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.

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

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

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.

Good news story

From the Updale Natural History Recorder

Barn owl (Tyto alba) makes full recovery

Barn owls, such an iconic species of our countryside, are on the increase in many areas of the North York Moors, helped in part, by recent mild winters. However, good habitat management and providing nest boxes has played an important part. Barn owls are extremely vulnerable in prolonged wet weather and extended periods of laying snow, both conditions prevent them seeking prey items such as voles and shrews. Monitoring of barn owls takes place by Schedule 1 Licence holders as part of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing and nest recording programme. This provides valuable data on survival rates and suitable habitat in order to best direct conservation efforts.

Many young barn owls were ringed before they fledged their nests this season within the North York Moors National Park by members of Tees Ringing Group. When a barn owl is found with a ring on its leg, the unique number tells us where it was ringed and therefore how far it has travelled and how old it is. One such barn owl was recovered recently and now it’s got a beer named after it.

Image of Tyto Alba beer by Great Newtome BreweryOn 28 September, a juvenile barn owl was found with a injured wing on land at Great Newsome Brewery near Hull. It had been ringed as a nestling in a tree cavity on 24 June earlier this year at Rosedale. On fledging the nest, it had dispersed a massive 89kms/60miles. It was nursed back to health in Hull and successfully released back at the brewery site on 6 November. The brewery named their latest trial beer after it, Tyto alba, a hoppy pale ale. What a great success story.

Barn Owl - copyright Updale Natural History Recorder

Band of Six

Our Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme has been active now for over 16 months; it’s had quite a time so far. We thought it would be courteous to introduce the very adaptable delivery team.

Upper reaches of the Rye catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

“I’m Alex, the Programme Manager for Ryevitalise. My main role is to work closely with all of our wonderful partners and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver our Ryevitalise vision to ‘conserve, enhance and restore the natural and cultural heritage of the area, enabling people to reconnect with the history, wildlife and landscapes of the River Rye and its tributaries’.

I’ve always had a passion for nature. Growing up locally I have great childhood memories of taking part in lots of activities with the North York Moors National Park. In my early teens my family moved to the Falkland Islands where I was fortunate to volunteer for Falklands Conservation, spending days on end undertaking penguin chick census checks … it was amazing! My family then moved to Ascension Island where I carried out bird, turtle and endemic plant counts, and these experiences led me to pursue a career in conservation.

Alex Cripps, Ryevitalise Programme Manager. Copyright NYMNPA.I studied Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia, including a year in Canada – my dissertation focused on the impacts of habitat fragmentation on ungulates (moose, elk and deer) near Banff National Park. I then spent two years travelling and working in New Zealand before I decided I’d better get a ‘real’ job.

I was delighted to be offered a job in 2013 working for the North York Moors National Park as their Conservation Graduate Trainee. Since then I have developed a huge passion for rivers; I became the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer in 2014 before taking on the role of Ryevitalise Catchment Restoration Officer in 2017, part of a small team to develop Ryevitalise. In 2018 the final Ryevitalise application was submitted and now here we are, delivering this ambitious landscape partnership scheme and it’s great to be leading the team as Programme Manager.

I love sharing my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that our freshwater habitats and surrounding areas support. For those of you who know me you will know that I absolutely love aquatic invertebrates – one of my favourite moments in the Rye catchment was watching mayflies dancing above the River Rye near Helmsley, there’s nearly always a dipper bobbing about here too.

Ryevitalise will be raising the profile of rivers, looking at how valuable these ecosystems are and how important they are to local communities. We will be working alongside local communities, including land managers and young people, reconnecting people to their local river systems and exploring how simple every day actions to help care for our rivers can collectively make a huge, positive difference. So it’s great to be underway, delivering a wide variety of projects, and I look forward to meeting some of you soon!”

Mayflies dancing above the River Rye near Helmsley. Copyright Alex Cripps, NYMNPA.

“Hi everyone. My name’s Paul Thompson and I’m the Programme Officer for Ryevitalise currently overseeing our ancient woodland restoration work, access improvements, and community arts project. I’ve also been supporting land managers in Bilsdale carrying Paul Thompson, Ryevitalise Programme Officer. Copyright NYMNPA.out habitat improvement works. I’ve been really inspired by our community who care passionately about our local heritage and rural landscape. Finding solutions to key conservation challenges that benefit people, the economy and the environment is incredibly rewarding, and demonstrates the power of National Lottery Heritage Fund’s landscape partnerships.”

View of Hawnby Hill. Copyright Paul Thompson, NYMNPA.

“Hello! I’m Amy, Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer; my job is exactly what it says really. Anything from working with schools, volunteers, local communities, running events and bit of historical work thrown in for good measure!

I started conservation life as a seasonal ranger for the National Trust on the lovely South East Cornish coast. Then moving closer to home to work for the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust as part of the River Tees Rediscovered project. All my roles have involved people (and rivers) in some way! Whether it’s bossing… I mean working with… volunteers; mammal surveying, running community events or working with local people of all ages. I love seeing folks reaction to the first path they have built, catching their first tad pole or that first cup of tea after a gruelling task. It’s amazing how inclusive conservation can be; wildlife doesn’t care who you are or what you can do.

Having spent many of my days as a teenager walking the Cleveland Way and hiking up Hasty Bank, it’s great to actually work here and show off what a lovely place the Ryevitalise area is!”

Cleveland Hills from Urra Dyke at top of Rye Catchment. Copyright Simon Bassindale.

“Hi! I’m James and I’m the Catchment Restoration Officer. Essentially my job involves working to improve the water quality of the River Rye by engaging with land owners, whether by creating conservation agreements which typically address point source James Caldwell, Ryevitalise Catchment Restoration Officerpollution issues, promoting opportunities to increase habitat connectivity, controlling invasive species, or helping to create a more natural river by removing obstacles to fish migration.

I had a rural upbringing and have always had a passion for the environment which is reflected in my career choice, starting as an assistant ranger for a trust in Peterborough, moving to a countryside ranger position with a borough council in Surrey and most recently settling at the North York Moors National Park Authority. 

I enjoy exploring, whether walking, running or cycling, and am delighted to have such variety on the doorstep that also forms my wider “office” and supplies great photo worthy content.”

Byland Abbey. Copyright NYMNPA.

“Hi everybody! I’m Sam Lewsey, the Field Officer for the Ryevitalise project and my main areas of responsibility are the citizen science programme, and the delivery of practical works with our wonderful volunteers.

Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field OfficerI came to the North York Moors from the National Trust, where I worked as a Ranger for the last few years, and before that I worked for Cambridge University. Both my parents had a huge love of the great outdoors and natural history, and this was something I picked up from an early age. I am passionate about wildlife and love working with volunteers setting up programmes of surveying – developing my own ID skills and helping others develop theirs. Hay meadows and their associated pollinators hold a particular fascination for me. When not crawling about looking at wildflowers and fungi you’ll find me out on a run – the longer and hillier the better!

If you’re keen to get involved in volunteering with us please give me a shout and I can talk you through the opportunities that are available within this fantastic scheme.”

Riparian woodland in autumn, near Hawnby - copyright Paul Harris, NYMNPA

“Hi everyone – my name’s Ann Pease and I am the Administration Assistant for Ryevitalise, overseeing all of the background paperwork that keeps the project ticking Anne Pease, Ryevitalise Administration Assistantalong! One of my many roles is liaising between the team and the National Lottery, helping to collate and provide the evidence needed to receive our funding. 

I’ve volunteered for many years across the conservation sector – and am over the moon to be able to work on a project having such a positive effect on our areas landscape and wildlife. 

Being a local girl I am deeply connected to this landscape – I’ve spent much of my life up on the North York Moors and it’s great to see this project champion what makes the area so special. 

If I’m not working you’ll probably find me out walking somewhere – I am a big fan of National Trails and long distance walks…I am also a big fan of butterflies, moths and birds of prey and never miss a chance to have a bit of a geek out!

At the moment I am on maternity leave having had a baby boy in July (mid lockdown!), so am watching from afar – but am very much looking forward to being back in February to see how the project is getting on…”Ryevitalise logo banner

No lockdown for Ring Ouzels

Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder

We have been studying Ring Ouzels on the North York Moors for over 20 years. This has involved intensive fieldwork every week throughout each breeding season, commencing before the birds return from North Africa in order to establish first arrival dates. Courtship behaviour, nest building, egg laying, the hatching and fledging of chicks and levels of predation have all been carefully monitored. Simple and complex song was also recorded and analysed and the presence of a local dialect established. Conservation measures were identified and implemented. Although our intensive study had ended, we had hoped to continue to maintain a general overview of the Ring Ouzel’s foothold on the North York Moors again this year.

An early indication of problems ahead came when the annual meeting of the UK Ring Ouzel Study Group in Penrith on 21 March this year was cancelled in view of the imminent pandemic lockdown. Shortly afterwards, the BTO and RSPB suspended all survey work, nest monitoring and bird ringing and it became clear that our own observations were also going to be severely affected.

Although our ability to monitor them this year has been severely disrupted, this remarkable bird’s annual struggle for survival has continued on our doorstep.

It was sunny with a cold wind in Rosedale on 21 March and with travel about to be severely curtailed, it was cheering to watch Curlews and Lapwings back on their upland breeding grounds but even more special was the sight of two Wheatears which are often the first migrants to arrive back in the dale. Sudden chacking at Nab Scar then revealed the exciting sight of the first Ring Ouzel of the year to return to Rosedale from their winter quarters.

Wheatear, Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.

As more ouzels gradually returned to local sites, small groups of ouzels (presumed to be passage birds i.e. migratory birds on their way to somewhere else) were also reported from a number of locations during much of April.

With restrictions still at a high-level, the permitted daily exercise walks provided a real treat on 29 April, when a female Ring Ouzel was observed gathering nesting material at Sturdy Bank and taking it to a suspected nest site whilst the male was singing nearby. A week later, the female flew into this suspected nest site where she remained and was presumed to be sitting on eggs.

Ring Ouzel, Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.

During the next few weeks, territorial behaviour by two more pairs of ouzels was also reported from Reeking Gill and Reeking Gill South and with the easing of restrictions in mid-May, slightly more detailed monitoring was enabled.

An increasingly rare sight and an experience to treasure occurred on 27 May, when a pair of Cuckoos flew in towards Reeking Gill, the male calling beautifully. When he came to the south end of the embankment a male ouzel promptly chased it away. A few minutes later the male Cuckoo returned to land on a rock just inside the entrance to the gill. As walkers approached, he flew higher up the gill to land in the rowan tree opposite a first brood nest site, at which the second male ouzel immediately chased it down and out of the gill.

Cuckoo, Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.

Three days later two female ouzels were being closely watched at Reeking Gill. A male and at least two fledglings could be seen below the first brood nest site high on the north east side when one female flew up the gill and straight into a new and presumed second brood nest site, almost opposite the first brood nest site and close to where the Cuckoo had been evicted on 27 May. To our great surprise the second female then gave her nest site away by flying straight in to heather just outside the south east entrance of the gill and in the vicinity of the other Cuckoo altercation. The discovery of these new nest sites explained the agitated behaviour of the two male ouzels towards the Cuckoo a few days earlier. Later, the two male ouzels were heard counter-singing.

The welcome easing of restrictions eventually enabled eight nestlings to be fitted with BTO rings at Sturdy Bank and Reeking Gill. The three nests here and the one at Sturdy Bank all fledged young but a nest at Reeking Gill South was predated. Fledged young were also seen at Bank Top, Hob Crag and Blakey on the west side of Rosedale, along with a number of rather inconclusive ouzel sightings. In view of the many constraints it is almost certain that other breeding attempts went undetected in the study area this year.

Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.

Ring Ouzels switch to eating berries as they prepare for migration and during our study, we had become concerned at the lack of regeneration among the scattered rowan trees in the study area.

The Ring Ouzel’s remarkable link with the industrial heritage in Rosedale was recognised during the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We were delighted when as part of a number of biodiversity initiatives a small-scale tree planting project was developed in an attempt to provide a sustainable supply of rowan berries here.

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logo banner

Mature Rowan Trees, Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.It was a sunny day but with a strong chill breeze from the south west when on 3 September we decided to check how well the rowan tree planting was faring. There were widespread reports of good berry crops elsewhere and as we descended below the railway track and worked our way towards Blakey Swang from the south, we could see that the surviving mature rowan trees here were a splendid sight.

We then turned our attention to several small enclosures and scattered individual saplings carefully placed in the vicinity of mature trees along the steep escarpment. In some of the small enclosures we could see that numerous strong saplings had grown well above the tree guards. Vic pointed out a particularly healthy group in one of the highest enclosures and Ken looking through binoculars observed that one bore a small clump of berries. At first, Vic thought that he was joking but the first fruits of the planters’ efforts were there on display. He could not resist the impulse to climb the steep bank for a photo.

Growing Rowan Trees, Rosedale. Copyright Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder.

The full story of this 20-year study by Ken and Vic has now been published and can be enjoyed in The Ring Ouzel: a view from the North York Moors launched this month by Whittles Publishing. Illustrated in full colour throughout and enhanced by superb paintings by local wildlife artist Jonathan Pomroy copies may be ordered at www.whittlespublishing.com  or obtained from the Moors National Park Centre, Danby or from Sutton Bank National Park Centre, as well as a number of other sources.

The Ring Ouzel: a view from the North York Moors - advertisement.

We are extremely grateful for all the support and encouragement we have received from members of the National Park staff throughout the study.

Way! Hey! It’s Lamprey!

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

My friends in the world of fresh water have always tried to convince me that lampreys are beautiful creatures that are an essential part of our eco-system. I was somewhat unconvinced! Their slippery skin, suckers and razor teeth never quite made them the most attractive of animals. Having grappled with measuring elvers in plastic trays in the last Ryevitalise blog post, I was never convinced that neither eels nor lamprey were anything other than something out of a horror film. However whilst Riverfly monitoring on one hot sunny morning recently along with one of our (socially distanced) experienced volunteers, we came across one of the blighters. Even though notoriously difficult to catch, one landed right in our net after our 3 minute kick sample. As our volunteer excitingly popped it onto his hand and waved it in my face, I really wasn’t sure why he was that excited … so he explained how fantastic they were for our rivers.

Young lamprey temporarily caught during recent Ryevitalise Riverfly Monitoring. Copyright Amy Carrick, NYMNPA.

So why the Rye?

Firstly we have three species of lamprey in this country – sea, brook and river lamprey. These have been a rare sight recently in this area until the past few years. As a result of an improvement in water quality, the removal of migratory obstacles and the installation of special tiles that help movement, the lamprey are navigating through the River Derwent. The population has become so important that the lower reaches of the Derwent now have protected status, reflecting the spawning distribution of the species in the catchment.

That this ancient species has made it back up to the River Rye towards the top of the Derwent catchment is very encouraging. Small numbers have been recorded in the past few years by our Riverfly monitors.

So why should we care?

Well over the past few decades high levels of pollution in our rivers has nearly wiped out any chance of seeing lamprey in the UK. All species of lamprey require clean sandy gravels to spawn. The young larvae then swim off to the soft marginal silt of the river to grow; feeding on the algae, bacteria and detritus. Sediments can also smother spawning gravel sites, also effecting other species of fish too. Dramatic changes in water flow and levels also affect these spawning sites. The migratory sea and river lamprey require good water quality to survive their long journey from sea to spawning sites.

This means that if you do have lamprey in your river, something is going right!

So what can we do to help?

Although the fate of the lamprey population depends on the goings on in the lower catchments, the more we can do in the upper catchments to keep lamprey here the better for our freshwater ecosystem, and that’s exactly what the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme is trying to achieve. The reduction in sediments is one of the biggest factors; reducing Himalayan Balsam eroding our river banks, stopping cattle predation in rivers, changing the way riparian land is farmed to reduce runoff, all helps in the battle against sediment. Water level management and the planting of trees also helps with reducing the dramatic water level changes during the winter. And most importantly (slightly biased) is engagement! If people don’t know why we should care for lamprey, then they never will. Sharing the beauty and importance of this slippery creature with as many people as possible will help in protecting these quirky river species.

Did you know for example lamprey predate dinosaurs by 200 million years?! And my favorite – apparently during the Middle Ages, lampreys were widely eaten by the upper classes throughout Europe. It is thought King Henry I died from overindulging on lampreys.

So while I will still recoil in horror at seeing one, I now know how special lamprey are and I will attempt to make these as popular as the cuddly otter or water vole….well one can try…..

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logo band