The Future of the North York Moors National Park?

The National Park Authority has begun a process to develop a new Management Plan for the National Park in collaboration with partners and stakeholders. If you have any interest at all in this National Park or National Parks as a whole – you’re a stakeholder. Since our last Plan was drawn up in 2011/12 there are new environmental challenges to confront, new environmental issues to take on and new environmental priorities to progress…

Paul explains below how you can get involved in shaping the future, if you would like to.

Paul Fellows – Head of Strategic Policy

Every few years we take the opportunity to ask ourselves what we want the North York Moors National Park to be like in the future and how we might realise that vision.

In doing this we would really like your ideas – the people who live and work in, care for and visit this special place. Generation after generation has helped create this landscape, from moorland, dale and forest to village, farm and field. Many millions more cherish this place as visitors and supporters. The National Park looks like it does because of you and your families; its future is in all our hands.

Our task is to help create a shared vision that we can all agree on, because that’s the best way to pass the National Park on to future generations in an even better state. What do we want farming, housing, tourism, transport, business, heritage and nature conservation to look like? What sort of place do we want to grow up in or grow old in? What’s the correct balance that works best for everyone?

Over the course of the next year we’ll enshrine this shared vision in a document called a ‘Management Plan’, which will set out exactly the work that needs to be done. We want the plan to be ambitious but deliverable; we want to anticipate the challenges and work together to meet them. We’ll set dates and targets, so that you can see the progress we’re making together.

This then is your chance to help us by having your say about the future of the North York Moors National Park. You’ll have your own ideas of what the National Park could and should be like in twenty years’ time. Every viewpoint is valid. Each opinion matters. The more perspectives that are offered, the stronger the overall plan and vision will be.

Think of this as a conversation about the future. It’s always an important discussion to have, though perhaps – after the experiences of the last year – more vital than ever before. Tell us your thoughts and hopes. Be bold. It’s your National Park and together we can plan effectively for better days ahead.

To start with, we’ve created a quick survey that asks up to five short questions so you can let us know what you think the main issues are.

If you would like a bit more background, or to look at some of the challenges we think we are facing, please take a look at our ‘working together’ page, which goes into more detail and asks more specific questions. We’ve come up with three themes to think about – Leading Nature Recovery, Landscapes for All, and Living and Working Landscapes. There is bound to be a lot of cross over between these themes, for instance in regards the historic environment. Anyway, have a think yourself and let us know your thoughts by email .

You can also keep in touch – if you want to be kept informed of further work on the Management Plan please join our mailing list.

 

Water Environment Grant (WEG): Keeping life on the bank

Christopher Watt – River Esk WEG Project Officer

Creating and expanding riparian woodland is a large component of the current WEG* funded project in the Esk Catchment, in conjunction with improving farm infrastructure. Riparian woodland is defined as trees located on the natural banks of waterbodies such as rivers, canels, ponds and lakes. The presence of riparian woodland brings an array of environmental benefits such as carbon capture, regulation of water temperature, bank stabilsation and provision of resources for wildlife. Riparian woodland is important feature of the Esk and provides benefits to conservation focus species in particular Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), but also Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and Sea trout (Salmo trutta).This is why tree-planting efforts have been prioritized with project distribution located in both the upper and lower parts of the catchment.

Existing riparian woodland along the Esk. Copyright Chris Watt, NYMNPA.

Riparian woodland creation has focused on introducing a mix of tree species to the bankside to enhance structure and composition. Species which have a tolerance for wet conditions and partial submergence such as alder, aspen, birch and willow make a significant contribution to the mix. Other species such as alder-buckthorn, hazel, hawthorn and oak add additional variety. Planting design has incorporated adding open spaces such as rides and glades into the new small scale woodland as these are valuable habitats in their own right. All new woodland projects have an emphasis on long-term management to maintain habitat function with actions such as deadwood retention, grass-margin establishment, coppicing, pollarding and recycling tree-guards included in management plans. The vision is for these small scale woodlands to stabilize banksides, intercept agricultural run-off and reduce sedimentation entering into the Esk, leading to improvements in water-quality. Monitoring will record physical and biological change through measures fixed-point photography, vegetation monitoring and species recording.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the Covid situation and fickle weather conditions, work has been progressing on the Esk catchment with 2,095 new trees planted with much assistance from land managers, staff and volunteers. Planting efforts will continue with the aim to have all 3,000 remaining trees in the ground by March. This will also be accompanied by the planting of 1,060m of new hedgerows, wetland creation and bank stabilization works. Along with the habitat creation and enhancement works, measures to improve farm infrastructure are continuing such as concrete yard renewal, installation of sediment traps and rainwater guttering. Combined these efforts seek to work at the farm-level and tackle pollution pathways from yard/field to river and lead to the improvement of water-quality of this special river.

Tree planting volunteers, Botton in Danby Dale. Copyright NYMNPA.

 All work carried out has been in line with current COVID restrictions and guidelines at the time. To keep up to date with the latest National Park situation in regards Covid-19 – see here.  

Esk winter landscape. Copyright Chris Watt, NYMNPA.

*WEG stands for Water Environment Grant which has been providing funding to improve the water environment in rural England. This has been part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

 

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

Band of Six

Our Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme has been active now for over 16 months; it’s had quite a time so far. We thought it would be courteous to introduce the very adaptable delivery team.

Upper reaches of the Rye catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

“I’m Alex, the Programme Manager for Ryevitalise. My main role is to work closely with all of our wonderful partners and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver our Ryevitalise vision to ‘conserve, enhance and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the area, enabling people to reconnect with the history, wildlife and landscapes of the River Rye and its tributaries’.

I’ve always had a passion for nature. Growing up locally I have great childhood memories of taking part in lots of activities with the North York Moors National Park. In my early teens my family moved to the Falkland Islands where I was fortunate to volunteer for Falklands Conservation, spending days on end undertaking penguin chick census checks … it was amazing! My family then moved to Ascension Island where I carried out bird, turtle and endemic plant counts, and these experiences led me to pursue a career in conservation.

Alex Cripps, Ryevitalise Programme Manager. Copyright NYMNPA.I studied Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia, including a year in Canada – my dissertation focused on the impacts of habitat fragmentation on ungulates (moose, elk and deer) near Banff National Park. I then spent two years travelling and working in New Zealand before I decided I’d better get a ‘real’ job.

I was delighted to be offered a job in 2013 working for the North York Moors National Park as their Conservation Graduate Trainee. Since then I have developed a huge passion for rivers; I became the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer in 2014 before taking on the role of Ryevitalise Catchment Restoration Officer in 2017, part of a small team to develop Ryevitalise. In 2018 the final Ryevitalise application was submitted and now here we are, delivering this ambitious landscape partnership scheme and it’s great to be leading the team as Programme Manager.

I love sharing my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that our freshwater habitats and surrounding areas support. For those of you who know me you will know that I absolutely love aquatic invertebrates – one of my favourite moments in the Rye catchment was watching mayflies dancing above the River Rye near Helmsley, there’s nearly always a dipper bobbing about here too.

Ryevitalise will be raising the profile of rivers, looking at how valuable these ecosystems are and how important they are to local communities. 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. So it’s great to be underway, delivering a wide variety of projects, and I look forward to meeting some of you soon!”

Mayflies dancing above the River Rye near Helmsley. Copyright Alex Cripps, NYMNPA.

“Hi everyone. My name’s Paul Thompson and I’m the Programme Officer for Ryevitalise currently overseeing our ancient woodland restoration work, access improvements, and community arts project. I’ve also been supporting land managers in Bilsdale carrying Paul Thompson, Ryevitalise Programme Officer. Copyright NYMNPA.out habitat improvement works. I’ve been really inspired by our community who care passionately about our local heritage and rural landscape. Finding solutions to key conservation challenges that benefit people, the economy and the environment is incredibly rewarding, and demonstrates the power of National Lottery Heritage Fund’s landscape partnerships.”

View of Hawnby Hill. Copyright Paul Thompson, NYMNPA.

“Hello! I’m Amy, Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer; my job is exactly what it says really. Anything from working with schools, volunteers, local communities, running events and bit of historical work thrown in for good measure!

I started conservation life as a seasonal ranger for the National Trust on the lovely South East Cornish coast. Then moving closer to home to work for the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust as part of the River Tees Rediscovered project. All my roles have involved people (and rivers) in some way! Whether it’s bossing… I mean working with… volunteers; mammal surveying, running community events or working with local people of all ages. I love seeing folks reaction to the first path they have built, catching their first tad pole or that first cup of tea after a gruelling task. It’s amazing how inclusive conservation can be; wildlife doesn’t care who you are or what you can do.

Having spent many of my days as a teenager walking the Cleveland Way and hiking up Hasty Bank, it’s great to actually work here and show off what a lovely place the Ryevitalise area is!”

Cleveland Hills from Urra Dyke at top of Rye Catchment. Copyright Simon Bassindale.

“Hi! I’m James and I’m the Catchment Restoration Officer. Essentially my job involves working to improve the water quality of the River Rye by engaging with land owners, whether by creating conservation agreements which typically address point source James Caldwell, Ryevitalise Catchment Restoration Officerpollution issues, promoting opportunities to increase habitat connectivity, controlling invasive species, or helping to create a more natural river by removing obstacles to fish migration.

I had a rural upbringing and have always had a passion for the environment which is reflected in my career choice, starting as an assistant ranger for a trust in Peterborough, moving to a countryside ranger position with a borough council in Surrey and most recently settling at the North York Moors National Park Authority. 

I enjoy exploring, whether walking, running or cycling, and am delighted to have such variety on the doorstep that also forms my wider “office” and supplies great photo worthy content.”

Byland Abbey. Copyright NYMNPA.

“Hi everybody! I’m Sam Lewsey, the Field Officer for the Ryevitalise project and my main areas of responsibility are the citizen science programme, and the delivery of practical works with our wonderful volunteers.

Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field OfficerI came to the North York Moors from the National Trust, where I worked as a Ranger for the last few years, and before that I worked for Cambridge University. Both my parents had a huge love of the great outdoors and natural history, and this was something I picked up from an early age. I am passionate about wildlife and love working with volunteers setting up programmes of surveying – developing my own ID skills and helping others develop theirs. Hay meadows and their associated pollinators hold a particular fascination for me. When not crawling about looking at wildflowers and fungi you’ll find me out on a run – the longer and hillier the better!

If you’re keen to get involved in volunteering with us please give me a shout and I can talk you through the opportunities that are available within this fantastic scheme.”

Riparian woodland in autumn, near Hawnby - copyright Paul Harris, NYMNPA

“Hi everyone – my name’s Ann Pease and I am the Administration Assistant for Ryevitalise, overseeing all of the background paperwork that keeps the project ticking Anne Pease, Ryevitalise Administration Assistantalong! One of my many roles is liaising between the team and the National Lottery, helping to collate and provide the evidence needed to receive our funding. 

I’ve volunteered for many years across the conservation sector – and am over the moon to be able to work on a project having such a positive effect on our areas landscape and wildlife. 

Being a local girl I am deeply connected to this landscape – I’ve spent much of my life up on the North York Moors and it’s great to see this project champion what makes the area so special. 

If I’m not working you’ll probably find me out walking somewhere – I am a big fan of National Trails and long distance walks…I am also a big fan of butterflies, moths and birds of prey and never miss a chance to have a bit of a geek out!

At the moment I am on maternity leave having had a baby boy in July (mid lockdown!), so am watching from afar – but am very much looking forward to being back in February to see how the project is getting on…”Ryevitalise logo banner

Way! Hey! It’s Lamprey!

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

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

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

So why the Rye?

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

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

So why should we care?

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

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

So what can we do to help?

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

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

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

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logo band

Good news story: Turtle Doves in a weedy corner

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

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

Tree by tree

Ann Pease – Ryevitalise Administration Assistant

On 8 February the local community and members of the public came out in force to show their support for the new Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership – volunteering their time to help us plant trees hundreds of trees at a local farm within a 30m wide buffer strip alongside the River Seph in Bilsdale. It was a fantastic bright and sunny winter’s day as we enjoyed the calm before the arrival of Storm Ciara the next day.

A mixture of native broadleaf trees were planted including oak and alder, as well as a range of shrub species including hazel, crab apple, hawthorn and rowan chosen for their high biodiversity value and food source for local birds and wildlife.

Amy from the Ryevitalise Team - tree planting task Feb 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

Planting trees alongside rivers helps to stabilise the river’s banks via their extensive root network, and reduces natural erosion processes during high rainfall events when the river is in peak flow. Trees provide habitat, food and shelter for wildlife, and by creating an uneven surface and reducing compaction help to filter runoff from the surrounding landscape which in turn improves water quality by preventing excess sediment and nutrients making their way into the river. Trees create a more naturally functioning system and help restore aquatic habitats, such as sediment-free gravel beds, which are vital for the survival of species such as the white-clawed crayfish, trout and lamprey – all of which can be found within the Rye catchment.

Native White-Clawed Crayfish - copyright Dan Lombard.

To help protect the trees planted Ryevitalise has a funded scheme with the farmer which includes erecting a fence to exclude the livestock and so create a buffer strip between the grazed pasture and the river.  Buffer strips are an important component of a functioning river corridor, which act as superhighways for native invertebrates, birds and mammals.  As well as helping to control pollution and reduce run off, they provide a vital barrier between more intensively managed farm land and the delicate ecosystem of the river.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - working within the riverbank buffer strip. Copyright NYMNPA.

A team of around 25 enthusiasts – young and old, experienced and novice, passionate conservationists and interested residents – were supplied with hot tea, plenty of cake, and together planted an amazing 300 trees over the course of the morning.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA. Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more and more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Tree planting task Feb 2020 - more, more and more tree planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

This was Ryevitalise’s first public event focussed around climate change and carbon capture. The enthusiasm of the people who attended, their hard work and the difference we made to the area in just a morning combined to make the event a great success!

THE TEAM - tree planting task Feb 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

The following week members of the National Park Authority’s Explorer Club along with other volunteers spent a day adding an additional 100 trees, with the remaining 400 planted by our amazing team of National Park Authority volunteers on Tuesday 3 March. So overall a very impressive 800 trees have been introduced at this site by the River Seph, providing a big ecological benefit to the river.

The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, North York Moors National Park Authority and other partners. It is a four year project aiming to conserve, enhance and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the area, enabling people to reconnect with the history, wildlife and landscape of the River Rye and its tributaries. Our catchment area is a huge 413km2, spanning the western edge of the North York Moors National Park, parts of the Howardian Hills AONB and arable farmland along the Vale of Pickering. We have 16 on the ground projects (19 in total), covering everything from habitat restoration to built heritage and arts related programs.

If this is something you might be interested in getting involved with, we are actively looking for volunteers to help us achieve the aims of our projects. Whether it’s surveying ancient trees, examining historic records, helping at events, wildlife monitoring or outdoor conservation days – we’re sure to have something you will enjoy.  See our current volunteering opportunities for more details or email us.

Our project officially launches this Spring Bank Holiday (25 May), with a week long schedule of events throughout the catchment area showcasing how fantastic our rivers, wildlife and landscapes are. Fun and informative events will be held right across the catchment highlighting what varied landscapes and communities we have in the Ryevitalise area.

If you would like to be kept up to date with the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme, its events and opportunities, send the Team an email to subscribe to our mailing list.

Pond Purr-fect!

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

There is something magical about ponds: the mystery of what’s lurking in the depths, the tranquility of water and the constantly changing scene as many types of wildlife come and go on a fleeting visit or stay on to take full advantage of the precious habitats provided.

Turtle doves are no different from every other bird on the planet – they need water to survive. During the summer when our doves are raising a brood of chicks or squabs, finding water becomes even more important. Turtle doves feed crop milk to their small chicks in the nest in the first four days of their life. The milk is made from secretions from a lining in the crop. After four days the milk is mixed with regurgitated food and slowly changed to solid food as they become older.

That’s why through our Turtle Dove Project we have been keen on providing water sources – in particular now during the winter before our turtle doves return in the spring. This post celebrates one local farmer who has been keen on restoring his dew pond for a long time in the south west corner of the North York Moors and we were very pleased to assist his aim with a bit of project funding, especially as there were turtle doves recorded on the farm in 2019.

Over 100 years ago there were many dew ponds across the landscape. Originally used for livestock to drink from and created at sites which naturally collected water, many of the older ponds have now vanished as farming systems have changed and the ponds have dried up.

This is the story of the recent dew pond restoration revealed through photography…

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond location. Copyright NYMNPA.

Before the pond (the site in summer 2019). The original depression left of the track filled with ruderal vegetation with very little sign of the old pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Digging the test pit. A major success as we found the old dew pond stone base about three feet below ground.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Taking Levels. This to to ensure the pond is created level to the above ground area, a tilting pond will run dry!

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first buckets. Spoil was piled up by the side of the site then removed from site using a dumper.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first layer, weed membrane. A membrane helps to prevent vegetation growth into the water tight clay and provides a level  area for laying the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The second layer. clay lining. Special ‘puddling clay is brought in to provide the water proof base for the pond. A radio controlled roller is used to compact the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The third layer, barley straw . Straw is spread over the clay to reduce algal growth and provide an additional substrate within which essential pond plants can grow.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The fourth and final layer, limestone chippings. Used as a traditional protection layer to reduce the risk of clay drying and protect the pond base from the damaging feet of paddling stock animals.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The finished pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - restored dew pond. Copyright NYMNPA.

One week later! After Storm Dennis we have water in the pond.. All we need now is the vegetation to grow back up and of course our doves to come back from Africa! 

Esk ventures

Ryan Harvey – River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer

Hi there, I’m Ryan the new Partnership Officer for the River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment – its part of a Catchment Based Approach and my post is jointly hosted by the National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) . I started back in August and what a fantastic experience I’ve had so far. My role is very varied and fulfills a broad range of objectives: liaising with landowners and farmers, managing volunteers, working with partner organisations and carrying out surveys. All this effort is in the hope of benefiting the ecology of the Esk and building strong relationships and partnerships to maintain the ecology into the future.

It all started with the electro fishing season. That meant getting to know our e-fishing volunteers and arranging some refresher training for them. This was a great opportunity for me to meet the team ahead of our actual surveys and set the scene for the coming weeks. Once the work started along with volunteers I had the much appreciated help of Victoria Franklin (our Conservation Trainee) and Ami Carrick (our Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer). Electro fishing is a hugely important element of our data collection on the Esk. It allows us to gain a better understanding of our fish species diversity and abundance, in particular migratory species such as salmon (Salmo salar), sea trout (Salmo trutta), European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and lamprey (Lampreta planeri).

Electro fishing on the Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our sites are repeated year on year and we now have a record of each species population over the last six years. This along with a whole suite of other data collecting techniques better informs our next steps and future conservation measures.

We are looking for new electro fishing volunteers for the 2020 season, so if this is something that may interest you please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Volunteers Team. We can offer all the training you might need.

Another aspect of my role has been working alongside our Pearl Mussel Volunteers who have a long standing history in the National Park; some of its volunteers have been working with us for over 10 years. The volunteers’ work is invaluable because it’s through this group (along with contractors) that we get most of the physical works and restorations done on the river. There are usually volunteer tasks every two weeks at locations along the Esk and in surrounding riparian habitats. Tasks can vary from week to week for instance woodrush and tree planting for bank stabilization and habitat creation, riverbank fencing and repair to help water quality, as well as hedgerow and riverside grassland management to enhance biodiversity. We don’t stop for winter; this year so far we’ve tackled left over Himalayan Balsam pulling/bashing tasks on the upper Esk catchment.

Our 26 existing Riverfly Volunteers have been busy as ever in 2019, providing vital spot data on the Esk’s freshwater invertebrates. This data is crucial as many of our invertebrates are indicator species and being very sensitive they act as useful litmus for water quality and pollution. Many invertebrates are key component of freshwater and riparian food webs and many other species feed on them. Rivers need to be clean for them to thrive and in turn every other species will benefit. The data returns from 2019 have all been highly valuable for us and the national Riverfly Partnership, with most sites showing high levels of target group abundance and a few showing the highest levels in the last three years, which is encouraging news – hopefully this trend continues into 2020!

Riverfly monitoring in the Esk Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Adopt a Stream initiative is also a great source of data for the catchment. Another long standing citizen science project, this has volunteers who “take ownership” of given sections of the Esk, which they monitor on a month to month basis. Volunteers note down the general ecology of the site, the state of the river (flow regimes and water levels), any pollution inputs, any litter and invasive non-native species. This allows us, through the eyes of the volunteer, to recognise any apparent issues along the Esk. So if this is something you might be interested in, if you have a favourite walk or spot along the catchment you care about and like to visit frequently, then please get in touch and help us to continue to monitor the ecological health of the Esk Valley.

In addition we are hoping to start addressing some of the remaining in-river obstacles such as weirs, culverts and fords. This work could help towards the restoration of natural river processes and hydrology of the Esk and also importantly aid the passage of migratory fish species, such as salmon, trout, lamprey and eels. Structures can prevent fish species migrating up river to spawning sites and also prevent successful downstream migration of our salmon smolts which, added to the decline of salmon at sea, has further compounded population declines in the catchment in the last few decades. We found extremely low juvenile salmon numbers from our electro fishing surveys; this suggests that the installation of fish passage and fish easements could be a vital part of the continued conservation efforts along the Esk.

Example of an In channel obstacle for fish passage. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lastly but most importantly there are our pearl mussels. The catalyst for all this work over the last decade and into the future is our Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) population in the River Esk. We work with land managers as well as our volunteers and contractors to fence river corridors, plant trees/vegetation, stabilise and restore river banks in order to:

  • reduce diffuse pollution because mussels require oligotrophic (low nutrient) conditions, and
  • tackle erosion and sedimentation leading to suspended solids in the river because juvenile mussels require clean gravels with good oxygen circulation.

A strong salmonid population supports good healthy mussel numbers as the fish are crucial to the mussel’s life cycle – the larval form (glochidia) use the fish as hosts by attaching to the gills until large enough to detach and then self sustainably live within the river gravels. This is why we’re so keen on our river obstacle work because we want fish to spawn all the way up the catchment, creating strong, wide spread populations. Helping the fish helps the mussels and the mussels, being bivalves, help clean the river which in turn provides better conditions for our freshwater invertebrates, which then are fed on the by the fish and the cycle continues….

The glochidea phase of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Copyright Elizabeth Clements, NYMNPA.

Everything in the river is connected and helping one species will help another, this is why all our conservation work is so important and why partnership and cooperation between our volunteers, land managers and partners is crucial for the future of the River Esk.

Going with the FLO

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

At the end of October last year it was the turn of this National Park Authority to host the National Park Authorities’ Farm Liaison Officers (FLO) Group Meeting. It was the thirtieth such meeting and we welcomed 23 farm officers from 11 National Parks with attendees from the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.

The main purpose of these three day meetings is to enable discussions between colleagues about the common opportunities and challenges of working with landowners and land managers to conserve the special qualities of farmed landscapes. This is an annual event shared out between the 15 UK National Parks. The last time the North York Moors played host was back in 2002. There have been a lot of changes since then so we had a lot to showcase.

DAY ONE

The meeting was based at Wydale Hall near Scarborough on the southern edge of the National Park – a very peaceful and beautiful setting. Everyone arrived by midday and we started with a brief introduction and catch up from each National Park with representatives talking through their new projects and current issues from their point of view. We had a cup of tea and a presentation on the new Woodsmith Mine near Whitby followed by a drive past to see the setting within the landscape. The mine sparked much discussion around light pollution, the local economy, offsetting carbon emissions and the scale of the planned operation. We ended up in Whitby that evening for much appreciated fish and chips.

DAY TWO

Day two was all about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership. We started off in Nunnington, a village towards the southern end of the Rye catchment within the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). We had roped in various members of the Ryevitalise and the Howardian Hills AONB teams to help. Paul from Ryevitalise was able to present an overview of the Landsdcape Partnership, highlighting why the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund decided to fund this 3.2 million project for the area – i.e. to enhance water quality, to improve water level management and to reconnect the people who live within the catchment with their river.

By the River Rye in Nunnington, FLO visit 30.10.19. Copyright NYMNPA.

We went on for a short walk along the riverbank in Duncombe Park, Helmsley. Duncombe Park is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) because of its important ecology. We talked about the potential for alleviating some of the impacts that weirs can have on both water level management and the ability for fish to spawn throughout the length of a river.

View from Duncombe Park looking back over Helmsley Castle. Copyright NYMNPA.

Low Crookleith Farm, Bilsdale - FLO visit 30.10.20. Copyright NYMNPA.After indulging in pie and peas at Hawnby Village Hall for lunch we drove further upstream through Bilsdale to visit a farm where the farmer now has a land management agreement through the Ryevitalise programme. We looked at his riverside fields where trees will be planted through the agreement to create a riparian buffer, along with the installation of new fencing to stop stock accessing the river directly which can cause sediment to enter the water and negatively impact on the river ecology.

We ended up at Chop Gate Village Hall near the top of Bilsdale where we got to hear about riverfly monitoring from two very enthusiastic and interesting volunteers who are already actively engaged in monitoring the water quality in the Rye catchment.

Back at Wydale Hall dinner was followed by a range of after dinner presentations from invited speakers on Turtle Doves, Championing the Farmed Environment and the Esk Valley Facilitation Fund group, as well as an appreciation of Geraint Jones from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park who has been coming to these meetings from the beginning and for whom this one would be his last as he is due to retire shortly.

DAY THREE

Straight after breakfast the morning session began with a talk from Forestry England on their enclosed beaver trial ongoing in Cropton Forest.  There was fascinating video footage of how the beavers’ natural behavior of building dams can help with slowing the flow of water which has great potential as a natural and sustainable flood alleviation method.

We rounded off the session with in depth discussions of current issues including the development of the new national environmental land management scheme and rural development initiatives post Brexit and how National Park Authorities might be involved. Other subjects considered were; how National Parks could help companies offset their carbon, providing advice to farmers on how to reduce carbon emissions, opportunities for more landscape scale projects within National Parks, the always contentious issue of fencing on common land and how best to share farming stories with the general public. The meeting wrapped up at lunch time and everyone set off back to their respective National Parks hopefully with good memories of the North York Moors and its work.

Attendees at the Farm Liaison Officers Group Meeting October 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

It is always useful to meet up with like-minded people and discuss pertinent subjects with colleagues from other National Park Authorities. We do tend to consider ourselves to be a family of National Parks and it is great to be able to come together occasionally, to discuss ideas, to learn from each other and to return to our individual Parks refreshed and inspired by what we have seen and experienced.

Traversing the Esk

Christopher Watt – River Esk Project Officer

Hi there, I’m Chris and I’ve just recently joined the National Park Authority as a River Esk Project Officer, having moved down from Scotland, and seemingly brought the weather with me! My role will involve working with farmers and landowners to implement river restoration techniques that seek to improve the water quality of the River Esk catchment.

Over the last month I have started to piece together the Esk catchment, worked with volunteers in delivering practical tasks and began undertaking fish obstacle river surveys. It has certainly been a varied introduction to the role and area.

Autumn colours in Westeredale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Volunteers braved the drizzly elements back in October to repair a broken fence on the River Esk, near Castleton. Thankfully, the task allowed us to remain on dry land and avoid venturing into the river which was rather swollen after recent heavy rainfall. A bankside tree had fallen and crushed a section of the fence-line, slackening the wire and dislodging posts. The volunteers assisted with installing new posts, including a heavy duty straining post, re-attaching the wires and finally tightening them. The volunteers worked extremely hard and it was a pleasure to meet and work with them. The task was also completed in one afternoon and the sun even came out, which is a bonus!

This task was one of the many on-going works to restore and enhance the riparian habitats of the River Esk. Maintaining riverside fences assists in keeping cattle and sheep away from the bankside vegetation and so causing sediment loading through erosion. Bankside vegetation stabilises the soil and is an important habitat in its own right. The reduction of sediment loading should help improve conditions for conservation priority species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) which favour clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams.

In combination to riparian habitat enhancements, we have also been undertaking fish obstacle surveys stretching from Westerdale down  to Goathland. These involve inspecting an assortment of obstructions from weirs, fords and culverts and assessing how severe they impinge on fish migration. At each obstacle the length, width and height are recorded, along with a written assessment of the level of severity the obstacle poses to migrating fish populations.  

Esk Catchment weir after high rainfall event. Copyright NYMNPA.

Due to recent high rainfall, many of these obstacles have been partially or fully submerged, and although looking dramatic, have been just too dangerous to take measurements from. Electro-fishing will also accompany these surveys at a later date to inform us about fish species diversity and abundance at each obstacle. The purpose of these surveys is to update our records on obstructions across the catchment and prioritise where mitigation measures would best be targeted to benefit fish populations of the Esk. Migratory fish are a vital aspect of the biodiversity of the river.

Esk Catchment culvert and ford system. Copyright NYMNPA.