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.

Fostering hedgerow trees

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Mature trees within a hedgerow network are an important feature in the countryside. This is where land managers across generations have allowed single hedgerow plants to grow to their potential, alongside hedgerow plants that are coppiced, laid, and managed to create a boundary. Hedgerow trees have no particular value in terms of land management, but have huge value for wildlife and for the landscape.

Re-laying a hedge - copyright NYMNPA.

Traditionally Elm, Ash and Oak trees were the dominant hedgerow tree species reaching heights of up to and over 30 metres tall, towering above the hedgerow corridors. Saplings that are allowed to grow higher than the surrounding hedge do not need to compete for light and therefore grow and spread their canopy high and wide up into the air. This provides a wonderful habitat kingdom for many species of wildlife, free from the clutch of ground based predators. Such trees act as key wildlife ‘stepping stones’ between woodland habitats and across a mixed landscape.

Large hedgerow tree near Low Askew - copyright NYMNPA.

The intensification of agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century including increasing field sizes resulted in the loss of thousands of miles of hedgerows along with their hedgerow trees. The outbreak of Dutch elm disease from the late 1960s onwards removed some 20 million elms from our countryside, mostly from hedgerows. It is therefore quite rare now to find a mature Elm tree within a hedgerow. Similarly Ash trees are now threatened by Chalara dieback.

In 1998 there were an estimated 1.8 million hedgerow trees in Britain (CPRE survey). Many of our over mature hedgerow trees today are beginning to die and slowly retrench. There is an adage that an Oak tree takes over 200 years to grow and then 200 years to die.

Planting hedgerow gaps between old hedgerow trees - copyright NYMNPA.

To check the loss of hedgerow trees we need to be planting new ones to replace the ones that are dying back. The 1998 survey revealed that only 1% of hedgerow trees were in the youngest age class (1-4 years old). Without successional planning there is a danger that these key features will be lost for good from the landscape and the disconnection between farmed land and semi natural woodland will become more marked than ever. It takes a leap of imagination but by planting now land managers will be leaving their mark on the landscape for their children.

Trees take time to grow. Native wildlife species use hedgerow trees but birds, bats and butterflies in particular favour mature hedgerow trees.

Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.Tawny Owls take advantage of mature trees both as nesting sites and day roosts usually hiding close up against trunk. From a tree perch owls can see the movement of their potential prey on the ground below them. Bullfinches clamber amongst the branches searching for seeds, buds and insects. Treecreepers and Nuthatches use their Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.acrobatic skills to forage for insects, nuts and berries and Woodpeckers drill away into the deadwood high in the canopy to make a home and feast on any tiny invertebrates in the wood. Butterflies such as Hairstreaks forage for honeydew from aphids and lay their eggs high up in the Oaks and Elms. Rich lichen communities also grow on the branches of old hedgerow trees.

In some of the older trees, holes and crevices provide ideal habitats for a variety of bat species. Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. Bats use different parts of the tree for different reasons, depending on the time of year and temperature. In the summer bats use the higher canopy sites to have their young in warmer temperatures. In winter, they move deeper and lower into the tree to hibernate. Trees such as Oak, Beech and Ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any hedgerow tree has potential for a bat roost – especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy. In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by law.

Single hedgerow tree alongside an arable field - potential 'stepping stone' - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working on enhancing wildlife corridors and connections through our habitat connectivity initiative, and as part of this we’re actively encouraging the planting of hedgerow trees where appropriate. With the loss of Elm and the threat to Ash, Oak is now the main species being planted in the North York Moors to become the hedgerow trees of the future. With good care and maintenance the trees should grow into vigorous specimens.

Mature hedgerow trees as a feature in the landscape - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA.

To foster hedgerow trees:

  • Select suitable saplings from within an existing hedgerow and add a tree tag to the top of it. This shows/reminds the person who cuts the hedge to leave this strong sapling to grow into a mature tree.
  • Alternatively, plant a hedgerow tree adjacent to an existing hedge to add variety and height. This has the added advantage of widening the hedgerow and enables useful wildlife buffer strips to develop along the hedge bottom. If there is an existing gap within a hedgerow that is wide enough to accommodate a hedgerow tree then plant a new tree there.
  • Try to avoid uniform planting and instead plant the new trees at irregular intervals along the hedge line. Planting two or three together may also be suitable for instance if a site is next to a field corner.
  • Plant trees with local provenance that will be used to the local conditions and be more likely to flourish.
  • It is best practice to add a tree guard or tube attached to a stake to protect a tree in its early years from stock, rabbits or deer. A mulch mat around the base of the tree helps to keep the weeds down. This will give the tree every chance to grow strong and straight.

Practical help and advice can be provided by the National Park Authority. Contact us.

Benefiting bees

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Recently my colleague Ami and I went on an organised farm walk near Menethorpe to the south of the North York Moors. The event was led by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the theme was habitat management for pollinators. The walk was well attended by local land managers who wanted to know a bit more about the benefits that pollinators provide, and how they might most easily encourage them, in particular on otherwise unproductive areas of their land.

The main focus of our discussion was inevitably bees – our most efficacious pollinators.  We were given copies of an excellent booklet from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology called ‘Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators’.

We’ve mentioned bees a number of times before in this blog, but felt it was about time they had their own post because they are so important.

CFE Farm Walk - a pollinator meadow on the farm we visited full of red and white clover and meadow vetchling. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the UK whilst there is only one species of honey bee Apis mellifera (both wild and semi-domesticated), there are about half a dozen common bumble bees and over twenty common species of solitary bees like mining bees, mason bees and leaf cutter bees.

The bee flying season can begin as early as March and extend right the way into October, as long as there is food i.e. nectar and pollen available. Most species of bees can survive over winter if there is somewhere for them to hole up.

Bumble bees on a thistle - copyright NYMNPA.

The anatomy of different bee species varies greatly, and so to assist most species it’s best to have a wide range of flower species from which they can feed. As some of the mining bees have short tongues of only 4-5mm, they need open flowers such as cow parsley and daisies. The garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum on the other hand has a tongue that can extend to around 12mm, so it can feed from flowers with a long corolla (i.e. petals) like foxgloves and honeysuckle.

As well as fragrance, one of the other things that attracts bees to flowers is colour. So its worth considering maintaining colours throughout the season. For example, coltsfoot and hawk’s beard provide yellow colour from about February to June, and then cat’s ear How we see it (left) and how a bee might see it with UV shades visible (right) - Klaus Schmitt.and bristly oxtongue do the same from June to October. Similarly, a successional combination of white deadnettle, oxeye daisy and yarrow can ensure there are plenty of white flowers throughout the year. Interestingly, it is thought that bees can see in ultraviolet, which means how they perceive flowers will be very different from how we do.

Establishing and managing a wildflower meadow is one of the most effective ways of ensuring bees have a suitable habitat. In addition it is thought that on arable farms having a flower-rich margin on at least 1% of the land will provide significant benefit to pollinators, which in turn will improve crop production and quality. Hedgerows can be another useful way to help bees – cutting hedges on a two or even three year cycle will encourage more hawthorn and blackthorn flowers. When new hedges are planted, a greater species diversity (using hazel, field maple, crab apple, holly and willow where appropriate) will also mean that there is more food and nectar available for a longer period throughout the year.

Bees are fantastic creatures in their own right. They also provide a number of hugely important direct benefits for our countryside and environment. There are things we can do to encourage bee survival such as sowing appropriate wildflowers and creating habitat stepping stones, allowing what we might think of as typically weeds to flourish (in the right place), creating patches of bare ground in sunny dry spots which will allow solitary mining bees to nest, and leaving tall grass over winter which can provide places for bumblebees to hibernate and nest.

Bees are often in the news these days, mostly because they are in decline – they even need their own national strategy. If we can do our best to make the landscape more friendly, we can help give bees a better chance, and ensure they can continue to play a key role in pollinating our flowers, trees and crops.

Bee on red clover - copyright NYMNPA.

For a local initiative – see B-Lines Ryedale

Habitat connectivity: evaluating potential

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Over the last month or so I’ve been investigating habitat connectivity in a new target area – near Boltby on the western fringe of the North York Moors.

Landscape from top of escarpment, near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

This particular area has a fantastic variety of habitats, from the arable plain on top of the escarpment, down the slope through Boltby Forest and across to the pasture fields in the west. Our overarching objective for this area is to strengthen the mosaic of habitats, with special reference to improving networks for butterflies and bats.

After my initial desk-based research I proceeded to ground truth the area to establish how much of our mapping and existing information was still accurate and to build up a current picture of the area. With so many public rights of way in the National Park exploring is usually pretty straightforward, but for closer examination of any particular area we would always ensure we have the land manager’s permission.

Felled veteran tree with dead wood left in situ (good for invertebrates, fungii and lichens) - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

It’s important to establish what levels of connectivity already exist. Above the escarpment most of the arable fields are in Environmental Stewardship agreements, which suggests positive environmental land management is already in place and making use of national agri-environment schemes is something we would always encourage where appropriate for the environment and the land manager.

The Forestry Commission own a large forest within the area – Boltby Forest – and their Forest Design Plan sets out their long-term vision. This includes increasing the ratio of broadleaved trees to conifers and maintaining areas of open space. The open space is very useful in terms of meeting our original objectives for the area because open spaces in woodland create edge habitat which attracts bats.

Within Boltby Forest - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Another valuable habitat found within this area is unimproved and semi improved grassland, both acidic and calcareous in terms of soil pH because it’s where the farmland of the Vale of Mowbray meets the western edge of the moorland. Some of these grassland sites appear to be in a good condition and have an appropriate level of grazing to maintain this, whereas others seem more precarious.

Heath bedstraw and tormentil, indicative of an acidic grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Lots of wild thyme, commonly found on calcareous sites - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.The biggest threat to most of the grassland appears to be a lack of effective grazing. On several sites rank grass are beginning to dominate, resulting in wildflowers being outcompeted. On other sites scrub encroachment means that the grassland interest will diminish.

Rank grass and ash trees taking over a grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

In a site where grazing is happening, there is occasional poaching (heavy ground trampling) by cattle alongside the small watercourse. This happens when stock congregate along particular parts of the bank to drink, or cross over.

Poached land beside a small beck - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Bracken is another issue in the target area. Bracken isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can provide excellent cover for ground flora and butterflies such as the rare Pearl-bordered fritillary, but its tendency to spread means that it can very quickly outcompete and overcome other vegetation.

Bracken alongside a public footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

There are plenty of positive biodiversity hot spots in this area, including patches of habitat that are excellent for butterflies. There are also a number of established hedgerows acting as wildlife corridors for bats to navigate by.

Common blue butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Small copper butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

So once I’d assessed the area and its connectivity potential, I discussed ideas and options for how best to deliver the original objective with input from Rona, our Ecologist, and Mark, our Woodland Officer.

One of the key ideas coming out of these discussions is to provide long term replacements for the many mature in-field and boundary trees. These trees provide multiple benefits such as shelter for stock as well as a habitat for birds, invertebrates and insects. I recorded a standing veteran tree during my on-site survey and ideally we would like to see this tree fenced off as the stock in the field are causing considerable erosion around the base which may be weakening it.

To reduce the poaching alongside the watercourse we could help repair the fencing and investigate the use of a field trough so the cattle wouldn’t need to drink out of the beck.

Another idea is to fence off a particular area of mature ash trees to allow natural regeneration. This is because some ash trees show genetic resistance to the ash dieback pathogen, so whilst planting new ash trees is currently not encouraged assisting natural regeneration by older trees might mean that potentially disease resistant stocks are bolstered.

For the various grassland sites in the area, different management options are proposed. On the sites with bracken encroachment we could suggest organising volunteer tasks to help keep the bracken under control. On other sites we will need to discuss with the land manager their aims for their land and see if there is scope to manage levels of grazing to ensure the wildflower interest remains and potentially expands. Land manager engagement is a crucial part of the habitat connectivity development process – our management proposals on private land can’t happen without their permission and goodwill. Negotiations are the next step in the habitat connectivity process.

Overall I think this target area near Boltby is in a pretty well connected condition. There is already a mosaic of habitats suitable for bats and butterflies, and it forms part of a much more extensive network along the western fringe of the North York Moors. Our involvement will probably be relatively minimal, working where we can with local land managers to conserve the valuable grasslands and to sustain the important tree population into the future.

Landscape near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.