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.

 

We are Family

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

All 15 UK National Parks are unique with their own landscape character, natural assets and cultural heritage. But we have a lot in common too, and therefore there is much value in sharing issues, experiences and lessons, and keeping in touch with each National Park that makes up our National Park Family.

The Tree and Woodlands Officer Group (TWOG) focuses on all things woodland and tree related across the UK National Parks. Every National Park’s Tree and/or Woodland Officers are members of TWOG and each year a particular Park hosts an annual gathering so members can get together in person to talk through issues and see what’s happening on the ground beyond their own Park.

2018 was our turn to host the TWOG meeting, so back in October Tree and/or Woodland Officers from other National Parks arrived in Helmsley.

DAY ONE

We started with a welcome meeting and an introduction to the North York Moors by Andy Wilson, our Chief Executive.

We then headed out to Bilsdale stopping at key vantage points to look over woodland creation projects past, present and future throughout this linear north/south dale. There was a discussion around each National Park’s approach to tree planting and about the finer details of woodland creation such as landscaping, appropriate locations and grant support. For the North York Moors woodland creation is a priority and we have resources available to work with landowners to facilitate this. We’ve started with smallish individual sites but are starting to develop a more targeted strategic approach for the future.

Looking down over woodland creation projects in Bilsdale, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We then headed up into Tripsdale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which is valued for a mix of habitats. Within the area is High Wood which includes as many as 300 ancient and veteran trees. We considered the management of the Ancient Semi Natural Woodland area as a whole and also the invaluable irreplaceable individual trees. High Wood is a wood pasture – a grazed woodland – but currently the sheep are fenced out as we’re establishing young trees to help maintain succession on the site.

High Wood, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

Veteran Tree in High Wood, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

That first evening we had a talk by Professor Ian Rotherham from Sheffield Hallam University on ‘Shadow Woodlands’ and the significance of scrub. Shadow woodlands are essentially areas that still have remnant trees and woodland flora but are no longer woodland as such – they could provide appropriate place to target for woodland re-creation in the future.

DAY TWO

The next day we headed off to the Forestry Commission’s Cropton Forest to have a look at their natural flood management features on Sutherland Beck. These features, such as woody debris dams where installed as part of the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project aimed at abating  past flooding issues in the town of Pickering downstream.

Cropton Forest with the Forestry Commission, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We then travelled north and after a quick stop at the Hole of Horcum on Levisham Estate to discuss past tree planting for landscape and natural flood management reasons, we stopped in Glaisdale.

Hole of Horcum, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We went into the West Arncliff 44 hectare woodland site to look at the work that began 6 years ago to convert part of the woodland from conifer plantation back to native broadleaved woodland. This site demonstrates the long term commitment required to achieve PAWS restoration. It’s part of a wider site that includes SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). We also got to see the nationally scarce Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum).

West Arnecliff, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

This visit inspired debates, discussions and recommendations around the challenges of restoring ancient woodland in hard to access sites.

West Arnecliff, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

The last stop of the day was at a vantage point above Fryup Dale. This site provided the opportunity to discuss wood creation (again), work to integrate historic commercial forestry into the landscape and other woodland issues on a landscape scale. Sharing perspectives and comparisons from different National Parks was very illuminating.

Above Fryup Dale, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

That evening we listened to another two fascinating talks from invited speakers. Nationally renowned woodland expert George Peterkin presented on Lady Park Wood, a woodland local to him in the Wye Valley, examining the context of a woodland not managed for 15-years and lessons that can be learnt. Brian Walker, who worked for the Forestry Commission for over 40 years, presented on the interconnected biodiversity of the Forestry Commission’s Langdale Forest.

DAY THREE

On the morning after we closed with a formal meeting considering national issues such as Brexit implications for grant funding and payments for public goods, as well as woodland management and woodland creation (yet again). Then everyone went back to their home National Parks.

TWOG is just one way in which the National Park Family works and communicates with each other. I am glad it all worked out, even the weather was good and the autumn colours looked fabulous. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to host such dedicated and experienced woodland representatives here in the North York Moors. I’m already looking forward to the next TWOG meeting, in 2019 at Snowdonia National Park.

TWOG visit Oct 2018. 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.

Autumn delights

Gallery

This gallery contains 26 photos.

It’s UK Fungus Day today. There are many many different types of fungi – classifications and relationships are still being expounded by experts. Sometimes sparsity of knowledge can be intriguing but with fungi the more knowledge acquired the more fascination … Continue reading

Bad news

Elizabeth A Clements – Deputy Director of Conservation, Head of Natural Environment

American Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus), are an incredibly successful crustacean – but unfortunately this very success is bad for our aquatic habitats and native species.

Reports of the Invasive Non Native (INNS) Species American Signal crayfish had been getting closer to the North York Moors for a while. But recently the species have been identified within the National Park. Sadly they have been recorded in the River Rye catchment and also at Scaling Dam Reservoir which is connected to Staithes Beck and is close to the River Esk catchment.

There are currently up to six species of non-native crayfish in England, but the ones here now are the American Signal crayfish species from North America. There are a relatively recent arrival. They were imported into England/Wales in the 1970s to kick start crayfish farming ventures. But no one had quite realized what an entrepreneurial creature they would be in their own right, given new territory. They were soon out of control and have continued to be so ever since, marching menancingly on and spreading throughout the country. They can move up and down stream, between water bodies and watercourses, and over land for short distances crossing physical barriers. They can even survive out of water for a few days.

American Signal crayfish. Copyright Canal and River Trust.

Signal crayfish out compete other species and disrupt the interconnected biodiversity chain. They are particularly fertile producing up to 500 eggs in one go, and can live up to 20 years.

They eat fish and amphibian eggs, tadpoles and juvenile fish as well as aquatic vegetation. It’s not that they don’t have any predators, they do – otters, salmon, trout and eel can eat them – but they can reproduce in such large numbers that predation has little impact on the growing populations. Another adverse impact on the ecosystem is their habit of burrowing into banks to hibernate in the winter – banks are therefore weakened and more prone to erosion, increasing sedimentation and flood risk, and decreasing water quality.

In the National Park we are very lucky to still have a population of Britain’s only native freshwater crayfish the White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). White-clawed Crayfish are declining throughout its range and are therefore protected by European and UK legislation. These native crayfish are declining due to competition, predation and disease. The American Signal crayfish are not only more aggressive and can tolerate poorer water quality and habitat conditions, but they also carry ‘crayfish plague’ (Aphanomyces astaci), a fungal disease which has devastating impact on our native species. Remaining populations of White-clawed crayfish are at risk of being wiped out once the Signal crayfish turn up.

White-clawed crayfish. Copyright Dan Lombard.

Researchers have been striving for years to find a way of successfully controlling and eradicating non-native crayfish but as of yet nothing has been successful so far. That research continues but out native crayfish are under threat in the meantime.  It’s not possible to safely exterminate a whole population in a connected watercourse or a large waterbody but many alternatives have been tried. Trapping and removing larger adult crayfish only allows the smaller younger population to thrive. Trials of chemical treatments have not yet been a success and in the aquatic environment have been particularly tricky. There have been attempts to remove adult crayfish, castrate them, and return them to the population in the hope they would control the population but that has not worked out yet either. Attempts have been made to erect physical barriers to prevent their free movement but only with very limited success. There is also a persistent rumour that people purposefully release Signal crayfish presumably to resuscitate the failed 1970s vision of crayfish farming.

It’s illegal to introduce Signal crayfish, that includes using crayfish as fishing bait – either dead or alive. A licence is needed in England to purposefully trap any species of freshwater crayfish, in an effort to assert some control over the situation.

The best thing we can all do at the present time is follow very clear biosecurity guidelines when we are in and around water.

Check, Clean, Dry campaign poster

It’s very important to note that people can unintentionally spread crayfish plague as well as the actual Signal crayfish but following the Check, Clean, Dry campaign is good practice and should help people avoid spreading the plague.

If you see any kind of crayfish please report these sightings to the Environment Agency (and the National Park Authority too).

We can all do our bit to help protect, conserve and enhance our native species populations in the North York Moors and beyond.

For further information see these JNCC, Buglife, and Natural England pages.

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

Turr turr Turr turr

Aside

Richard Baines, our Turtle Dove Project Officer, has posted an update on the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project on the blog belonging to Operation Turtle Dove.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

Last week Richard and Katie Pownall, our Conservation Research Student, showed RSPB people around some of the best local sites, and even saw a Turtle Dove.

Richard, Katie and the RSPB. Copyright RSPB.North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partner logos

Colouring in the summer

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

Butterfly species are significant indicators for helping us understand the health of the environment and its ecosystems – that’s because butterflies respond rapidly to changes in habitat and climate. By recognising how butterfly populations are faring we can better appreciate how the wider environment is doing.

Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) also play a vital function as pollinators, as part of the food chain, and as a particularly beautiful and delicate facet of the natural world.

Small pearl bordered fritillary, North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the North York Moors there are widespread generalist butterfly species such as Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae and Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, but we also have  specialist butterflies such as the Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne (note this is a different species to the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary Boloria selene which is currently more widespread and also found in the North York Moors). Both the Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary require very specific habitat to survive.

Habitat specialist butterflies are particularly sensitive to change. The Pearl Bordered Fritillary has suffered substantial declines in recent decades and so is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. Its caterpillars feed upon violets, most often Common Dog Violets, and crucially the violets must be in a hot microclimate in order for the caterpillars to develop successfully over winter. Bracken litter is ideal at creating such a microclimate and so conservation of this species requires grassy habitat where bracken, scrub and violets are all present. In the North York Moors this butterfly species is found in only one location.

Small tortoiseshell, North York Moors. Copyright Abi Duffy, NYMNPA.

The Small Tortoiseshell, as a generalist, can cope with many different habitats but most often where nettles grow in abundance as the caterpillars feed upon the common and small nettle. This butterfly is one of our most widespread species, often glimpsed in gardens, but there is concern for a decline in species numbers recently due to the sensitivity of all butterflies to weather and climate.

Fluctuations in UK butterfly populations are common between years due to the different weather conditions through spring and summer. In 2017, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) showed the seventh worst year ever in UKBMS recording because a cold spring and wet summer causing butterfly species to struggle. It is expected that butterfly numbers should do better in 2018 because of the mainly dry summer, so far.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme looks beyond the short term and draws out the trends over time:

  • 57% of butterflies have been declining in abundance since 1976;
  • Both habitat specialist butterfly species and wider countryside species, in general, are declining;
  • Loss of, and the deteriorating condition, of habitats is attributed to declines in habitat specialist butterflies;
  • Encouraging recoveries have been seen in Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary in some locations. Specialist habitat management has helped these species to recover in places;
  • For more widespread generalist butterflies the reasons for declines are not established yet.

Suggested reasons for declines in butterflies include more extreme climatic events, the ongoing loss and fragmentation of meadows, neglect of previously coppiced woodland and the increased use of pesticides. The paving over of gardens is also linked to declines particularly in towns and cities.

Certain lepidopterans, like the Painted Lady butterfly, migrate to follow the sun which is so important to butterflies. The movement and extents of particular species are now altering due to climate changes. Within Britain as the climate warms the extents of particular lepidoptera species are moving north where habitats and habitat connectivity allow.

Ringlet butterfly at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Unimproved grasslands, including meadows, support more species of butterflies than any other single habitat in Britain. Grassland with low grazing or no grazing in the summer months allows wildflowers to flower and, very importantly, to set seed. A balance between grassland and natural scrub is helpful – scrub can provide shelter, respite, breeding areas and also a place for hibernation for butterflies. By managing such sites appropriately, unimproved grassland habitats can help sustain surviving butterflies.

MAD Volunteers clearing away some of the scrub from a Duke of Burgundy site - you can see the patches of primroses which along with cowslips are requirements for the species. Copyright NYMNPA.

But just like for bees, if you’ve got a garden with plants, you can help butterflies too. There are butterfly friendly nectar rich plants such as Buddleia, Lavender, Marjoram and Honeysuckle , and leaving fallen fruit to decay under your fruit trees provides sweet fruit juice for butterflies. If you’re lucky you might get to see a butterfly using its extraordinary tongue-like proboscis to collect the juice.

Peacock butterfly. Copyright Abi Duffy, NYMNPA.

Big Butterfly Count

Butterfly Conservation‘s annual butterfly count runs from 20 July to 12 August this year. The nationwide survey has become the largest butterfly survey in the world.  If you’d like to get involved visit http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ which has lots of useful information and resources to help you.

An exceptional bog

Last year the Land of Iron commissioned an eco-hydrological assessment of Fen Bog(s) by consultants (Sheffield Wetland Ecologists).  An eco-hydrological assessment examines the workings of a water system and its wider ecosystems. Sunday was International Bog Day so to celebrate the complexity and variety of bogs – here is a very very simplified overview of that assessment. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation is all mine.

View over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Background

Fen Bog(s) is at the top end of the Newtondale glacial channel in the east of the North York Moors. It’s part of the Newtondale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the majority of it is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Most of the site is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, other parts are owned by the National Park Authority, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Fen Bog(s) is a large peatland/wetland site, and according to the report “is of exceptional biological, palaeo-ecological and telmatological (to do with bogs) interest, especially as there are no comparable examples in the region or, indeed, in most of England”.

The bog happens to be within the boundary of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. The scheme focuses on the landscape area impacted on by the short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway development in the North York Moors. Intriguingly part of the Fen Bog(s) site has been subject to long-term modification since the Whitby–Pickering Railway line (now belonging to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) was built alongside/across the site. The Partnership commissioned the report in order to get an holistic assessment of the existing data (of which there is a lot), and to identify the gaps and address these through additional field investigations, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the eco-hydrological functioning of Fen Bog(s) in order to help inform future management decisions. This management needs to conserve and restore its environmental value as well as allowing the continued functioning of the railway.

Historical Aspects

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was first opened in 1837, as a single-track, horse-drawn enterprise carrying freight between the two towns. Newtondale connects through the central moorland which largely separates the north and south of the North York Moros. Soon after the line was doubled and substantially rebuilt for steam propelled haulage with services starting in 1847.

Benham (An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2008) explains that Fen Bog(s) proved a “major headache” for the railway builders and that “Stephenson resorted to the same technique employed at Chat Moss when building the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This involved stabilising the land by ‘pile-driving’ fir trees into the bog and overlaying them with sheaves of heather bound in sheep skin, together with more timber and moss.” In addition deep drains were dug alongside the railway through the mire to try and keep water off the track. The extensive drainage has tilted parts of the bog. It has also been suggested that it meant the bog turned from a topogenous system (source water mainly from the land) to an ombrogenous one (source water mainly from precipitation) – but the report considers this is unlikely. The railway’s embankments and sidings were built and maintained using railway ash, basic slag, limestone and basalt – all base rich materials imported onto the site which still have an impact.

The summit of the railway is a short distance north of Fen Bog(s), near the former location of the ‘Goathland Summit’ signal box. South of this the railway track skirts the western edge of the wetland, it is built mostly along the steeply-sloping edge so that its upslope side is on mineral ground or shallow peat whilst the mire side is over deeper peat. The railway line has therefore partly obliterated, truncated and drained much of the western edge of Fen Bog(s). Towards the southern end of Fen Bog(s), the glacial channel curves west and the railway here crosses the bog to the other side of the channel, thereby cutting across and separating parts of the Bog(s).

View of North Yorkshire Moors Railway crossing Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Methodologies

Peatlands are strongly influenced by hydrology, chemistry, and vegetation.

The Fen Bog(s) report considers the hydrogeology including stratigraphy, surface profiles, and solid, wetland, and superficial (recent) deposits.

It also investigates the water supply in and the drainage out. All the different water features on the site are mapped – as pool, spring or seepage, stream/ditch with visible flow, water flow track, water filled ditch with no visible flow, damp channel, or seasonally wet channel. The main artificial drainage is associated with the railway including the drains on either side of the line, but there is also other historic drainage at the south end of Fen Bog(s) which was done to improve the land for agriculture.

Hydrochemical measurements were taken as part of the assessment to establish the current pH and also the electrical conductivity of the water at different points. There is a lot of variation across the site. It has been suggested that high pH readings i.e. alkaline are caused by leeching slag used in the construction of the railway track. Measurements from the recent assessment suggest that in terms of chemistry any effects of the trackway on the Bog(s) is either historic or localised. Because of the mix of chemistry Fen Bog(s) is classed as a Transition mire and this is reflected in its mix of vegetation (see below). The transition can be geographical or successional, or both.

There are a series of historic water table measurements at two specific points, from the 1970s to 1990s – one in ‘wet’ bog, rich in sphagnum, in the north, and one in relatively ‘dry’ bog, with a lot of heather, in the south. The report suggests the main reason for the more consistently higher water table at the northern monitoring point can be associated with the greater number and penetration of flow tracks across the mire, the number of groundwater outflows and a more consistent supply of telluric water (surface water and groundwater). Groundwater geology is always important in sustaining a high water table.

Looking into Fen Bog. Copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA.

Development and status

Much of the depth of peat at Fen Bog(s) is believed to sit in a hollow which decreases at its southern end. It has been suggested this hollow may have been a glacial or post-glacial lake. However it appears as if the mire developed on a dry surface, that is through paludification, and not by infilling a water body (terrestrialisation).

The lower layers of peat cores and sections collected contain the remains of tree species (Birch, Willow and Alder) and other plants (Reeds and Sphagnum) that suggest wet woodland. Then the higher up layers on top contain more plants and silt indicating the formation of swamp and a rise in the water level. This may be a consequence of wetter climatic conditions but also may partly be to do with human activity. There is an increase in non-tree pollen suggesting the removal of trees at the time, and the report postulates that the build-up of water on the site may have been due to it being artificially damned at the southern end. Sphagnum increases in the top level of peat, from c. 1100 AD atleat until the 19th century. The development of a Sphagnum-dominated surface on a reed-monocot swamp requires some isolation of the surface from more base-rich water sources which means the margins with inflow must have remained largely free of Sphagnum and a dome of peat therefore developed in the middle of the bog.

Fen Bog(s) can therefore be considered an embryonic raised bog, which has developed upon a protracted phase of reed–monocot peat that, because of the topography of the trough and the occurrence of marginal inflows, has been susceptible to flooding with telluric water until relatively recently. Because the system has developed across a shallow watershed, it can be regarded as an embryonic ‘sattelmoor’ (saddle bog). The report notes that this assessment is based on the centre and eastern margin of Fen Bog(s) – the western margin has been modified too much by the railway development and associated drainage to be useful as evidence. The modification led to a tilt of the mire’s surface towards the west.

Vegetation over time is the raw ingredients of a bog. The report reviews and updates current NVC vegetation classifications across the Fen Bog(s) site. It’s quite a mosaic. As well as non-mire vegetation such as dry grassland, bracken, dry heath and wet heath, there is also:

  • Weakly base-rich springs and soakways – base rich means a richness of chemical ions i.e. alkaline, a soakway is a narrow track of water flow where little or no water is normally visible. Supports plants such as Bog bean, Broad-leaved cotton grass*, Common butterwort*, and Black bog-rush*, as well as Sphagnum sp. and other bryophytes. Beyond the immediate Fen Bog(s) site there are base-rich springs and weakly base-rich soakways – where soils are acid rather than alkaline so it means the water ends up only weakly or not base-rich at all.
  • Acidic springs and soakways – supports plants such as Common sedge, Yorkshire fog and Marsh violet, as well Sphagnum sp.
  • Ombrotrophic bog – where the main source of water is precipitation. Supports plants such as Common cotton-grass, Cross-leaved heath and Bog myrtle.
  • Minerotrophic Bog – where the main source of water is watercourses and springs. Supports plants such as Purple moor-grass, Common yellow sedge and Carnation sedge.
  • Molinia mire – purple moor-grass dominated vegetation, also supports plants such as SundewsStar sedge and Bog asphodel
  • Nutrient-rich fen – these areas may be influenced hydrochemically either by base-rich springs, or by the base-rich material that make up the railway embankments/sidings. Supports plants such as Angelica, Tufted vetch and Water horse-tail
  • Carex rostrata fen – base-rich mire supporting plants such as Bottle sedge (this is the Carex rostrata), Marsh marigold and Ragged robin.
  • Pools and soakways with Carex limosa – supports plants such as Bog sedge* (this is the Carex limosa), Slender sedge*, and Bog pimpernel.
  • Wet woodland – these remaining woodlands are similar to that which began the formation of peat millions of years ago. Supports plants such as Grey willow, Downy Birch and Creeping buttercup.
  • Reeds and willow scrub – can also be classed as wet woodland. Supports plants such as Narrow buckler fern, Soft rush and Sphagnums.
  • Tall swamp and reedbeds – each at different stages of development with their own characteristics. One site which supports bulrush is presumably mineral enriched from the track ballast but this shows no sign of spreading out into adjacent vegetation without the enrichment. Another site, not yet colonised by willow scrub, supports plants such as Marsh pennywort, Water mint and Branched bur-reed.

* notable uncommon vascular plant species

Another view over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

What next?

From the assessment the report goes on to outline the main management issues and to suggest restoration opportunities for the Fen Bog(s) site. These include vegetation control through gazing and fencing, monitoring the spread of reeds (Phragmites), clearing parts of the species poor scrub areas, retaining the wet woodland/scrub habitat, blocking and redirecting specific railway ditches, minimising the introduction of new embankment ballast material, and using engineered solutions to tackle subsidence problems. Interested parties will consider the recommendations and decide what is desirable as well as practically possible, in order to maintain this very important bog site that embodies a clash of natural and cultural heritage.

Postscript: There is a story that a steam locomotive sank into Fen Bog(s) at some point in the past, and remains there today. But this is just a story.