Into the shadows

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Graduate Trainee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of the North York Moors National Park?

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

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

Paul Fellows – Head of Strategic Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Christopher Watt – River Esk WEG Project Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esk winter landscape. Copyright Chris Watt, NYMNPA.

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

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

 

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

Nearby

Rachel Pickering – Woodland Team Leader

2020 was a voyage of discovery for many people and my family were no exception. We discovered nature on our doorstep which we would never have made time to see if we’d have been zipping about to children’s parties and swimming lessons. Most of our daily walks have been in nearby Cropton Forest and Newtondale. Both peaceful and inspiring, and full of nature’s wonders …

The highlight for me was watching badger cubs playing in the sun near their sett. I was whispering to my children that they would never see such a special sight again in their lives. They were enthralled for a few minutes but equally keen to get back to their skipping and shouting!

A simple walk in the forest is filled with signs of wildlife if you know what to look for. We have seen evidence of roe deer from the ‘fraying’ they leave behind. This is where the males rub their antlers against sapling trees to mark their territory.

We found a leaf where an insect had been eating away inside and left a pale trail.

Some wildlife allows you to get close and this Golden-ringed dragonfly was very obliging. This was found on a walk where our son was in a ‘worst day ever’ kind of mood but the second they found a wet ditch to explore it turned into ‘best day ever’. They love a bit of Bear Grylls adventure.

Most children love the gross stuff so this cuckoo-spit, the home of the frog hopper, was also a big hit.

The shear scale of some wildlife is outstanding and there is one part of Cropton Forest which is literally alive with ants – Northern Hairy Wood Ants to be precise. Some whopping great big nests but the whole forest floor and tracks were covered with them too.

Right next to the ant city we found the nest of a bird that eats them. A neighbour told us they had seen the woodpecker going in and out but we weren’t patient enough to wait!

The dead birch tree was not only home to a woodpecker but also a lovely bracket fungi of which we have appreciated many.

The edges of the forest rides are often packed with flowers and I was very proud one day when our daughter was able to identify stitchwort and red campion. Here is a lovely pale pink marsh valerian.

Although a lot of our family walks have been in ‘commercial’ forest we are lucky to have some old broadleaved woodland nearby. This track near home is called locally ‘water bank’ and the age of the beech trees and the form of the land always makes me think of previous generations who have walked down that path, perhaps to collect water from the stream at the bottom.

Like many people we have said many times ‘I can’t believe we’ve never been here before’ and that was certainly the case when we found this verdant gem in Raindale.

If you were to ask my children which was their favour woodland walk they would say ‘swing wood’ for obvious reasons. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about watching the children play in such a natural environment.

So when we all get the chance again the nation’s forest, owned by Forestry England for the enjoyment of us all, will be a great place to go. A surprising amount of wildlife will be on show – in the meantime some animals (and some people) will be happily hibernating – this slow worm is under a pile of leaves until spring.

Even though there is less wildlife on show during the winter months the trees are there and they always make excellent dramatic subjects for the budding photographer, like these taken by my husband.

Always follow the latest Government advice in regards Covid-19.

To keep up to date with the latest National Park situation in regards Covid-19 – see here.  

Learning to understand the dark

Rob Smith – Senior Minerals Planner

That 2020 had been unusual hardly needs emphasising. The need for adaptation and restraint in our routines has, as we all know, continued into 2021. It’s frustrating, and we all wish it could end right now, but we have to be patient a while longer.

For me, back in April and May last year when the first lockdown was at its peak, the main consolation was the lengthening hours of daylight. Combined with the glorious spring weather and the absence of traffic, it was possible to get out for a walk, bike ride, or run and experience the National Park (or at least that little bit of it near my home) as never before. Some of the reasons we all love it – its diverse landscapes, the wide sweeps of heather moorland, its tranquillity and sense of remoteness, the valleys, forests, and of course it’s wildlife – were all brought into sharp focus in a way that I’d not quite experienced until then, and they seemed more valuable than ever. It wasn’t just the long hours of sunshine; more what the place meant to me during that difficult time.

Sometimes we know instinctively that something, or someone, is special even if we can’t put a finger on just why. But when it comes to a place, as for many things, getting to the bottom of this sometimes tricky question is a critical first step towards being able to look after it in way which ensures its intrinsic value is retained for the future.

The North York Moors National Park Authority has tried to identify exactly what it is that makes the area such a special place. These ‘special qualities’ help us describe and understand why it is so valuable and why it needs protecting. They include those qualities I was enjoying on my lockdown excursions in spring but there are many more, in fact twenty-eight in total. All are equally important, even if we each have our own favourites.

NYMNP Special Qualities (from 2012 Management Plan)

Importantly, promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public is one of the two main statutory purposes of a National Park Authority. Alongside the other main purpose, to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, it drives much of what we do as an organisation.

Last year spring turned into summer and then autumn brought lockdown mark two, and this time it was different. The long days of sunshine seemed quite distant. It was dark before the end of the working day and opportunities to get into the outdoors were much harder to find. Chances are when daylight and opportunity coincided, the weather wasn’t cooperating. Which brings me back to the need for adaptation.

One of the National Park’s special qualities is its ‘dark skies at night and clear unpolluted air’. Recently the National Park Authority has been carrying out a lot of work on the dark skies theme and you can find out more about this in previous blog posts by my colleague Mike Hawtin.

Although I’ve always enjoyed looking at the night sky, and appreciate the way that a starscape on a clear winter’s night can be just as inspiring as a beautiful landscape, or a dramatic seascape, as seen during the day, I’ve never tried to carry on with my outdoor activity at night. The thought of going off for a run through the woods or across the moors after dark for my ‘daily’ activity is a bit unsettling, however much your head also tells you there’s no rational basis for this.  But recently, that’s just what I’ve been doing.

It’s been a revelatory experience in many ways. Firstly, that I was easily capable of overcoming that irrational worry that had deterred me from trying it before. Secondly, I wasn’t the only one doing it (in a socially distanced manner)! More importantly, it has opened my eyes to a whole new sphere of ‘understanding and enjoyment’ of some of the National Park’s special qualities – sights, sounds, smells, wildlife –  that wouldn’t have been noticeable through the sensory overload that full daylight can bring. A landscape reduced in scale perhaps, but enhanced in detail and refreshingly new, even in places I’ve visited many times before.

And of course there’s the night sky. Pause to look upwards on a clear night and it’s impossible not to be impressed and inspired. Yes there’s sheer enjoyment in this, but I also feel that each individual night time visit is another step on a journey towards a better understanding of my local countryside that happens to be on the edge of a National Park, and how its special qualities meld together to make a coherent whole. I know it won’t be for everyone, but I’m pretty sure my adaptation won’t be a temporary one this time.

(Cropped) Northern Lights at Saltwick Bay. Credit Andy Dawson Photography.

Always follow the latest Government advice in regards Covid-19.

To keep up to date with the latest National Park situation in regards Covid-19 – see here.  Hang On – Stay Local – Keep Positive.

The Yew – An Original Christmas Tree

Sam Newton – Woodland Creation Assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Hawtin – Head of Polyhalite Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light only what you need

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

Light only when you need it

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

Light only at a level suitable for the situation

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Hawtin – Head of Polyhalite Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image source: darksky.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down in Yon Forest

Rachel Pickering – Woodland Team Leader

Deep in Cropton Forest is a very special place called High Leaf Howe. Its actually just a grassy clearing within the forest with a large mound, the ‘howe’, in one corner and a ruined house in another. Our archaeologists are probably more interested in the howe but for me it’s the ruin that is magical. I recall my grandma Ethel talking very fondly of her childhood at ‘Leaf Howe’ which was a small holding of about 20 acres on the edge of Wheeldale Moor where they grazed 20 sheep. They also had 3 cows and my grandma had hens which she sold the eggs from to help her parents pay the rent to Keldy Estate*. Her dad made besoms (brooms used in the steel works to clean the slag off the rolled steel when it was red hot) from the heather and her mother cleaned the school at Stape to make ends meet.

*The Forestry Commission acquired the freehold of the Keldy Estate in 1948 to incorporate into their Rosedale Forest holding, now named Cropton Forest.

High Leaf Howe, then. Property of Rachel Pickering.Recently I was looking into the census data for Stape and made a remarkable discovery. Not only had my grandma been born at High Leaf Howe but also her father Bertie in 1895 and his father George in 1851. Four generations of my direct descendants lived there.  During the first lockdown I was looking through some old family photos and imagine my delight when I came across a small black and white photo which had the words ‘Leaf Howe’ penned on the back! Even better I could recognise that the girl outside the house was grandma and the shy head poking out of the door was her mother Ada.

I have taken my father and my two children to see the old homestead, and although my son was more interested in climbing a nearby tree at the time I’d like to think my two will see the significance of this special place in the future.

High Leaf Howe, now. Copyright Rachel Pickering.

 

Collaborative approaches

Aside

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