The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project area is now considered a Turtle Dove Friendly Zone. These zones form a loose association of areas in England where Operation Turtle Dove is in action. Here’s a link to a recent Operation Turtle Dove blog post with a bit more info on what’s going on across the different zones including ours.
Alex Cripps – Ryevitalise Programme Manager
For the last two years we have been leading on the development of Ryevitalise, a landscape partnership scheme focusing on the River Rye and its tributaries.
So we are really delighted to report that we were successful with the final Stage Two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and have been awarded nearly £2 million towards the delivery of this fantastic four-year scheme – starting now.
With match funding included Ryevitalise is a £3.4 million programme in total, focusing on three key themes:
- Water quality and the environment – restoring and conserving the aquatic habitats of the Rye and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
- Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river; and
- Reconnecting people – improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.
Ryevitalise is very much a partner-led scheme with over 15 organisations working together to deliver their common goals across this part of the River Rye catchment. The River Rye and its tributaries meander through a variety of landscapes including moorland, upland farmland and lowland arable and livestock farmland; crossing over the National Park boundary into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and into the non-designated wider Ryedale beyond. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work closely with partners like the the Howardian Hills AONB, Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency. The North York Moors National Park Authority itself is the lead partner and we’re currently recruiting the delivery team.
I’ve recently been appointed as the Ryevitalise Programme Manager and I’m really excited about this amazing opportunity to share my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that the freshwater habitats and the surrounding areas support. One of the main goals is to reconnect people with nature and our river environments. I am really keen to raise the profile of rivers by looking at how valuable these ecosystems are, and how important they are to people both within the Ryevitalise area itself but also beyond. Over the next four years we will be working alongside local communities, including land managers and young people, reconnecting people to their local river systems and exploring how simple every day actions to help care for our rivers can collectively make a huge, positive difference.
There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, from practical conservation tasks such as Himalayan balsam control to species monitoring. There will also be a programme of expert talks, exhibitions and discovery events. Keep an eye on social media, our website or this blog for further updates once the new team are up and running.
If you are keen to get involved at the start please get in touch, perhaps you are a member of a local community group wanting to know more, a local land manager interested in improving water quality, or you would like to sign up as a Ryevitalise Volunteer – it would be great to hear from you!
Large parts of the North York Moors have either no field boundaries (open moorland) or have drystone walls as boundaries (upland tops and slopes), but round the edges of the area and in the farmland dales there are often hedgerows. A large number of these hedges will have existed for years, but they’re not considered ‘ancient’ unless they’re older than 1700, just like Ancient Woodland.
Hedgerows of course are made out of trees and shrubs just like woodland but are otherwise culturally and ecologically distinctive. Hedgerows have long been a man-made feature of landscapes – boundaries to keep things in as well as out. In other parts of England there are hedgerows that are thought to date back over a millennium. This is not so likely in the North York Moors. Many hedgerows here probably just date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a lot of enclosure and land ‘improvement’ going on, here as elsewhere in the country.
Hedgerows have been created through one or more of these three methods – original planting/transplanting, allowing uncultivated field edges to grow up, or by leaving a ‘ghost’/edge of a removed woodland. A curved hedge suggests a ghost hedge because natural woodlands are more likely to have had curved not straight edges, whereas constructed boundaries are often as straight as possible.
Ancient hedges share Ancient Woodland herbaceous ground flora such as Wood anemone, Sweet woodruff and Golden saxifrage. There is also a well-known ‘rule’ (Hooper’s Law) sometimes used to estimate the age of a hedge by counting the number of established woody species over a 30 yard/30 metres stretch or preferably an average over a series of stretches. The equation is then Age = no of species in a 30 yard stretch (or average number) x 110 + 30 years.
Whereas an enclosure hedge (18th/19th century) will have one or two species, a pre Norman Conquest hedge might have more than ten species. However such ancient hedges would have been an unlikely feature in the ‘wastes’ of the North York Moors recorded in the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th century.
Like all rules there is bound to be exceptions. Hooper’s Law relies on the hedgerow being mainly naturally colonised, not planted 30 years ago by a biodiversity enthusiast. Also any hedgerow adjoined to or close-by woodlands are more likely to be colonised at different rate than another hedge. In the end it’s probably best to use other evidence of dating, such as maps and records, as well.
Although original hedgerows may have been planted and laid to incorporate existing older trees it would be difficult to keep such trees alive, and therefore much more likely that in-boundary trees were planted at the same time as a hedge or added later. The first edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch mapping includes individual in-field and in-boundary trees. For the North York Moors area these maps are usually from the 1890s. The presence of a mapped in-boundary tree suggests that boundary was a hedge rather than wall or fence at that time.
Since the middle of the 20th century the amount of hedgerow in the country as well as the number of boundary trees has been reduced. Machinery meant it became easy enough to remove a hedgerow, and to maximise the cutting of hedgerows. At the moment the cultural and ecological importance of hedgerows is valued and lately there have been efforts to use agri-environment schemes to encourage good practice management and to use the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations to control removal.
* This is the list of species which count towards Hooper’s Law. The species listed grow in a wide variety of habitats across the country, only some of these would ever have been used in and around the North York Moors. As it is currently winter, identifying different species is particularly difficult and therefore maybe more fun.
|Apple incl crab apple||Dogwood||Lime – ordinary, pry||Service|
|Beech||Elm – Wych, English, East Anglian, Cornish, Dutch/Huntingdon etc||Oak – pedunculated, sessile||Sycamore|
|Briar (three named species)||Guelder-rose||Plum incl bulace||Whitebeam|
|Broom||Hawthorn – ordinary, woodland||Poplar – aspen, black, white, grey||Willow – crack, white|
Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer
The BIFFA funded project ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ came to an end in 2018. We were involved because of the River Esk in the north of the National Park. The £300,000 made available helped towards safeguarding Yorkshire’s last remaining population of Freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera).
A huge amount of work was achieved in the Upper Esk catchment during the three year period of this project, working closely with the farming community to address diffuse pollution from agriculture. Pollution including sedimentation detrimentally affects water quality and therefore impacts on aquatic species like the mussels.
For most of its three years the project was led by Simon Hirst, our River Esk Project Officer. Simon worked with 38 land managers in the Upper Esk catchment delivering improvement works to help keep pollution including sedimentation out of the river and its tributaries. This has meant:
- Over 8km of riparian fencing installed
This helps stabilise the river banks and creates buffer strips to reduce the amount of runoff from fields getting into watercourses, as well as providing rough habitat along the river corridor for insects which are so important for fish, birds and small mammals.
- 650 trees planted along the river banks of the Esk and its tributaries
The majority of which were planted by our dedicated River Esk Volunteer Group.
Trees help stabilise the banks and so. like with the fencing, reduce sedimentation.
- 34 alternative watering points installed
This is to reduce poaching in fields and along the river banks, and to keep stock and their effluent out of a watercourse.
- Approximately 5.5km of riverbank re-vegetated with woodrush planting
Another 130m of river bank was stabilised using hazel/willow whips. Re-vegetation helps stabilises the river banks
- Over 500m of guttering and downpipe installed on farm buildings
To capture clean water before it gets onto the ground, picks up nutrients and sediment, and then runs into a watercourse.
- 1,237 m3 of concreting in farm yards.
The new surface is profiled to collect dirty water before it can enter a nearby watercourse.
Big Thank You to Biffa for supporting the Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England project.
Big Thank You to all the local land managers who worked alongside Simon on the Esk, contributing a lot of their own time and capital to complete these improvement works.
Big Thank You to our dedicated Mussel Volunteers who have played such a vital role in this delivery project, and all the other volunteers that helped out like the Explorer Club and the 1st Marston Moor Scout Group.
And one more Big Thank You to Simon Hirst. Last year the North York Moors National Park had to say goodbye to Simon because he moved on to a new role working on the River Holme in Huddersfield. His enthusiasm and knowledge will be greatly missed by us and the Esk’s Freshwater pearl mussels.
As part of the new 25 year Environment Plan, the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs launched a review back in May looking at the roles of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). National Parks and AONBs are the two main landscape protections in England. The idea behind the review is to make sure our protected landscapes are fit for purpose going forward.
As part of this review Defra have issued a call for evidence. In particular they want to hear from interested people who live in, work in, visit protected landscape, and/or care about our landscapes, biodiversity and heritage: what do you think?
Defra need views and ideas on National Park and AONBs’ roles in conserving nature and biodiversity, enhancing wildlife and supporting the recovering of our natural habitats, shaping landscape and beauty, protecting cultural heritage, working with farmers and land managers, supporting and managing access and recreation, encouraging volunteering and improving health and wellbeing for everyone.
There are also questions about how National Park and AONBs are governed, funded and designated; how different national designations work together; how well National Parks and AONBs work collectively with other organisations and with the public; and how National Parks and AONBs support the local communities who live and work within their areas.
Submissions will be considered alongside the evidence being gathered by Julian Glover and his team who are leading on the review. If you want to add your thoughts please note that the public call for evidence closes on 18 December, the final report and recommendations are expected by autumn 2019.
It’s an opportunity to make changes for the good.
Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer
There are few more rewarding things in life than creating new habitat for wildlife and then watching with delight as birds and other animals move in.
What would make it extra special would be hearing a Turtle Dove sing its beautiful purring song.
A major part of our HLF funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project involves working with land managers to create exactly the right feeding opportunities for Turtle Doves. The National Park and the Project have a brand new grant aimed at providing flower rich plots from which Turtle Doves can feed on a natural seed source.
We are really pleased that this autumn 11 farm businesses have established 17 Turtle Dove flower plots covering a total of five hectares within our project area. This is a great start and it’s very exciting that so many land managers are keen to help; however we need many more if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.
The pioneering 11 includes a wide range of landowners and tenants such as our first community Turtle Dove reserve in Sawdon village sown by the local community and primary school, Ampleforth Plus Social Enterprise, the Danby Moors Farming and Wykeham Farm businesses, and Hanson Quarry near Wykeham.
The sown plots are needed because many of the wild flowers that provide seed such as Common Fumitory and Birds-foot Trefoil are no longer common in the arable landscape which is one of the major reasons Turtle Doves are now at risk of extinction. The plots will also support a range of other scarce arable plants such as the locally rare Shepherd’s Needle. We are working with the local Cornfield Flowers Project – Into the Community to make sure we provide available ground for many naturally occurring but declining local flowers.
These new plots will not only provide habitat for Turtle Doves they will also provide valuable for a whole range of declining farmland birds. Grey Partridge feed their chicks on invertebrates and need open fallow land rich in small insects. Our flower plots are sown at a very light sowing rate to leave a good proportion of the plot shallow which allows access for Partridge and other birds such as Yellowhammers searching for insects in the summer.
If you have arable or temporary grassland on your farm and you would like to help Turtle Doves please get in touch to find out more about the grant and payments on offer. Contact us or call the National Park’s Conservation Department 01439 772700.
Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron
A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.
Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.
Dung beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.
These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.
Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.
So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.
However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.
Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.
So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.
The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.
There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.
Apologies for the titular puns.
Claire Bending – Lead Land Management Adviser
As part of the working up of conservation plans for the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme (currently under development) we’ve been looking at available historic maps. Such maps can provide a view of the past landscape illustrating land use and field boundary patterns.
We’re not trying to revert the landscape back to how it was two hundred years ago, but there may be opportunities to re-establish habitats overcome by agricultural improvement and to restore relict features of conservation value. Examples of this might be recreating a hay meadow, planting new trees on a site which used to be woodland, or reinstating a natural meander in a watercourse that had previously been straightened.
We have digital access to early editions of Ordnance Survey maps. The earliest being the 1st edition 6 inch to one mile mapping from the 1850s. It seems incredible that if you overlay a modern Ordnance Survey map, the two maps separated by 170 years match up pretty perfectly. I have a feeling our Victorian counterparts would be insulted if they knew we thought it might be anything less, but to my lazy modern day brain it does seem incredible that the entire country could be mapped so precisely to the last inch without GPS, laser lines or aerial photography.
For maps from before the 1850s we went to the North Yorkshire County Record Office. They hold the Feversham Collection which is full of information on the Feversham Estate, which over time has included Bilsdale (within the Ryevitalise project area), Bransdale and Farndale as well as the townships of Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside.
Amongst the collection are two surveys that feature Bilsdale; one by Tukes and Ayer drawn up in 1826, and commissioned by Charles Duncombe, 1st Baron Feversham (1764 – 1841); and another includes a painstakingly drawn map of Bilsdale from 1781, by William Calvert and commissioned by Charles Slingsby Duncombe (???? – 1803).
The 1781 map is particularity informative as it is still relatively early on in the agricultural ‘revolution’ period that came about in the century following 1750, when a huge sea change occurred in farming, fuelled by the enclosure acts, improving efficiencies and profits for landowners. The landscape altered with open common land enclosed, fields reconfigured with straight walls, land drainage organised, new roads built to improve transport, and conifer plantations planted to produce wood.
Compare the two maps below of Cam House, Bilsdale – one is an extract from the 1781 map, and the other of the same place seventy six years later, in 1857 as drawn on the 1st edition OS map.
Barely a boundary has remained immune to the straightening process. Although replacing the earlier, wiggly ad-hoc walls with grid-like boundaries was hugely labour intensive, the gains in the longer term through enabling horse plough teams to utilise the entire field area, therefore maximising production, were great.
William Calvert’s map is also of interest for all the field names recorded on the map – for the Tukes and Ayer survey field names were recorded in separate field books.
Field names are sometimes related to the use of the field, such as Cow pasture, Milking field, Corn close, Lime kiln field and Lear field (Lear is another word for a scythe). They can also be descriptive of the place, including words like Holm (the land in a river bend, or low lying land by the river), Syke (stream), Sievey (rushy), Heights, Stoney, Loaning (lane) or Thwaite (clearing).
Other names refer to the vegetation; Birk (birch), Hollin (holly), Eller (alder), Broom, Brier. Sometimes the names reference annoying insects often found in hollows – Loppy hole (Lop was an old word for a flea, but maybe in this case meant ticks) and Midge hole.
There are also a few references to field shape, which is interesting as there is one called Four nook’d (cornered) field. By the 19th century, most fields had four corners but in 1781 four corners was notable because fields either had a myriad of corners or rounded boundaries or both. Other field names give a clue to industries – Collier intake (related to the local small-scale coal mining) or Tenter close (tenters were frames for stretching drying cloth), Cinder field/Smithy hill (reference iron smelting and iron working).
Finally there are some field names that are just plain enigmatic – Camel hill, Slatern Field and Sweetheart Field. Answers on a postcard please!
A number of saints are associated with the North York Moors. Geographical associations can sometimes be found in the name of parish churches dedicated to particular saints, like St Oswald’s, St Cuthbert’s or St Hilda’s, all Anglo-Saxon celebrities when the north east of England was particularly important for the celtic branch of Christianity before the church in England romanized. Not all saints are Anglo-Saxon, it’s just that quite a lot of them are in Britain, many awarded sainthood before canonization became more centrally organised.
The full name of the church in the village of Oswaldkirk (which means Oswald’s Church) is the Church of St Oswald, King and Martyr. St Oswald (died 642) was a King of Northumbria, the kingdom included most of Yorkshire at one time or another. Oswald converted to Christianity as a young man in exile on the island of Iona, a hotbed of celtic Christianity whilst the rest of Britain was mostly pagan. He regained his kingdom as a Christian and then made it his mission to spread the new religion. He died in battle against pagan Mercians in 642, hence the title of Martyr. His body was supposedly cut up in a pagan ritual, but this meant his body parts were them disseminated across the country, and even onto the continent, as inspirational Christian relics.
St Cuthbert (died 687) was a monk for most of his life, he was the Prior on Lindisfarne before he gave it up to become a hermit on one of the nearby Inner Farne islands. After his death he became a very popular saint widely venerated across the north of England and beyond, probably because of his steadfastness and asceticism as well as his holiness. Over 400 years later he was said to have had an incorrupt corpse when dug up, which always makes an impression. St Aiden (died 651) was the first Prior on Lindisfarne and seems to have had a similar character and calling to Cuthbert, but he ended up partly eclipsed by his successor in the saint popularity stakes. Although there are many St Cutchbert’s Churches round and about the Norht York Moors, but only one within, at Kildale. But there are two St Aidan’s, in Oswaldkirk and in Carlton.
St Hilda (died 680) as an Abbess had status in the Christian hierarchy which gave her authority and influence in her lifetime, her personal qualities meant that continued after her death. She was an advocate of education, and her own wisdom was greatly valued. She was first an Abbess at Hartlepool before re-founding the Abbey of Whitby (not the current ruin), where monks and nuns lived separately but worshipped together. She hosted the important Synod of Whitby in 663/4 at which it was decided that the future of the English church should be Roman. Like Cuthbert, after her death Hilda was widely venerated in the north of England. There are St Hilda’s Churches in Ampleforth, Beadlam, Danby and Hinderwell – which is a derivation of the name Hilda’s well.
The church in Lastingham is named after St Chad but it is St Cedd, his brother, who is buried in the crypt. St Cedd (died 664) was an important person in the hierarchy of the Anglo-Saxon church, as well as founding a monastery at Lastingham he evangelized all over England and was known as the bishop of the East Saxons i.e. Essex. St Chad (died 672) succeeded him as Abbot of Lastingham but spent much of his time converting the re-occuring Mercians in the midlands of England. Both brothers learned their ‘trade’ on Lindisfarne before being sent out by various Christian kings of Northumbria to convert the pagans in the rest of England. There are also St Chad’s Churches in Sproxton and Hutton le Hole.
St Caedmon (died 680) is a particularly local saint, he was possibly a herdsman from Whitby before he became a monk at Whitby Abbey whilst Hilda was the Abbess. He never had a position of authority like the other saints mentioned, he did however have a gift for composing poetry in the vernacular which illustrated Christian stories and ideas, so helping to spread the faith. One thing to note is that there are no churches dedicated to St Caedmon, but he does get to patronise a school in Whitby.
SEGMENTED EMBANKED PIT ALIGNMENTS
Segmented Embanked Pit Alignments (SEPA) are an historic earthwork feature of the north east of the North York Moors, identified by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as a specific type of monument in the 1990s. Previously this type of feature had been classed as a double pit alignment – two lines of pits marking a boundary. A SEPA earthwork however is made up of two or three pairs of pits inside two parallel enclosing banks largely made from the spoil from the pits, these are generally in what appear to be conjoined segments. The segmentation suggests development over time rather than a linear structure created in one go as a land boundary.
In each case the SEPAs appear to be aligned with nearby Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds), which suggest the SEPA are Bronze Age too and could have had a related ritual purpose. The alignment of all the SEPAs is north-west to south-east. This alignment seems to have taken precedence to any alignment with the barrows. The parallel banks were oddly low, which means the earthworks were not prominent in the landscape when they were constructed, unlike the barrows.
No similar features have been identified in the rest of Britain. SEPAs are therefore particularly important and are now scheduled along with their associated barrows. There are three locations of SEPA earthworks within ten miles of each other – on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor (SM 1020351), on Danby Rigg (SM 1018782) and on Ugthorpe Moor (SM 1016532 and SM 1016533). Graham Lee, our previous Archaeological Conservation Officer, believes there is also a SEPA monument near to Boltby aligned to a nearby scheduled round barrow (SM 1010343).
Sheep are the main stock animal farmed in the North York Moors. According to Defra’s June 2016 agricultural census returns, there were 296,120 sheep in the National Park at that time, five and a half times the number of cattle. Why the pastures, grasslands and moors of the North York Moors are used for sheep is based on current economics and a couple of centuries of custom. Sheep can manage on open moorland for a lot of the year without much input if they’re hefted – which means when a flock keeps to a certain part of an area because of learnt behaviour, rather than needing fencing. But just like there are a variety of different habitats and landscapes in the North York Moors, there are a variety of different sheep breeds and farming methods, and not all North York Moors sheep spend summer amongst the heather.
One of the main breeds in the North York Moors are Blackface. Blackface sheep are hardy and easily hefted, so good on northern hills. Mixing sheep breeds to develop sheep that best suit local conditions and to accentuate their best commercial features is an ongoing endeavour amongst sheep farmers. A mule is a cross breed sheep, mixing the qualities of a Blackface sheep with a more commercial breed either for wool or for meat.
Ram, ewe and lamb are common enough descriptive nouns for sheep, but there are a lot more you’ll need to know if you want to talk sheep with a North York Moors farmer. For instance a tup is another name for a ram, a wether is a castrated male lamb, a hog is an older lamb more than a year old, a gimmer is an older lamb which will be used for breeding.
If you want to find out more about sheep, and who wouldn’t – have a look at the National Sheep Association’s very informative website.
SMUGGLING and other criminal enterprises
The North York Moors has high cliffs, sheltered coves and small fishing villages on its eastern coastal edge. So ideal for people with boats in the 17th to 19th centuries to bring in comestibles whilst avoiding being made to pay custom and excise duties due to the government. This smuggling was never on the scale of that in the south of England because of the distance from the continent, but there were local opportunities for small boats to go out to sea and collect goods from passing ships.
The fact that the terrain of the North York Moors and distance from authority meant it was difficult to collect duties plus the fact that many people didn’t want to pay the duties, together meant organised criminal enterprise was rife. There weren’t very many ways of making money, smuggling was one, as long as you weren’t caught and potentially transported or executed.
Goods were landed, held in coastal villages and farms, and then distributed, all the while the Customs and Excise Officers tried to prevent this with varying enthusiasm and results. The British Government used money from duties to help finance numerous wars in Europe and so always wanted to collect as much money as possible because wars are always expensive. Customs were levied on imported foreign goods (charged at recognised ports) and excise was levied on domestic production.
Such widespread smuggling reached a peak of activity at the beginning of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic Wars. It wasn’t all brandy, silk and tea however, another comestible which suffered from a high rate of tax was salt, both home produced and imported. The Wagon and Horses Inn, just north of the Hole of Horcum, was surrounded by treacherous and secretive moorland, it was also alongside the main road across the moors connecting the coast around Whitby and the south to Pickering, York and beyond. The name of the inn underlines the importance of the location for transportation, and because of this location it became a criminal hub. Untaxed salt was held at the inn, fisherman from the coast would bring in their fish to be salted and then moved on to be sold. Salted fish could be transported more widely and therefore could make more profit, as long as the salt was untaxed. Everyone knew what was happening and there were frequent raids by Excise Officers. The story goes that on one occasion a single Excise Officer managed to catch the felons by surprise, and he ended up murdered. Elements of stories then got muddled up together. The body is supposed to have been buried under the fire place, a tradition was established that the fire should never be allowed to got out else the devil would arise or the ghost of the murdered man would seek revenge or more prosaically the body might be discovered.
Later the Wagon and Horses was renamed the Saltersgate Inn, the wider site is now called Saltergate. It’s obvious what the first part of the name signifies, and the word ‘gate’ means a road. The Saltersgate Inn recently fell into dereliction, it is due to be demolished and the site redeveloped. So far no body has been found.
Social capital is defined by Wikipedia as a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central; transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation; and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.
We’ve recently helped a PhD student from Bangor University by putting him in touch with North York Moors Farmers willing to answer questions about what it is that motivates them to engage (or not) with high nature value farming and/or agri-environment schemes.
The research being undertaken is aiming to identify social capital types within farmer groups. It is recognised that there will be significant impacts on farming communities, especially upland livestock farmers, as a result of agriculture policy changes post-Brexit. So having an understanding of how resilient communities are and how able they are to adapt to change will be valuable in the design and potential success of future land management schemes seeking to deliver environmental outcomes. An aim of this research is to try and understand whether high levels of social capital are a driver that encourages a farmer’s participation in high nature value farming and/or engagement in agri-environment schemes? whether a farmer’s participation leads to greater levels of social capital? or are there other drivers that come into play? Whatever conclusions are drawn from this research, one thing is certain – there must have been some very interesting conversations being had around farmhouse kitchen tables over the past few weeks!
On particularly wet peaty acidic areas of moorland you might find Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia. It grows low to the ground with upright stems and small white flowers in the summer. Sundews use photosynthesis like many plants to make glucose for energy, but plants also tend to need nutrients and minerals usually obtained by their roots from the soil they grow in. But the wet soils on which this species live have few nutrients and minerals because these have leached away. Many plants would find this habitat too inhospitable but Drosera rotundifolia has a proactive solution to supplementing its diet. It has leaves with sticky inward curving hairs in which unsuspecting insects get trapped when they come to look for nectar, and are then slowly digested by enzymes. It is one of a number of carnivorous plants across the world.
Before Love in the Countryside, there was Sunley’s Daughter.
Back in the 1970s, Barry Cockcroft made a series of documentary programmes for Yorkshire Television portraying engaging characters living a rural life in the north of the county – the most famous of which was Too Long a Winter which starred Hannah Hauxwell farming in Baldersdale in the North Pennines.
There were also a couple of programmes set in the Cleveland Hills/Esk Dale in the north of the North York Moors. One – The Children of Eskdale – has already featured on this Blog. The other is Sunley’s Daughter, filmed in 1974. Like the other episodes the idea was to document real people’s lives in such a way as to construct a ‘drama’, a human interest story.
The Sunley family live on a tenanted farm near Gerrick – Joe Sunley, the patriarch figure, Connie Sunley, his wife, and one remaining child, Mary whose four siblings have all moved away. In this north west corner of the North York Moors it isn’t the climate that is harsh enough to make a story, instead it is the atypical life of 25 year old Mary. Mary works on the dairy farm – hard physical labour – seven days a week. She has done so for years, and will do so for years to come as long as her parents are alive and keep the tenancy of the farm. The farm can’t be passed down, it belongs to the local estate – Ringrose Wharton (now Skelton & Gilling). A farm under tenancy means there is not the incentive to invest in the farm and its machinery, even if Joe Sunley wanted to, which he doesn’t. He wants to live by the tenets of the Bible – a hard life makes that easier to do. He chooses not to have electricity, as he chooses not to celebrate birthdays or Christmas – and so neither do his family, the interviewer gets his wife to admit she misses the electricity. Joe perseveres (a biblical maxim); as Connie says ‘he’ll never give in’. Interestingly Joe doesn’t come from the expected cliché of generations of local farming stock – his father was an ironstone miner and he himself was a fitter until the Great Depression. He worked his way up using allotments for growing vegetables, rearing chickens, making ice cream in Guisborough, before finally getting himself a farming tenancy. Connie worked alongside him all the way.
What Joe, along with a number of other working farmers in the East Cleveland Hills, takes particular satisfaction in is the breeding of Cleveland Bay horses – a local native breed, highly valued today. You see Joe riding a horse, he used to plough with them; the Cleveland Bay is known as a working horse despite looking like a million dollars. The breed declined in the 20th century and during that time it was Joe Sunley and his neighbours that kept it alive. Joe Sunley is and was a renowned breeder, he sold horses to the Queen of England and the Emperor of Japan, but he’s definitely not going to let that make him a fortune. The programme doesn’t explain why he does it, maybe it’s another thing to strive at, to give him a sense of achievement. His horses in particular seem extremely spirited.
According to the programme for Mary every day is the same … until she meets Jim Smith, a farm labourer on the next door farm. He asks her out, and after a year they are engaged. That’s Part One of the programme. Part Two appears to be working up to a marriage and to establishing a new future for Mary. I don’t mean to spoil the programme’s ending for you – but this doesn’t happen. Mary is a thoughtful woman, she has made sense of her life. Like her mother, she’s more passive than proactive, she wants to ‘wait and see’ and expect there will be ‘more chances’ to come for her and Jim. She’s not ready to go at that time.
One of the main themes presented is the unchanging nature of the Sunley’s lives, but this is exaggerated because around them times are changing as they inevitably do. The farm next door has a milking machine, and productive Friesian dairy cows. The Estate Manager at Skelton Castle talks about the expected ingress of Teesside and expanding urbanisation impacting on the Cleveland Hills. He recognises that small farms will become unviable and suggests Jim will need 400 to 500 acres of farmland (150 to 200 hectares) to support a family. For Jim as a farm labourer buying a farm is impossible, and estate farms to rent are few and far between – they’re trapped between lack of income and tradition. There is an opportunity for Jim to work on a ‘modern’ farm at Dunsley, near Whitby, for an 11 hour day at £31 a week (c. £225 today) but with the advantage of having a tied house for him and Mary to live in, as long as they’re married.
But it’s not all Cold Comfort Farm. Mary has been ‘outside’, to Leeds, to Middlesbrough, to Scotland; that may not seem very exotic but it’s not unusual for the 1970s. Mary is allowed to go out with Jim and to get engaged – she’s not forbidden by her father. She curls her hair and goes to the dance at the local Village Hall. The clothes and hair of the people at the dance, mainly women and girls, are very much of the 1970s even if the music is not. Mary’s father acknowledges her value, her mother says she would miss her.
It’s difficult to imagine how the programme got made. Barry Cockcroft must have been good at getting circumspect people to trust him enough to allow him to film them and to tell stories about their lives. The dialogue is encouraged, not coached – the men are much keener on speaking their minds than the women. The programme may over emphasise the romantic music, maybe it’s a bit patronising, maybe it pushes Mary a bit too much to try and get her to react. But it’s interesting for a number of reasons – reflecting farming in the 1970s, capturing real people only a couple of generations ago even if it is in a directed documentary, or maybe it’s just because of the human interest in the realistic rather than fairy tale ending. I wonder what happened to Mary and Jim – but that’s their business, not mine.