Local communities

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

My job here at the National Park Authority means that I get the opportunity to be out and about in the North York Moors and get to places that most don’t get the opportunity to see. These hidden places are special for all sorts of reasons, in particular I get the chance to see some extraordinary woodlands – I admit I might be a little biased.

Recently we were out monitoring a woodland planting project near Castleton which meant we had to trek through a small existing woodland to get there. This was a combination of well-developed riparian (wet) flood plain woodland along river margins, wet marshy grassland filled with flowering plants and ancient woodland remnants creeping up the valley sides including oak, birch, hazel, alder and willow. Many of the woodland spring flowers were still in bloom and the woods were a lush green and bursting with insect and bird life.

Ancient Semi Natural Woodland site. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

As we approached the edge of this woodland I noticed something wriggling in the grass – it was a slow worm! Coming across this legless lizard species (Anguis fragilis) was a first time for me. Obviously I wouldn’t usually pick up/disturb wildlife but in this case I took the opportunity to move the slow worm to the cover of an old iron sheet as they are quite high up on the menu for many predatory species (birds, adders, badgers etc.).

Slow worm - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

On the way back as we ducked, scrambled and tramped back through the same woodland I almost tripped over what can only be described as a large mound of leaf litter on the edge of a clearing. As I looked a little closer I noticed that the surface of the mound was moving – it was alive with wood ants! I was surprised to see them here as. I previously worked in Scotland and had always associated wood ants with more northern forest habitats. But they were definitely wood ants and they are surely an indicator that this particular woodland is in good ecological health.

Close up of a Northern hairy wood ant. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Northern Hairy Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are a species of wood ant found in Scotland and in only two areas in England – the Peak District and the North York Moors. They are a fascinating species – I’m no expert yet but here are a few facts about our internationally important Northern Hairy Wood Ants:

  • The Northern Hairy Wood Ant currently has a near-threatened conservation status.
  • Northern Hairy Wood Ants ‘farm’ sap-sucking aphids (that favour oak and birch) for their honeydew. They gently stroke the backs of the aphids which then produce the sugar rich liquid in exchange for protection, and the ants use it to feed their young.
  • The ants take specific roles in the aphid farming process including; ‘shepherds’ who collect the honeydew, ‘transporters’ that move the honeydew to their nest, ‘guards’ that protect their aphids from competitors, and ‘scouts’ that search out new aphid colonies.
  • They employ a polydomous (many homes) nesting strategy whereby they have a number of nest mounds which operate as a single colony. The founding of additional nests allows for the expansion of the colony allowing it to grow and capitalise on new foraging and feeding opportunities spreading out through suitable habitat. If a smaller outlying nest is attacked or in danger then it will be abandoned and the inhabitants will return to the central nest.
  • Similar to other ants foraging workers leave pheromone trails, to good nectar sites or to groups of aphids, which direct other foragers to these valuable resources. The trails can persist for months.
  • The nest mounds of Northern Hairy Wood ants provide accomodating habitat for other invertebrates too. These include a variety of beetle species as well as the Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). This ant species lives within wood ant nesting colonies, accepting food from the host species and establishing its own discrete nests inside hollow twigs within the larger nest, raising its own brood. The Shining guest ant is a species of conservation interest, a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.

Northern hairy wood ant nest - if you look carefully you can just make out the well camouflaged orange/black coloured ants. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

The intricacies of woodland ecology are often complex and astounding. My job means I work on woodland planting and creation and by the very nature of the timespan of trees I know that I’m likely never to see these new woodlands in their future glory. Therefore it’s very important to me to keep a perspective, looking at woodlands at a landscape and spatial scale and considering woodlands over their likely lifetime. Woodland visits like this one are what inspire me to want to create new woodlands and plant more trees, to establish the woodlands of the future.

If you might be interested in creating woodland in the North York Moors and would like more information about opportunities please contact me or call on 01439 772700.

Bees’ needs

Aside

Following on from Abi’s bee blog post a fortnight ago, it’s now Bees’ Needs Week 2018.

Top 5 Actions that people can take for bees and other pollinators – you don’t need to be a farmer or a major landowner:

  • Grow more plants
  • Let your garden go wild (even just a bit of it)
  • Leave your lawn to grow a bit more
  • Live and let live when it comes to pollinators and their homes
  • Avoid using pesticides

Wild bee on Field Scabious

Evaluating bees

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

One of the sounds of summer is the recognisable buzzing of busy bees. Bees are a beautiful symbol of British summertime, but much more importantly are one of the best performing pollinators vital for pollinating plants and crops across the world.

Bee facts:

  • Of the 270 species of bee to have been recorded within Britain, 27 of these are bumble bee species and there’s only 1 honey bee species.
  • Wild bees pollinate two thirds of British crops whilst cultivated honey bees pollinate the remaining third.
  • The exact economic value of pollinators in the UK is uncertain due to small numbers of studies but is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds (DEFRA).

I’ve been wanting to learn more about bees and how to identify different species, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Residential Centre at the start of June to take part in a Steven Falk Bee Workshop. Steven wrote the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ which we used throughout the workshop, making use of the guide’s dichotomous keys and illustrations and photographs of the different bee species.

It was a really interesting course – we focused on the habitats around Malham Tarn and the bees that can be found there. The habitats we visited included nationally important calcareous (limestone) grassland and fen/mire (wet grassland) habitats which are part of the Malham-Arnecliffe Site of Special Scientific Interest. We saw fabulous plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort, Northern Marsh Orchid and Water Avens which was particularly popular amongst the bees.

We identified thirteen different species of bee using these habitats. These included the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a Red-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius), the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) and the Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). To ID accurately we learnt to catch the bee carefully with a net and then place it into a container to get a closer look at the head, thorax and abdomen to look for distinguishing features. After a few minutes the bee is released back where it was found.

Declines in bee populations are due to a dangerous combination of reasons which together add up to a growing crisis – reasons include climate changes, creeping urbanisation, agricultural practices including using pesticides, a decline in habitats including the loss of meadows – unfortunately 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since 1937.

Bees need continuous legume-rich flower habitat to sustain populations. Lots of bee species live in large colonies and need enough flowers in their surrounding habitat to sustain up to 400 worker bees over a season so that a colony can successfully produce new males and queens. Remaining species rich grasslands like meadows have become isolated across the landscape as areas shrink and contract, such habitats need to be better linked by creating corridors and stepping stones for bees to move through and between and so be able to make best use of the nectar (and pollen) producing plants. Like many other species, bees benefit from ecological networks where semi natural habitats are biggerbetter and more joined up (Making Room for Nature, 2010, John Lawton)As well as the species rich grassland areas themselves there are other useful linear versions such as species rich road verges, arable farmland flower margins, and native species hedgerows which can all act as useful corridors for pollinators. Domestic gardens with bee friendly plants can act as useful refuelling stops/stepping stone habitats. 

The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme brings together experts and the public to monitor pollinator populations over time. Anyone can join in with the Flower-Insect Timed Count, which is reassuringly complex.

If you want to help build up a national picture of bee populations then The Great British Bee Count continues until the 30 June this year. There is an App to help you to ID and record the different bee species you see. Sightings will help the experts to understand how bees are faring and results feed back into the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.

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.

Feed the Birds

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) are a member of the thrush family, and an annual migrant to the UK from Northern Africa. They look similar to Blackbirds (Turdus merula)  but they are slightly smaller and have a striking white neck band which helps identify them (torquatus means wearing a collar). In the UK Ring Ouzels breed in upland areas of Scotland, northern Wales, and north and south west England; hence another name they have – Mountain Blackbird. They can also be seen as they come into and leave the country along the southern and eastern coast.

Male Ring Ouzel - copyright RSPB

Ring Ouzel are a UK Red List species because of their historical population decline – an an estimated 58% population decline from 1988-91 to 1999, and 43% range decline from 1968-72 to 2008-11. This means the birds are endangered in the UK, and are therefore of particular conservation importance. Action is required to try and maintain our population.

Within the North York Moors, local volunteers have identified Rosedale as an important spot for the birds. They’ve studied the population here in detail for the last 18 years.

The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme has become involved with the aim of improving the local habitats, so helping to ensure Ring Ouzel persists in a landscape whose natural heritage has been shaped by its industrial heritage. It is suggested that the remains of industrial structures in Rosedale provide the crags and gullies that the birds prefer to nest in.

Rosedale landscape. Copyright Tom Mutton, NYMNPA.

A factor identified as a reason for national Ring Ouzel decline has been diet, which is mainly made up of invertebrates and berries. The red berries from the Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) ripen from July into the autumn and are particularly important prior to migration in September when the birds need as much nutrition as possible for the long journey ahead. Within Rosedale, existing Rowan (also known as Mountain Ash) is located on the steep moorland edge – less accessible for sheep grazing, and not burnt as part of moorland management. However, many are now veterans, showing that there has been little natural regeneration recently.

Another view over Rosedale. The dead tree highlights the lack of natural regeneration around it. Copyright NYMNPA.

So with advice from the Rosedale Ring Ouzel volunteer monitors along with support and assistance from the landowner, gamekeepers and grazing tenants; the National Park’s Volunteers and Apprentices have been out planting. It took a while because they were working in some pretty wild weather at the beginning of the year but they eventually managed to plant 150 Rowan trees either in small exclosures or as single trees. These new trees will help to provide the local Ring Ouzels with food into the future.

A small number of aged Rowans surrounded by one of the small exclosures and some of the single scattered trees. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

The birds themselves have just arrived back in Rosedale to breed this year.

Have a listen to the BBC’s Tweet of the Day

A to Z: a rabble of Rs

R

RABBITS

Hares are native to Britain, but rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are not considered to be native at least not since the last Ice Age. Rabbits, also known as coneys, were introduced first by the Romans and then imported by the Normans in the early medieval period. Rabbits were valued for their meat, fur and skin. On southern facing slopes of the North York Moors, rabbits were farmed from the medieval period through to the 20th century using warrening structures. Warrens were artificially constructed with embankments, ditches and ‘pillow’ mounds. Particularly common were ‘Rabbit-types’ where rabbits were caught through trap doors which released into pits.  These artificial warrens allowed the rabbits to be managed (farmed) efficiently on a large scale.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries felt from rabbit skins and fur was an important money making product for the south east corner of the North York Moors. Felt was in demand for hats and rabbit was an alternative to beaver. The industry slowly declined with the last warrener working up until the 1920s.  Many warrening sites have been lost as land has been re-used, but some large scale warrening complexes can still be traced in the Forestry Commission owned forests such as Dalby and Wykeham.

Rabbit, Westerdale. Copyright Ami Hudson, NYMNPA.

Wild/feral rabbits are now a particularly successful non-native invasive species, despite there being a number of native predator species.

Ranunculus sp.

As winter is losing its grip, hopefully the photo below will help brighten your day.

Grassland with buttercups. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ranunculus is the plant genus which includes our buttercup species and provides our countryside with vivid displays of yellow during the summer months.  There are lots of different species, and here are but a few found across Britain including the North York Moors, all with sunny yellow flowers.

Meadow buttercup R.acris: Look at a hay meadow in the summer and the chances are that it is this species that is predominant. It is an indicator of moist unimproved grassland, and although it grows in a wide range of soil types it is not tolerant of high nutrient levels. As it can survive cutting and is not palatable to grazing stock, old meadows and pastures are where it thrives best.

Creeping buttercup R.repens: This buttercup can, from a distance, give the impression that you are looking at a species rich hay meadow. The reality can be very different though as this plant is very tolerant of high nutrient levels and disturbed ground and is sometimes considered a problem weed. It is often found around field gateways where poaching and tramping make it difficult for other plants to survive, and in overgrazed fields where it remains untouched by stock and readily out competes less tolerant plants. One of the key differences between this species and meadow buttercup is the presence of rooting runners which allow this plant to spread very effectively and quickly cover bare ground. The species’ method of reproduction (cloning) meant it was used a few years ago for an interesting study into aging meadows. https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2009/june/title-77794-en.html

Bulbous buttercup R. bulbosus: This species prefers much drier conditions and, like meadow buttercup, is an indicator of unimproved grassland with a low tolerance to fertilisers. It is common on well drained neutral or calcareous soils and can be identified by its downturned sepals (when flowering) and a swollen stem base which can be identified by carefully scratching a small amount of soil away from the base of the plant.

But it’s not just buttercups. Also in the same Ranunculus genus, and providing a splash Lesser spearwort. Copyright NYMNPA.of colour in the early days of spring before the other Ranunculs is Lesser Celandine (R.ficaria). This is easily identified by its narrow, glossy yellow petals, low-growing form and heart-shaped mottled leaves. It’s usually noticeable as it is in abundance when other plants are still tentatively emerging from their overwintering.

Finally, brightening up bogs in the summer is Lesser spearwort (R.flammula) which thrives in wet places and can often be found growing with soft rush in unimproved habitats. The flowers look very similar to a buttercup, but it has spear-shaped leaves.

READING ROOMS

In the 19th and early 20th century there was a trend for the better off in society, to provide the means to try and ‘improve’ their local workforce i.e. the not so well off. Rather than people gathering in public houses to drink, debauch and mutter – the idea instead was to provide an opportunity for social, moral, intellectual and spiritual improvement for the local community. ‘…the more he knows, the less hasty, the less violent, and the more correct will be his judgment and opinions’ (from the Manchester Spectator 1849).

The philanthropic benefactors would be local landowners, local business people on the rise, new industrial entrepreneurs, and often the local Church including non-conformists e.g. the Methodists. Individuals or local committees of bigwigs, would gift their local community a Reading Room, first in growing towns and then also in rural villages. Any local community who wanted to think themselves liberal and progressive needed a Reading Room. The provision of a building where men could read instructive newspapers, educational periodicals and improving books promoted the popular ideas of self-improvement and self-help. Reading Rooms were the forerunners of public libraries. It wasn’t all reading – they also hosted useful lectures and respectable entertainments as well.

There are a number of Reading Room buildings remaining in the North York Moors, some still used as community buildings and others converted. It is interesting that a number are clearly connected to industrial populations such as that in Rosedale, but others are located in more rural communities such as Boltby, Lastingham and Runswick Bay.

ROBERT HESELTINE HUDSON

“Rarely does a case, even of murder, excite such an intense interest as that which has been taken by the general public in the charge against Robert Heseltine Hudson, of the wilful murder of his wife and child on Roper Moor, near Helmsley, on the 8th of June last.”

 “Accused was accommodated with a chair and remained remarkably quiet throughout the trial. He certainly had not the look of a murderer. There was nothing dreadful in the dark sallow countenance, nor repulsive in the black hair, eyebrows, and bearded face, with cultivated moustache trimmed in imperial fashion. The eye was steady and the body restful, and an expression of ease and indifference seemed reflected in a faint smile upon the lips which looked more natural than feigned. Hudson, for some reason, had practically nothing to say. He sat throughout the evidence without manifesting any perceptible distress and it was impossible to judge of the man’s inner consciousness from his appearance…What did seem probably to many observers was that Hudson had quietly resigned himself to his fate…”

From the Yorkshire Gazetteer Saturday 27 July 1895

Robert Hudson’s family was from near Helmsley, he went to school at nearby East Moors. His parents then moved the family to Darlington and as an adult Robert Hudson worked in Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham. However in May 1895 Hudson, then a house furnisher’s assistant, brought his wife Kate and their son Heseltine who was not yet one, back to where he had started from. They lodged in a house on Bondgate, Helmsley.

Robert Hudson took his family out for walks and drives in the local countryside – it was reported that Mrs Hudson complained that the places they visited were lonely. On 8 June Mr Hudson returned but his wife and child did not. He told his landlady that they had gone to visit an aunt in Hovingham. Hudson then swiftly disappeared on the 3.39 train to York. Suspicions were aroused resulting in a search of the lonely local countryside. After a while a recently dug hole was found under a clump of trees on Roppa Moor. The bodies of Kate and Heseltine Hudson were found together in the hole covered by a thin layer of soil. Their throats had been cut with a carving knife; Mrs Hudson’s hands were terribly injured suggesting she had struggled to stay the knife.

Hudson was tracked down to Birmingham and arrested, he was brought back first to Helmsley to be committed for trial and then taken to York Crown Court. The evidence was pretty overwhelming. Hudson had bought a spade from a Helmsley ironmonger and was seen cycling about with the spade tied to his bicycle. The spade was later found on Roppa Moor. A local man had come across the hole on Roppa Moor a couple of days before it was used as a grave. Various other local people identified him as a man they had seen acting suspiciously on and around Roppa Moor. Soon after the ‘disappearance’ of his wife Robert Hudson was advertising for a new wife “Bachelor, tall, dark, age 27, wishes to meet with lady of some means, with a view to early marriage”. There was also a pocket book in which Mr Hudson had written on 15 June – “One week from the saddest event in my life, at ten to one o’clock, and I am living yet”. The jury considered their verdict for c. 6 minutes. Robert Hudson was found guilty.

Robert Hudson did not directly confess to the murders, but he did blame bad company for his predicament and expressed repentance. He was hanged at York Castle on 13 August 1895.

ROMANS (1st to 4th centuries AD)

Following on the heels of trading links the Roman invasion and then entrenchment across most of Britain  started with temporary military installations and infrastructure including connecting roads to maintain control. This was overtaken with more permanent military bases, as well as the establishment of towns, industrial centres and civilian farmsteads. Romanisation of society was backed up with military might, but at the same time the lure of Roman luxuries, the value of Roman technologies, and the promise of Roman advancement and power very much helped its spread.

Unlike the Iron Age native population, the Romans weren’t interested in living on the moors part of the North York Moors. Most Roman related remains are along the southern edge, close-ish to Malton and York which were major Roman towns. There are a number of minor “villa” complexes (Romano-British farmsteads) at Beadlam, Spaunton and Blandsby Park and the remains of two forts and a military camp at ‘Cawthorn Camps’.

Romans at Cawthorn, 2010. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is another early fort at Lease Rigg in the north of the North York Moors. This site includes ramparts, barracks, stables, a granary, a praetorium (Officer quarters), and a principia (main building for admin and religion). The forts at Cawthorn and at Lease Rigg are connected by Wheeldale Road/Wades Causeway, which is recorded as a Roman road. Because of the lack of quality it has been suggested it isn’t actually a Roman road at all.

The North York Moors Historic Environment Record includes a number of Roman finds including pottery, tessalie (mosaic tiles), coins, armilla (metal armband), beads, weights, pins, and altars.

There are also a number of Roman signal stations along the coastal cliffs from the 4th century. The best example in the North York Moors is at Goldsborough. There might also have been a signal station at Ravenscar – the evidence for this is an engraved dedication stone identified in the 18th century, but this might have been brought onto the site from somewhere else after the Roman period. The stone reads IVSTINIANVSPP VINDICIANVS MASSIERIV(RR)/(PR) MCASTRVMFECIT A….0. (JUSTINIANUS COMMANDER  VINDICIANUS…PRAEFECT OF SOLDIERS BUILT THIS TOWER AND FORT FROM GROUND LEVEL). Signal stations were built towards the end of the Roman period to guard against the growing threat of Angles and Saxons from the sea. By this time people on the edge of the Roman Empire were having to look after themselves because as the empire contracted it was clear no one was going to come and rescue them. The end of the Roman period fizzled out slowly. Often the new invaders would use the same sites, carefully chosen for their resources and setting. For example there is evidence that Cawthorn Camps was subsequently re-used as an Anglian settlement.

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

Born to be Wild

Dr Ceri Gibson – Pearl Mussel Projects Manager, Freshwater Biological AssociationFBA logo

The Freshwater Biological Association has been working with the North York Moors National Park for the last 3 years on the ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ project (funded through Biffa Award). Our role has been to rear juvenile mussels ready for reintroduction back into the River Esk at some appropriate time in the future when the habitat is restored and the water quality improved enough to support them.

Rearing juvenile freshwater pearl mussels (FPM) is a 24 hrs a day, 365 days of the year operation with our staff attending the hatchery even on Christmas Day to ensure that the mussels, and the host fish that they rely on as part of their lifecycle, are all okay.

Proof that the FPM are looked after even on Christmas Day. Copyright FBA.

But it’s not a bad job over here on the shores of Windermere. Whilst the wind may funnel up the lake at times, come rain, snow or sunshine, the views are wonderful and we have a great team.

View looking north over Lake Windermere. Copyright FBA.

The adult mussels are kept in circular tanks in our hatchery connected to tanks which contain host fish. Keeping fish and mussels in close proximity under controlled conditions improves the chances of the mussels successfully completing their lifecycle. We try to maintain the mussels in as natural an environment as possible so they are kept outside in flowing water provided from Windermere.

We constantly monitor the mussels and fish to record when glochidia (freshwater pearl mussel larvae) are released from the females and when these glochidia have grown sufficiently on the fish gills. Then we set nets to collect juveniles as they drop off their fish hosts and transfer them to trays in our juvenile rearing facility. Whilst other techniques of bank-side encystment and seeded gravel reintroductions have been used for some rivers we believe that rearing juveniles beyond their most vulnerable pedal feeding stage, when they live amongst the gravels before filtering free-flowing water, will yield better reintroduction survival rates and allows us the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Back in 2016, we worked with Simon Hirst (River Esk Project Officer) to translocate more adult mussels from the Esk to the hatchery. This exercise followed a recently commissioned brief from Natural England and was very carefully monitored. It proved successful and we have been collecting the captive bred juveniles in large numbers over the last two seasons. FPM larvae are carried on the gills of specific fish hosts for up to 10 months as part of lifecycle. It is interesting that in recent years the Esk glochidia grow to excystment size (350-400 microns long) and drop of the fish hosts within 2 to 3 months at the hatchery. We are therefore monitoring their survival in the rearing trays carefully.

We have been working with other river populations to prepare juveniles for reintroduction into their native rivers. The trays they are reared in are indoors where the juveniles are well protected. So we have set up flume systems to expose captive-bred juvenile mussels to diurnal and seasonal conditions which better reflect the river situation they will be reintroduced to. Once in the flume we can control flow to ‘teach’ them how to adapt to flood and drought conditions. During these experiments we record how many mussels are deeply buried, how many remain on their side on the surface of the gravels and how many are roaming about using their muscular foot. We also record whether they are siphoning water or not.

We look forward to the time that we can repeat these experiments for the Esk population but in the meantime have a look at some of our other, older juveniles filmed in their flume – click here. Or organise a group visit and come and see us at the Ark to visit the Esk juveniles and learn more about what we do.

Rainbow from Mitchell Wyke. Copyright FBA.

Biffa Award logoBiffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund. 

 

Scrub, scub, glorious scub

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

If you are a farmland bird – such as a Turtle Dove or a Song Thrush, looking to protect your nest from predators and other disturbance – where should you nest? If you have any sense you will be looking for a dense patch of protective scrub or a large hedge (slightly more organised scrub) safe from dangerous raptor talons or avaricious eyes.

Unfortunately this type of vegetation containing older stands of Hawthorn and Blackthorn is becoming increasingly rare in the countryside due to creeping development, agricultural intensification and ‘tidying up’. Scrub can often be assumed to be a problem which needs to be removed. It has been an undervalued habitat in many conservation schemes over the years with other more showy habitats taking precedent.

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project is wanting to improve the appreciation of this fantastic habitat.

Scrub is very important for Turtle Doves. Their delicate nests are often built within 2 metres of the ground in a dense tangle of thorns and twigs. They need this structure to reach the ground to feed. Stock grazing under such a habitat can remove any value to many birds such as Turtle Doves. In the winter scrub is a fantastic habitat for roosting birds such as Long-eared Owls. These magnificent birds are also looking for protection from disturbance and somewhere to have a daytime nap.

Last week we started work on our first community reserve for Turtle Doves at Sawdon near Scarborough. We were out with the Sawdon Community Nature Reserve Group and a very hard working Community Payback team. We planted a mixture of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Hazel to create a thicket of scrub for the future. Luckily the planting day was sunny and warm with many birds singing in the trees around us. Amongst the appreciative audience were Song Thrush, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammers who will all be able to benefit from the effort made to increase their local nesting habitat. Future plans for this site include pond restoration and a Turtle Dove flower meadow.

Creating our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - at Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.

Richard and Katie, helping to create our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - Yederick Spinney, Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.