep them at bay in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon. They also act as play things for my cats when they invade my house. I don’t know much about wasps but never the less I know how important these little beasties Alex's wasp nibbled bird table. Copyright Alex Cripps, NYMNPA.are, although trying to explain that to anyone outside of the conservation sector can prove challenging. Whilst attempting to tackle my garden I noticed my log bird table had slowly started to shrink, once a solid round log was now two thirds of its size. I assumed I was not feeding the birds enough food and they had taken to destroying my table as a form of protest, until I noticed a wasp happily munching away at the wood. I was unsure why a wasp might have taken a liking to my bird table until I stumbled across an episode of Springwatch where Chris Packham was stood excitingly next to a wasp having a good old munch on his old shed door. I didn’t realise that this ritual was part of the nest building process until seeing that episode, so although my bird table is not as smart of it used to be, it’s great to see nature in action!”

“No major surprises but it’s been a lockdown pleasure to watch goldfinches, tree sparrows, magpies, wood pigeons, doves, crows, etc. pop into the garden and the occasional herring gull pop down to eat any scraps left out and remind me just how big they can get! We also have three cheeky hens who are resident in the back garden…We’ve also had a few visits from hedgehogs in the front garden, including one who popped by at 5pm for a quick snuffle in the soil – we haven’t actually seen a hedgehog in the front garden for quite a few years now, so our late afternoon visitor was quite welcome. There was also some distinctive paw prints left out on the front step one night and we think it had popped back for some more exploration. We’ve also had rabbits in the garden too, probably from the close-by cemetery which is home to a few. Last weekend I joined a small group of friends in a mates back garden to celebrate his birthday and at dusk we had the pleasure of watching the local bats pop out and skitter around the sky for insects – one bat came very close to brushing all of our faces with its wings as it did a loop around the table top! I’m presuming they were common pipistrelles, we have them at home too and they have been a delight to watch.”

“In my tiny garden I’ve had three blackbird nests, one thrush nest, and two robin nests … and the butterfly is a common blue seen in a quarry near my house.”

Ephialtes manifestator. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.“I’ve had lots of red mason bees and leaf cutter bees using my solitary bee ‘hotel’ and holes drilled in the fence. While watching them a few weeks ago, an impressive parasitic ichneumon wasp called ‘Ephialtes manifestator’ visited and started laying eggs in some of the full nesting tubes. I’ve since found out that it’s only the 10th record of this wasp in Yorkshire, so I’m really pleased that I’m helping support these associated parasitic species as well.

More small eggar moth caterpillars. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.I ventured on a few new footpaths not far from home, and on one came across a really nice veteran oak tree. While looking at it, I found a number of deathwatch beetles on it – which this far north are very rare in natural situations (i.e. not eating National Trust properties!) – so were quite an exciting find (for me anyway!).

When lockdown began to ease I spent some time looking for small eggar moth webs in the nearby hedgerows, and have also reared some caterpillars. They’ve all pupated now, but they kept me very busy as they ate an immense amount and needed daily supplies of fresh blackthorn!”

“I saw a hedgehog as I was leaving a site visit in Bilsdale last week, makes a refreshing change to see a live one rather than the many killed on the roads.”

Bilsdale hedgehog. Copyright James Caldwell, NYMNPA.

Not all the species have been rare and not all the locations special – but each encounter made an impression.

Microscopic wildlife

Recently the Hoopoe blog by NHBS hosted an interview with Ben Fitch, the Riverfly Partnership’s Project Manager.

Ben emphasis how important riverfly monitoring is as an initiative because it is such an effective way of monitoring the health of a river through its fly life. Ben also happens to mention the flat-bodied mayfly larva (Ecdyonurus dispar – Autumn Dun) as one of his favourite river flies, particularly the white-spot variant.

Excitingly during a socially distanced riverfly training session a few weeks ago Alex, Sam and Amy from the Ryevitalise Team found this very variant here in the River Rye. Apparently the exotic looking spots might be caused by a recessive gene, but what triggers it remains unknown.

Autumn dun white spot from the River Rye - through a microscope. Copyright NYMNPA.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye catchment is getting going again now, whilst keeping in line with current Covid-19 restrictions. So we thought we’d have a chat with one of our own riverfly people – Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field Officer.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.How long have Riverfly volunteers been out in the Rye catchment this year?

We started the phased return of riverfly monitoring from the middle of June. Amy (Education and Engagement Officer) and myself have been meeting individual volunteers on site to go through revised risk assessments and answer any questions they may have, as well as conducting the first kick-samples of the year. Normally riverfly monitoring would have started up at the beginning of May, but due to restrictions our volunteers understandably weren’t able to get out and monitor for the first 6 weeks of the sampling season.

How many Riverfly volunteers have you got on the Rye?

Currently we’ve got 30 riverfly volunteers registered through the Ryevitalise programme, although not all of these are currently ‘active’; unfortunately due to C-19 we had to Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.cancel our riverfly training and refresher days in April, so some volunteers are still awaiting their official training, including health & safety. Others have received training previously and are in the process of being assigned a site to monitor. Our first phase of volunteers to get back to volunteering were our established riverfly volunteers (8 in total) at sites where they had monitored before.

Riverfly monitoring is a good thing because…
See Catchment Based Approach partnerships website’s explanation of riverfly monitoring

“Riverflies (and other freshwater invertebrates) are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Because riverflies are riverfly populations are affected by many factors, predominately water quality, habitat diversity, water level and flow rate. Their common characteristics of limited mobility, relatively long life cycle, presence throughout the year and specific tolerances to changes in environmental conditions make them powerful biological indicators to monitor water quality, and so are commonly referred to as ‘the canary of our rivers.’  The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality…”

Basically this Citizen Science initiative “ensures that water quality is checked more widely [than it would be otherwise] and action taken at the earliest opportunity if any problem are detected”.

Ryevitalise is participating in the national riverfly monitoring scheme run by the Riverfly Partnership. It’s important that we’re part of the wider scheme for several reasons: it standardises the methodology used across the UK; we get top-notch training and support from the Riverfly partnership’s extremely knowledgeable qualified trainers; we can run reports of our results easily from the database that our result go into; and we get to contribute important data on water quality and catchment health to the wider national scheme so that research into trends in the health of our rivers can be carried out and lead to informed changes and positive impacts on terrestrial and aquatic management.

Riverfly monitoring focuses on three groups – the up-wing flies or mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera).

Such tiny creepy insects are actually fascinating and wonderful because…
See Freshwater Biological Association’s website

  • Riverfly monitoring - Mayfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.They are a vital link in the aquatic food chain as a food source for fish, birds and mammals
  • They are one of the longest lived group of animals on the earth (mayflies have been around for over 3 million years, with the first written reference to them being made over 4000 years ago!)
  • Mayfly nymphs are present in the water all year round, and can spend up to two years feeding under the water before emerging as their adult form… but once they’ve Riverfly monitoring - Yellow hawk female. Copyright Stuart Crofts, Riverfly Partnership.emerged they fly for only a few hours (enough time to display and mate) before dying
  • Caddisfly larvae are fantastic grazers that clean up old leaves and twigs from the river bed, and sort through sediment as they go
  • Caddisfly cases used to be made into jewellery because they are so beautiful!
  • Riverfly monitoring - Cased caddisfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.Stonefly nymphs are extremely hardy – managing to continue growth even in sub-zero temperatures. They are also able to suspend growth if a river dries up temporarily
  • Overall, riverflies are a vital part of both the aquatic and terrestrial food chains, as well as being key players in sorting sediment on the river bed and breaking down waste products like old leaves and twigs

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logos

Good news story: Turtle Doves in a weedy corner

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

On 24 June I got a text message from one of our Turtle Dove volunteer surveyors. The message went something like…

‘A good morning’s survey – I saw five Turtle Doves including two feeding alongside eight Yellowhammers in a weedy corner of a nearby field’.

I was very pleased Andy had seen five Turtle Doves because that was one more than I had seen in the same survey square the previous month. But hang on a minute … ‘feeding in a weedy corner’ ?… that phrase pushed me to the edge of my seat … I messaged Andy back and asked him to send me a map of where they were feeding … as soon as I saw the map, I gave a big hurrah!!!

The ‘weedy corner’ was in fact the wild flower plot sown in the last couple of years by a farmer especially for these endangered birds as part of the grant scheme through the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project. Even better – Andy had actually got a photo of one of the doves (see below), great evidence of success! I rang up the farmer to give him the good news – not surprisingly he was very pleased that his hard work was having the desired effect. The flowers in the mix he planted include Turtle Dove favourites such as Common Fumitory, Black Medick and Birds-foot Trefoil. Three species which were once commonly found by the side of arable fields but are now increasingly rare.

The farmer and I had located the flower plot in one of his arable field alongside Forestry England woodland. This forest-farmland edge is a habitat known to be favoured by Turtle Doves, and other species such as the Yellowhammers Andy had also seen.

A Turtle Dove in seeded plot 24.6.20 (North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project). Copyright A Malley.

Our Turtle Dove Project has been overwhelmed by the good will shown by local communities and farmers. Now we have direct local evidence showing that these wild flowers and their seed really do make a difference for these beautiful birds when it comes to feeding – so we can continue our work with an extra spring in our step!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

For more about the North Yorkshire Turtle Doves (and Richard) – have a look at a feature on our website called Bid to save turtle doves.

Sweetening the land

Ellie Leary – Monuments for the Future Project Officer

Not all of the archaeology within the North York Moors is as ancient and enigmatic as the standing stones or rock art (see previous posts). Once a ubiquitous presence within the landscape, you can still stumble across the remains of a more industrial feature – lime kilns. These structures were part of an industry that has shaped and changed the landscape of the area from the extraction of the limestone from quarries to its end use as a building material and soil improver.

Over 400 lime kiln sites are recorded within the National Park’s Historic Environment Record, with the evidence coming mainly from historic maps, but also earthworks and standing remains. Only three of these kilns have the benefit of protected status as Scheduled Monuments, and in all cases they are included as part of a wider monument rather than in their own right. Another three have protected status as Grade II Listed Buildings.

Grade II Listed Building (1149198) - lime kiln, Hawnby (HER 5946). Copyright NYMNPA.

The use of lime has a long history in Britain dating back to at least the Roman period and over time it has had a wide range of practical uses from forming the base of plasters, mortar and concrete; as lime-wash for waterproofing walls and lightening interiors; in the bleaching of paper and preparing hides for tanning; as a disinfectant; and as a soil improver for agriculture.

During the Roman period it was used particularly for lime-mortar, plaster and lime wash; while during the mediaeval period the need for quantities of lime hugely increased with the construction of large stone-built buildings and bridges. From the 17th century onwards however the main use of lime has been in agriculture, with it being added to soil to improve acidic soils or as a top dressing to pasture to “sweeten” the land.

In most cases in order to turn raw limestone into a useable product it has to be fired in a kiln, creating a process called calcining where calcium carbonate is converted into calcium oxide. This process was both labour and fuel intensive and the trade was known as lime burning – those working at the kilns, were lime burners.

Most of the kilns known of within the North York Moors date to the 18th and 19th centuries, although earlier examples do exist. Excavations at Ayton Castle, for example, revealed a lime kiln dated to the 14th century, which may have produced lime mortar and cement for the construction of the castle’s tower house, the ruins of which still stand.  (This is one of the three kiln sites included within a wider Scheduled Monument – see above).

The earliest kilns were simple clamp kilns which consisted of a circular or rectangular hollow within which the limestone and fuel were layered, covered with clay or turf, and left to burn for a few days. Often clamp kilns leave little obvious trace, however the remaining protected kiln sites in this area (as mentioned above) include two clamp kilns built into the bank of a scheduled prehistoric cross dyke and another cut into the edge of a scheduled Bronze Age barrow – the actual kilns are all thought to be 18th or 19th century in date. Their remains can be seen as horse shoe shaped mounds of earth and stone rubble.

As the demand for lime increased kilns became more substantial in size although the transformation process remained the same. Kilns were generally circular or square stone structures, about 3m in height, with a bowl lined with sandstone or firebricks and at least one draw hole located at the bottom of the kiln. As the contents burnt through the lime was extracted through the draw holes at the bottom. Additional layers of stone and fuel could be added to the top if necessary, otherwise one-off firings were carried out as needed. A good example of this kind of kiln can be found at Old Byland where the remains of four lime kilns stand next to a road (see image below). They are located on the edge of a quarry to the south west of the village and some parts survive to 5m in height, with two of the kilns having the roof and flue surviving.

Old Byland roadside lime kilns (HER 2680). Copyright NYMNPA.

The end product removed from a kiln was called ‘lump lime’, ‘burnt lime’ or ‘quicklime’ and in order to convert this for use it has to be ‘slaked’ – a process involving adding water to cause a reaction which produces heat and steam. By then adding enough water, putty is produced, which, mixed with sand, produces a mortar. Over time this reverts back to calcium carbonate and hardens.  When used in agriculture the ‘lump lime’ was left in heaps, covered in earth and left to slake, eventually creating a powder that could be ploughed into the soil. Other methods were used too, including leaving the lime uncovered and occasionally turning to produce the same result.  ‘Lump lime’ is a volatile material and there were inherent dangers if it started to ‘slake’, producing heat, before it arrived at the final destination.  By the late 19th century, hydration plants were introduced that could grind the lime, sprinkle it with water, dry it and then bag it for transporting.

The location of kilns largely depends on the final use for the ‘quicklime’, so that if it were needed for building construction the kilns would most likely be located close to the building site. They could then either be dismantled and moved or left to decay once they were no longer needed.

Field kilns were sometimes built by farmers and land owning estates from the 17th century. Smaller kilns would have been built by farmers for occasional use to improve their land but estates often built larger kilns to serve the whole estate and wider area, providing a profitable source of income.

Another common location for kilns was close to or within limestone quarries. Many of these quarries are still obvious on the ground now as large excavated pits; historic mapping helps to identify the full extent of the quarries and the location of kilns. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map (below) shows Sour Ley Quarry near Helmsley with up to 20 lime kilns within the quarry.

Extract from 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey Map 1893

Easy access to transportation was also another consideration for the location – for fuel to be brought in and for the final product to taken away for sale.  Colonel Sir Joshua Crompton, 19th century owner of the Kepwick Estate on the western edge of the North York Moors, built a railway line in the early 1820s which carried limestone from a quarry on Kepwick Moor down to the lime kilns and stone yard to the west. Fuel for the kilns could be easily brought in and the final product taken away on the Thirsk to Yarm turnpike road (now the A19). With a very steep incline up to the quarry the railway used gravity; as the full wagons were sent down slope they pulled the empty ones up towards the quarry, whilst horses pulled the wagons along the flat plain to the west. The quarry and the start of the now dismantled railway line lie with the National Park boundary and the lime kilns themselves are a short distance outside the boundary and are protected as a Scheduled Monument.

Lime kiln north of Sinnington (HER 4981). Copyright NYMNPA.

As the demand for quicklime grew the process became industrialised, with new kilns designed with efficiency in mind as well as a higher quality lime product. As a result most of these smaller local kilns were abandoned by the 20th century, with some being dismantled and others left to decay, remaining in the landscape as a reminder of this chapter of industry.

To keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

Biological recording for the soul: recording nature – Part Two

“Biological recording on a national scale enables effective nature conservation”

Sam Newton

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

Like I said last time you still don’t necessarily need to go far to observe nature.

If you can identify wildlife as you come across it then you can add to a growing wealth of knowledge. The basic ingredients you need are:

  • what you saw
  • where you saw it
  • when you saw it
  • who saw it

Then all you need to do is submit these details. There are many different recording societies and schemes, but if you are new to biological recording, the easiest way to start is uploading records to iRecord (also available as an App). Uploading photos with your records will help the experts who will check your records. iNaturalist is an alternative for uploading pictures of species you have not been able to identify, and then other users of the site can try and identify them with you.

Please note – we do know what most of these are – but we left them un-named so you can have a go yourself.

Being able to observe and identify a plant or animal species, and in doing so understand a bit more about nature, can be incredibly satisfying. But you don’t need to act in isolation – other people are already doing this and can help and encourage with their expertise, experience and enthusiasm. There are a number of really great local and regional naturalist groups that are interested in the species you are perhaps most likely to encounter in your garden and nearby outdoor spaces. Things to remember are that not all species can be identified from photos, and if you use one of these sites, please read any introductory information or pinned posts to find out precisely how they operate.

For general wildlife in and around the North York Moors
Check out the Ryedale Natural History Society, Whitby Naturalists, Scarborough Field Naturalists, and Cleveland Naturalists Field Club for links and information. You could also follow the Whitby Naturalists and Scarborough Field Naturalists on Facebook. Also have a look at the Yorkshire Naturalists Union, who as an organisation study and record Yorkshire’s Flora and Fauna – look for their latest news, wildlife sightings, their Twitter, their Flickr Early purple orchid on a road verge near Sam's house. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.and they also have a list of the wider Yorkshire groups and societies.

For general plants in and around the North York Moors
Look out for a copy of one of the late Nan Syke’s books, such as A Picture Guide to the Wild Flowers of North East Yorkshire (now sadly out of print*) or Wild Flowers on the Edge: The Story of North Yorkshire’s Road Verges. Maybe join North East Yorkshire Botany on Facebook.

For local invertebrates
Have a look at Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire, and their publication The Butterflies of Oak Beauty Moth from Sam's home moth trap. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.Yorkshire, which brings together a huge amount of identification and ecological detail. Also consider joining the Butterflies and Moths, North and East Yorkshire Facebook page. There are around 2,500 British species of moth. I’m keen on moth trapping which allows more time for identification – the moths are released without being harmed. You can use a purpose made moth trap, or check out the BBC’s Springwatch Blog on Moth Trapping for Beginners. To find out more about dragonflies have a look at the species information and other resources on the Yorkshire Dragonfly Group website, and maybe join Yorkshire Dragonfly Group on Facebook.

For nearby birds, fungi, bats, other mammals and more
There are a multitude of other local websites and groups to follow, such as Scarborough Birders, the North East Fungi Study Group, North Yorkshire Bat Group, the Yorkshire Mammal Group – to name just four! To keep up with local biodiversity and nature news, follow Tim Burkinshaw’s Connecting For Nature Blog, and have a look at Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Blogs and News.

These are resources from around the North York Moors but if you’re from further away there will be similar local and regional naturalist groups for you too. Recording nature is something to do together for a shared purpose without actually needing to be side by side.

When you’re out and about, having a look around, always remember to stay safe during the present Covid-19 pandemic. To keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

*Good news – this book has recently been republished and is available through the North Yorkshire Moors Association.

Looking outwards: recording nature – Part One

“The natural world is the greatest source of excitement. The greatest source of visual beauty. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

David Attenborough

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

You don’t necessarily need to go far to observe nature.

Over the last couple of months, whilst in my garden or taking limited exercise, I have come across early purple orchids on nearby road verges, heard curlew and lapwings in the neighbouring fields, and hunted under stones and on plants for various beetles and bugs. This, along with my gardening for wildlife, has really helped me deal with the lockdown that has been affecting us all, while at the same time developing a better understanding of the wildlife around my home which I will continue to make the most of.

There are lots and lots of Citizen Science projects out there that rely on the general public to collect records/observations/measurements and then report this data to environmental organisations. By analysing the collated data it’s possible for these organisations to get some sort of picture/trend for species and habitats and then hopefully recognise and understand changes. In most cases these projects rely on the general public collecting the data to make them possible. The more data there is the more useful the analysis can be. The more data there is for where you are the more useful the analysis can be for your area.

We’re getting towards the end of the Bee-Fly Watch. This scheme records the several species of Bee-flies across the UK from March until June – the only one we are likely to see in North Yorkshire is the Dark-edged Bee-fly. Did you even know they existed?

In the summer there will be the Big Butterfly Count, which will be taking place from the 17 July – 9 August this year.

A garden focused survey is the Garden Butterfly Survey, in which you can record the butterflies you see over the whole year. This scheme helps Butterfly Conservation to learn more about butterfly populations and how they use gardens.

Similarly the British Trust for Ornithology have their own Garden BirdWatch, where you can contribute your weekly garden bird sightings to help keep an eye on populations and again, how they’re using gardens.

The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species have a Big Hedgehog Map. If you happen to see a hedgehog or if you’ve kindly made a gap in your garden fence for them to pass through (a hedgerow hole), please report in.

For those of you who are keener on something maybe not so sweet, you could have your own slug hunt and send in your data to the RHS cellar slug survey. If you only have a set amount of time to concentrate you could do a quick Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count) as part of the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS), or if you want to get engrossed try measuring involucres and achenes for the BSBI ragwort study project.

Your local observations are also very important for long term monitoring of the influence of climate change on the natural world. Have a look at the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar, and record your phenology based sightings such as hearing your first cuckoo of the year.

Help your garden to help nature…

It’s definitely not cheating to try and attract more of this wildlife you’re recording into your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one. It’s helpful.

There is a lot of information out there about how to make changes to your garden to be more accommodating for biodiversity.

Insects are a vital part of biodiversity. Have a look for ideas on the Buglife and Bumblebee Conservation Trust websites.

Image of the Hoverfly Lagoons which Sam made for his own garden. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.They may not be the most glamorous of pollinators but there are lots of species of Hoverflies in the UK. Because of their tendency to hover in the same place for minutes at a time they are great to look at. To draw Hoverflies into your garden make your own Buzz Club Hoverfly Lagoon.

The RSPB have an initiative called Give Nature a Home suggesting activities for your garden ranging from digging damp ditches and providing deadwood habitat, to building bee hotels and bird nest boxes, and planting for pollinators.

If you’re looking to help pollinators locally you might want to make your own mini meadow. This how-to guide is aimed particularly at the dryish North York Moors. I did this on part of my own lawn, which is now full of wildflowers, from Birds-foot-trefoil and Knapweed, to Yellow rattle, Oxeye daisy and Rough hawkbit – and I only have to cut the grass once a year! Other areas I leave as tussocky grass to benefit over-wintering insects. If you’re desperate to keep using your lawn mower, you could set the cutting blades to the highest setting to encourage Clovers, Self heal and Dandelions to flower in your lawn.

Part of Sam's own lawn with Knapweed, Oxeye daisy, Dandelion, Birds-foot trefoil, Yarrow, Yellow rattle and more. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

For more inspiration I’d suggest reading Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.

Sam observed the current Covid-19 guidelines during his activities. Keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

Reconnecting people to the near and far past

Paul Thompson – Ryevitalise Programme Officer

Ryevitalise is reaching out with its ‘Rye Reflections – inspired by the river’ project. We’re currently putting a call out for people to send in their memories of wildlife encounters, past activities and changes in land management practices so we can record these experiences before these precious memories are lost.  We want to document change that has happened within the living memory of our communities, providing a framework that shaped how we connect with our local landscape today and how our children will connect with this landscape in the future.

We will share these memories with local school students, encouraging them to compare these experiences with their own, highlighting the differences and similarities and inspiring them to protect our catchment habitats in the longer term.

Old photographic image of Rievaulx.

I’m really excited about Rye Reflections, and what we might find out about the landscape we think we know so well.  I remember seeing hedgehogs regularly in my garden, and my car number plate used to get covered in dead flies in the 90’s, but these are no longer common sights in 2020.  I can’t wait to hear what memories our local community have about growing up and living around the catchment of the river Rye.  I hope to share these stories and help people reconnect with nature and the river.

If you have any wildlife memories, old photographs, journals or other records that might help us inspire the next generation of landscape guardians – please get in touch with me by email or post (North York Moors NPA, The Old Vicarage, Bondgate, Helmsley, York, YO62 5BP).

And that’s not all…we’re already underway with Rediscovering the Rye project …

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

Humans have lived with, and adapted the Rye from the earliest times. The story of how and why humans adapted their environments can be traced through the ages; from low-impact exploitation in Bilsdale during the Mesolithic era, to the beginnings of dramatic alterations and clearances for cultivation purposes in the Neolithic era. Current land managers have inherited these changes which bring about the opportunity to learn about these old practices, especially the use of the flowing waters of the Rye for farming, metal extraction and working. There is documentary evidence of the manipulation of the Rye by the monks of Rievaulx Abbey, including a long-established ‘canals’ theory. Land in Bilsdale belonged to the Abbey as an important grange site with a prototype blast furnace at Laskill and was the location of the quarries for which much of abbey’s construction relied. Dissolution destruction of this technically advanced furnace (c. 1530s) is suggested by metallurgical expert Gerry McDonnell to have delayed the Industrial Revolution by 250 years.

On the earth science side, there is a complicated story of how the Rye runs along various complex geologies, impacting on the unusual behaviour of the water; disappearing down sinkholes, bubbling up unexpectedly at springs, flash floods and how communities have managed to adapt to the unexpected ways of the river.

But where to start? We needed to design a project to enhance our understanding of the Ryevitalise landscape through river science and field investigation but also provides a unique and engaging way for our volunteers to engage with archaeology.  Which lead us to….LiDAR! LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) is a relatively new technique that records ‘lumps and bumps’ on the ground using a laser mounted aeroplane. LiDAR data, originally commissioned by the Environment Agency for non-archaeological purposes, is available in most areas of the Ryevitalise catchment. This data can be processed into LiDAR maps that show the ground surface in amazing detail beneath the trees and vegetation, including previously unrecorded archaeological features.

Example of a 1km LiDAR data grid square.

So with our 30 eager volunteers and academics from Durham and York Universities Ryevitalise hase set about this exciting project, the initial stages of which can usefully be done at home! Volunteers will be given their own 1km square of LiDAR, within the Ryevitalise area, to analyse and annotate for any possible archaeological sites. These will then be validated by our project consultant, Paul Frodsham (ORACLE Heritage Services), leading to a list of intriguing sites to explore further through Ryevitalise …

Although this particular project now has a full quota of volunteers, if you might be interested in other Ryevitalise volunteer opportunities, please see here.

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

A to Z: a variety of Us and Vs

U, V

Underwood

Underwood is a term for trees within historically managed woodland (Silva minuta in the Domesday Book) – the ones grown and managed for common usage such as wattle for buildings, stakes for fencing, and firewood and charcoal for fuel i.e. not for building timber. A managed woodland often included underwood as well as timber trees left to grow big and straight. Underwood is made up of the trees that were coppiced and pollarded over and over again – from early history on to the post medieval period.

The underwood was managed frequently so trees stayed smallish, and their crop of wood was productively harvested much more often than from the timber trees and so the underwood could be worth more than the timber. What is left of the historic underwood can sometimes still be seen within semi natural ancient woodland – look for idiosyncratic-shaped overgrown veteran trees. Because the trees were managed and encouraged to rejuvenate they have lived a lot longer than single timber trees which were felled. They are as much cultural heritage as natural heritage. 

Veteran tree - grown up underwood - in the upper Rye catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whereas oak and beech might be more likely to have been left to become timber trees, the quicker growing underwood species were often more of a mix such as crab apple, holly, service, ash, sallow, hazel, maple, thorn, wych elm, birch. Careful rotation would be needed to give the different species the best chance to flourish and to ensure there was always wood available to the people who had the rights to collect it. The species mix were what came naturally in different parts of the country and what thrived in local conditions.

From the 18th century onwards, as demand altered, the products from underwood became less valuable and timber trees became more so, and therefore the management and species proportions of woodlands changed. During the 20th century predominantly conifer planted woodland for timber prevailed.

Urra

Urra Moor, part of the Cleveland Hills, contains the highest point on the North York Moors – 454 metres above sea level, at Round Hill. There is a lot of prehistoric archaeology in the area – cairns, lithic scatters and a flint arrow head find. Being at the highest point for miles around is always going to be useful for humans as well as significant.

There is some disagreement over where the unusual name Urra comes from. Most simply it might mean hill from the Norse haugr, or it could imply a more impressionistic idea of the darkness and gloom of such a wild barren area and be from the Old English word for dirty – horheht/horhig/horuweg. Try speaking the words without pronouncing most of the consonants.

Trig Point on top of Round Hill, Urra Moor. Copyright NYMNPA.

Obviously it’s not the time to explore Urra Moor, due to the Covid-19 situation. Please do not travel into or around the North York Moors National Park unless this is absolutely essential (essential travel does not include travel for exercise or to second homes and holiday accommodation). The National Park will be here waiting for you to enjoy when it is safe to do so.

Urtica dioica

The European stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is found where there are high amounts of nutrients in the soil and so is usually associated with habitation and other types of development. It is often frowned upon as a ‘pernicious weed’ because it is such a successful perennial that spreads through its rhizomes and runners, out competing other plants. At least it wont be suffocating many wildflowers however as many of those don’t appreciate nutrient rich soils.

Urtica dioica has serrated edged leaves and small grouped flowers. The leaves and stem are covered in hairs the tips of which can deliver a biochemical sting into your skin if touched (Urtica comes from the latin word for burn). This active element may be one of the reasons some people think it has medical efficacy. The plant can be usefully added to compost, and it (as a young plant only) can be used as an ingredient in food and drink, the immediate danger being in the collection rather than the eventual digestion. N.B. Don’t partake of any wild plant unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is and whether it really is edible or not. 

From a biodiversity point of view the nettle is particularly useful as a living plant because it acts as a host for the eggs and then provides vital food for the caterpillar stage for a multitude of butterfly and moth species – including Comma (Polygonia c-album), Peacock (Aglais io), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum), Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis), Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae), Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli humuli), Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis), Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum), Snout (Hypena proboscidalis), Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).

Red Admiral caterpillar on nettle plant. From Butterfly Conervation website.

Verjuice

Verjuice (Verjus) is the liquor that comes from pressing unripe fruit. The word means ‘green juice’ – ‘green’ conveying the tart un-ripeness of the fruit. The fruit used depended on what was available in the region. In and around the North York Moors that would have largely been crab apples, and maybe gooseberries. The fruit would have been pressed/crushed to abstract the liquor. The remaining mush could be fed to animals like pigs. The liquor could be used to flavour food with sourness – it is very acidic, like lemon juice before lemons were widely available, like a mild vinegar or a bad wine – and as medicine or tonic. The Crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris) is native to Britain and the trees were mostly wild in the past, although sometimes used in fencing (i.e. manipulating woody species to create enclosure hedges). In the 19th/early 20th century foraged crab apples were collected along with orchard fruit from the North York Moors to be sent off to jam factories; crab apples have a particularly high level of pectin to help the jam set.

Crab Apple Tree in Tripsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

There are a couple of records of parts of Verjuice presses included in the North York Moors Historic Environment Record (HER 840 and HER 19525). There is also at least one ‘crab mill’ which would have been driven by a horse, conserved as a feature in village of Sutton under Whitestonecliffe on the edge of the Moors. Crab apple trees are much less common than they were, both in the wild and in the hedgerows.

Image of a Crab Mill

Vernacular

Vernacular buildings were domestic and functional. They were ordinary in their time – built out of local materials (what was to hand) using traditional techniques. The vernacular buildings in each area might look similar, but are very rarely identical. It is this local distinctiveness that makes these buildings particularly important nowadays and therefore the best examples are worthy of being listed.  From the 19th century onwards materials became more easily transported around, house building was done on a more uniform and larger scale, architectural techniques and fashions were reiterated across the country – so the term vernacular is mainly used only for pre 19th century buildings..

Vernacular buildings have been described as a component of the landscape and not just because they’re built from materials hoved out of the local geology. The buildings needed an appropriate toughness to withstand the weather.  They are patched up over time to stay useful sometimes these phases of building add to the character sometimes they might deflect. But vernacular buildings,  whether they’re listed or not, always have a connection back to the people who built them, lived in them, drank in them, kept their animals in them. 

In the North York Moors vernacular buildings that still stand are mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. The most typical are built from sandstone and clay pantiles. Around Whitby cut ashlar blocks and quoins (corner stones) are common instead, and along the south edge of the Moors buildings are often built out of mixed rubble and quoins or sometimes gritstones/limestone. Materials were often re-used; after the Dissolution (mid 16th century) new or repaired buildings around some of the dissolved Abbeys and Priories of the North York Moors ended up a characterful mix of the vernacular and the spectacular.

Whereas it can be easy to see why stately homes, churches and castles are listed (protected for the nation), it can be more difficult to identify which of the many vernacular buildings of England should be listed too. Historic England have a series of Listing Selection Guides.

Vernacular building (not listed), after repairs - Raisdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … ABCDEF, GHI, J, KL, M, N, O, PQRS, T

Interiors

Kelsey Blain – Development Management Graduate Trainee

When you find yourself in your home a bit more than you’ve been used to you might want to look up and consider your ceilings.

Our Building Conservation Team are particularly keen on the ceilings in older houses and buildings in the North York Moors that have historic interest and value that can be easily lost but could be skilfully repaired.

Ceiling and frieze of the first-floor great chamber, Helmsley Castle, Yorks (c.1582). From http://clairegapper.info/Plaster ceilings (and walls) form an important historic, architectural and aesthetic feature in many of the historic buildings within the National Park and elsewhere. They are often composed of lime or earth and can be finished to varying degrees of ornamentation depending on the status of the building or room in which they are housed. Ornate examples may be found within the high status buildings such as Helmsley Castle (currently closed), where the design and finish of the ceilings often reflects the wealth and standing of the building’s previous residents.

Interior plaster walls and ceilings in Spout House, Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.More functional styles of plaster ceiling can be found within the vernacular buildings of the North York Moors, such as Spout House in Bilsdale (currently closed), where the composition and application of the plaster is indicative of the building’s traditional character.

As such, plaster ceilings and wall coverings provide a useful insight into the cultural and architectural history of a building and make an important contribution to a building’s significance. It is for this reason that the repair of plaster ceilings should always be preferred to their replacement in order to conserve the historic, evidential and aesthetic value that they possess. Furthermore, repairing traditional plasters over replacing them has a lower carbon footprint, and traditional materials better preserve the health of the building.

Here is a recent instance of repairs being carried out to a particularly fine plaster ceiling in nearby York which might not be exactly typical – but repairing all sorts of lath and plaster ceilings is possible. Our Building Conservation team can offer advice and help (by email or phone but currently not in person) if you are lucky enough to have a likely building in the North York Moors.