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.

Good news story

From the Updale Natural History Recorder

Barn owl (Tyto alba) makes full recovery

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

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

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

Barn Owl - copyright Updale Natural History Recorder

No lockdown for Ring Ouzels

Vic Fairbrother, Ken Hutchinson and the Updale Natural History Recorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme logo banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative writing

A poem from the North York Moors

What is the sky?

Everchanging and expressive,
space and heaven combined.
Infinite and important,
vast desert on high.

Mother Nature flaunting her power,
April showers, hurricanes and storms.
Summoning angry clouds, heavy with rain,
Later filled with light, warming your bones.

Blustery winds and excitable gusts,
fresh air fills and cleanses the lungs.
Billowing clouds, creating beams and rays,
dappled across the undulating land.

Everchanging season casting shifting light.
Rainbows, shooting stars and Aurora Borealis
flashing colours over the great canvas.
Heaven’s glory or natural phenomenon?

Streaked with man’s machines, airplane trails,
aerials, satellites and drones.
Great machines can’t compare
nothing more than flecks on this dome.

Sunrises and sunsets marking our days,
celebrating with glorious colours.
Ink-washed turning to boundless jet black,
encrusted with the finest jewels ready to wish upon.

Westerdale Skyscape. Copyright Christopher Watt, NYMNPA.

Way! Hey! It’s Lamprey!

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

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

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

So why the Rye?

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

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

So why should we care?

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

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

So what can we do to help?

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

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

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

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logo band