Shared learning

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

I’ve taken over the role of Conservation Project Assistant from Kirsty who left the National Park Authority earlier this year for pastures new.

Roy McGhie - learning to scythe at Ryedale Folk Museum - copyright Roy Hampson

I have had a fairly diverse career so far. I am a qualified primary teacher, have worked in business and manufacturing, and have spent more time studying than I care to think about! I have always had a passion for the natural environment, and volunteered whenever and wherever I could. A recent move to North Yorkshire enabled me to retrain in this sector, and now I find myself working for the National Park Authority, which is a dream come true. I love being able to meet the people who manage the land in the National Park, helping them to conserve and enhance the North York Moors in a way that is beneficial to both people and the environment. So far I’ve been largely concentrating on turning Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) applications into agreements to help restore boundaries that are so important to the landscape character of the North York Moors.

North York Moors National Park landscape - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

Amidst my TBS efforts, a couple of weeks ago John (Land Management Adviser) and I attended the annual Farm Liaison Officers conference hosted by the South Downs National Park. This event is an opportunity for agri-environment staff from all 15 of the UK’s National Parks to meet and discuss common issues and difficulties that we face, as well as to find areas of best practice which we can take back to our own National Parks. Whilst the job titles differ from Park to Park it was clear that what we all shared was a passion for working with land managers to achieve mutually beneficial conservation goals.

The first full day was filled with site visits – even if the specific habitats and species we saw were sometimes different to those in the North York Moors, the issues around land management and competing pressures are similar to those we face here.

Tom Tupper - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPAThe first day started with a visit to Bignor Farm near Pulborough. Here, Tom Tupper, a local landowner, introduced us to the chalk grasslands, known as downlands, that make up much of the iconic character of the South Downs. During World War II the South Downs lost about 80% of its grassy downlands, partly to intensive agriculture for food production, and partly to military training. Today, only about 4% of the South Downs remain as chalk downland.

Tom also took us to Bignor Roman Villa, which has been in his family’s stewardship since it was re-discovered over 200 years ago. The site is renowned for having some of the best Roman mosaics in the country, both in terms of detail and preservation. Our stop at the villa allowed us to discuss the intricacies of preserving monuments alongside the public (and often financial) requirement for interpretation and access. There are similar issues at Cawthorn Camps, a Roman site on the North York Moors.

Roman Villa - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We visited Peppering Farm on the Norfolk Estate. The Estate is currently in a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment agreement, but carries out more conservation work than it receives money towards, for instance in regards to reversing the decline of the Grey Partridge. This highlighted the ongoing issues that arise from trying to balance landscape enhancement with the need for productive practical agriculture. We also saw a restored dew pond. Dew ponds have been dated as far back as Neolithic times, and are a source of much debate as to how they traditionally filled up with water. Landscape archaeology suggests they were used for watering cattle and were lined with clay to hold the water. As we saw, they are always a popular haven for wildlife. There are number of such ponds in and around the North York Moors.

Dew Pond - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We also visited Pepperscombe on the Wiston Estate. Here we were introduced to the Steyning Downland Scheme which aims to reconnect people, particularly children, with the countryside around them. The Scheme partly came about because of increased visitor pressure on the South Downs Way, which runs through many farms and fields, as well as mountain biking and dog walking issues. Today there are Trustees and a steering group to represent the needs of the local community, which has seen a designated area created for bikers, the establishment of a team of local volunteers to monitor the plant life, and the opportunity for school children to enjoy creative educational days out on site.

Cattle are used to graze the scrub. The photo below shows the effect just a small number

Conservation grazing - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

of cattle can have. The area on the left in the foreground was grazed by just six Dexter cattle for only 3 weeks. The area on the right in the background is a new area of scrub the cattle have just moved in to. The difference is remarkable. Dexter cattle are the smallest of all European cattle breeds, and can be particularly suited to conservation grazing with public access because the animals are less intimidating to members of public than larger breeds.

South Downs landscape - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

On the second day, we were back in doors talking through shared subjects such as funding opportunities under Rural Development Programmes and transition from the current national agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship) to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Overall the conference proved to be very informative, and I think we all took away knowledge that will help us with our work with land managers to enhance the qualities of each of our wonderful National Parks.

2 thoughts on “Shared learning

  1. Interested about the Dew ponds and how they fill up.

    This simple puzzle exists even in the wetter parts of Ireland. With my then neighbour and a big hymac we’d built a large wildlife pond in the lowest bit of his fields. Later in the year on an open day several farmers and some ‘agri experts’ from Dublin were present.

    The ignorance amazed me.:-
    “How will it stay full if there’s no stream going into it?”
    “It’ll go stale and smelly if there’s nothing feeding it and coming out”
    “The water will evaporate and it’ll need filling up”
    “You’ll need it to be spring fed”

    My reply went something like:-
    “Far from it being me an Englishman to tell you this, but I’ve noticed it rains a lot in Ireland. As long as it rains it’ll stay full.” And of course it did.

    Dew ponds fill up because it rains. It really is as simple as that. OK, the level may go down in summer , but its rain that fills them normally!

    The other main source of water for ponds is ground water. Provided the pond does not have an impervious lining then if a pond is built into the water table it too will remain full. Even in very dry weather.

    Of course some ponds are spring fed but the spring can often be seen.

    The main natural enemy to a pond is vegetive growth. Reeds, rushes and so on with their feet in the water and foliage in the air take up/evaporate large amounts of water. Most shallow ponds left to their own devices will be come completely overgrown and eventually no open water will be present. Farm stock are excellent at removing lush vegetation from ponds and a farm pond can be enjoyed by both the stock and wildlife. At the moment most wildlife trusts and conservation authorities fence ponds off to prevent access by stock. These ponds soon become totally choked with vegetation and deny access to a variety of wildlife such as badgers, foxes, deer and so on. Fences erected close to ponds also prevent some birds of utilising them.

  2. I’m glad we’re not the only ones fascinated by dew ponds and ponds in general! You hit the nail on the head about the issue of vegetative growth threatening many of our ponds.

    With regards the dew ponds in the South Downs, I think they will always spark people’s imagination. The fact that they are lined with clay and straw, positioned well above the water table yet still have water even in the height of summer certainly can appear somewhat magical.

    For further reading, is a collection of lots of interesting articles specifically about dew ponds – it’s definitely worth a read. (Edward A. Martin’s piece is particularly of note as he was given a grant by the Royal Society to make observations and experiments into the working of dew ponds. An expanded version, including his drawings of the foundations of dew ponds, can be found here).


    P.S. As someone born in Ireland, I wholeheartedly concur with your meteorological observations from your time spent there!

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