Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

There are few more rewarding things in life than creating new habitat for wildlife and then watching with delight as birds and other animals move in.

What would make it extra special would be hearing a Turtle Dove sing its beautiful purring song.

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

A major part of our HLF funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project involves working with land managers to create exactly the right feeding opportunities for Turtle Doves. The National Park and the Project have a brand new grant aimed at providing flower rich plots from which Turtle Doves can feed on a natural seed source.

We are really pleased that this autumn 11 farm businesses have established 17 Turtle Dove flower plots covering a total of five hectares within our project area. This is a great start and it’s very exciting that so many land managers are keen to help; however we need many more if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.

The pioneering 11 includes a wide range of landowners and tenants such as our first community Turtle Dove reserve in Sawdon village sown by the local community and primary school, Ampleforth Plus Social Enterprise, the Danby Moors Farming and Wykeham Farm businesses, and Hanson Quarry near Wykeham.

Sawdon Community Group, with Richard on the right - celebrating the first community Turtle Dove plot with a mug of tea!. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sown plots are needed because many of the wild flowers that provide seed such as Common Fumitory and Birds-foot Trefoil are no longer common in the arable landscape which is one of the major reasons Turtle Doves are now at risk of extinction. The plots will also support a range of other scarce arable plants such as the locally rare Shepherd’s Needle. We are working with the local Cornfield Flowers Project – Into the Community to make sure we provide available ground for many naturally occurring but declining local flowers.

Common Fumitory - showing the seeds which Turtle Doves feed on. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

These new plots will not only provide habitat for Turtle Doves they will also provide valuable for a whole range of declining farmland birds. Grey Partridge feed their chicks on invertebrates and need open fallow land rich in small insects. Our flower plots are sown at a very light sowing rate to leave a good proportion of the plot shallow which allows access for Partridge and other birds such as Yellowhammers searching for insects in the summer.

If you have arable or temporary grassland on your farm and you would like to help Turtle Doves please get in touch to find out more about the grant and payments on offer. Contact us or call the National Park’s Conservation Department 01439 772700.

It’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it or: When all’s said and dung, don’t poo-poo the Dung Beetles

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.

Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.

How the different groups of British Dung beetles utilise dung in different ways. Copyright Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project.

Dung  beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.

These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.

A Geotrupidae dung beetle with hitch hiking mites getting a lift to their next pile of dung. From https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/422423640023441381/

Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.

So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.

One of the Dung beetles - this is called a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius). Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.

Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.

Some of the British Dung beetles. Copyright Beetle UK Mapping Project.

So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.

The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.

There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.

Apologies for the titular puns.

Making Pictures

Nicola White – Land of Iron Film Maker Intern

I’ve spent the past 12 weeks clambering over the North York Moors with my camera, capturing the elements that form the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. This adventure has been challenging, hilarious and hot (given the summer we’ve had).

I began with the Combs Wood excavation, bugging the volunteers each morning by crouching on the ground to get the best shot as they dodged their wheelbarrows around me. It was incredible to see them constantly uncovering something new and seeing just how much had been hidden by the nature that surrounded us. See Combs Wood Part 1 – Volunteering, Combs Wood Part 2, and Combs Wood Part 3.

I also got involved with the Warren Moor Mine conservation work this summer. The details of the huge chimney still on site really are incredible. My video focuses on the lime mortar work that the team have completed on the engine beds, as well as all the previous clearing that has taken place during the project in order to preserve the features. It’s impressive to view the impact that Land of Iron has had on this area, and for that reason it’s recorded in my video. See Warren Moor – The Movie

I didn’t just concentrate on the impressive industrial building sights; I’ve also created a video showing the environmental conservation work undergone. From fences and walk ways at Fen Bog to forest work and tree planting across Rosedale, my video illustrates how this work is restoring habitats and encouraging rare species. See what I saw

The final video of my creation sets out to capture the entire essence of the Land of Iron. Focusing on the three main aspects – history, people, environment – this video uses interviews with the core team and footage that I’ve recorded throughout my summer with them, to explain what the programme is all about. See the whole picture …

This summer has been an incredible opportunity to learn and create. The people surrounding and supporting the Land of Iron scheme should receive a medal for all the work they do; constantly typing away on their keyboards in the office or covered in mud down a one-meter deep hole. It’s been a pleasure to dig in the mud with them for such a short time, and I hope I spend all my future summers in a similar way.

Something else … The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme is approaching its halfway point with building conservation works starting on site and teams of volunteers across the North York Moors helping us care for our fascinating industrial heritage. We’re currently undertaking an EVALUATION SURVEY – this is a really important way to check the scheme is heading in the right direction and achieving what it wants to. Please give us a few minutes of your time to tell us what you think. Your feedback will help shape the next stage of the programme. 

What might have been

‘Our READERS Say IS THE FARNDALE SCHEME NECESSARY’. (Hull Daily Mail, 26 August 1932)

In 1932 the Kingston upon Hull Corporation bought a large area of land in Upper Farndale in the North York Moor, c. 2,000 hectares. The Corporation had a plan to create a large reservoir behind a constructed earth embankment at Church Houses , and then using gravitation through a series of pipes/aqueducts bring a safe and reliable water supply down to Hull (c. 50 miles away). The plans also involved a second stage with weirs constructed in the neighbouring dales of Rosedale and Bransdale (and possibly Westerdale?) – with the collected water piped through the dividing hills into the Farndale Reservoir, if and when demand required it. The River Dove which runs through Farndale naturally flows into the River Derwent which then flows into the River Ouse which ends up in the Humber Estuary where Hull is located – so all within the massive Humber river basin.Landscape view - looking north up Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

From the regional newspapers of the time there is a suggestion that the City of York considered a similarly located reservoir during the first reservoir enthusiasm at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s/30s there had been another such outbreak of enthusiasm to use large scale engineering to make the most of natural capital and ensure sufficient safe water supplies with all the resulting health and welfare benefits. Ideas of progress and modernism assumed that cities and industry would prosper and expand if allowed to. Reservoirs meant (rain) water could be collected, stored and released under control, rather than relying on unpredictable and capricious rivers. The Kingston upon Hull Corporation were willing to make the required large scale capital investment at this difficult time (the Great Depression) for a better future.

As well as the very useful amount of water that could be impounded, the North York Moors water would be soft (less minerals) and could be mixed with the hard water from the Hull environs, thus improving the water as a product (the projected saving in soap is presented as one of the benefits from the scheme). Destructive flooding downstream would be prevented. The construction would provide a scheme of work for up to ‘600 labourers’ from the unemployed of Hull.

‘This Farndale scheme will not only prove a blessing to Hull, but to large areas of the North and East Riding, and future generations will appreciate, perhaps better than the present generation, the foresight and sagacity of the Hull Corporation’. (Hull Daily Mail, 25 September 1933)

Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Farndale, as well as Rosedale and Bransdale, were farming dales, surrounded on most sides by moorland, with low populations of people. The Leeds Mercury of Monday 29 August 1932 reports on what farmers in the Farndale area thought about the plan to build ‘the second largest reservoir in the country’. There was apparently some ‘alarm’ and concerns about possible effects on the water supply lower down the catchment, but the report also emphasises the employment opportunities (a common claim with all infrastructure projects, now and then) and potential increases in property/land values. As well as the large scale areas of farmland to be lost, a small number of individual farmsteads (c. 3 or 4?) would be submerged however there would be no “drowned villages” as there had been elsewhere in the country. In the meantime the farmers in Upper Farndale remained the tenants of the Corporation.

‘Hull Civic Visit to Site of New Reservoir. From Our Own Correspondent, HULL, Wednesday. Members of the Hull Corporation Water Committee paid an official visit to Farndale, the site of Hull’s proposed new reservoir, yesterday. At the end of the day they wondered which to admire the most, the glorious scenery through which they passed or the vision and skill of the young engineer, Mr. T. H. Jones, which has led the Corporation to depart from its policy of deep well pumping stations within comparatively easy reach of the city and go out to the North Yorkshire moorlands [North York Moors]. Mr. Jones is the deputy water engineer, and less than three years ago, when doubts were entertained as to the advisability of proceeding with £900,000 scheme for a pumping station at Kellythorpe, near, Driffield, he cast about for an alternative…. CHOICE OF FARNDALE. Mr. Jones’s thoughts turned to the broad moors and lovely vallies of the North Riding, with their bountiful supplies of soft water. His choice fell upon Farndale, a selection that was afterwards confirmed by Mr. H. P. Hill, the Manchester expert, and endorsed by Parliament, when the necessary enabling bill was promoted. So it fell out that to-day Mr. Jones was able to point out the details of scheme which is estimated to cost £1,182,000 for the first portion and £2,127,000 [c. £144 million in today’s money] for the completed whole…The chief objective of the visit was Church Houses, Farndale, where the eastern end of the great dam will be, Mr. Jones indicated the great work that is to be carried out and which, far from detracting from the beauties of the valley, will add to them. A lake two and a half miles long and half a mile its widest point will set among the hills. The dam will be 1,900 feet in length and 130 feet high. Six thousand million gallons of water will be impounded [the capacity of Upper Farndale compared to neighbouring dales was why it had been decided on]’. (Leeds Mercury, Thursday 16 August 1934)

Farndale looking towards Oak Crag. Copyright NYMNPA.

During the 1930s arguments continued to appear in the regional papers – in letters, articles and editorials – mainly focused on who would have to pay for the scheme, who would benefit from the scheme, whether the water collected in Farndale was actually ‘pure’ or ‘peaty’, and whether the substrata of Farndale was pervious or impervious and therefore suitable for holding water (the top end of Farndale where it is sandstone rather than limestone is impervious). The main controversy seems to have been whether the reservoir was actually needed or not – opinions were based on short or long term perspectives. It was claimed the work itself would take at least 10 years, but would result in a secure water supply for Hull for somewhere between ‘100 to 150 years’ up to ‘all time’.

Whereas some saw it as another ‘grandiose and extravagant scheme’ the correspondent below is very keen, and seems the scheme very much as a win-win situation for all. It also references the drive at the time by many local councils trying to ensure that their own local citizens had access to national water resources.

‘HOW HULL’S WATER PROBLEMS MAY BE SOLVED’ FOR EVER HUMBERSIDE ECHOES A Day Out in Farndale Transforming a Countryside…I spent a very interesting and enjoyable day yesterday visiting Hull’s existing and prospective waterworks. A better day for an outing to Farndale could not been selected, and as one might imagine, the valley and the site of the dam were seen under ideal conditions. The journey was made by motor-car, and we proceeded by way of Thwing straight on to Malton, thence to Kirbymoorside, and struck the wonderful surprise view at Gillamoor. From this point of vantage one can see right across the valley, which, to its furthest upland extent, must be some eight or ten miles. To the left is the actual sweep the dale, and we proceed to follow this by descending a rather narrow roughly-stoned road. We have left many miles behind that part of the valley which has been described by Dr Eve as being difficult owing to limestone formation [Dr Eve was the lead proponent of the limestone in Farndale being pervious], and have yet many miles further the dale to go. A DELIGHTFUL VALLEY From this point the scenery is of the most delightful description. There is nothing of the wild moorland desolation about it. On the uplands the purple of the heather can be seen, but down in this smiling valley, where fields are being reaped of their hay, and corn fast ripening in the sweltering August sun, there is alluring geniality and intimacy. The road is undulating and tortuous; and as we turn first this way and that, new vistas open out that delight the eye, and more than satisfies one’s natural expectancy. The population is sparce: a cluster of a few houses doubtless constitutes a village, and such a place is Church-houses where we leave the car and proceed on foot up the hillside to the actual site where is proposed to erect the dam. And as one views the prospect – just a building here and another there, and not a soul in sight – one cannot put the idea out of one’s head that is the spot which Nature has assigned for such a use as the serving of a large city with pure water. THE FUTURE ASSURED A “Mail” correspondent has described this valley as dirty. What a libel! No air can be fresher; no countryside cleaner; no water purer than is to be found here. And let the man who says a reservoir will mar the amenities of the district blush for very shame; for here, in due time, will appear a beautiful sheet of water about 1,900 feet wide and over two miles in length and the valley preserved from spoilation for all time. Behind the dam will be stored six thousand million gallons of water – a year’s supply immediately available – and in the adjoining valleys of Rosedale, Bransdale and Westerdale are further supplies of such magnitude that, with the pumping stations Hull has, the water problem of the city is solved for all time. And we are less than 50 miles from Hull as the pipeline will go! Manchester has to go about 110 miles to Thirlemere and Birmingham nearly 80 to Wales. have said it before and I must say again: Hull is singularly fortunate in having found this place – thanks to Mr Jones, the Deputy Water Engineer – and having staked her claim to it’.  (Hull Daily Mail, Thursday 11 August 1932)

Towards the end of the 1930s the plans were well developed and permissions were in place, although the money still needed to be raised. So the work had not begun when WWII broke out. The war didn’t stop the newspaper correspondence on the Farndale Reservoir idea – one letter writer warned that open reservoirs like the one proposed for Farndale provided the opportunity for enemies to poison whole populations.

Landscape view - looking south from Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

After the war the Farndale Reservoir scheme remained, every time there was a summer drought there were calls to revive it. The end of the war meant more visions of progress, wellbeing and resurrected cities. The Kingston upon Hull Cooperation hadn’t given up. Back in 1933 the Corporation had received the required powers through Parliament to build the waterworks, to compulsory purchase land, to abstract water, to stop up access and to borrow the required monies to pay for it – and in the 1940s and following decades they continued to extend the time periods of these powers. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported in September 1954 on the formation of the Farndale Local Nature Reserve largely to stop the large scale pillaging of wild daffodils. ‘Hull support for Famdale protection. Plan for nature reserve From our Hull staff. It is an offence to uproot flowers at Farndale, the North Yorkshire beauty spot, and in order to make Illegal also the picking of daffodils, the National Park Planning Committee of the North Riding County Council (as already reported in The Yorkshire Post) wish to establish the area as a nature reserve. The Water Committee of Hull Corporation, who several years ago acquired a large part of Farndale for a future reservoir unanimously agreed yesterday, to recommend the City Council to approve the nature reserve plan. It was pointed out that when the Corporation needed the land for the reservoir, the agreement on the proposed nature reserve could be terminated six months’ notice’.

What happened next?

Following on from the Water Resources Act 1963 the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority was formed. The Authority acting with the Kingston upon Hull Corporation and now also Sheffield Corporation promoted the new Yorkshire Derwent Bill, of which the Farndale Reservoir was one important element, aimed at regulating river flows and abstracting water supplies in Yorkshire.

The Bill received a second reading in the Houses of Parliament in 1970. The projected price for the Farndale scheme was now up to c. £8 million should everything go to plan (£132 million in today’s money), the reservoir was bigger than previously planned but there was less pipeline/aqueducts as modern reservoir technology used more controlled discharge into rivers and more abstraction downstream. There would be compensation for the farming tenants who would move to new homes, and rearrangement of farm holdings dividing up the remaining farmland between tenants.

As well as the continuing arguments over who would pay and who would benefit, by this time there was the added complication that the North York Moors including Farndale had been designated a National Park in 1952. So there were new arguments around the introduction of an uncharacteristic large scale water body into a designated landscape. But as well as providing water supplies for growing cities, by this time reservoirs were also seen as providing recreational opportunities and water catchment protection, in line with National Park purposes. The reservoir plans included woodland planting and a car park. The remaining wild daffodils would line the banks of the new waterbody – ‘A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. (I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth). In the arguments Farndale was presented as a national asset by all sides, but there was disagreement over what type of asset that should be.

The North York Moors Planning Committee (the predecessor of the National Park Authority) did not object in principle. Around 10,000 people signed a petition against the construction of a new reservoir in a National Park. Already in the less than 20 years of its existence other major developments had already been allowed in the Park – the Cold War RAF Fylingdales installation and exploration for a potash development near Boulby.

There were various suggestions of alternatives to fulfil the need for water supplies in Yorkshire. These included abstracting more ground water, reference was made to a so called ‘underground lake’ left over after the last Ice Age beneath the nearby Vale of Pickering; or making use of desalination processes which were currently being developed in the USA and were apparently due to come to fruition in the 1980s. As it happened, desalination turned out to be very expensive and not the overriding solution everyone was hoping for.

So the bill was read in Parliament for a second time, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the Water Resources Board were both keen,… but then an All Party Select Committee tasked with vetting the bill before it became an Act threw it out on the vote of its Chair. So that was it. Hull and Sheffield do still have water supplies which suggests there were workable alternatives. Farndale remains a whole dale rather than half a reservoir.

Daffodil Walk, Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sources from The British Newspaper Archive

Combs Wood – Another Community Excavation

Eleanor Lees – Land of Iron Community Archaeology Intern

After a very wet dig back in May 2017, Land of Iron volunteers and staff returned for a second season of excavation at Combs Wood, Beck Hole in July 2018 to investigate this important iron working and mining site. Luckily for us the weather held – we got to experience excavating in the hottest summer since 1976!

One of the major elements of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme is investigating the ironstone industry from the early 19th century to the early 20th century in the North York Moors. Like many of the remains from the iron industry in the area since that time, Combs Wood has been reclaimed by the natural environment. With only 10 days to excavate we had a lot of questions to try and answer…

Land of Iron - Combs Wood excavation July 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

A Brief History of the site

Combs Wood is part of the Goathland Forest complex which belongs to the Forestry Commission. The site itself lies near the base of Goathland Incline and undoubtedly linked up with this railway line. The incline itself is so steep that in order to get the loaded coaches and wagons up to the top a gravity system was used – water butts were placed at the top of the incline and their weight was used to offset the weight of the wagons. Once the water butts were at the base of the incline they could be emptied and brought up to the top by horses. The horse-powered railway was converted into a steam hauled railway in 1845, and at some point the incline itself was transformed to steam power with a stationary engine at the top. The incline was eventually abandoned in 1865 (after an accident killed two and injured 13) in favour of a more level route, known commonly at the deviation line.

In 1857 that Whitby Iron Company was formed and began to construct the ironworks in Combs Wood. A series of drift mines were opened connected by elevated sets of tramways. The first iron was cast in 1860 and is commemorated by a cast-iron tablet in Whitby Museum. However the following iron working and mining operations were nothing short of disastrous until eventually in 1861 the owners offered the whole plant for sale. Receiving no bids the operation struggled on until a stormy night in 1864 when a landslide buried the two main access drifts, and demolished the beckside tramway and the water leat to the water wheel. No lives were lost but operations never resumed.

Nearby the small Beck Hole hamlet had changed exponentially with the opening of both the railway and the iron works. A row of 33 workers cottages were built corresponding with the workforce and their families. Birch Hall Inn was extended to include a provisions store. In 1860 the inn was licenced to sell ‘Ale, Porter, Cider and Perry’, vital for any workforce. The population boom ended in 1864 with the mines closed and the furnaces dismantled, the cottages were demolished and the only reminder in Beck Hole of a once lively iron industry was the expanded Inn. The ironworks site and associated cottages and infrastructure began to slowly recede under the encroaching vegetation…

Combs Wood excavation July 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

The Excavation

Entering the site, we passed the remains of the bridge that once connected the ironworks to the other side of the Murk Esk river and the Whitby to Pickering railway line. At first, the lower part of the site appears to be fairly straight forward. To the right, there is a stone building potentially an office for a manager or clerk. It has two floors with evidence to suggest that the walls may have even been plastered. To the left, there is a wheel pit for a wheel powered by the river that runs perpendicular. We cleaned and recorded the office building as most of the necessary excavation here had already been completed during the previous season.

The wheel pit was another story and there was nothing simple about excavating this feature. which involved navigating the metal poles (cross acro clamps) used to shore up the pit walls, and the daily water removal from the pit bottom. The aim of excavating the wheel pit was to reveal and record the floor of the structure and to gain a greater understanding of its purpose and extent. However, as the excavation progressed, more and more questions about this feature emerged. While we now have a good idea of how the timber water wheel would have worked; we have less idea about what it actually powered. An investigation into a structure on the next level of the site was made to try and see how the wheel pit may have related to other structures on site, including a channel which ran from one level to the next.

Continuing along the tramway we made our way further up into the woods to the upper part of the site which holds arguably more mysteries to uncover. A row of collapsed buildings emerge from the grass to the left and ahead an unidentified structure which was almost completely hidden by vegetation. The first building we chose to explore is the middle of the three larger buildings. It revealed a red earth floor with slag (a waste product of iron working) scattered throughout. The main feature of the room is the ‘forge’ which is still in surprisingly good condition. Theories behind the purpose of this feature on the site are various, ranging from testing the quality of the iron ore coming out of the mines, to creating the horse shoes for the mine horses. To the left of the forge, we discovered an incredibly intact stable floor. The floor shows a drain running along the length of the stable with drilled post holes used to create the wooden stalls for the individual horses.

Have a look here to see a fab 3-D image of both the forge and the stable

Starting Them Young

On the first Saturday of each month the National Park Authority run the Moors and Valleys Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) for young people aged 8 to 16 years. For the July session, the club joined us on site at Combs Wood to experience a working archaeological excavation. The children were treated to an in-depth tour of the site and also got to sieve through the spoil heap to find any artefacts that the volunteers and staff had missed. The club did very well, discovering tile, pottery and even a nail.

YAC at Combs Wood excavation July 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Amazing Volunteers

The amount that we achieved in just 10 days is astounding and a credit to the work ethic of our volunteers. Not only did they shift tonnes of soil and stone they assisted with the public tours, and provided knowledge and insights which helped establish a greater understanding of the site. Without them the excavation would just not have been possible.

Thanks also to the Forestry Commission for permission to keep excavating.

 

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

Window into the past

Claire Bending – Lead Land Management Adviser

As part of the working up of conservation plans for the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme (currently under development) we’ve been looking at available historic maps. Such maps can provide a view of the past landscape illustrating land use and field boundary patterns.

We’re not trying to revert the landscape back to how it was two hundred years ago, but there may be opportunities to re-establish habitats overcome by agricultural improvement and to restore relict features of conservation value. Examples of this might be recreating a hay meadow, planting new trees on a site which used to be woodland, or reinstating a natural meander in a watercourse that had previously been straightened.

We have digital access to early editions of Ordnance Survey maps. The earliest being the 1st edition 6 inch to one mile mapping from the 1850s. It seems incredible that if you overlay a modern Ordnance Survey map, the two maps separated by 170 years match up pretty perfectly. I have a feeling our Victorian counterparts would be insulted if they knew we thought it might be anything less, but to my lazy modern day brain it does seem incredible that the entire country could be mapped so precisely to the last inch without GPS, laser lines or aerial photography.

For maps from before the 1850s we went to the North Yorkshire County Record Office. They hold the Feversham Collection which is full of information on the Feversham Estate, which over time has included Bilsdale (within the Ryevitalise project area), Bransdale and Farndale as well as the townships of Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside.

Modern day Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Amongst the collection are two surveys that feature Bilsdale; one by Tukes and Ayer drawn up in 1826,  and commissioned by Charles Duncombe, 1st Baron Feversham (1764 – 1841); and another includes a painstakingly drawn map of Bilsdale from 1781, by William Calvert and commissioned by Charles Slingsby Duncombe (???? – 1803).

The 1781 map is particularity informative as it is still relatively early on in the agricultural ‘revolution’ period that came about in the century following 1750, when a huge sea change occurred in farming, fuelled by the enclosure acts, improving efficiencies and profits for landowners. The landscape altered with open common land enclosed, fields reconfigured with straight walls, land drainage organised, new roads built to improve transport, and conifer plantations planted to produce wood.

Compare the two maps below of Cam House, Bilsdale – one is an extract from the 1781 map, and the other of the same place seventy six years later, in 1857 as drawn on the 1st edition OS map.

Barely a boundary has remained immune to the straightening process. Although replacing the earlier, wiggly ad-hoc walls with grid-like boundaries was hugely labour intensive, the gains in the longer term through enabling horse plough teams to utilise the entire field area, therefore maximising production, were great.

William Calvert’s map is also of interest for all the field names recorded on the map – for the Tukes and Ayer survey field names were recorded in separate field books.

Field names are sometimes related to the use of the field, such as Cow pasture, Milking field, Corn close, Lime kiln field and Lear field (Lear is another word for a scythe). They can also be descriptive of the place, including words like Holm (the land in a river bend, or low lying land by the river), Syke (stream), Sievey (rushy), Heights, Stoney, Loaning (lane) or Thwaite (clearing).

Other names refer to the vegetation; Birk (birch), Hollin (holly), Eller (alder), Broom, Brier. Sometimes the names reference annoying insects often found in hollows – Loppy hole (Lop was an old word for a flea, but maybe in this case meant ticks) and Midge hole.

There are also a few references to field shape, which is interesting as there is one called Four nook’d (cornered) field. By the 19th century, most fields had four corners but in 1781 four corners was notable because fields either had a myriad of corners or rounded boundaries or both. Other field names give a clue to industries – Collier intake (related to the local small-scale coal mining) or Tenter close (tenters were frames for stretching drying cloth), Cinder field/Smithy hill (reference iron smelting and iron working).

Finally there are some field names that are just plain enigmatic – Camel hill, Slatern Field and Sweetheart Field. Answers on a postcard please!

Extract from map of Bilsdale from 1781, by William Calvert. From Feversham Collection, North Yorkshire County Record Office.Ryevitalise LPS logos

Colouring in the summer

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

Butterfly species are significant indicators for helping us understand the health of the environment and its ecosystems – that’s because butterflies respond rapidly to changes in habitat and climate. By recognising how butterfly populations are faring we can better appreciate how the wider environment is doing.

Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) also play a vital function as pollinators, as part of the food chain, and as a particularly beautiful and delicate facet of the natural world.

Small pearl bordered fritillary, North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the North York Moors there are widespread generalist butterfly species such as Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae and Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, but we also have  specialist butterflies such as the Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne (note this is a different species to the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary Boloria selene which is currently more widespread and also found in the North York Moors). Both the Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary require very specific habitat to survive.

Habitat specialist butterflies are particularly sensitive to change. The Pearl Bordered Fritillary has suffered substantial declines in recent decades and so is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. Its caterpillars feed upon violets, most often Common Dog Violets, and crucially the violets must be in a hot microclimate in order for the caterpillars to develop successfully over winter. Bracken litter is ideal at creating such a microclimate and so conservation of this species requires grassy habitat where bracken, scrub and violets are all present. In the North York Moors this butterfly species is found in only one location.

Small tortoiseshell, North York Moors. Copyright Abi Duffy, NYMNPA.

The Small Tortoiseshell, as a generalist, can cope with many different habitats but most often where nettles grow in abundance as the caterpillars feed upon the common and small nettle. This butterfly is one of our most widespread species, often glimpsed in gardens, but there is concern for a decline in species numbers recently due to the sensitivity of all butterflies to weather and climate.

Fluctuations in UK butterfly populations are common between years due to the different weather conditions through spring and summer. In 2017, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) showed the seventh worst year ever in UKBMS recording because a cold spring and wet summer causing butterfly species to struggle. It is expected that butterfly numbers should do better in 2018 because of the mainly dry summer, so far.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme looks beyond the short term and draws out the trends over time:

  • 57% of butterflies have been declining in abundance since 1976;
  • Both habitat specialist butterfly species and wider countryside species, in general, are declining;
  • Loss of, and the deteriorating condition, of habitats is attributed to declines in habitat specialist butterflies;
  • Encouraging recoveries have been seen in Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary in some locations. Specialist habitat management has helped these species to recover in places;
  • For more widespread generalist butterflies the reasons for declines are not established yet.

Suggested reasons for declines in butterflies include more extreme climatic events, the ongoing loss and fragmentation of meadows, neglect of previously coppiced woodland and the increased use of pesticides. The paving over of gardens is also linked to declines particularly in towns and cities.

Certain lepidopterans, like the Painted Lady butterfly, migrate to follow the sun which is so important to butterflies. The movement and extents of particular species are now altering due to climate changes. Within Britain as the climate warms the extents of particular lepidoptera species are moving north where habitats and habitat connectivity allow.

Ringlet butterfly at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Unimproved grasslands, including meadows, support more species of butterflies than any other single habitat in Britain. Grassland with low grazing or no grazing in the summer months allows wildflowers to flower and, very importantly, to set seed. A balance between grassland and natural scrub is helpful – scrub can provide shelter, respite, breeding areas and also a place for hibernation for butterflies. By managing such sites appropriately, unimproved grassland habitats can help sustain surviving butterflies.

MAD Volunteers clearing away some of the scrub from a Duke of Burgundy site - you can see the patches of primroses which along with cowslips are requirements for the species. Copyright NYMNPA.

But just like for bees, if you’ve got a garden with plants, you can help butterflies too. There are butterfly friendly nectar rich plants such as Buddleia, Lavender, Marjoram and Honeysuckle , and leaving fallen fruit to decay under your fruit trees provides sweet fruit juice for butterflies. If you’re lucky you might get to see a butterfly using its extraordinary tongue-like proboscis to collect the juice.

Peacock butterfly. Copyright Abi Duffy, NYMNPA.

Big Butterfly Count

Butterfly Conservation‘s annual butterfly count runs from 20 July to 12 August this year. The nationwide survey has become the largest butterfly survey in the world.  If you’d like to get involved visit http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ which has lots of useful information and resources to help you.

An exceptional bog

Last year the Land of Iron commissioned an eco-hydrological assessment of Fen Bog(s) by consultants (Sheffield Wetland Ecologists).  An eco-hydrological assessment examines the workings of a water system and its wider ecosystems. Sunday was International Bog Day so to celebrate the complexity and variety of bogs – here is a very very simplified overview of that assessment. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation is all mine.

View over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Background

Fen Bog(s) is at the top end of the Newtondale glacial channel in the east of the North York Moors. It’s part of the Newtondale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the majority of it is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Most of the site is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, other parts are owned by the National Park Authority, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Fen Bog(s) is a large peatland/wetland site, and according to the report “is of exceptional biological, palaeo-ecological and telmatological (to do with bogs) interest, especially as there are no comparable examples in the region or, indeed, in most of England”.

The bog happens to be within the boundary of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. The scheme focuses on the landscape area impacted on by the short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway development in the North York Moors. Intriguingly part of the Fen Bog(s) site has been subject to long-term modification since the Whitby–Pickering Railway line (now belonging to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) was built alongside/across the site. The Partnership commissioned the report in order to get an holistic assessment of the existing data (of which there is a lot), and to identify the gaps and address these through additional field investigations, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the eco-hydrological functioning of Fen Bog(s) in order to help inform future management decisions. This management needs to conserve and restore its environmental value as well as allowing the continued functioning of the railway.

Historical Aspects

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was first opened in 1837, as a single-track, horse-drawn enterprise carrying freight between the two towns. Newtondale connects through the central moorland which largely separates the north and south of the North York Moros. Soon after the line was doubled and substantially rebuilt for steam propelled haulage with services starting in 1847.

Benham (An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2008) explains that Fen Bog(s) proved a “major headache” for the railway builders and that “Stephenson resorted to the same technique employed at Chat Moss when building the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This involved stabilising the land by ‘pile-driving’ fir trees into the bog and overlaying them with sheaves of heather bound in sheep skin, together with more timber and moss.” In addition deep drains were dug alongside the railway through the mire to try and keep water off the track. The extensive drainage has tilted parts of the bog. It has also been suggested that it meant the bog turned from a topogenous system (source water mainly from the land) to an ombrogenous one (source water mainly from precipitation) – but the report considers this is unlikely. The railway’s embankments and sidings were built and maintained using railway ash, basic slag, limestone and basalt – all base rich materials imported onto the site which still have an impact.

The summit of the railway is a short distance north of Fen Bog(s), near the former location of the ‘Goathland Summit’ signal box. South of this the railway track skirts the western edge of the wetland, it is built mostly along the steeply-sloping edge so that its upslope side is on mineral ground or shallow peat whilst the mire side is over deeper peat. The railway line has therefore partly obliterated, truncated and drained much of the western edge of Fen Bog(s). Towards the southern end of Fen Bog(s), the glacial channel curves west and the railway here crosses the bog to the other side of the channel, thereby cutting across and separating parts of the Bog(s).

View of North Yorkshire Moors Railway crossing Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Methodologies

Peatlands are strongly influenced by hydrology, chemistry, and vegetation.

The Fen Bog(s) report considers the hydrogeology including stratigraphy, surface profiles, and solid, wetland, and superficial (recent) deposits.

It also investigates the water supply in and the drainage out. All the different water features on the site are mapped – as pool, spring or seepage, stream/ditch with visible flow, water flow track, water filled ditch with no visible flow, damp channel, or seasonally wet channel. The main artificial drainage is associated with the railway including the drains on either side of the line, but there is also other historic drainage at the south end of Fen Bog(s) which was done to improve the land for agriculture.

Hydrochemical measurements were taken as part of the assessment to establish the current pH and also the electrical conductivity of the water at different points. There is a lot of variation across the site. It has been suggested that high pH readings i.e. alkaline are caused by leeching slag used in the construction of the railway track. Measurements from the recent assessment suggest that in terms of chemistry any effects of the trackway on the Bog(s) is either historic or localised. Because of the mix of chemistry Fen Bog(s) is classed as a Transition mire and this is reflected in its mix of vegetation (see below). The transition can be geographical or successional, or both.

There are a series of historic water table measurements at two specific points, from the 1970s to 1990s – one in ‘wet’ bog, rich in sphagnum, in the north, and one in relatively ‘dry’ bog, with a lot of heather, in the south. The report suggests the main reason for the more consistently higher water table at the northern monitoring point can be associated with the greater number and penetration of flow tracks across the mire, the number of groundwater outflows and a more consistent supply of telluric water (surface water and groundwater). Groundwater geology is always important in sustaining a high water table.

Looking into Fen Bog. Copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA.

Development and status

Much of the depth of peat at Fen Bog(s) is believed to sit in a hollow which decreases at its southern end. It has been suggested this hollow may have been a glacial or post-glacial lake. However it appears as if the mire developed on a dry surface, that is through paludification, and not by infilling a water body (terrestrialisation).

The lower layers of peat cores and sections collected contain the remains of tree species (Birch, Willow and Alder) and other plants (Reeds and Sphagnum) that suggest wet woodland. Then the higher up layers on top contain more plants and silt indicating the formation of swamp and a rise in the water level. This may be a consequence of wetter climatic conditions but also may partly be to do with human activity. There is an increase in non-tree pollen suggesting the removal of trees at the time, and the report postulates that the build-up of water on the site may have been due to it being artificially damned at the southern end. Sphagnum increases in the top level of peat, from c. 1100 AD atleat until the 19th century. The development of a Sphagnum-dominated surface on a reed-monocot swamp requires some isolation of the surface from more base-rich water sources which means the margins with inflow must have remained largely free of Sphagnum and a dome of peat therefore developed in the middle of the bog.

Fen Bog(s) can therefore be considered an embryonic raised bog, which has developed upon a protracted phase of reed–monocot peat that, because of the topography of the trough and the occurrence of marginal inflows, has been susceptible to flooding with telluric water until relatively recently. Because the system has developed across a shallow watershed, it can be regarded as an embryonic ‘sattelmoor’ (saddle bog). The report notes that this assessment is based on the centre and eastern margin of Fen Bog(s) – the western margin has been modified too much by the railway development and associated drainage to be useful as evidence. The modification led to a tilt of the mire’s surface towards the west.

Vegetation over time is the raw ingredients of a bog. The report reviews and updates current NVC vegetation classifications across the Fen Bog(s) site. It’s quite a mosaic. As well as non-mire vegetation such as dry grassland, bracken, dry heath and wet heath, there is also:

  • Weakly base-rich springs and soakways – base rich means a richness of chemical ions i.e. alkaline, a soakway is a narrow track of water flow where little or no water is normally visible. Supports plants such as Bog bean, Broad-leaved cotton grass*, Common butterwort*, and Black bog-rush*, as well as Sphagnum sp. and other bryophytes. Beyond the immediate Fen Bog(s) site there are base-rich springs and weakly base-rich soakways – where soils are acid rather than alkaline so it means the water ends up only weakly or not base-rich at all.
  • Acidic springs and soakways – supports plants such as Common sedge, Yorkshire fog and Marsh violet, as well Sphagnum sp.
  • Ombrotrophic bog – where the main source of water is precipitation. Supports plants such as Common cotton-grass, Cross-leaved heath and Bog myrtle.
  • Minerotrophic Bog – where the main source of water is watercourses and springs. Supports plants such as Purple moor-grass, Common yellow sedge and Carnation sedge.
  • Molinia mire – purple moor-grass dominated vegetation, also supports plants such as SundewsStar sedge and Bog asphodel
  • Nutrient-rich fen – these areas may be influenced hydrochemically either by base-rich springs, or by the base-rich material that make up the railway embankments/sidings. Supports plants such as Angelica, Tufted vetch and Water horse-tail
  • Carex rostrata fen – base-rich mire supporting plants such as Bottle sedge (this is the Carex rostrata), Marsh marigold and Ragged robin.
  • Pools and soakways with Carex limosa – supports plants such as Bog sedge* (this is the Carex limosa), Slender sedge*, and Bog pimpernel.
  • Wet woodland – these remaining woodlands are similar to that which began the formation of peat millions of years ago. Supports plants such as Grey willow, Downy Birch and Creeping buttercup.
  • Reeds and willow scrub – can also be classed as wet woodland. Supports plants such as Narrow buckler fern, Soft rush and Sphagnums.
  • Tall swamp and reedbeds – each at different stages of development with their own characteristics. One site which supports bulrush is presumably mineral enriched from the track ballast but this shows no sign of spreading out into adjacent vegetation without the enrichment. Another site, not yet colonised by willow scrub, supports plants such as Marsh pennywort, Water mint and Branched bur-reed.

* notable uncommon vascular plant species

Another view over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

What next?

From the assessment the report goes on to outline the main management issues and to suggest restoration opportunities for the Fen Bog(s) site. These include vegetation control through gazing and fencing, monitoring the spread of reeds (Phragmites), clearing parts of the species poor scrub areas, retaining the wet woodland/scrub habitat, blocking and redirecting specific railway ditches, minimising the introduction of new embankment ballast material, and using engineered solutions to tackle subsidence problems. Interested parties will consider the recommendations and decide what is desirable as well as practically possible, in order to maintain this very important bog site that embodies a clash of natural and cultural heritage.

Postscript: There is a story that a steam locomotive sank into Fen Bog(s) at some point in the past, and remains there today. But this is just a story.

Local communities

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

My job here at the National Park Authority means that I get the opportunity to be out and about in the North York Moors and get to places that most don’t get the opportunity to see. These hidden places are special for all sorts of reasons, in particular I get the chance to see some extraordinary woodlands – I admit I might be a little biased.

Recently we were out monitoring a woodland planting project near Castleton which meant we had to trek through a small existing woodland to get there. This was a combination of well-developed riparian (wet) flood plain woodland along river margins, wet marshy grassland filled with flowering plants and ancient woodland remnants creeping up the valley sides including oak, birch, hazel, alder and willow. Many of the woodland spring flowers were still in bloom and the woods were a lush green and bursting with insect and bird life.

Ancient Semi Natural Woodland site. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

As we approached the edge of this woodland I noticed something wriggling in the grass – it was a slow worm! Coming across this legless lizard species (Anguis fragilis) was a first time for me. Obviously I wouldn’t usually pick up/disturb wildlife but in this case I took the opportunity to move the slow worm to the cover of an old iron sheet as they are quite high up on the menu for many predatory species (birds, adders, badgers etc.).

Slow worm - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

On the way back as we ducked, scrambled and tramped back through the same woodland I almost tripped over what can only be described as a large mound of leaf litter on the edge of a clearing. As I looked a little closer I noticed that the surface of the mound was moving – it was alive with wood ants! I was surprised to see them here as. I previously worked in Scotland and had always associated wood ants with more northern forest habitats. But they were definitely wood ants and they are surely an indicator that this particular woodland is in good ecological health.

Close up of a Northern hairy wood ant. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Northern Hairy Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are a species of wood ant found in Scotland and in only two areas in England – the Peak District and the North York Moors. They are a fascinating species – I’m no expert yet but here are a few facts about our internationally important Northern Hairy Wood Ants:

  • The Northern Hairy Wood Ant currently has a near-threatened conservation status.
  • Northern Hairy Wood Ants ‘farm’ sap-sucking aphids (that favour oak and birch) for their honeydew. They gently stroke the backs of the aphids which then produce the sugar rich liquid in exchange for protection, and the ants use it to feed their young.
  • The ants take specific roles in the aphid farming process including; ‘shepherds’ who collect the honeydew, ‘transporters’ that move the honeydew to their nest, ‘guards’ that protect their aphids from competitors, and ‘scouts’ that search out new aphid colonies.
  • They employ a polydomous (many homes) nesting strategy whereby they have a number of nest mounds which operate as a single colony. The founding of additional nests allows for the expansion of the colony allowing it to grow and capitalise on new foraging and feeding opportunities spreading out through suitable habitat. If a smaller outlying nest is attacked or in danger then it will be abandoned and the inhabitants will return to the central nest.
  • Similar to other ants foraging workers leave pheromone trails, to good nectar sites or to groups of aphids, which direct other foragers to these valuable resources. The trails can persist for months.
  • The nest mounds of Northern Hairy Wood ants provide accomodating habitat for other invertebrates too. These include a variety of beetle species as well as the Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). This ant species lives within wood ant nesting colonies, accepting food from the host species and establishing its own discrete nests inside hollow twigs within the larger nest, raising its own brood. The Shining guest ant is a species of conservation interest, a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.

Northern hairy wood ant nest - if you look carefully you can just make out the well camouflaged orange/black coloured ants. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

The intricacies of woodland ecology are often complex and astounding. My job means I work on woodland planting and creation and by the very nature of the timespan of trees I know that I’m likely never to see these new woodlands in their future glory. Therefore it’s very important to me to keep a perspective, looking at woodlands at a landscape and spatial scale and considering woodlands over their likely lifetime. Woodland visits like this one are what inspire me to want to create new woodlands and plant more trees, to establish the woodlands of the future.

If you might be interested in creating woodland in the North York Moors and would like more information about opportunities please contact me or call on 01439 772700.

Evaluating bees

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

One of the sounds of summer is the recognisable buzzing of busy bees. Bees are a beautiful symbol of British summertime, but much more importantly are one of the best performing pollinators vital for pollinating plants and crops across the world.

Bee facts:

  • Of the 270 species of bee to have been recorded within Britain, 27 of these are bumble bee species and there’s only 1 honey bee species.
  • Wild bees pollinate two thirds of British crops whilst cultivated honey bees pollinate the remaining third.
  • The exact economic value of pollinators in the UK is uncertain due to small numbers of studies but is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds (DEFRA).

I’ve been wanting to learn more about bees and how to identify different species, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Residential Centre at the start of June to take part in a Steven Falk Bee Workshop. Steven wrote the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ which we used throughout the workshop, making use of the guide’s dichotomous keys and illustrations and photographs of the different bee species.

It was a really interesting course – we focused on the habitats around Malham Tarn and the bees that can be found there. The habitats we visited included nationally important calcareous (limestone) grassland and fen/mire (wet grassland) habitats which are part of the Malham-Arnecliffe Site of Special Scientific Interest. We saw fabulous plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort, Northern Marsh Orchid and Water Avens which was particularly popular amongst the bees.

We identified thirteen different species of bee using these habitats. These included the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a Red-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius), the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) and the Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). To ID accurately we learnt to catch the bee carefully with a net and then place it into a container to get a closer look at the head, thorax and abdomen to look for distinguishing features. After a few minutes the bee is released back where it was found.

Declines in bee populations are due to a dangerous combination of reasons which together add up to a growing crisis – reasons include climate changes, creeping urbanisation, agricultural practices including using pesticides, a decline in habitats including the loss of meadows – unfortunately 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since 1937.

Bees need continuous legume-rich flower habitat to sustain populations. Lots of bee species live in large colonies and need enough flowers in their surrounding habitat to sustain up to 400 worker bees over a season so that a colony can successfully produce new males and queens. Remaining species rich grasslands like meadows have become isolated across the landscape as areas shrink and contract, such habitats need to be better linked by creating corridors and stepping stones for bees to move through and between and so be able to make best use of the nectar (and pollen) producing plants. Like many other species, bees benefit from ecological networks where semi natural habitats are biggerbetter and more joined up (Making Room for Nature, 2010, John Lawton)As well as the species rich grassland areas themselves there are other useful linear versions such as species rich road verges, arable farmland flower margins, and native species hedgerows which can all act as useful corridors for pollinators. Domestic gardens with bee friendly plants can act as useful refuelling stops/stepping stone habitats. 

The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme brings together experts and the public to monitor pollinator populations over time. Anyone can join in with the Flower-Insect Timed Count, which is reassuringly complex.

If you want to help build up a national picture of bee populations then The Great British Bee Count continues until the 30 June this year. There is an App to help you to ID and record the different bee species you see. Sightings will help the experts to understand how bees are faring and results feed back into the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.