Traversing the Esk

Christopher Watt – River Esk Project Officer

Hi there, I’m Chris and I’ve just recently joined the National Park Authority as a River Esk Project Officer, having moved down from Scotland, and seemingly brought the weather with me! My role will involve working with farmers and landowners to implement river restoration techniques that seek to improve the water quality of the River Esk catchment.

Over the last month I have started to piece together the Esk catchment, worked with volunteers in delivering practical tasks and began undertaking fish obstacle river surveys. It has certainly been a varied introduction to the role and area.

Autumn colours in Westeredale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Volunteers braved the drizzly elements back in October to repair a broken fence on the River Esk, near Castleton. Thankfully, the task allowed us to remain on dry land and avoid venturing into the river which was rather swollen after recent heavy rainfall. A bankside tree had fallen and crushed a section of the fence-line, slackening the wire and dislodging posts. The volunteers assisted with installing new posts, including a heavy duty straining post, re-attaching the wires and finally tightening them. The volunteers worked extremely hard and it was a pleasure to meet and work with them. The task was also completed in one afternoon and the sun even came out, which is a bonus!

This task was one of the many on-going works to restore and enhance the riparian habitats of the River Esk. Maintaining riverside fences assists in keeping cattle and sheep away from the bankside vegetation and so causing sediment loading through erosion. Bankside vegetation stabilises the soil and is an important habitat in its own right. The reduction of sediment loading should help improve conditions for conservation priority species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) which favour clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams.

In combination to riparian habitat enhancements, we have also been undertaking fish obstacle surveys stretching from Westerdale down  to Goathland. These involve inspecting an assortment of obstructions from weirs, fords and culverts and assessing how severe they impinge on fish migration. At each obstacle the length, width and height are recorded, along with a written assessment of the level of severity the obstacle poses to migrating fish populations.  

Esk Catchment weir after high rainfall event. Copyright NYMNPA.

Due to recent high rainfall, many of these obstacles have been partially or fully submerged, and although looking dramatic, have been just too dangerous to take measurements from. Electro-fishing will also accompany these surveys at a later date to inform us about fish species diversity and abundance at each obstacle. The purpose of these surveys is to update our records on obstructions across the catchment and prioritise where mitigation measures would best be targeted to benefit fish populations of the Esk. Migratory fish are a vital aspect of the biodiversity of the river.

Esk Catchment culvert and ford system. Copyright NYMNPA.

Electrifying activities

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

Last week some National Park Volunteers (all fully trained) have finally been able to carry out the first electro fishing surveys this year along the River Esk. Delays had been caused by the weather.

The priority are sites up and downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and one Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) in the upper catchment. The first day of surveying was at Commondale.

The concept of electro fishing is to collect samples of fish living within the river, the higher the fish count the healthier the river should be. This will also show the type of fish living in our rivers, the cleanliness of the river and theoretically what the invertebrate population is like along that stretch of river.

The river levels had settled down by Thursday meaning the water was back to a slow flow and all the previous rain had made the water clear giving the perfect conditions for electro fishing.

We fished the river in two 50m sections, one upstream and one downstream of water treatment works. This was done using a zig zag motion to ensure that no area was left unfished. Each 50m section was fished three times to ensure a fair population of fish were caught.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

The equipment used to stun the fish is called an electro fisher and consists of a positive charge the anode at the front and a negative charge called the cathode which trails along the back. These are both attached to a battery which is worn by the person conducting the fishing, today it was Volunteer Paul. Both the anode and the cathode must be in the water to cause an electro charge which is what stuns the fish, but don’t worry rubber thigh waders were worn by everyone so the electro pulse did not affect us humans like it did the fish. The rest of us were in charge of catching the stunned fish in nets alongside the anode, which is harder than it looks as the fish soon spring back to life! They are then transferred into a bucket from the nets.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

We set the voltage output at 150- 200 volts which is enough to temporarily stun the fish making them easier to catch in the net. Once the section of river has been fished the data collection begins. The fish are identified – on this day we found 57 trout downstream and 104 upstream with the largest being 180mm and the smallest recorded at 52mm. The information collected will now be analysed before being sent onto Yorkshire Water, they will then compare this with the other locations which are due to be fished over the next few weeks, and that will all help inform management of their sites as necessary.

An amazing day was had by all the volunteers and staff that attended. More data collection will happen in the next few weeks on different sites along the Esk.

Esk electro fishing October 2019 - small trout. Copyright NYMNPA.

Much Ado About Mothing

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

MOTH NIGHT

Records generated from moth trapping with light traps by amateurs naturalists all over the UK is the main way conservationists can understand how moth numbers are changing. N.B. The moths are subsequently released unharmed. While many enthusiasts moth trap year round, Moth Night is an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public. It is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Usually held in the summer months, this year it is being held from 26-28 September to target the spectacular (in appearance and in name) Clifden Nonpareil, and other late summer migrants moths.

The records generated from Moth Night, and from all other moth trapping is useful to conservation. While declines in large and ‘charismatic’ species are regularly reported in mainstream media, insects are often forgotten. For example in the UK, Butterfly Conservation reported habitat specialist butterflies (26 species) to have declined by 77% since monitoring was started in 1976, while more generalist butterflies (24 species) decreased by 46%. This is unfortunately also seen on a global scale, with 40% of insect species declining, and a third classified as endangered. It’s also not just the numbers, but the biomass, with the total mass of insects falling by 2.5% a year – suggesting an unsustainable future for populations.

The more we know about insects, the more we can do to try and save them. Below are a few images of moths recently seen within and around the North York Moors, including our own brilliant Clifden Nonpareil – the first time this moth has been seen in Yorkshire for many years.

Further Reading/References
Insect Armageddon: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/insect-armageddon
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

In the Zone

Aside

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project area is now considered a Turtle Dove Friendly Zone. These zones form a loose association of areas in England where Operation Turtle Dove is in action. Here’s a link to a recent Operation Turtle Dove blog post with a bit more info on what’s going on across the different zones including ours.

Let Ryevitalise begin!

Alex Cripps – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

For the last two years we have been leading on the development of Ryevitalise, a landscape partnership scheme focusing on the River Rye and its tributaries.

So we are really delighted to report that we were successful with the final Stage Two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and have been awarded nearly £2 million towards the delivery of this fantastic four-year scheme – starting now.

Top of the Rye Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

With match funding included Ryevitalise is a £3.4 million programme in total, focusing on three key themes:

  • Water quality and the environment – restoring and conserving the aquatic habitats of the Rye and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
  • Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river; and
  • Reconnecting people – improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.

River Rye - copyright NYMNPA.

Ryevitalise is very much a partner-led scheme with over 15 organisations working together to deliver their common goals across this part of the River Rye catchment. The River Rye and its tributaries meander through a variety of landscapes including moorland, upland farmland and lowland arable and livestock farmland; crossing over the National Park boundary into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and into the non-designated wider Ryedale beyond. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work closely with partners like the the Howardian Hills AONB, Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency.  The North York Moors National Park Authority itself is the lead partner and we’re currently recruiting the delivery team.

Rye at Ness. Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

I’ve recently been appointed as the Ryevitalise Programme Manager and I’m really excited about this amazing opportunity to share my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that the freshwater habitats and the surrounding areas support. One of the main goals is to reconnect people with nature and our river environments. I am really keen to raise the profile of rivers by looking at how valuable these ecosystems are, and how important they are to people both within the Ryevitalise area itself but also beyond. Over the next four years 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.

There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, from practical conservation tasks such as Himalayan balsam control to species monitoring. There will also be a programme of expert talks, exhibitions and discovery events. Keep an eye on social media, our website or this blog for further updates once the new team are up and running.

If you are keen to get involved at the start please get in touch, perhaps you are a member of a local community group wanting to know more, a local land manager interested in improving water quality, or you would like to sign up as a Ryevitalise Volunteer – it would be great to hear from you!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

Cumulative enhancements: Part One

Briony Fox – Director of Conservation

Over the last two years, a number of projects have been delivered to enhance the landscape and ecology of the North York Moors National Park.

These projects have been delivered under four key themes – Access, Environment, Cultural Heritage and Tranquility; all related to the special qualities of the National Park.

Here’s a few examples…

Upgrades to Rights of Way such as at Boggle Hole where improvements have been made to the bridleway to the beach by removing steps.

Boggle Hole - before. Copyright NYMNPA.

Boggle Hole - after. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riverbank in poor condition. Copyright NYMNPA.

The restoration of river bank habitat on the river Esk by fencing (to prevent trampling by grazing animals) and planting trees which will in turn stabilise the banks and prevent sediment entering the river, so enhancing water quality which is essential for endangered species such as Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

Tree planting and fencing works to stabilise the bankside. Copyright NYMNPA.

Drystone wall, Coxwold - before repair. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Restoration of historic landscape features such as our iconic dry stone walls

 

Drystone wall, Coxwold - after repair. Copyright NYMNPA.

Commissioning of a Dark Skies Audit to understand where the darkest skies in the park are and to inform policy and a new management plan related to protecting the dark sky asset.

2019 light pollution map of the NYM area with survey points (yellow / green dots) shown.

Areas with the most light pollution are shown in yellow / orange while darker areas are grey. This work will help us to prioritise our efforts to keep our darker areas dark and reduce pollution in our brightest areas.

This is just a snapshot of what we’re doing to enhance the National Park area through this project and this work will continue long into the future. Other work includes ongoing woodland creation to offset carbon emissions and promoting the fabulous activities and opportunities that the North York Moors offers for visitors.

This is only the start.

Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

Looking forward to June

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant, and Sam Newton – Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Trainee

Surrounding the remarkable built heritage remains of the Land of Iron is a patchwork of habitats and species that have withstood the industrial exploitation and managed to find a niche in the landscape left behind. The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund, is working to maintain these habitats and species. Ancient woodland, upland hay meadows and salmon rivers are being enhanced, and by addressing gaps between good habitat the connectivity through the landscape is improved helping wildlife move more freely.

To celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale, one of the key areas of the Land of Iron, a free to attend Wildlife Week is happening from Sunday 23 to Sunday 29 June 2019. The Updale Reading Room (YO18 8RQ) in Rosedale will be the main hub but there will be activities taking place across the dale. This family-friendly week will be full of opportunities to learn all about the remarkable animal and plant life right here in the North York Moors.

Rosedale Wildlife Week poster. Copyright NYMNPA.

Join us during our Wildlife Week as we celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale by encountering a wide array of habitats and species under the guidance of local experts. By identifying and recording what we find during the week you will be helping to further understand, and therefore help protect, the diverse wildlife of this area of past ironstone industry into the future.

The kind of things that are going to be happening include:

  • Aquatic Rosedale – spend the morning visiting some fantastic wildlife ponds and the afternoon identifying aquatic invertebrates;
  • Bats of the Abbey – stay out till midnight to see what happens after dark in Rosedale Abbey village, guided by a local bat expert;
  • Fabulous Flora – learn to recognise wildflowers and grasses in the historic Rosedale Abbey churchyard;
  • Moth Mornings – a great way to discover some of the 2,500 species we have in the UK;
  • Tantalising Talks – from photographing wildlife to goshawks and humpbacks, listen to our experts share their experiences in the wild;
  • Rosedale Abbey Short Nature Walk – a short nature and history-themed walk, accessible to all around Rosedale Abbey village;
  • Wildlife Walks – wildlife-themed walks visiting hidden Hartoft and up-dale Rosedale.

Curlew - image credit: Steve Race.The moorland edge of Rosedale and Hartoft provides great habitat for Curlew. For a chance to view these birds, come along on the Rosedale Wildlife Walk (25 June) or the Hidden Hartoft Wildlife Walk (27 June). Image credit: Steve Race.

Hay Meadow - image credit: NYMNPA.

Rosedale is home to some of the North York Moors’ best remaining species rich grasslands, like this fantastic traditionally managed hay meadow. Come and explore this diverse plant life on the Meadows and Pastures of Rosedale (24 June) Image credit: NYMNPA.

Wood Tiger Moth - image credit: Allan Rodda.

Rosedale’s rich mosaic of habitats will support a wide variety of moths, such as this Wood Tiger. To see what moths we can find, come along on one of the Moth Mornings (23 and 29 June). Image credit: Allan Rodda.

Keep an eye on the Land of Iron website or the National Park’s own What’s On page for programme updates, or else telephone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 to find out more. Please note that certain sessions will be unavoidably inaccessible to wheelchair users due to rough and rugged terrain.

To book onto a session please visit our Eventbrite page and reserve your space to avoid disappointment.

If you are travelling into Rosedale from further afield please think about using the local Moorsbus and other public transport – because its good for the environment, and also because Rosedale has narrow roads and limited parking.

Land of Iron logos

 

Happy Birthday

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer, and Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Forestry Commission England owns/manages considerable land holdings within and around the North York Moors and therefore has had and continues to have a major impact on the landscape and the natural and historic environment of the area.

This year the Forestry Commission is marking its centenary. Timber was a crucial resource in the First World War, relying on imports meant vulnerability and risk. Afterwards the amount of land producing timber in Britain was down to 4%, so the 1919 Forestry Act was passed setting up the original Forestry Commission to plant and manage public woodland and to assist private woodland. The Commission was to drive organised afforestation in order to build up a secure timber reserve.

Ever since then the objectives and priorities of the Commission have adapted to changing governmental policy and shifting environmental and social concerns. Its current mission is increasing the value of woodlands to society and the environment, the majority of its current holdings are mixed multi-purpose forests. As of 2018 10% of Britain is woodland cover.

Ingleby Greenhow Forest in summer. Copyright NYMNPA.

Boltby Forest in autumn. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the North York Moors…

Woodlands cover 22% of the North York Moors National Park and Forestry England (previously known as Forest Enterprise and part of the Forestry Commission) manages 60% of these. So understandably we like to work closely together to achieve the best for both organisations. We do loads of great conservation projects together and here are a few:

Ancient Woodland Restoration
Forestry England manage approximately 45% of the National Park’s Ancient Woodland Sites which have been planted with conifers since World War 2 (known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites – PAWS). They are committed to restoring these sites back to nature-filled native woodland and we help to ensure that this can happen in a timely fashion through our comments on their individual Forest Design Plans which direct forestry management based on the qualities of the different forests. On difficult sites funding can be given through partnership projects like This Exploited Land of Iron to avoid delays and help facilitate management.

Thinning of conifers in Wass Moors and Pry Rigg Forest. Copyright NYMNPA.

Veteran Trees
Forestry England manages a hugely important area of veteran trees at the Deer Park near Helmsley. The National Park Authority and Natural England work together with volunteers to help monitor and manage these amazing natural ancient monuments which support populations of insects, fungi and bats.

One of the Veteran Trees in the Deer Park. Copyright NYMNPA.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project
Volunteers survey forest and farmland for these critically endangered birds and this partnership project will raise awareness at both organisations’ Visitor Centres (Dalby and Sutton Bank) as well as providing more flower seeds and water in key locations. The forests in the south east corner are particularly important for these birds.

Beaver Trial
The National Park have given Forestry England £20,000 towards the setting up and monitoring costs of their exciting Beaver Release Trial in Cropton Forest which will be underway shortly. It will be fascinating to see how much impact the beavers can have on the management of water with the forest.

Ancient semi-natural woodland at Howlgate Head. Copyright NYMNPA.

So Happy Birthday to our friends in Forestry England and the Forestry Commission who are celebrating their 100 years. To celebrate the centenary a new artwork was commissioned – the Nissan Hut by Rachel Whiteread is situated within our own Dalby Forest.

Rachel Whiteread's Nissen Hut (2018) copyright Ben Thomas, Forestry Commission. From www.theartnewspaper.com

If you want to find out more about each element of the Forestry Commission, have a look at these links:
Forestry Commission England
Forestry England
Forest Research

The Madness and Delight of a North Yorkshire forest at dawn   

Getting up at 3am to start a bird survey at dawn deep in the North Yorkshire countryside may seem like madness to many people but for Ginny the delight has been far greater than the sacrifice…

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

Ginny Leeming, Turtle Dove Volunteer

A few years ago I was walking in Broxa Forest when I became aware of a strange low bubbling, turring sound. For a minute I just couldn’t place it – perhaps a frog? Then it clicked – I hadn’t heard it for years but it had once been so familiar to me. I went home and looked up some facts and figures and was horrified (though not entirely surprised) to learn of the drastic fall in numbers of a bird that was once so well known (and still is widely known by name if only through the 12 Days of Christmas). So when I heard about the Turtle Dove Project I was immediately keen to get involved. OK, so getting up at 3am to be in the forest ready to start a survey at dawn is somewhat daunting, and I even felt a bit nervous at the thought of walking through the forest in semi-darkness. But once up it is a truly magical time to be out there. I’ve had close encounters with badgers, deer, hares and much other wildlife.

On my very first survey I was nearing the end, almost resigned to a negative result, when I approached a clearing and before I could see through the trees I heard that unique sound. It turned out to be 3 singing males. I really had to stop myself shrieking with delight! Since then I’ve had less luck, but the memory of that moment has helped to maintain my feeling of anticipation. It has also been really encouraging to know that the data from that first survey has already been used to target conservation measures on local farms. Perhaps in a few more years encounters with these iconic birds will become more common.
A North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Volunteer in Action. Copyright NYMNPA.
Our North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project surveys start again in May. We will be holding two meetings this spring to explain the surveys and to allow volunteers to meet up. One meeting will be in the Dalby Forest Courtyard Building (YO18 7LT) on 24 April at 7 pm and the second at the Yorkshire Arboretum (YO60 7BY) in the Howardian Hills on 2 May, again at 7 pm. If you’d like to get involved please come along or alternatively email Richard Baines, Turtle Dove Project Officer.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partnership logos