Electric expeditions

Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer

Electric fishing is a method used to determine fish populations in watercourses, commonly carried out by organisations such as the Environment Agency and the various River Trusts. Sites across the River Esk catchment up in the north of the North York Moors have been monitored using this technique over the past 20+ years as a way of estimating juvenile fish populations. In the last five years an increased number of sites have been surveyed along the Esk and we’ve managed to gain a better understanding of fish population changes.

This summer we took the chance to learn the technique ourselves. Simon Hirst our River Esk Project Officer, six keen volunteers and I went on a fully certified electric fishing course. Our new specialist team is made up of local anglers and existing River Esk Volunteers, all of whom care about the river and want to safeguard the species that live in it.

The two day course was essential to ensure our ‘in house’ monitoring can be carried out safely and to make sure the information we collect is scientifically robust so we can draw conclusions from it.

Methodology

During an electric fishing survey an electrical current is sent through the water which temporarily stuns the fish enabling them to be easily caught in nets. To produce an electrical current one team member wears the backpack which holds a battery and control box. A cathode trails behind the backpack resting in the water and the operator holds a pole with a metal ring on the end (anode). Once the operator places the anode in the water and turns the system on, the electrical circuit is complete and a small current passes through the water. The equipment has multiple safety features to ensure surveys can be carried out safely for all involved – that’s the fish, the operator and all the other team members in the water and on the bankside.

Two or three team members follow behind the operator with the nets and buckets ready to quickly remove the stunned fish from the river.

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Once caught, the stunned fish are transferred into a large holding tank on the bankside. Each fish is measured using a special measuring board – this helps us estimate the relative age of the fish. The size and species is noted down and the fish is then released back into the river as quickly as possible.

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sites are identified – usually an approximately 50 metre stretch of river – and the team enters the water at the downstream end and walks upstream fishing as they go until they reach the top of the site. It is useful to fish up to a feature in the river, for example a natural barrier like a riffle, to ensure the greatest percentage of fish can be caught. If the end of the site was situated in the middle of a pool, for example, the fish would be driven beyond the far end and hence not be recorded.

Once the site has been fished, it also needs to be measured – this allows us to work out species density (i.e. the number of fish per unit area). We measure the channel width at 10 metre intervals and calculate an average width. This average width is multiplied by the length of river surveyed to give us a total area of river fished! Fish densities are usually recorded as the number of fish per 100 metres2

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Health & Safety

Fish welfare (and the welfare of our volunteers and us) is extremely important, there is little point in measuring fish populations to help sustain numbers if we end up with dead fish. When electric fishing is carried out correctly this methodology does not harm the fish. As part of the training we learnt how to set the control box to the correct settings to ensure the electrical current will temporarily stun the fish but will not cause any damage. This is determined by the electrical conductivity of the water – a reading is taken before carrying out the surveys.  It is important to temporarily keep the fish in a large holding tank in the shade to ensure there is sufficient oxygen for them and that the water temperature does not increase too much, and we release the fish back to the river as soon as possible.

Fish aside, all team members who are in the river must ensure they are fully insulated (e.g. rubber chest waders) and must not put their hands into the water when the backpack is switched on. Prior to undertaking a survey each stretch of watercourse is checked for hazards and a site risk assessment produced. This is to make sure there are no ‘nasty’ surprises (such as deep holes!) when the team enter the water.

Why

Electric fishing is a really good way of estimating fish populations and this is extremely important on the River Esk. Atlantic salmon is a species that is struggling due to a wide variety of issues including water quality and habitat issues, barriers to fish migration and poor survival rates at sea. Monitoring juvenile numbers across the Esk every year will help to highlight areas where these issues are magnified and can therefore help target the conservation work we’re undertaking in the catchment to improve water quality and riparian habitats.

Our electric fishing team were out and about in the catchment in the autumn surveying six specific sites. It proved a success – the surveyed fish were released back and all the volunteers survived. Species recorded included Brown trout (Salmo trutta), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Stone loach (Barbatula barbatula), European eel (Anguilla Anguilla), Bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri). Overall our results showed healthy fish populations at each site, although as expected relatively low numbers of Atlantic salmon were found.

We plan to monitor juvenile fish populations annually in September, to build up our understanding of the local status of the Atlantic salmon and the other species found in the Esk.

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

This Exploited Land of Iron: November 2017

David Mennear – This Exploited Land of Iron Administrative Assistant

Now at the end of Autumn, here at the North York Moors National Park, the Heritage Lottery funded Land of Iron team look back at what have been busy and satisfying months of activity and look forward to next year.

We’ve been working on ensuring that the landscape and ironstone heritage of the North York Moors will be in better condition and better cared for, valued by more people with a sustainable future, by the end of the This Exploited Land of Iron (TELoI) programme in 2021. Families loved our engineering challenge to build an archway at Egton Show this year. Copyright NYMNPA.

TELoI Guided Walk at East Kiln,Rosedale - for PLACE. Copyright NYMNPA.

A snapshot of our Goathland dig volunteers in action, helping to uncover the enigmatic abandoned railway incline. Copyright NYMNPA.

New Team Addition
We have recently welcomed Kim Devereux-West to our team as the new Cultural Heritage Assistant. Kim will be working closely with our Cultural Heritage Officer Maria Calderón in conserving the industrial monuments found throughout the Land of Iron area. Kim will be joining Maria on a number of site visits helping to establish the condition of the historic ironstone industry buildings and associated rail infrastructure, and drawing up conservation plans.

In addition Kim will be assisting the Historic Environment team at the North York Moors National Park Authority by helping to manage the all important North York Moors Historic Environment Record, the regional archive of ancient and modern human activity here that is open to both researchers and members of the public.

Please look out for Kim, and give her a warm welcome.

Recovering Reeking Gill
We’ve recently carried out some truly fantastic team work which achieved an excellent result – we’ve uncovered the stone culvert at Reeking Gill in Rosedale. The culvert was built as part of the Rosedale Railway which was operational from 1861 until 1926 when the ironstone mines there were no longer profitable and therefore closed.  Now once again the magnificent keystone at the centre of the arch has seen the light of day. This is after more than 20 years of being buried beneath compacted silt and boulders from the effect of natural processes above in the gill once the culvert was no longer needed and therefore no longer maintained.Digging out the Reeking Gill Culvert in Rosedale, autumn 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

With the dedicated efforts of Shaun, our JCB digger and driver extraordinaire, and persevering volunteers and Land of Iron personnel, we managed the first step in the consolidation of the Reeking Gill culvert with the ultimate aim of conserving the working structure. This has been one of the programme’s core aims within its first year as Reeking Gill is a major structure within Rosedale, and a striking reminder and relic of the once-thriving ironstone industry in the landscape.

The ongoing Reeking Gill restoration work is one example of the work the Land of Iron team will be doing ‘behind the scenes’, alongside the more public and volunteer-led public community archaeology digs and activities run by Maria Calderón and natural environment events to be run by Elspeth Ingleby, our Natural Heritage Officer, over the next few years.

We’ve been making sure we have a full roster of exciting community-led events and fun-filled activity days (and nights) for 2018, with another community archaeology dig, lots more guided walks and specialist talks, and a little bit of star gazing.

Your chance to deliver your own project
We have recently concluded the initial round of our grant allocation for local community groups and individuals to deliver small scale projects that help to deliver our vision and aims for the landscape and heritage in the Land of Iron area. We are excited to see how the grant aided projects develop and are keen to keep spreading the word around our region as the grants are available to apply for throughout the year.

The next application deadline is 31 December, for a decision by the end of January 2018. It is advisable to discuss your project idea at an early stage with the team before submitting an application. Please note that around 25% match funding is generally required.

If you’ve got an idea for our Land of Iron Community Grant please send us an email or give us a call on 01439 772700 to find out more. Or see our website page.

Next few months
Our work over winter will include:

  • Assessing the latest round of Community Grant applications to see what exciting project ideas there are for the Land of Iron and to see how we can help them come to fruition.
  • Researching mine water discharge along the Rosedale Railway, to see how we can best help mitigate the environmental impacts that are still effecting the local biodiversity.
  • Giving new opportunities for volunteers to be involved in conservation and restoration efforts around the Rosedale and the Esk Valley areas each month with Dawn Rothwell, our Volunteer Coordinator. Contact Dawn on 07792 332053 or by email, to register your interest.

Volunteers after planting woodrush in the Esk Valley. Copyright NYMNPA.

Keeping up to date
If you’re interested in what we’re doing and what you can do to help, then please sign up to our mailing list or email us.

For some great pictures of the landscape and features – click here.

Lost men of Goathland

Tom Stephenson – External Funding Officer

“Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of you.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet,
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.”

Some of the most effecting, and so powerful, literature about war uses imagery that draws upon the natural world. The contrast between beauty, tranquillity and nostalgia, and the man made ugliness, pandemonium and pain of war is obvious.

The excerpt above, taken from Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933), considers whether she can once again take pleasure from the unceasing cycle of nature, and concludes that there will still always be the memory of what she has lost. Vera Brittain lost both her brother and her fiancé during the conflict.

Red poppies grow again on the battlefields. the natural world endures along with those left behind. In the aftermath of the First World War, a number of communities were moved to plant trees as living memorials to those who had died. As a symbol of longevity, continuity and regeneration, the trees would grow strong and tall for a hundred years in the place of the lost men.

A number of these memorial trees grew from acorns and chestnuts translocated from Verdun in north eastern France, having survived the devastation of the 10 month battle there in 1916*. Tree seeds offered the comforting idea of rebirth out of the ground full of the dead, a living link with a foreign land.

In the North York Moors, a lady called Kate Smailes of Goathland village had 12 English oak trees planted in 1922 to commemorate 12 men with connections to Goathland who had died as a result of the Great War. Her own son George had been killed during the Battle of the Somme and had no known grave. Mrs Smailes chose a location for the trees along the old incline railway line, where she could see them every day on her walk. The memories and memorials were honoured and valued, not forgotten even if that were possible for those left behind.

The 12 men of Goathland are…

Godfrey Bousfield Harrison, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 29 September, 1915, aged 38 – buried Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

John Ward, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 30 April 1916, aged 20 – remembered at La Neuville Communal Cemetery, Corbie, France.

Edward (or Edwin) Pennock, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 29 September 1916, aged ? – buried AIF Burial Ground, Fleurs, France.

George Smailes, Second Lieutenant, Prince of Wales’ own West Yorkshire Regiment – died 22 October 1916, aged 22 – remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Amiens, France.

Thomas Readman – Lengthman, North-Eastern Temporary Special Construction Unit, Civilian Railway Companies – died 2 April 1917, aged 40 – buried Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery, France. Thomas Readman was one of a number of men from the Goathland area working for the Civilian Railway Companies in France to lay single railway tracks to enable better transportation of armaments and supplies which was vital for the war effort.

Frederick Cockerill, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 14 May 1917, aged 23 – remembered on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

Arthur Rymer, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 9 October 1917, aged 20 – remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

Robert Sleightholm, Apprentice, SS Dunrobin (cargo ship) – died 24 November 1917, aged 18 – remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London

Edwin Widdowson – Corporal, King’s Royal Rifle Corps – invalided out of the Army in 1917 – died 25 January 1918, aged 39.

John Yeoman Light, Lance Corporal, Royal Engineers – died 14 April 1918, aged 31 – remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

George Pybus, Private, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment – died 29 September 1918, aged 18 – buried Vieille-Chapelle New Military Cemetery, Lacouture, France.

Sidney Whiteley, Private, Yorkshire Regiment – died 11 November 1919, aged 22 – buried St Mary’s, Birdsall, Malton. (Wilfred W Whiteley?)

The men’s graves were in a foreign field, or they had no grave at all. Back in their damaged community of family, friends and neighbours they were commemorated on the stone War Memorial which stands on the village green and a marble tablet in St Mary’s Church, and memorialised by the 12 trees.

Now, 100 years later, a community project is underway led by the Goathland Community Hub & Sports Pavilion with support through the National Lottery and the North York Moors National Park Trust. The project will plant 12 new oak saplings close to the surviving original trees to ensure the memorial remains as the older trees naturally die. The young trees will be planted by the children of Goathland Primary School, helping to connect a new generation with past generations and with their place in history.

*The Woodland Trust is keen to trace and record as many of these Verdun memorial trees as possible.

Lunch time research

Joan Childs – Head of Volunteer Service

When I returned to live in North Yorkshire recently, I unearthed some old records of the rare hoverfly Parasyrphus nigritarsis from the Farndale area, and decided to look for this species along the River Rye, Helmsley – close to where I now worked, because it looked to be a similar habitat. This section of the riverbank is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (local designation for important wildlife sites) from Helmsley Bridge down to West Ness.

Swathes of dock (Rumex spp.) by the River Rye, Helmsley. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

The larvae of this hoverfly feed on the eggs and larvae of Chrysomelid beetles on alder, sallows i.e. willows, and dock (Rumex spp.). Back in May, I found some of the dock beetles by the River Rye, and started to turn the dock leaves over to look for their egg clusters on the underside. While I was doing this I noticed that a hoverfly was engaged in exactly the same search pattern as me, hovering around the leaves, and disappearing underneath them, one by one! This behaviour, and the broad, dark-orange stripes on the abdomen, suggested that I had found the hoverfly in question.

Adult P nigritarsis showing the black feet from which it gets its name. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

Catching one of the three I saw confirmed that it was, and that it was a female. Several of the clusters of dark orange beetle eggs were overlaid by the paler yellow eggs of the hoverfly.

Dock beetle egg cluster overlaid by the pale yellow eggs of P nigritarsis. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

In June, I returned to the site and found that larvae had emerged from the P nigritarsis eggs and were feeding on the beetle eggs and larvae. Over the next few weeks the larvae were observed feeding and growing, eventually becoming harder and harder to find as they dispersed following the beetle larvae and then going into diapause (suspended development) in leaf curls and in the leaf litter, where they will spend the winter before pupating and emerging as adults. The hoverfly larvae will face a number of potential dangers over the winter, including a rise in water levels depositing mud across the lower dock leaves, and possible negative effects from agricultural land management.

Growing P nigritarsis larva feeding on beetle eggs. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

Having found a technique for locating the P nigritarsis, I checked many clusters of beetle eggs on dock in a number of other sites, but did not find any further hoverflies. This suggests that this is a genuinely scarce species, not just overlooked. Other sites where the beetle occurred on dock but the hoverfly was not present, showed extensive beetle feeding damage to the leaves – which did not exist at the site by the River Rye, showing that P nigritarsis can significantly affect the beetle population.

What Katie did next

Katie Pownall – Conservation Research Student

My name is Katie Pownall and I am currently working at the North York Moors National Park for my year in industry, before heading back to the University of York to complete my biology degree next autumn. So many people have told me how valuable a year in industry can be for future employment prospects, and I feel very lucky to be able to spend my year with such an inspiring organisation. I hope to gain skills and knowledge from this placement that will allow me to pursue a career in ecology when I have graduated. What other job would involve me doing some of the things I’ve already had the chance to do so far?

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank…

Four of us travelled to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre and walked round existing paths on the heathland area there to locate the mats previously placed on the ground to act as attractive refuges for reptiles. We were looking for three particular species – Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards, all of which are protected by law in the UK. The ongoing monitoring was to provide evidence to consider as part of a planning application for a car park extension.

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank Visitor Centre - September 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

After carefully looking under about a third of the mats and having had no luck, we decided to wait a little to allow the sun to heat up the mats a bit, which would encourage the cold blooded reptiles to rest there in order to warm up. When we continued we had more luck, finding some Common lizards as well as some Common toads. Unfortunately we did not come across any slow worms or adders, nevertheless we were pleased with what we had found, and a Fox moth caterpillar and a vole or two added even more excitement to the day!

Water vole surveying at Eller Beck…

The next day I joined the search for Water voles, or at least for signs that they are living in the area around Eller Beck, Fylingdales. Water Vole populations have suffered in the UK due to habitat loss as a result of agricultural intensification. More significantly populations have come under threat from the American mink as a short lived mink fur industry in the 1960s/1970s declined and mink were released into a wild without natural predators. Between 2004 and 2007 the UK’s Water Vole numbers decreased by around a fifth. In many areas mink have wiped out water voles completely; the remnant populations hang on in less than optimal habitats for Water voles but where mink find it very difficult to survive – upland areas such as Eller Beck and urbanised areas such as Burdyke in York. The fragility of the populations are why surveys to ensure they’re surviving in the North York Moors are so important.

Having donned our wellies and waterproofs we started trying to make our way over the rough terrain of a former plantation to find the beck. The ground was very tricky to move across, and we soon found multiple smaller streams running across the landscape by putting our foot down in the wrong place! Eventually we found the actual water channel that we were going to survey and started searching for clues that Water voles had been there. We were looking for latrines (piles of water vole droppings that look like dark green or brown tic-tacs!), grass that had been chewed and cut at a 45° angle, and Eller Beck - Water vole latrine with cut grass. Copyright NYMNPA.Water vole burrows along the side of the bank (which should have a clean opening with a diameter of 4-8 cm). After carefully treading along the banks of the beck we came across several latrines, some cut grass and potentially one or two burrows. This was encouraging since it proved that Water voles were still living in the area. Also, we didn’t find any evidence of mink in the same area, which is great news.

As the day progressed we found that some channels where signs of Water voles had been recorded in the past now seemed less suitable since the vegetation on the banks was particularly overgrown and so latrines and burrows could be less easily formed here. Water voles may still have been using these channels, but possibly just not living in them.

Eller Beck - Water vole burrows. Copyright NYMNPA.

Just after lunch we were surprised by an individual who had been lying low in the grass and which we accidentally startled. After not seeing one the day before whilst doing the reptile surveying, I was delighted to see my first Adder! The excitement of this experience more than made up for having a welly full of water all day.

Eller Beck - Adder. Copyright NYMNPA.

Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites investigations…

As part of the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, PAWS surveys are being undertaken to look for opportunities to conserve remaining ancient woodland features. The Ingleby Plantation was previously planted on the site of what might have been ancient woodland, so our job was to survey the area to identify any trees that we thought were over 60 years old, and would therefore have been present before the plantation. We recorded the level of threat to the amount of standing and lying deadwood, which is such a great habitat for invertebrates and fungi, and to the remaining ground flora.

Ingleby Plantation - stream that ran through the site, with stones from old retaining wall. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - dead wood placed in piles after selective felling. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - Dead Moll's Fingers fungus on lying dead wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

We considered what changes could be made to the area to reduce these levels of threat. Where it seemed like there was little succession of ground flora some thinning of the trees preventing light from reaching the ground would help. Tree felling in a ‘halo’ around older, more vulnerable trees would help them to grow and stay healthy. Ring barking some trees – cutting off the nutrient supply to the tree – would create more standing dead wood where there is a lack of it.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

Practical conservation work…

I joined a group of National Park conservation volunteers to clear an area of scrub near Rievaulx to encourage wild flowers to grow and spread next spring in a site of potential species rich grassland. To prevent the scrubland plants such as bracken and bramble from taking over the site again before the wild flowers get a chance to establish we had to remove all the cuttings from the area so that they didn’t reintroduce their nutrients to the soil. Wild flowers should grow better than the scrubland plants on nutrient-poor soil.

This kind of outdoor work was what I had imagined I might be doing quite a bit of during my time with the National Park, and despite the couple of downpours we had, it was good fun, and we all felt a huge amount of satisfaction once the job was done!

National Park conservation volunteers clearly scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

As the new Conservation Research Student I sarted my new job not knowing what the next week would hold, never mind the next year! I have not been disappointed so far, as so many opportunities to go out on site and get involved in a wide range of projects have been presented to me, and I am keen to gain as much experience as I can from them.

Archaeologist at Large: a new beginning

Shannon Fraser – Senior Archaeologist

I recently arrived in the North York Moors to take up the post of Senior Archaeologist with the National Park. It is going to be quite an exciting challenge following in the footsteps of long-serving Graham Lee, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and prehistory of the landscapes within the Park! Having spent the last 16 years researching, conserving, interpreting and promoting the cultural heritage on National Trust for Scotland properties in eastern Scotland, I am used to dealing with a very broad range of archaeological and historic places – from the traces of mesolithic settlement to WWII aircraft crash sites in the Cairngorm mountains, from Pictish symbol stones to Renaissance palaces and gardens in the eastern lowlands. So some things will be familiar, while other elements of the North York Moors heritage will be quite new to me. Happily Graham is taking phased retirement, so he is still around to share with me his knowledge of and great enthusiasm for that heritage.

I have been taking as many opportunities as I can so far to get out into the North York Moors and explore the cultural landscape, meeting the people who work in, study and enjoy it. Recently, I joined a group of our stalwart Historic Environment Volunteers, on a day out exploring archaeological sites on Carlton Moor, Live Moor and Whorlton Moor in the north west of the National Park. The day was organized by our Monument Management Scheme team, as a thank-you to the volunteers for having devoted so much of their time to monitoring how scheduled archaeological sites within the Park are faring and helping to improve their condition.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We visited a number of prehistoric sites, in the company of Alan Kitching, one of the landowners in the area who has been extremely supportive of our efforts to remove nationally-important monuments from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register through conservation and beneficial land management.

Among these monuments is a compact hillfort with well-preserved ramparts at Knolls End, at the end of the Live Moor plateau. The Cleveland Way actually cuts right across this monument – how many people realize they are walking through a defended settlement probably dating back to the iron age? The estate here has been working to control bracken on the fort site through an Environmental Stewardship agreement. Apart from the swathes of bracken making monuments very difficult to see, the plant’s extensive network of underground rhizomes can be very damaging to the structure of earthworks, like the hillfort’s ramparts, as well as to the archaeological layers below ground.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Discussing monument management at a bronze age burial cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

We were also able to appreciate the efforts of our historic environment volunteers who had helped to remove modern walkers’ cairns from the top of bronze age burial cairns. The adding of lots of new stones to these prehistoric monuments can radically change their appearance. More importantly, if stones are removed from previously undisturbed parts of the original cairn to add to a walkers’ cairn on top, it causes incremental damage. By removing obvious walkers’ cairns, we hope to discourage further ‘rearrangement’ of the stones so these wonderful meaningful monuments survive for yet more millennia.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience meeting some of the committed people who are working to conserve the precious heritage of the North York Moors, whether landowners or volunteers. And the day ended with tea and cake – what more could you wish for?

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Historic Environment Volunteers undertake both indoor and outdoor work. If you’re thinking you might like to join the team, and would like to find out more about what’s involved, please get in touch.

Conservation recruits

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee and Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee

Abi Duffy, Conservation Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.I’m Abi Duffy, and I have recently started as a Conservation Trainee. I graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Geography in July 2016 and since then I have been working towards gaining employment within the conservation sector. I am really interested in developing my knowledge and experience in this two year position with the National Park.

Sam Newton, Natural Heritage Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.My name is Samuel Newton and I have started in the position of Natural Heritage Trainee with the National Lottery funded This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. I have always been interested in the environment, leading to my graduation from Newcastle University with a degree in Ecology earlier this year. I am keen to use this opportunity to gain as much experience as possible of working in conservation.

Our first two months have been both varied and interesting as we’ve been contributing to a wide range of projects. We’ve taken advantage of the end of summer to be out in the field most days surveying.

Water vole surveying

One particularly memorable day was water vole survey training, for which we headed up to Fylingdales. This surveying entails walking a stretch of stream looking for signs of Water vole (Arvicola amphibious). The most obvious signs are droppings, which are ‘tic tac’ shaped and tend to be green, and are used for territory marking. Where droppings are flattened and more have been deposited on top this creates a ‘latrine’. We also looked for piles of nibbled grass, with a 45° cut angle at the end – characteristic of voles, as well as for burrows and footprints.

The training links in with our Water vole project which is aiming to secure the few remaining populations of Water vole within the North York Moors. The animals have North York Moors Water Vole. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.suffered from habitat loss and also the spread of invasive American mink. I (Sam) have been mapping water vole and mink survey results, mostly collected by our dedicated group of Water vole survey volunteers. These records create a base from which management of habitats and also mink can be carried out.

Botanical Surveying

We have been visiting species rich grasslands across the North York Moors, with a range of different underlying ecological conditions. By surveying the plant species and their abundance on these sites we can try and ensure management fits the individuality of each one, and that certain species are not being lost or becoming dominant to the detriment of others. Our Linking Landscapes volunteers also survey grassland within the National Park each summer; many volunteers survey the same site each year which helps identify changes. The volunteers send in their results to us for analysis.

Some of the interesting and beautiful flowers we have seen so far include Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum). We also joined in with the Conservation Volunteers cutting some of these grassland sites where they’re not grazed and importantly raking off the cuttings to stop the grasslands becoming too nutrient rich. Nan Sykes’ book ‘Wild Flowers of North East Yorkshire’ has proved invaluable in helping improve our botanical ID skills.

Harebell. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

MoorFest

As part of National Parks Week back in August, I (Abi) got involved with a MoorFest event at our Sutton Bank National Park Centre letting people know about the species rich grassland resource within the North York Moors. We had many families chatting to us about wildflowers and asking us questions about the grassland. This was a good way to help communicate to the wider public the work that farmers and the National Park do together to conserve and enhance grassland sites.

Moonwort at Sutton Bank. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.The triangular meadow out of the front of the Sutton Bank National Park Centre is a great example of such grassland. Back in June, before beginning in our roles, we both took part in a Volunteer training day there; we found the rare fern Moonwort and several Common Spotted Orchids among a vast array of species. This site is a good quality species rich grassland in top condition, and with continuing management we hope to keep it that way.

Triangle Meadow, Sutton Bank - Common spotted orchid at the forefront. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

West Arnecliff Woodland Survey

In early August we were given the opportunity to follow up on research work done by the previous Research Student at the National Park, Sam Witham. Sam had been investigating the impact of deer browsing in woodland by constructing small exclusion enclosures, in order to establish whether these allowed greater natural regeneration. This is part of the National Park’s long term PAWS restoration project. Non-native conifers had already been removed from this site at West Arnecliff and the continuing research is to help understand how best to assist the regeneration of the Ancient Woodland features and habitat.

Japanese knotweed surveying

Something else we have been involved with is the River Esk project – in particular surveying stretches of the river for Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This destructive invasive has the potential to spread rapidly along the river banks generating sedimentation and damaging the river environment. There has been control work over the last decade but it’s important to keep on top of the plant and where it is coming back it needs to be treated as soon as possible to prevent a new outbreak. So the surveying is important and has become a bit of a right of passage for new members of the Conservation Department.

Conclusion

So far we have really enjoyed the first two months in our new roles We are looking forward to going out into the field even more and meeting and working with the land owners and land managers who shape the landscape of the North York Moors.

It is great to have the opportunity to understand and contribute to the work the National Park is doing, while learning about working in conservation at the same time.

Abi, Sam and Bernadline surveying in Rosedale. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.

Deconstructing modern mounds: what happened next…

Jo Collins – Monument Management Scheme Volunteer Coordinator

As part of our Historic England funded Monument Management Scheme, the project to tackle accidental damage caused to archaeological sites by walkers cairns is continuing. A second walkers cairn has been taken down on Raisdale Moor revealing the shape of the round barrow (burial mound) beneath. Six National Park volunteers helped move the modern cairn stones away, taking great care not to disturb the archaeological remains. A covering of small stones was left to protect the top of the Bronze Age barrow from natural erosion whilst heather and bilberry becomes established.

Raisdale Moor - NPA volunteers removing the walkers cairn from the scheduled barrow. Copyright NYMNPA.

Raisdale Moor - At the end of the task, National Park volunteers and Jo next to the round barrow without the walkers cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

Now if you’re walking on the Cleveland Way at Live Moor near Whorlton you might notice a new information notice next to a prominent scheduled round barrow. As featured previously on this Blog the modern walkers cairn was removed by our apprentice team earlier this year, revealing the stony ancient burial mound underneath. We hope the information provided will help walkers understand why remedial action was needed and will encourage people to protect the archaeology and help preserve it for future generations.

Planting for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

I believe that most people like the idea of trees being planted – as long as they are in the ‘right place’. Small, negligible seeds unfurling to create little, delicate saplings growing on and upwards into woody giants that dominate a landscape.

But why would we purposefully plant trees?  Here are some of the benefits that tree planting/woodland creation can provide.

Habitat

Each individual tree provides a habitats. Wooded habitats are some of the most diverse habitats in England; with many birds, mammals, insects and plants specialising in woodland environments these habitats are critical for biodiversity. Creating even small areas of woodland has the potential to greatly increase the number of species in almost any landscape.
Lesser? redpoll (woodland/wetland bird). Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

Lesser? redpoll  – this RSPB Red status bird has suffered severe population declines in the UK. It relies on wet woodland species like birch and alder.

Connectivity

It is important to look at woodlands from a landscape scale. Connectivity is the word used to evaluate how connected/joined up otherwise isolated fragments of habitat are. It is always a big advantage for tree planting if it helps to connect existing woodland areas and so allows woodland species to move freely across the landscape.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods. Copyright NYMNPA.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods, Appleton le Moors. The word Hagg suggests the land here has long been wooded. This new planting is an extension of an existing native woodland, which should improve connectivity through the landscape.

Water quality and retention

It is now widely accepted that planting trees and woodlands has benefits for the management of water catchments. Woodland filters sediment and nutrient run off from the land if planted between the source and a watercourse, and so can greatly improve water quality. Also when trees are planted along a river catchment they can help to slow down the flooding effects of heavy rainfall events by increasing the porosity of the soil. Water is more readily absorbed into the soil, thanks to the roots of trees, before being released into water courses of the catchment.

Bank stabilisation

Just as trees can slow down the movement of water they can also minimise the movement of landforms. The roots of trees help bind and stabilise river banks and hill sides. Trees hold landforms together minimising erosion and the displacement of soil, the effects of which can in some cases be devastating.

Small scale riparian woodland planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Small scale riparian woodland planting in the Esk Catchment. The opposite bank is slumping and loosing soil resource into the water. 

Shelter

Trees and woodland copses carefully located on a holding can provide useful shelter for livestock and gamebirds. It has been demonstrated that shelter provided by trees has resulted in significant reductions in cold, wet and windy weather lamb losses.
Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate taking advantage of the the woodland cover on a hot day.

Climate Change

One of the causes of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) into the earth’s atmosphere trapping heat. Trees produce energy to live and grow by using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis; a process which produces oxygen. So trees are using up Carbon Dioxide, storing carbon and generating essential oxygen.

Amenity 

As well as providing a land management tool, the presence of trees and woodlands can have positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of people. Trees and woodland are intrinsic to many landscapes, particularly so in the North York Moors. Woodlands provide amenity value as local cultural assets that can last for generations if looked after properly. Imagine the feeling of personal achievement in planting a new woodland that will grow and mature into the future, making a living mark on an evolving landscape beyond the constraints of a human lifetime.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Copyright NYMNPA.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Trees in the right place can really compliment the landscape and add amenity value from notable viewpoints.

The National Park Authority is looking for landowners and partners to create new woodland across the North York Moors. Funding is available for deciduous woodland planting projects of 1 hectare (2.5 acres) and above; the funding can cover the total costs of planting and establishment. If you are interested and would like more information please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.