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.

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.

A to Z: a preponderance of Ps

P

PAWS

Where woodland has existed for at least the last 400 years (c. 1600 AD) it provides an ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ habitat. Around 4% of the North York Moors National Park is classed as ‘Ancient Woodland’ according to Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory. In some places woodland will have existed for much longer.

As well as the removal of woodland, particularly over the last century, there is another slower acting less visible threat to the continuation of ancient semi-natural woodland. This is where ancient woodlands have been planted up with trees such as conifers to create plantation forestry. These sites are still recorded on the Ancient Woodland Inventory, and categorized as ‘Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites’ (PAWS). This conversion leads to a detrimental decay of the ecological value of the woodland habitat from the shading caused by evergreen conifers, the acidic modification of soils, and potentially the management of the woodland to ensure maximum timber production. As well as the gradual decline of woodland flora, mycorrhizal fungi and native tree species; historic features within the woodland and the landscape value of the ancient woodland are also at risk.

Example of PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites) with bare slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

Some habitats can be created/re-created, but when Ancient Woodland is lost it’s gone for generations. However restoration can be possible if it’s not too late. PAWS restoration i.e. management to maintain/enhance the ancient semi-natural woodland habitat elements, comes in many forms and scales from the removal of non-native invasive species like Rhododendron, to the replacement of conifers with predominantly native trees. Like most things to do with woodland, restoration takes time. Partial or limited restoration is often worthwhile, and maintaining the management and value of a woodland is often more beneficial than restoring but then abandoning it. The National Park Authority is keen to work with owners of PAWS to explore what might be done to conserve this significant element of our local natural heritage.

Small scale conifer removal and planting with native species on PAWS slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

 Pecten Seam

The ‘Pecten Seam’ is part of the geological Cleveland Ironstone Formation made up of a number of ironstone seams formed one on top of the other during the Early Jurassic period (c. 199 to c. 175 million years ago). The ironstone seams are made up of shales and sideritic (iron carbonate)/chamosatic (silicate of iron) ironstone which settled at the bottom of the shallow sea across the area which now includes the North York Moors (see also Polyhalite below). The seam is called Pecten after the numerous animal fossils found within it from the Pecten genus (large scallops).

Large scallop shell (Genus - Pecten) from http://www.bgs.ac.uk

The Pecten Seam outcrops around Grosmont in Eskdale and is more important in local history for what it suggested rather than what it delivered. It was the identification of the ironstone in the ‘Pecten Seam’ during the construction of the Whitby and Pickering Railway in 1836 which led to the outbreak of ironstone mining during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills (see This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme). The Pecten Seam was the second ironstone seam down (second latest) and quickly turned out to be of a poor quality, so it was the ‘Main Seam’ on top (the latest) which was largely exploited by the local ironstone industry as it was higher up and so easier to access, it contained more ore, and it was thicker than the other seams making it more cost effective to mine.

On top of the main ironstone seams were further sedimentary layers of shale containing jet, alum, coal, and further ironstone all of which have been exploited at one time or another in the North York Moors.

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

Picturesque

The word picturesque was first used in the latter half of the 18th century to describe a scene worthy of being painted. It has since come to mean traditional and maybe a bit twee, but originally it meant an image that would stir the sensibilities of every right feeling man (and woman) because of its aesthetics and sublimity. The ‘natural’ and dramatic were in fashion and to not be able to appreciate the beautiful dread inspired by a landscape or view was a poor reflection on a gentleman’s character. The North York Moors did not have the grandeur of the Lake District’s mountains or the awe of the glaciers of the Alps, but it was not without its picturesque attractions.

JMW Turner engraved Rievaulx Abbey in 1836 from sketches he made in 1812. The view contains mediaeval romantic ruins (the might of nature overwhelming the vanities of man), wild woods and Italianate steep hills, a glowering sky and rustic peasants: all highly ‘picturesque’. The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey belonged at the time to Duncombe Park, the Estate had both a ruined abbey and a ruined castle (Helmsley) with which to create its own ‘natural’ picturesque landscape for the pleasure and wonder of the Duncombe family and their friends.

Rievaulx Abbey engraved 1836 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Bequeathed by Travers Buxton 1945

Pignut (Conopodium majus)

Pignut is a member of the carrot family, along with parsnip, fennel, parsley and less ‘benign’ plants such as hemlock and giant hogweed. Like some other members of the carrot family it has an edible tuber. The small tubers have been eaten by pigs hence its most common name (another name – St Anthony’s Nut – is because St Anthony is the patron saint of many many things including swine herders), and also by people who like to forage. Obviously never ever eat anything unless you are absolutely definitely sure what it is, and don’t dig on other people’s land without their permission.

Pignut is a short plant which flowers in early summer with tiny delicate white umbels (flat topped flowers on stalks like umbrella spokes coming from a single stem) that together resemble lace. It’s a tough little thing containing both male and female parts and therefore is self-fertile relying on pollinators like hoverflies, and also moths. It is an indicator of grassland/woodland pasture and can be found on road verges and alongside hedges where fragments of old pasture and woodland survive.

Pignut - from http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/pignut.html

 A Particular Pigsty

Usually people probably wouldn’t want to go on holiday to a pigsty, however there is a particular listed building in the North York Moors that isn’t many peoples’ idea of a home for pigs. Described in the listing description as “a large dwelling for pigs” this pigsty was built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century by John Warren Barry – a Whitby shipbuilder and ship owner who was the owner of Fyling Hall near Robin Hood’s Bay. He seems to have been inspired by the classical architecture he came across on his travels around the Mediterranean as the pigsty is built in the style of a Greek temple with timber pediments at both ends and a portico of six timber columns with Ionic capitals in its south side. It contained two small sties, and was intended to provide accommodation for two pigs, whose attendants were to be housed in a pair of neighbouring cottages. The pigs were apparently unimpressed and unappreciative of their sumptuous quarters.

In time, lacking any obvious practical use, the Pigsty fell into a poor state of repair. Luckily it was purchased by The Landmark Trust in the 1980s. The Landmark Trust aims to preserve remarkable buildings by providing them with new purpose. The pigsty has been restored, converted and extended for use as a holiday cottage. The extension is minimal which enables the principal building to remain the main focus and the conversion works have managed to maintain the original character. The Pigsty certainly adds to the diversity of the built conservation of the North York Moors.

The Pigsty, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright The Landmark Trust.

It was apparently Mr Barry’s intention that the pigs should enjoy unrivalled views across Robin Hood’s Bay – a privilege that holiday-makers instead are fortunate to have today!

Primitive Methodists

In a number of villages and dales in the North York Moors as well as an established Church building there will be a Methodist Chapel building (sometimes known as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel), and in some there also is, or was, a Primitive Methodist Chapel in close proximity.

View of the Rosedale Abbey Primitive Methodist Chapel, in close proximity to the Church of England church and churchyard. Copyright Rosedale History Society.

Methodism had made early in-roads in the North York Moors in the 18th century where the location of the area, out on a limb, provided a home for dissenting religion. The Primitive Methodist ‘connection’ splintered off from the Methodist Church at the beginning of the 19th century when the preachers William Clowes and Hugh Bourne were dismissed from the main congregation. Primitive Methodism was so called because its converts believed it was they who were following more strictly and truly in the footsteps of original Methodism and its founder John Wesley. One particular aspect of early Primitive Methodism was the holding of open air prayer meetings encouraging evangelical conversions, as the Wesleys had done in the century before. This was at a time when the meeting of ordinary people in groups, unsanctioned by Society and Authority, were considered a danger to the status quo.

‘On Sunday, July 30th [1820], he [William Clowes, one of two founders of the Primitive Methodist connection] conducted a camp-meeting [open air meeting] upon a depressed part of a mountain called Scarth Nick [near to Osmotherley]. About two thousand persons were supposed to be present. The Word preached was attended with much Divine power; the prayers of the people were very fervent, and many sinners were deeply impressed. Four or five persons were made happy in the love of God; one of whom, a farmer, was so overjoyed that he called upon the hills and dales, and every thing that had breath, to help him to praise God. He afterwards hastened home, and told his wife and servant what the Lord had done for his soul, and they also sought and found the salvation of God….He [Clowes] had invitations to Weathercote, and to Auterly [now Orterley] in Bilsdale [these two sites are still farmsteads], at both of which he preached with great effect, and many were brought to God. Many exciting scenes were witnessed during his missionary tour in this district, and a great awakening took place among the inhabitants, which we can not particularize’.
A History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion by John Petty, 1864.

The Primitive Methodists emphasized the role of the lay congregation rather than a clerical hierarchy and this included a sense of equality that allowed for women preachers. They valued simplicity in worship and believed that their Christianity demanded political engagement in the modern world. Primitive Methodism appealed particularly to the rural poor and the industrial immigrant labourers, to whom the promise of reward in heaven might have seemed like a longed for relief.

‘Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power:
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more’
The Primitive Methodist Hymnal, 1889

The Primitive Methodist Church in Britain reunited with the main Methodist Church in 1932.

Polyhalite

Polyhalite is a mineral lying deep (over 1,000 metres) under the North Sea and along the eastern edge of the National Park; it’s a type of Potash. It was formed over 260 million years ago as salts were deposited in a shallow sedimentary sea as it evaporated. Polyhalite specifically contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur; useful components in agriculture fertilizer.

Alongside the existing Cleveland Potash Mine at Boulby (ICL UK), over the next 5 years the new Woodsmith Mine (Sirius Minerals) is being constructed in the National Park to extract naturally formed polyhalite for commercial use. The new mine is expected to be operational by 2021 and whilst the development work is taking place, a whole range of compensatory and mitigation projects to enhance the natural and historic environment and to promote tourism in the wider area are being delivered. The first of these initial priority projects for this year include the upgrading of a 4km section of the Coast to Coast at Littlebeck and improvements to the Lyke Wake Walk, repairs and renovations to the Grade 1 listed Old St Stephen’s Church at Robin Hood’s Bay with The Churches Conservation Trust, and habitat restoration within Harwood Dale Forest.Old St Stephen's, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O       

What on earth is going on?

Gallery

This gallery contains 55 photos.

This Exploited Land of Iron is our HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme focused on the ‘blazing, booming, enterprising’* ironstone industry in and around the North York Moors in the 19th century, and its surviving legacy. The Scheme was officially launched in … Continue reading

Feathered courtship

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

No matter how much you plan wildlife photography sometimes the sweetest moments arrive when you least expect it. On the afternoon of 15 May back in 2015 Richard Bennet called into Sutton Bank National Park Centre for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, unaware of the lovey-dovey scene he was about to witness.

The café windows were an irresistible draw for Richard who is a keen birder and photographer. As he sat down he noticed two Turtle Doves feeding on the ground beneath the bird feeders. Very pleased with this sighting he took several photos.

After feeding for a little while the two birds then flew up into the trees and performed a courtship routine right in front of the café window! Richard completely forgot about his cake as the opportunity for photographing the unfolding love scene outside was a far sweeter treat.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

Richard has kindly allowed our new North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project access to his gallery to promote the conservation of this beautiful bird.

Now at the end of August it’s post breeding time for our Turtle Doves, the young have fledged the nests. The birds will gather at the best feeding sites, often not far from where they have been nesting, to put on as much fat as possible prior to migrating back to Africa (Mali) in September. We’re looking forward to seeing them again next year.

 

Letter from Scotland

Sam Jones – previous River Esk Project Student

I still recall the morning as, fresh-faced and hopeful, I sat in the back of a bus trundling along country roads towards the North York Moors. As we turned a corner and crested a ridge I was gifted my first view of the National Park and I could feel butterflies in my stomach, this would be my first real job in conservation. This was the start of my life serving the environment as I saw it then (and still do now I suppose). That was about four years ago, things have moved on quite a bit since then.

I worked for the National Park Authority on a year in industry placement back in my third year of University assisting with the Esk Pearl Mussel Salmon Recovery Project lead by Simon Hirst aimed at conserving the remaining Freshwater pearl mussel population in the River Esk. It was a wonderful and varied experience.

At the end of my time I spent a week wading through ocherous becks in the very upper reaches of the Murk Esk. I was rather cheekily using my last few weeks working at the National Park to collect data for my upcoming final year project. I collected samples of upland invertebrates from becks through moorland and coniferous woodland to test the effects of acidification on aquatic life, and to see how the impacts of acidic moorland and plantation woodlands compare. My project has now been published although you need journal access to see the whole thing. Simon has asked me for a basic summary of my findings and conclusions – so here goes…

I used aquatic invertebrates as indicators of environmental degradation. It’s well recognised that moorlands and uplands can have acidification issues, and the North York Moors may well be one of the most extreme areas for it in the UK with its nearby zones of industry. Acid issues have been recorded in local becks in the past, including severe fish kills. However my results were a little surprising. Originally I thought that plantation woodland, being the newer and least natural habitat (compared to moorland which is also man-made habitat), and having less ability to slow down and buffer the incoming water, would have a much more degraded community. However, my results showed significantly more acid sensitive species living in the woodlands than the moorland. This was despite the fact that previous studies had recorded lower pH values (i.e. more acidic) in plantations than in moorlands. I think that the reason for this is the woodlands provide a more diverse and richer freshwater environment for the invertebrates to live in. This is a good sign as it shows that the conifer plantation woodland, that so much of our countryside is dominated by, may not have such a bad effect on aquatic life as once assumed. The aquatic communities were also generally healthier than would have been expected given the severe acidification. I think this shows that the species of invertebrates living in the uplands of the North York Moors are well adapted for highly acid conditions and that, despite the seemingly poor chemical results, life in the upland becks is thriving.

What happened next? After I graduated from the University of York I went on to work for Natural England, the Environment Agency and now I’m part of an ecological consultancy. I’ve come full circle, and recently I was lucky enough to get accepted for a PhD up in Inverness studying Freshwater pearl mussels. Apparently they needed someone with more waders and bucket experience than lab experience, and I fitted the bill.

Scotland is one the great bastions of the Freshwater pearl mussels with populations of tens of thousands in numerous rivers and multiple populations with favourable age structures and reproductive ability (unlike in the Esk sadly). As such, my PhD is to study these populations and monitor them using traditional methods. However the focus of the investigation is to allow comparison of conventional survey methods with new eDNA techniques. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a method of monitoring species or habitats using the DNA that is freely found in the environment. All organisms living in an environment discard DNA, whether through waste, dead cells, carcasses, etc. and this can be picked up in trace amounts in water, soil, and even air. With Freshwater pearl mussels the hope is that DNA markers and techniques can be designed to allow detection of small or isolated populations of pearl mussels in rivers simply from a scoop of river water downstream of these prospective populations. There is also potential that the techniques could be used to monitor the size, health and population structure of these populations and perhaps even help identify sub species or genetically distinct populations. Whether this is possible or not, the possibility of cheaper and easier monitoring of pearl mussels fundamentally helps with conservation efforts.

I’m hoping to be able to keep Simon and the Esk Project up to date with our findings and perhaps provide some new information and techniques that may help the Esk’s own struggling mussels over time.

Anyway, that’s my little summary of things. I hope you guys found this interesting.

Thanks for reading, and keep on supporting the National Park,

Sam

Attritional conservation

Seas of Green – UPDATE

Last September we reported on the installation of black plastic sheeting on a couple of ponds in Bilsdale with the aim of shading out the non-native invasive plant species – New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii – which was accidentally flourishing there. The idea was to give the plant a taste of its own medicine by depriving it of light.

By two months the pigmyweed was becoming etiolated – pale and weakened due to the loss of sunlight – indicting the sheeting was effecting growth.

Crassula helmsii two months after black plastic sheeting applied. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sheeting was left on the two ponds through the winter and spring, and a second survey was carried out this July. The sheeting has killed off 100% of the pigmyweed that was covered, however pigmyweed plants remain around the edges of the ponds, where it was difficult to install the sheeting due to the surrounding vegetation and irregular shape of the pond edges.

One of the ponds covered by the black plastic sheeting July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contrast between the remaining Crassula helmsii at the edge of teh pond and under where the sheeting where the plant is now dead, July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.The National Park Authority’s southern Apprentice Team will be spraying off the pigmyweed round the edge with a herbicide. The sheeting will remain on the ponds until at least late autumn to try to finish off this invasive species once and for all in this location, allowing the biodiversity of the ponds to recover.

Other non-native invasive plant species

New Zealand pigmyweed is one of the most common non-native invasive plant species found in England, along with Common rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica, and Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. They were all introduced into the UK as garden plants. All of these species are present in the North York Moors to some extent, and work continues to control these particular plant species, without natural competition and predators, that can have such a detrimental effect on the area’s habitats and water quality.

We’re grant aiding the removal of rhododendron from important Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sties (PAWS), to help let in the light and give native ground flora a better chance of survival. Rhododendron can harbour the Phytopthora ramorum pathogen which is a great threat to forest species such as larch.

Himalayan balsam can be pulled out/cut down by hand but this needs to be done before the seeds are setting (August/September) because one shake of a plant can release 1000s of seeds that can travel up to seven metres potentially creating 1000s of new plants. Repeatedly removing the plants from a location before they can seed over a number of years will eventually mean this annual plant no longer regenerates there.

Japanese knotweed is trickier to tackle because it needs to be treated by careful herbicide injection. Repeated treatment can kill the rhizome which is so effective at spreading. The accidental breaking up of live rhizomes can spread the plant expediently. Careful disposal is vital.

We’re currently making best use of four years of funding from Yorkshire Water to tackle Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed along the banks of the Rivers Esk, Rye, Seph and Seven, through whole catchments and sub-catchments starting at the top. Both species are particularly menacing to river habitats as they out compete evergreen native species and die back in the winter leaving banks bare and prone to erosion increasing the sediment loads in the water.

Giant hogweed isn’t quite so common as the other plants in this area. It can be dangerous to deal with because its sap can burn skin so it needs to be treated with care. It can be cut down or tackled with herbicides, but like all non-native invasive species repeat control will be necessary to achieve eradication at a site.

There are lots of initiatives now across the country to address the threat of these out of place species, it can sometimes seem overwhelming but concerted repeated local efforts can have an effect.

Historical woodlands

Around the North York Moors there are mediaeval place names that indicate the presence of managed woodland in the past, and in some cases the woodlands and the names are still present today. Where a woodland has existed for at least 400 years it is classed an ‘ancient’.

Hagg or Hag, Spring and Fall in a name suggest growing/managed/enclosed woodland. Hagg/Hag and Spring are both common in the North York Moors, Fall less so. There are numerous unimaginative but practical occurrences of ‘Hagg Wood’ and ‘Spring Wood’, as well as Hagg End, Hagg House, Hagg Common, Spring House, Hagg Hall and Spring Farm. There are also both ‘Ash Hagg’ and ‘Birch Hagg’; these two tree species respond well to coppicing.

Brockill Hagg, Skiplam - the multi stemmed tree in the forefront at the right is a lime, lime is one of the indicator species of ancient woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ancient woods are as near to natural as woodland can be in this country, however they are unlikely to be entirely natural. Most woodlands has been managed in some way in the past. In the mediaeval period timber, coppiced wood, pollarded wood and the underwood itself were valuable for fuel and materials. Woodlands were managed, just as fields were cultivated, to produce a valued crop. A managed wood could be sustained over time to regenerate with new wood growth and made to be valuable to its owner and others with rights to its commodities. Planting new woodlands (i.e. plantations) and waiting for years for the trees to grow required the luxury of long term thinking beyond normal life spans.

Greencliff Hagg Wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

The two main types of mediaeval woodland management – as recorded in the Domesday Book – were coppicing (silva minuta – small wood) and wood pasture (silva pastilis).

Coppicing is where the trunks of trees are cut leaving the stump to regrow, many native broadleaves respond well to coppicing and produce new wood. Areas of coppiced wood would need to be enclosed to prevent stock chewing on the new growth hence the use of the word hagg meaning fenced enclosure. By careful rotation over the years a coppiced woodland could be maintained to produce all sorts of different size and types of wood product. One particularly important product was charcoal or white coal (dried wood – not carbonised like charcoal), usually manufactured on site and used as fuel for nearby industrial enterprises such as iron production. The big medieval monastic organisations e.g. Rievaulx Abbey, were early industrial pioneers. Close to the Rievaulx site are Lambert Hag Wood, Greencliffe Hag Wood, Abbot Hagg Wood and Hags Wood.

Brockill Hagg, Skiplam - you can see how conifers have been planted onto this ancient woodland site. Copyright NYMNPA.

Wood pasture was usually common land where commoners could graze stock and collect firewood and occasionally timber. The presence of stock would keep the number of trees down as they nibble at new growth. Without continued grazing, sites of previous wood pasture may now have become denser woodland. One element that might indicate a wood pasture origin is the presence of pollarded trees – lower branches were removed to encourage growth higher up in the trees to produce new wood out of the reach of the stock. The shapes of the oldest trees may still indicate this past practice.

Mitchell Hagg Wood, Fadmoor. Copyright NYMNPA.

About half of Britain’s ancient woods are still made up of native trees and so are known as ‘ancient semi-natural woodlands’; others have been planted with newer non-native species. Ancient semi-natural woodlands have usually regenerated through coppicing or by the natural regeneration of native trees on the site. Only 1.2% of Britain is ancient semi natural woodland.

Ancient woods provide a link between man and his environment over time and so are of cultural and archaeological as well as landscape importance. An ancient wood also provides a specific biodiverse habitat – soils which have only been minimally disturbed and contain remnant ground flora and fungi, as well as native tree stocks that have regenerated in that place, over the centuries. The habitat still requires management to replicate the past and retain the open woodland species which developed. Once any of these elements are lost, they cannot be replaced and the ancient woodland becomes a fragmented echo of itself.

Mitchell Hagg Wood, Fadmoor - the remnants of broadleaved woodland are surrounded by conifers making this a Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). Copyright NYMNPA.

Thanks to Historical Atlas of North Yorkshire, edited by Robin A Butlin.

Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.