What happened next?

Before Love in the Countryside, there was Sunley’s Daughter.

British Film Institute - 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.

State of our Soils (and Wonderful Worms)

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

Charles Darwin was an undoubted genius, according to most people’s definition – so it should come as no surprise that he was interested in earthworms. He even wrote a book with the catchy title The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habitats.

Cartoon of Charles Darwin in Punch magazine (1881) - he studied worms for many years, even playing music to them!

Earthworms are fundamental. They are ecosystem engineers – a term associated with important ecological outputs, which can often be stalked by controversy because of the affects caused e.g. Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber). However, everyone can get behind earthworms; they are the only species playing a significant role in pedoturbation and are a major player in pedogenesis.

What are pedoturbation and pedogenesis? Well, they’re words we should all know. They describe the process of mixing between soil horizons resulting in healthy homogenization, and the formation of soils through biogeochemical processes.

Organic rich woodland soil. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Soil is the unconsolidated material on the top level of the earth in temperate climes. In the UK most plants grow in soil. Our soils are under pressure from erosion/loss, compaction and decline in organic matter. In the 2015 bestselling book, What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper, estimated the annual cost from soil degradation is between £900 million and £1.4 billion, while studies suggest soils will be too degraded for production within around 100 harvests. The need for solutions is urgent.

These aren't sandbanks - this is the sediment (soil) runoff from the Thames, as seen from the International Space Station in 2014

Soil health targets are included in the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan. Further national measures are planned through legislation during 2018 to manage all soils sustainably, including devising a soil health index, and updating guidance on crop establishment and optimal tillage choice.

Earthworms are crucial for tackling these problems and maintaining the health of soils. Still little is known about earthworms, despite Darwin’s efforts. We know there are 29 species in the UK, split into four groups: composters living in organic rich vegetation, epigeics living amongst leaf litter, endogeics living in the soil, and anecics living in vertical burrows. They all eat (and so recycle) decaying material, help drainage and aeration, and are food for many other species (so crucial for biodiversity). The fact that all four groups and all the species have varying ecology enhances their benefits to the reducing of erosion, compaction and the loss of organic matter, therefore benefiting the entire ecosystem – including us.

It will be very important to increase our understanding of distributions and ecology of each earthworm species, to help us to properly conserve and encourage worms to be a vital partner in such a time of soil health concern.

What is known about worms...all earthworms are hermaphrodites - mating head-to-tail by covering themselves in mucus and exchanging sperm. From Science Learning Hub.

The Earthworm Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has information regarding the recording of earthworms, identifying different species, and further facts on their biology and ecology.

The British Society of Soil Science is supporting the advancement of soil science in the UK. The more we understand the resource the more we can do to conserve and enhance it.

Talking about Turtle Doves

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

Our Turtle Doves are now in Africa, but that doesn’t mean our work stops.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

With the majority of results now in for our two formal survey areas (Cropton and Dalby Forests), along with many additional sightings logged this year, we can now announce our results. In 2017 a total of 244 birds were logged over 78 dates between the first seen on 17 April and the last record of one on 25 September near Pickering. Over both the 2016 and 2017 survey seasons we recorded 24 singing males in Cropton Forest. During our 2017 surveys in Dalby Forest we found 12 singing males. Our largest flock was 13 birds including juveniles recorded on 25 July 2017.

These results illustrate how important our area is for these endangered birds. In comparison there were very few sightings in the rest of Yorkshire this year and even fewer to the north of us. We have known for some time our area has been a stronghold for this species due to the committed work of many individual birdwatchers and the local Forest Bird Study Group. However this is the first time Turtle Doves have been surveyed as a single species in the north of England. We would not have been able to achieve these detailed results without the hard work of our volunteer surveyors. I started this project as a volunteer myself, keen to help these beautiful birds and I hoped other people would feel the same. Thankfully a small army have now joined the Turtle Dove brigade! Here’s a quote from George Day, one of our volunteer surveyors this year; “Being part of such an exciting project has been fantastic. It’s been a real treat to spend dawn in the forest with purring Turtle Doves”.

Carrying out these surveys can be fun in themselves, but we are often asked what happens to the data collected and is there a direct benefit to Turtle Doves? Within the first six months of this project the data collected by volunteers so far has been used to identify and target the best areas to set up new feeding sites and attempt to improve nesting habitat. I can now visit a farm, explain to the land manager how important their land is for Turtle Doves based on how many birds are nearby. This makes a huge difference to the delivery of the project.

Richard presenting to an end of term meeting of Turtle Dove volunteers, Dalby Visitor Centre 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working hard to spread the word and plan sites for new and improved habitat to create in 2018. I have a Heritage Lottery Fund target to deliver 40 talks to groups in the three years of the project and I’m pleased to be on course to complete 20 by the end of the first year! It seems a lot of people want to learn about and help these iconic birds. From a small village community in Sawdon to a national Forestry Commission conference the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove roadshow is purring its way around our beautiful county and beyond….

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partner logos

Sharing ground

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Produce – the New Forest Marque

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

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

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

Future agri-environment support

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

What on earth is going on?

Gallery

This gallery contains 55 photos.

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

Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.

Recipes for meadows

Aside

Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

30,000 words on water quality

Rosie Nelson – Masters Student

Rosie, geared up for outdoor working - copyright NYMNPAI have finally finished my research masters. All that stands between me and the real world is corrections and actually printing a 30,000 (ish) word document. So did I actually achieve anything. Well I’d like to think so, but first up I’ll tell you a bit about what I did, and how I did it.

I spent six blissful months walking three beautiful watercourse catchments in the North York Moors – Toad Beck, Danby Beck and Great Fryup Beck which are all tributaries into the River Esk. Aside from sun kissed skin and being chased by sheep, dogs and cows, I somehow managed to collect what I was after – a lot of useful data. To establish the water quality of a river a variety of sampling techniques is required. My favourite was using a probe which measures dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, salinity, temperature and much much more. Imagine, dangling a very expensive cable off the side of a bridge and waiting in anticipation for the numbers on the screen to settle. I loved it. Although once or twice the probe did ricochet off rocks to produce an alarming sound.

As my data collection evolved, I also started to gather water samples to take back to the laboratory for COD, BOD, DOC, anion and cation analysis. You might think I’ve just put some letters together to appear clever, but they do actually stand for things:
– COD is chemical oxygen demand (amount of oxygen required to oxidise the organic matter in the solution);
– BOD is biochemical oxygen demand (amount of dissolved oxygen being used by aerobic microorganisms when decomposing the organic matter in the solution);
– DOC is dissolved organic carbon (amount of organic matter in the solution);
– An anion is a negatively charged ion, a cation is a positively charged ion, and an ion is an electrically charged atom.

So what did I actually find out in these three catchments? Well I analysed the spatial and temporal variations of a variety of water parameters. The significance of focusing on both spatial and temporal variations within a catchment is it can easily identify areas of point source pollution at a small scale, something which isn’t done often enough.

For this post I’m focusing on dissolved oxygen and conductivity. The very important key species Freshwater Pearl Mussels require dissolved oxygen levels between 90 – 110% (Oliver, 2000). Other aquatic life like fish can survive on much lower saturations of dissolved oxygen, as low as <30%. The graph below shows how dissolved oxygen (a vital parameter for ascertaining the health of a river) changes through the year. Changes in water levels and plant growth can have serious effects on the amount of dissolved oxygen available for organic and aquatic life. During the summer months, plants will become abundant in a river, thus using up more oxygen and depleting the overall amount of dissolved oxygen available in a river. Once rainfall increases in the autumn dissolved oxygen levels should be replenished. As you can see September 2016 was a particularly poor month for dissolved oxygen, with average levels as low as 80%. Similarly, August on Toad Beck was low as well with an average of 75% saturation. But aside from in September for all three watercourses, and in August for Toad Beck, the dissolved oxygen levels remained within or above the proposed dissolved oxygen threshold.

2016 Dissolved Organic Carbon data graph - copyright Rosie Nelson

Next up – conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of a watercourse’s ability to conduct electrical flow and is therefore related to the concentration of ions in a river. Particular aquatic species need higher or lower conductivity – the Freshwater Pearl Mussel likes a lower conductivity. There are variations between suggested thresholds for conductivity: Moorkens (2000) suggests it should be 65µs/cm, whilst Bauer (1988) suggests <70µs/cm and Oliver (2000) suggests <100µs/cm. So I chose the only logical way forward and used all three thresholds. Focusing again on the month of September 2016, I produced the map below.

2016 Conductivity levels map - copyright Rosie Nelson

This is where analysing data spatially comes into its element. First up, the circles represent sampling locations (every now and again samples were missed out say if there were a herd of cows approaching as I climbed the style into their field, needless to say my flight or fight response would always be flight as advised in the National Park Authority’s Risk Assessments). Using a traffic light system, green circles represent good conductivity levels. As you can see, September was a poor month for both dissolved oxygen and conductivity. What I found particularly interesting was the variations that could occur in a small watercourse like Danby Beck, where as tributary field drains entered the beck conductivity levels could spike or decrease dramatically; how fantastic!

So to round off I thought I’d quickly summarise my thesis’ findings. Water quality is good in the three catchments, but it’s not good enough for Freshwater Pearl Mussels, and that’s the gist of it. The work of the River Esk catchment officers at the National Park to address the issues is great, the water bodies are reaching and maintaining ‘good’ ecological status, unfortunately the Freshwater Pearl Mussels require pristine water conditions and ‘high’ ecological status. However the future direction is positive for the health and conservation of Freshwater Pearl Mussels. And I too am looking forward to the future; I shall be taking a few weeks off from being chased by animals and I can’t wait*.

 

 

 

 

* Editor’s note: Rosie didn’t get much time off – she’s gone off to pastures new and is now a Community (Water Quality) Modelling Project Officer at Thames21. We wish her all the best.

Busy counting

Aside

NOT TOO LATE – we’re nearly at the end of this year’s Great British Bee Count but there is still a chance to join in and record bee sightings in the North York Moors up to the end of June. Reported records will help to build up a snap shot picture of the national bee population in 2017.

Bees, like all pollinators, are a vital cog in the workings of biodiversity. Volunteers are a crucial constituent in data recording that means trends and issues can be recognised and understood. With understanding there is a chance of addressing the issues.