Sharing ground

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

Every year one of the fifteen National Parks in the UK hosts a Farm Liaison Officers Meeting when staff who work with farmers and land managers and are involved with agri-environment and rural development initiatives, come together to discuss issues and opportunities, share their knowledge and learn specifically from the host Park. Although each National Park differs in terms of geography and local priorities, we all share two purposes and one socio-economic duty, and each Park landscape is nationally important.

Shave Wood Inclosure, New Forest. Copyright Julie Melin-Stubbs, New Forest National Park Authority.

This year, it was the New Forest National Park Authority’s turn to host the event. We got a fascinating insight into their landscape, their commoning cultural heritage, and their quality food and drinks producers making the most of their local assets.

View of a New Forest heathland landscape. Copyright Julie Melin-Stubbs, New Forest National Park Authority.

Commoning (exercising common rights to make use of common land)

Commoners have helped to shape and define the New Forest landscape over hundreds of years by turning out their animals to graze the common land. It is this created landscape which has led to the area being designated as a National Park.

The feral/tame animals which roam the New Forest have owners who have the ‘Rights of Common of Pasture’. These common rights are attached to properties, rather than to individual people. We met the Head Agister for the New Forest and a practising commoner at the Beaulieu Sales Yard to learn more about commoning as a way of life. What was made clear is that local people are very passionate about their commoning heritage and want to see this way of life continued through future generations.

Beaulieu Sales Yard. Copyright Julie Melin-Stubbs, New Forest National Park Authority.

Working in partnership the New Forest Verderers (responsible for overseeing common rights and employing the Agisters) and Commoners, the New Forest National Park Authority, and the Forestry Commission (one of the largest landowners) were successful in applying to Natural England for funding for Europe’s largest agri-environment scheme (Higher Level Stewardship) which aims to restore and enhance the New Forest’s mosaic of habitats over time.

To help sustain the commoning culture within the New Forest, the Commoners Dwelling Scheme has been set up by the New Forest National Park Authority. New Forest Commoners can sign up to an agreement with the Authority committing themselves to continue to common and to only sell on to another committed commoner, and they can then apply for planning permission to build outside of villages which is usually heavily restricted. We met a local lady who built a house through the scheme and owns cattle, sheep and New Forest ponies which graze in the fields by her home and outside on the expanse of common land. We also heard about a project where Commoner’s old photographs and associated stories are being recorded so that this intrinsic part of the New Forest’s history is not lost.

Local Produce – the New Forest Marque

The New Forest Marque scheme is supported by the New Forest National Park Authority, as part of the socio-economic duty of all National Park Authorities to foster the social and economic well-being of their local communities.

The Marque is awarded to quality produce which has been reared/crafted/produced locally and demonstrates to consumers that they are purchasing a product made with local ingredients identified with the image/ideal of the New Forest. The scheme helps to champion businesses which produce quality local products, which in turn champions traditional farming techniques that are distinct to the cultural heritage of the New Forest. We visited the Lyburn Cheese Factory, which is a member of the New Forest Marque. Lyburn Cheesemakers is a family run business which produces high quality cheeses for local deli counters, the restaurant trade and even Waitrose.  We learned about the process of cheese making from the milking of the cows through to the packaging up of the end product. We were also lucky enough to sample some of the cheeses which were absolutely delicious.

We also got to visit the Dancing Cows Distillery and Brewhouse where they create artisan beers and spirits. They use local fruit and barley in their ingredients and their products are sold at markets and in pubs across the New Forest. Following on from the cheese tasting, we also got to imbibe some of the spirits which was very much appreciated!

Future agri-environment support

We spent a good part of the time discussing the future of agri-environment policies. National Park Authorities across the UK recognise that a high level of coordination and collaboration is needed to plan for the future of environmental policy after Brexit. Working together National Park Authorities are hoping to be able to help shape the future which is so important to our landscapes. We’re all wanting a new effective and acceptable framework in which land managers and organisations can work together to achieve sustainable farming that produces good quality products whilst delivering positive environmental outcomes. Collaborative local decision making within National Parks working with farmer networks and environmental interest groups can help to achieve this. We’ll keep you posted.

Conclusion

Our visit to the New Forest National Park reinforced my understanding of the National Park family – we are one of many and all National Park Authorities are trying to do similar things for the nation. It has been very interesting to visit somewhere so different to the North York Moors and learn about the landscape and cultural heritage that make the New Forest special, but there are also shared issues which don’t seem 300 miles away.

View of the New Forest landscape. Copyright Julie Melin-Stubbs, New Forest National Park Authority.

It will be our turn to host the Farm Liaison Officers Meeting in 2019.

What on earth is going on?

Gallery

This gallery contains 55 photos.

This Exploited Land of Iron is our HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme focused on the ‘blazing, booming, enterprising’* ironstone industry in and around the North York Moors in the 19th century, and its surviving legacy. The Scheme was officially launched in … Continue reading

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.

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.

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.

Helping turn plans into profit

Amy Thomas – North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme Manager

North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme logoIt’s great to be able to start a new year with some good news – so we are very pleased to say that the North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme is now open for business again.

LEADER funding is for projects that create jobs and help businesses grow and which therefore benefit the rural economy.

Between now and September 2018 the LEADER Programme in the North York Moors, Coast and Hills area is looking to support applications for projects or activity under the following four priorities:

  1. Farm Productivity;
  2. Micro and Small Business & Farm Diversification;
  3. Rural Tourism; and
  4. Forestry Productivity.

Farm Productivity
As an important and significant economic sector in the wider North York Moors area, the Programme wants to support the agricultural sector to grow and become more profitable. Applications under this priority need to help improve your farms productivity. Examples of potential activities include:

  • The purchase of equipment to improve the efficiency of use of water, energy, fertilizer, and animal feeds such as LED lighting in livestock sheds,
    specialist drills and crop robotics;
  • Support for businesses which process, market or develop agricultural products both on and off farm holdings, for example food and drink businesses and butchery facilities; or
  • Improvements to animal health and welfare for example gait analysis systems, mobile handling systems, and electronic weight systems linked to EID (electronic identification) readers.

Pickering Market Place

Micro and Small Businesses
LEADER wants to help establish, support and grow micro and small businesses in the area. Investments can be made which will help you produce more or something new, or help you access new markets or link up with other businesses in the area. All applications will need to show that the investment will directly result in increased employment opportunities and / or growth of the business. Farm diversification activities are also eligible.

Rural Tourism
Tourism is another key element of our Blue plaque - Brompton, near Scarboroughlocal economy. The LEADER Programme wants to support tourism businesses to improve their offer to visitors, to be more innovative in the use of technology, and to extend the season which will increase footfall and visitor spending in the area. Visitor attractions, facilities, products and services can all be considered. To be successful your application will need to show that jobs will be created and that the economy will benefit as a result of any funding being awarded.

Forestry Productivity
Our fourth priority is forestry. LEADER wants to support forestry contracting businesses or private forestry holdings requiring equipment and machinery to help produce, extract or process both timber and non-timber products. Continuing with the economic theme of the Programme, your application will need to show that LEADER funding will help create employment opportunities, and add value to the timber / forest products, as well as improve woodland management.

Forestry management in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.Our area has inspiring landscapes, unique attractions, notable assets and resourceful people – LEADER funding can help make more of these benefits. If you have plans for your farm, your business, your community, it would be well worth having a look at what LEADER is offering.

Full details on how to apply, including the Outline Application (and a list of eligible / ineligible equipment), can be found on our website – www.moorscoastandhills.org.uk

Our website also has a lot more information on LEADER, but if you have any questions or queries, or would like to talk through a potential project or application in advance of submitting an Outline Application, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.