Into the shadows

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Thanks to archaeologists and historians we know a lot about the people who lived and worked in the historic landscape, but less about the shape and ecology of the landscape. There have been a lot of theories by ecologists such as Frans Vera and George Peterken, who suggest that the landscape was fluid with more wood pasture rather than the closed canopy dense woodlands we’re more familiar with today.

Historic woodlands were a hub of life, providing fodder for livestock and materials for villagers, farmers, tanners, blacksmiths, carpenters, broom whittlers and charcoal makers. Trees were even a source for medicine, for example the bark of Perdunculate Oak Quercus robur was used as an antiseptic andAsh Fraxinus excelsior was steeped into tea and used to aid kidney problems.This eco-cultural hub seems a far cry from how we see woods today, often used as a place of tranquillity, for bird watching or to seek refuge from everyday life.

Over the past year I’ve been researching ‘Shadow Woods’ – areas where there was woodland in the past that is no longer there. These, now shadows of a former landscape, can be identified in a number of ways. As a starting point for the search, the Doomsday Book and historic Tithe and Enclosure maps can give an indication of how the landscape once looked. Researching old place and field names such as ‘Hagg’ meaning an area where trees were felled or ‘Hollin’ historically a word for Holly or browse, also give clues as to the location of previously wooded areas.

With permission from land managers, we followed up on potential sites by surveying for any ancient woodland indicator species, ground flora that has colonised over generations and gives an indication that the area has been continually wooded for a considerable length of time. These species will change from woodland to woodland and throughout the country, but include Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, Ramsons Allium ursinum, Wood sorrel ‎Oxalis acetosella, Early purple orchids Orchis mascula, Primroses Primula vulgaris and Climbing corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculata. These plants continue to flower long after the surrounding woodland has gone. The residual flora and soils in these spaces are irreplaceable.  

Primroses Primula vulgaris, Wood anemone Anemonoides nemorosa amongst bracken and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.
Primroses Primula vulgaris, Wood anemone Anemonoides nemorosa amongst bracken and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

Early purple orchids Orchis mascula and Primroses Primula vulgaris, strong evidence that the area is a Shadow Woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.
Early purple orchids Orchis mascula and Primroses Primula vulgaris, strong evidence that the area is a Shadow Woodland. Copyright NYMNPA

Any remaining veteran and ancient trees were surveyed for signs of being worked, which gives another glimpse into the past history of the wood. Coppiced trees such as willow were cut at the base when they are relatively young and the wood was used to make fences and shelters. Pollarded trees were cut just above the trunk to provide timber and fodder for animals leaving the tree alive to produce more wood in future years. An historically pollarded tree can be identified by having multiple branches.

Historically coppiced Willow.. Copyright NYMNPA.
Historically coppiced Willow. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ancient and Veteran trees are home to a whole host of deadwood beetles, fungi, lichen mosses and plants that cannot live anywhere else. These trees, botanical indicators and the soil of ancient and shadow woods are irreplaceable micro-habitats that have taken generations to create, once lost they will be gone forever.

The Shadow Wood sites surveyed within the North York Moors National Park were all in upland locations, many in remoter areas with little human disturbance since they were worked woodlands. The majority of these sites have been classed as grassland or as scattered parkland with a small amount of ancient or veteran trees. This classification strengthens the idea that the historic landscape was often open wood pasture rather than closed canopy woodlands.  

The hope is that identified sites can be targeted for woodland creation in the North York Moors National Park, therefore continuing and restoring life in these magical habitats, that are not only home to some amazing species and important trees but are a little bit of folklore too.

Image of Shadow Woodland in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.
Shadow woodland in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.

The Shadow Woods project within the North York Moors National Park has only been possible due to the dedicated work of Professor Ian Rotherham. His book Shadow Woods: a search for lost landscapes and publication Shadow Woods and Ghosts Survey Guide by C. Handley and I. D. Rotherham have provided invaluable research into these almost lost landscapes.

Keeping it old style

Clair Shields – Planning Officer (Policy and Building Conservation)

The traditional black and white ‘finger post’ signposts in the North York Moors have become a cherished part of our landscape. In order to maintain and conserve these cultural features for future generations to enjoy, at the end of last year Building Conservation officers at the National Park Authority asked parishes and residents to let us know about these signs so they could be mapped and recorded on our Geographic Information System (GIS). The idea was to gain a better understanding of where the signposts are and their current condition. Many signposts are obvious, such as at modern road junctions, however others can be more hidden such as where they are located on old roads which are less used today. Local people looking out for signs during daily exercise was a useful survey method during lockdowns.

At the same time we were able to refurbish a few of the signs most in need of restoration using a locally experienced contractor – this will help ensure the longevity of these iconic features. The long term aim is to restore them all.

There is a vast array of different practical purposes to the signs; some make reference to the old North Riding District (pre North Yorkshire County Council), others warn of steep inclines, point towards historic monuments like a roman road or indicate public route ways and distances. Officers are keen to conserve the variety of designs and styles.

The work over winter was looking to continue previous work carried out by the Authority and the North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme. This time there were limited funds available through the Anglo American Woodsmith Project Section 106 compensation and mitigation agreement.

Here is an example at Egton Bridge where signage has been recently consolidated.

 

The Future of the North York Moors National Park?

The National Park Authority has begun a process to develop a new Management Plan for the National Park in collaboration with partners and stakeholders. If you have any interest at all in this National Park or National Parks as a whole – you’re a stakeholder. Since our last Plan was drawn up in 2011/12 there are new environmental challenges to confront, new environmental issues to take on and new environmental priorities to progress…

Paul explains below how you can get involved in shaping the future, if you would like to.

Paul Fellows – Head of Strategic Policy

Every few years we take the opportunity to ask ourselves what we want the North York Moors National Park to be like in the future and how we might realise that vision.

In doing this we would really like your ideas – the people who live and work in, care for and visit this special place. Generation after generation has helped create this landscape, from moorland, dale and forest to village, farm and field. Many millions more cherish this place as visitors and supporters. The National Park looks like it does because of you and your families; its future is in all our hands.

Our task is to help create a shared vision that we can all agree on, because that’s the best way to pass the National Park on to future generations in an even better state. What do we want farming, housing, tourism, transport, business, heritage and nature conservation to look like? What sort of place do we want to grow up in or grow old in? What’s the correct balance that works best for everyone?

Over the course of the next year we’ll enshrine this shared vision in a document called a ‘Management Plan’, which will set out exactly the work that needs to be done. We want the plan to be ambitious but deliverable; we want to anticipate the challenges and work together to meet them. We’ll set dates and targets, so that you can see the progress we’re making together.

This then is your chance to help us by having your say about the future of the North York Moors National Park. You’ll have your own ideas of what the National Park could and should be like in twenty years’ time. Every viewpoint is valid. Each opinion matters. The more perspectives that are offered, the stronger the overall plan and vision will be.

Think of this as a conversation about the future. It’s always an important discussion to have, though perhaps – after the experiences of the last year – more vital than ever before. Tell us your thoughts and hopes. Be bold. It’s your National Park and together we can plan effectively for better days ahead.

To start with, we’ve created a quick survey that asks up to five short questions so you can let us know what you think the main issues are.

If you would like a bit more background, or to look at some of the challenges we think we are facing, please take a look at our ‘working together’ page, which goes into more detail and asks more specific questions. We’ve come up with three themes to think about – Leading Nature Recovery, Landscapes for All, and Living and Working Landscapes. There is bound to be a lot of cross over between these themes, for instance in regards the historic environment. Anyway, have a think yourself and let us know your thoughts by email .

You can also keep in touch – if you want to be kept informed of further work on the Management Plan please join our mailing list.

 

Water Environment Grant (WEG): Keeping life on the bank

Christopher Watt – River Esk WEG Project Officer

Creating and expanding riparian woodland is a large component of the current WEG* funded project in the Esk Catchment, in conjunction with improving farm infrastructure. Riparian woodland is defined as trees located on the natural banks of waterbodies such as rivers, canels, ponds and lakes. The presence of riparian woodland brings an array of environmental benefits such as carbon capture, regulation of water temperature, bank stabilsation and provision of resources for wildlife. Riparian woodland is important feature of the Esk and provides benefits to conservation focus species in particular Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), but also Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and Sea trout (Salmo trutta).This is why tree-planting efforts have been prioritized with project distribution located in both the upper and lower parts of the catchment.

Existing riparian woodland along the Esk. Copyright Chris Watt, NYMNPA.

Riparian woodland creation has focused on introducing a mix of tree species to the bankside to enhance structure and composition. Species which have a tolerance for wet conditions and partial submergence such as alder, aspen, birch and willow make a significant contribution to the mix. Other species such as alder-buckthorn, hazel, hawthorn and oak add additional variety. Planting design has incorporated adding open spaces such as rides and glades into the new small scale woodland as these are valuable habitats in their own right. All new woodland projects have an emphasis on long-term management to maintain habitat function with actions such as deadwood retention, grass-margin establishment, coppicing, pollarding and recycling tree-guards included in management plans. The vision is for these small scale woodlands to stabilize banksides, intercept agricultural run-off and reduce sedimentation entering into the Esk, leading to improvements in water-quality. Monitoring will record physical and biological change through measures fixed-point photography, vegetation monitoring and species recording.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the Covid situation and fickle weather conditions, work has been progressing on the Esk catchment with 2,095 new trees planted with much assistance from land managers, staff and volunteers. Planting efforts will continue with the aim to have all 3,000 remaining trees in the ground by March. This will also be accompanied by the planting of 1,060m of new hedgerows, wetland creation and bank stabilization works. Along with the habitat creation and enhancement works, measures to improve farm infrastructure are continuing such as concrete yard renewal, installation of sediment traps and rainwater guttering. Combined these efforts seek to work at the farm-level and tackle pollution pathways from yard/field to river and lead to the improvement of water-quality of this special river.

Tree planting volunteers, Botton in Danby Dale. Copyright NYMNPA.

 All work carried out has been in line with current COVID restrictions and guidelines at the time. To keep up to date with the latest National Park situation in regards Covid-19 – see here.  

Esk winter landscape. Copyright Chris Watt, NYMNPA.

*WEG stands for Water Environment Grant which has been providing funding to improve the water environment in rural England. This has been part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

 

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

Reading the Past: ‘Snapshots’ of Ironstone Life in Rosedale

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, David Ross Foundation, and the North York Moors National Park Authority among others, will shortly be coming to an end in March 2021.

Rosedale Bank Top calcining kiln after conservation work was completed in 2019, with the new interpretation panel and Cor Ten silhouette. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale Bank Top calcining kiln after conservation work was completed in 2019, with the new interpretation panel and Cor Ten silhouette.

Over the past four years the project has helped to protect, interpret and conserve the most iconic of the old ironstone mining sites and remains within the North York Moors. We have also helped to nurture the unique natural environment that surrounds them by working closely with land managers and other national partners ensuring habitats and species, such as riverbanks, ancient woodland and the Ring Ouzel, are cared for in the long term.

Yet even as we help to preserve the integrity of the monuments and help to protect the rich bio-diverse landscapes for the benefit of future generations, the voices of the individuals who once worked in the ironstone mining industry – the navvies (temporary workers), railwaymen, miners and families that expanded the populations of small villages like Rosedale during the Industrial Revolution – remain largely silent within the landscape in which they once worked, memorialised only in the receding industrial remains.

It is with this thought in mind that I turned to one important historical record where the individual stands recorded for posterity – the humble newspaper archive.

It is a place where accidents were recorded and individuals were named, where drunken brawls in isolated villages were highlighted and surreal accidents at remote kilns noted. The current newspapers of the time provide an invaluable insight into the social life and activities of the communities that populated the working life of the ironstone industry. It is here that you can understand the often-hidden tensions and terrors that so bedevilled a thriving but dangerous industry which helped to power the country in the 19th century.

Rosedale East kilns with new fencing as a part of the Land of Iron project. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale East kilns with new fencing as a part of the Land of Iron project.

Below are a few sample extracts taken from local and regional papers during the height of the ironstone mining industry in the North York Moors, with a particular focus on Rosedale and its concentration of the unique railway, ironstone mines and imposing calcining kilns at Bank Top and Rosedale East. This way we can get a ‘snapshot’ of a particular place within a relatively short amount of time.

Please note that the following extracts reflect mores of the time. You may find elements of the extracts upsetting. 

Liverpool Daily Post 10 June 1862
CLASH BETWEEN MINERS AND IRISH LABOURERS
At Rosedale, last week, the English miners combined to drive out the Irish labourers out of the valley, which they did. Some sharp fighting took place. The cause of the party feeling is stated to have been owing to an Irishman contracting for work at an under price.

Whitby Gazette 8 April 1865
ROSEDALE ABBEY
On Saturday morning last as a boy named John Hugill, 12 years of age was preparing a set of ironstone wagons for being drawn up the incline, another wagon unexpectedly ran against them with great force at the moment the boy was bent down between 2 wagons which he was coupling, and they were driven together with great violence causing such severe injuries to the boy that death resulted in a few minutes.

Whitby Gazette 29 August 1868
ROSEDALE WEST MINES
A fatal accident occurred on Monday 24th to a miner named Thomas Taylor of Low Row, 19 years of age.  It appears that he had gone to his usual work in the mines at 2 o’clock and had only been at work about 10 minutes, when a huge portion of ironstone from the roof, weighing five or six tons, fell suddenly, and in its descent, came in contact with the poor fellow mutilating him in a frightful manner.

York Herald 5 December 1868
HORSE BURNT TO DEATH
On Wednesday night, a valuable horse, belonging to the Rosedale and Ferryhill Mining Company, was accidentally burnt to death. A driver, named Foster, was fetching a set of loaded waggons out of the Rosedale East mines on to the top of the new calcine kiln, when, through neglect of having a spring catch on, he was unable to get the horse unyoked from the waggons. The consequence was that the horse was dragged into the kiln, which was full of burning ironstone, and burnt to death.

Leeds Mercury 10 April 1871
THE ROSEDALE IRON MINERS
Gentlemen, I would earnestly call attention to the sad and disgraceful state of drunkenness prevalent among the workmen engaged in the Rosedale iron mines …. For two or three days following each pay-day Rosedale village presents a scene of inebriation which baffles description. The miners may be seen staggering about the village in all directions, and not unfrequently fighting and kicking each other in true Lancashire style.

Malton Gazette 15 July 1871
ROSEDALE MINING FATALITY
On Saturday morning, a young man named Nelson, a native of Thornton Dale near Pickering, was proceeding to his work underground, being a miner, between 7 and 8 o’clock, having under his arm a small barrel, open at the top, containing 4 to 5 lbs of gunpowder, used for blasting purposes. Wishing to light his pipe, he struck a match, part of the match or a spark from it, ignited the powder, which exploded with great violence. His injuries were fearful, that death terminated his suffering in 2 to 3 hours later. He was accompanied by another man who escaped with rather severe shock and singeing of his whiskers and eyebrows.

Rosedale Hollins Mine and incline, with Bank Top calcining kilns visible at top right. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale Hollins Mine and incline, with Bank Top calcining kilns visible at top right.

Of course this is just small selection of the more dramatic clippings from the Land of Iron newspaper archive, but it is a fascinating insight none the less. The tough living and working conditions invariably led to accidents and fatalities, and as we can see above it was not uncommon for fights or brawls to break out when workers were paid their often meagre wages (Hayes and Rutter 2009).

The end of the ironstone industry in the 1920s brought further change to Rosedale as bit by bit the railways were removed, the structures of the kilns were left to decline, and the mines themselves closed down and sealed. It is pertinent to remember those real individuals, the men, women, and children (and animals) who lived and worked here, often did so in adverse conditions. The newspaper clippings can only ever report on a fraction of their lives and experiences.

Further Resources

For those who are interested in researching the lifestyle of the ironstone industry workers further, or are interested in pursuing their own research during the current lock down period, I recommend the British Library-ran Newspaper Archive resource.

For further reading on the ironstone industry within North Yorkshire, I recommend Hayes and Rutter much-reissued ‘Rosedale Mines and Railway’ 2009 publication. A newly updated edition of this book is due to be published this year.

For historic photographs, have a look at a previous blog entry to see two ‘colourised’ historic photographs from Sheriff’s Pit mine entry and the Ingleby Incline railway.

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

The Yew – An Original Christmas Tree

Sam Newton – Woodland Creation Assistant

Yew links to Christmas and Christianity and back beyond into the depths of time. Like other evergreens, branches of yew were brought into people’s houses at Christmas as decoration and also as bitter reminder of the Christian Passion.

Yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard, Goathland. This churchyard contains some of the largest yew trees in the North York Moors. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

Yew trees (Taxus baccata) are now strongly associated with churchyards. They are a connection to the old Norse and Celt beliefs that yew trees protected against bewitchment and death. Pagans celebrated the yew at the mid winter festival of Saturnalia, which later melted into Christmas. Many old churchyard yews may have been planted by church-builders, brought out of the woods and into a civilised setting. Or later on top of graves to ward off evil around the dead and provide branches to be carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. It became a tradition without a remembrance of its origins.

There are also a number of churchyard yews predating their churches, and even Christianity. Some trees alive today in Britain are truly ancient. The Fortingall Yew in Scotland is possibly between 2,000 and 3,000 years old – a myth tells of Pontius Pilate as the son of a Roman envoy, being born beneath and playing as a child within its branches. While the Ankerwycke Yew witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, as an already 1,000-year-old tree overlooking Runnymede meadows in Surrey.

The first few lines of ‘Lines on the Ancient Yew in Darley Church Yard’ (in Derbyshire)
By Samuel Barker

Thou art an interesting tree,
The fact’s beyond dispute,
Thy monster trunk and giant bows
And intersecting roots,
Rearing in solemn grandeur,
Thy patriarchal head,
Reigning in midnight dimness,
O’er the regions of the dead.

Male yew tree in St Nicholas’ Churchyard, Bransdale, showing the beginnings of next year’s flowers. Yew trees are dioicous, with individual plants either male or female. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

The story of the yew tree is one of life, death, and resurrection. It was said by the noted forester and dendrologist Alan Mitchell, that “there is no theoretical end to this tree, no need for it to die”.

Yews reach such old age through an amazing ability to renew themselves and return from apparent decay. New shoots from the base can coalesce with the main trunk, while lowered branches can put down roots, and fallen trees remain alive as long as the smallest amount of root remains attached. Ancient trees can be split into several parts, and no longer look like one tree, but can go on surviving for many hundreds of years more.

St Nicholas’ Church, Bransdale, and its churchyard yew tree. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

Death lingers in these long-lived trees, with all parts of the plant containing highly poisonous taxine alkaloids. Yet at the same time these same highly poisonous chemicals provide modern day science with anti-cancer compounds. The yew tree can regenerate us, as well as itself.

Yorkshire has a strong but somewhat forgotten link to yew trees. The ancient Celtic name for the City of York is Eborakon, which can be translated to ‘the place where the yew trees grow’, or came from the name Eburos, meaning ‘yew man’. In the North York Moors, yew trees are common in churchyards, and can occasionally be encountered in the surrounding areas.

For more information about this natural and cultural marvel have a look at the Ancient Yew Group’s website

Dark Skies (Part Two): We need to talk about ALAN

Mike Hawtin – Head of Polyhalite Projects

Dalby Playground Iridium Flare by Steve BellEnjoy the National Park after dark
It’s probably as a result of increasing light pollution in urban areas that many more people are seeking out opportunities to experience Dark Skies, which is resulting in a growing interest in Astro Tourism.

We know from the popularity of our very own Dark Skies Festival that increasing numbers of residents and visitors to the National Park value dark skies and love to take part in all manner of outdoor events at night. Started almost six years ago, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the Festival has become the biggest in the country and is contributing significantly to the local economy during what is typically considered the low tourist season. This helps businesses survive through winter and doesn’t add to the busy summer season. The Festival in 2020 attracted over 8,000 attendees to over 100 events and across a two week period and contributed over £300k to the local economy in the North York Moors alone.

The ongoing success of the Festival led to a decision by the National Park to seek worldwide recognition by joining a select group of organisations around the globe in applying for International Dark Sky Reserve status. There are key requirements to becoming a Dark Sky Reserve along with ongoing obligations to maintain the status. These include meeting specific requirements for the quality of our dark skies, organising continued education and outreach events, control of new lighting and making ongoing improvements to existing lighting.

This lengthy process started three years ago with a huge amount of background work including audits of the type of lights and controls used in the National Park along with their colour temperatures and taking dozens of dark skies meter readings to identify where our darkest areas are. We’ve even had support from local and regional councils to install only Dark Skies compliant street lighting at 3000k or less.

This work has fed into the creation of a Lighting Management Plan which will help us ensure that new lighting will meet Dark Skies criteria. We’ve also had letters of support from dozens of parish councils, landowners, organisations, astro groups, businesses and pledges of support from the public, which have all been included in our application.

STOP PRESS – This month we were designated an International Dark Sky Reserve, along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, one of only 18 in the world.

Dark Skies Lighting Improvement Scheme
To help deliver improvements to existing lighting and to meet our Management Plan objectives of preserving tranquillity and Dark Skies, we’ve also set up a lighting improvement scheme to offer grants in targeted areas to help reduce light pollution. The focus will be on helping clusters of residential properties, pubs, accommodation providers, campsites and visitor centres etc. to become exemplar sites for Dark Skies friendly lighting.

This scheme is being funded by section 106 payments from the Woodsmith Mine development to compensate and mitigate for the negative impacts of the mine development. We’re working on a number of demonstration projects to help property owners understand that it’s not about turning off all lights but about sensitive and efficient use of artificial light at night. Two of these projects have already been delivered with a number of others underway. We’ve even had requests from the Institute of Lighting Professionals and other protected areas to use images of our demonstration projects to help spread the message.

Changing lights on outbuildings from bulkheads and floodlights to downlights provides ample light for access but doesn’t create unnecessary upward light spill. Note the lack of light hitting the tree in the second image above.

Glare from poor lighting in a service compound is reduced, eliminating upward light spill.

Changing floodlights or angling them down provides enough light for operational purposes (in this case loading) whilst at the same time reducing glare and unnecessary light spill.

In recent weeks, we’ve set up a new volunteer role called Dark Sky Monitor and it’s really exciting to announce that the first recruits to this role have attended a live online training session so they are ready to go when restrictions allow. During the session they learnt about why Dark Skies are important, how we can protect them and how to use a tiny box of tricks to take readings which will be added not just to our records but also to an international database.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to do your bit by converting or adjusting your outside lighting, whether it be for reducing energy usage (and cost), stargazing, wildlife or your own health and wellbeing, there are some easy steps to follow…

Light only what you need

Is the light needed? Is it purely or partially decorative or does it serve a specific purpose?
Can I angle floodlights down, shield them or change to downlighting?
Is light projecting beyond my boundary and causing a nuisance for others?
Can my light(s) be seen from a great distance? This gives a good idea of how they are positioned.

Light only when you need it

Are my lights on a timer or a sensor? Consider fixtures where the sensor can be angled independently of the light.
What time do they come on and go off? Ideally 10pm is a good curfew or use of a proximity sensor is even better.

Light only at a level suitable for the situation

How bright are my lights? Unless for operational purposes, one or two lights at a maximum of 500 lumens are usually enough for most residential properties.
Am I using warm white light? Don’t forget that all lights should be no more than 3000k and preferably 2700k.

Milky Way over Ravenscar by Steve BellWe’ve created a Dark Skies Friendly lighting page with a link to a property lighting audit to help guide you through the process. We’d love to see some before and after images if you decide to make some changes.

Keep an eye out on our Dark Skies webpages and social media for information and updates on best viewing spots, events and activities, and announcements.

We hope you’ll continue to follow the ongoing work to protect the Dark Skies above the North York Moors National Park and don’t forget to talk to others about ALAN.

Dark Skies (Part One): We need to talk about ALAN

Mike Hawtin – Head of Polyhalite Projects

The Milky Way over Young Ralph Cross. Image: Steve Bell

Dark Skies – revered by our ancestors, a gateway to science, crucial to nocturnal wildlife and a special quality enjoyed by residents and visitors to the North York Moors National Park – are under threat.

Over 80% of people in the UK are unable to see the Milky Way, our own galactic neighbourhood. In most cities you’d be lucky to see a handful of stars due to light pollution but in truly dark places, like the North York Moors National Park, you can still see thousands. With the availability of cheap high power LED lighting though, those pristine dark skies are increasingly at risk.

You can see many cities from space but you can’t see space from many cities. Figure 22017 composite image courtesy of the U.S. National Geophysical Data Center’s Earth Observing Group. Image source: darksky.org

It’s not all bad news though. Unlike other man made threats to the natural world, this one isn’t so complex that we’re almost paralysed into inaction, we just need to talk about ALAN.

So who on earth is ALAN!? Well, ALAN stands for Artificial Light At Night and when used incorrectly and inconsiderately, ALAN can have a devastating impact, not just on our ability to enjoy Dark Skies but on animal and plant life, and even human health.

Imagine a situation where developments that interrupt or obscure our natural daytime landscapes or that impact on natural habitats and disrupt animal behaviour, were allowed to go ahead unchecked? Well that’s exactly what happens when we go to the middle of those well-known budget supermarkets to buy those cheap super bright white LED lights and put them up around our property. These lights are designed to flood the outside of our homes and garden with simulated daylight, often causing significant glare and nuisance to others, both near and far.

Understandably we can be quite protective of our need for light at night. Let’s face it, we all need it, whether it’s for safe working, recreation, getting to our front door with shopping bags and children in tow or for general feelings of security. At the same time though, we can probably all think of poor examples of lighting, from inconsiderate neighbours keeping us awake into the night, car sales forecourts dangerously dazzling us when driving past, long after closing time or that one floodlight we can see for miles in an otherwise dark and tranquil remote landscape.

The impact of a single farm floodlight on the night sky during a stargazing event (image: Richard Darn)

The rhythms of life
The impacts of light pollution go much further than ‘just’ causing a nuisance. It prevents us from seeing something humans have been able to see for thousands of years, something that has inspired humans to seek to understand our place in the universe, to help explain the fundamentals of science we now take for granted and even helped us navigate, long before we had maps or smartphones.

Throughout evolution, circadian rhythms, present in most living things have been responsible for natural sleep wake cycles. As daylight fades, replaced by warmer light then darkness, it signals physiological changes which signal a slowdown, which prepares us for sleep.

ALAN disrupts these natural rhythms, altering animal and plant behaviour. It can cause bats to think it’s still daylight so they stay in the roost instead of feeding and mating. It attracts moths which increases their predation and prevents them undertaking their role as nocturnal pollinators.

Research to assess the impact of artificial light on insects is ongoing. In mini-ecosystems in the Netherlands, researchers test the effects of artificial light. Credit: Kamiel Spoelstra/NIOO-KNAW.

It even disrupts the migratory behaviour of birds and the dormancy cycles of trees and plants can be altered, impacting on their ability to survive the rigors of winter. As if that’s not enough, study after study shows that too much light (especially blue light) at night also disrupts human circadian rhythms, which has been attributed to weight gain, stress, depression, diabetes and even heart disease and some types of cancer.

We know that many living things are already struggling to adapt to accelerated climate change over the past century. Widespread use of LED lighting technology though is little more than 10 years old and, through an increasing number of studies, we are just beginning to understand the impacts, which, left unchecked, could be devastating for wildlife and human health.

Conservation at the flick of a switch
It’s not often in the world of conservation, at a time when we’re tackling complex ecosystem problems, that we can legitimately say that a problem is solvable at the flick of a switch. Imagine if we could crack plastic pollution, noise pollution or vehicle pollution often with little or no cost or, if in fact that in solving the problem, we would actually save money! Wouldn’t that be something?

In the case of light pollution though, for the most part, it really can be that easy. Tilting lights down to only light where we need and switching them on only when required, and sensitively using low power LED lighting at a level suitable for the situation, will save energy and money. It will also prevent nuisance light pollution from wasted upward light and glare.

The answer isn’t simply urging us all to switch off lights though, with a bit of thought and effort, we can have the best of both worlds. By only lighting what we need, when we need it and at a level suitable for the situation, we can protect our dark skies, our nocturnal animals and even our human health whilst still having enough light to work, play and feel safe at night.

It’s all about control
Think about how you feel when you’re driving towards an inconsiderate or forgetful driver who keeps their lights on full beam, dazzling you and causing danger to other road users. It’s easy to fit a floodlight and angle it up at 45 degrees thinking it’s doing the job intended when in fact half of the light is being projected above horizontal into the sky. So with the exception of those trying to signal the caped crusader or visitors from outer space, that’s up to 50% of light completely wasted. Additionally if we look at those lights, we’re dazzled, preventing us from seeing properly, especially into the deep shadows created, which contributes to reduced safety rather than improving it.

Image source: darksky.org

It’s also understandable to think that leaving lights on all night will offer more security but it has two significantly negative impacts:

  1. It advertises our location for miles around so those unwelcome visitors looking for opportunities will know where to look.
  2. If lights are on all night, we have no idea whether somebody is meant to be there or not.

Using sensors for instance will immediately alert us if there’s an unexpected presence. If we’re concerned about animals setting them off then selecting a light with a separate sensor can help solve this by allowing the light and the sensor to be angled independently of each other.

Warm light good – Cool light bad
The colour temperature or warmth of the light is also very important. Warmer light has less impact on nature and human health. It mimics evening light (remember those circadian rhythms) as the end of the day is approaching and is much less likely to cause disruption to the natural world. Warm light also triggers feelings of relaxation, safety and welcome, most likely developed over thousands of years of sitting around the warm light of camp fires with friends and family, and feeling safe from predators.

Think about driving past that shop, hotel or pub at night and consider what looks and feels more welcoming, warm cosy light or harsh blue white light? Another impact of blue white light is that it scatters much more readily into the atmosphere which means it can cause much greater sky glow if installed incorrectly.

The colour temperature of light is measured in kelvin (k). 3000k is considered a key threshold. Below this is considered warm and over is considered cool. Dark Skies friendly lighting should have a recommended colour temperature of 2700k but where technology or availability doesn’t allow then 3000k should be considered an absolute maximum. The good news is that most lights and bulbs are available in warm white and have this specification stated on the box. It will also usually show the amount of light given off in lumens. 500 lumens is usually ample for most residential applications.

DID YOU KNOW? North Yorkshire County Council have agreed to install fully shielded streetlights with a maximum colour temperature of 3000k in our protected landscape.

How did the Turtle Doves in North Yorkshire do this year?

Richard Baines – Volunteer North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

2020 Breeding Season

Many people ask me ‘how did the Turtle Doves in North Yorkshire do this year?’ This is always a tricky one to answer because we have only been conducting surveys for five years. This is a short time scale to confirm a population trend. However, this year has been amazing for several reasons. The great weather in spring got us off to an excellent start and must have been good for returning doves. Despite observing the lockdown restrictions at all times we managed to monitor 20 population squares and conduct both visits in each square.

Turtle Dove - North Yorks Forests, Spring 2020. Copyright Richard Baines.

Turtle Dove in North Yorkshire 2021. Copyright Richard Baines.

A maximum of 33 and a minimum of 23 singing males were found in these 1km squares. Turtle Doves were found in 50% of the twenty squares. This compares well to previous years but may have been helped by the good weather. During the surveys I realised how important it is to conduct a Turtle Dove breeding survey in still conditions. It would have been so easy to miss a purring Turtle Dove on a windy morning.

Many additional sightings were sent in to our project this year, a total of 270 birds. Many of the casual sightings will have been seen more than once but the good news is this was 28 more than 2019. These included a minimum of 63 singing males which were found in locations away from our formal survey squares. This gives a minimum total of 86 singing males in our project area in 2020. The number of unique singing males found in each of the four years of our project has been consistently between 50 and 100 birds.

Turtle Dove - North Yor4kshire, July 2020. Copyright Richard Baines.

Turtle Dove in North Yorkshire 2021. Copyright Richard Baines.

With less surveys being possible in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions we are very pleased with the results. A Big Thank You to everyone who sent us their sightings this year. We now know where most of our Turtle Doves are in North Yorkshire. This is a big help, allowing us to target conservation work in the areas where Turtle Doves need it most.

2021 Surveys

 We are hoping to be able to carry out the full suite of North Yorkshire Turtle Dove surveys next spring. We will shortly be announcing the dates for our annual April volunteer meetings, either at one of our regular venues or, if necessary, virtually. Its really important we keep up these surveys and continue working equally hard on improving habitat for Turtle Doves in our area. If you are new to our project and would like to volunteer please email.

Collaborative approaches

Aside

This autumn a collaborative conservation effort began at Robin Hood’s Bay to restore the cliff slope grassland there. It will be followed up with a programme of enhancement management to maintain this important habitat and its species. You can read about it on the excellent Connecting for Nature Blog.