What do you think?

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.

A winter sunset over Danby Dale from Oakley Walls. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

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.

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

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.

Sawdon Community Group, with Richard on the right - celebrating the first community Turtle Dove plot with a mug of tea!. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

Common Fumitory - showing the seeds which Turtle Doves feed on. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

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.

It’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it or: When all’s said and dung, don’t poo-poo the Dung Beetles

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.

How the different groups of British Dung beetles utilise dung in different ways. Copyright Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project.

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.

A Geotrupidae dung beetle with hitch hiking mites getting a lift to their next pile of dung. From https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/422423640023441381/

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.

One of the Dung beetles - this is called a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius). Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

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.

Some of the British Dung beetles. Copyright Beetle UK Mapping Project.

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.

Window into the past

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.

Modern day Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

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!

Extract from map of Bilsdale from 1781, by William Calvert. From Feversham Collection, North Yorkshire County Record Office.Ryevitalise LPS logos

A to Z: a slew of Ss

S

SAINTS

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 all are now scheduled along with their associated barrows. There are three locations of SEPA earthworks – on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor (SM 1020351), on Danby Rigg (SM 1018782) and on Ugthorpe Moor (SM 1016532 and SM 1016533) – all within ten miles of each other.

SEPA on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor - the ranging rod is in one of the pits. Copyright NYMNPA.

SHEEP

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.

Blackface sheep on moorland. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

North York Moors sheep flock. Copyright NYMNPA.

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

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!

SUNDEW

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.

Round-leaved sundew, Bransdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q, R

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.