Ageing Mussels

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

As mentioned previously, the River Esk in the North York Moors is the only river in Yorkshire with a Freshwater pearl mussel population Margaritifera margaritifera. The population is estimated to be comprised of approximately 1,000 individuals and is in drastic decline, so much so that it is on the verge of extinction. The decline is due to a number of linked causes such as water pollution, choking of the river bed by sediment build-up, deterioration in fish numbers and habitat degradation.

A dense bed of healthy adult mussels in Scotland. Copyright Sue Scott - SNH,

We’re working to improve the riparian habitat and so help secure the local population of Freshwater pearl mussel in the River Esk. We recently sent a sample of mussel shells from the Esk* over to the Swedish Natural History Museum in Stockholm, in order to determine the age of the mussels in the River Esk. The maximum age of Freshwater pearl mussels in the wild has been shown to vary considerably, from a low of 35 years in Spain (warmer, lower latitude rivers) to over 200 years in arctic areas (colder and high latitude rivers). Information from the ageing study would tell us how long we have left to save the Esk population from extinction and help identify the approximate time when the River Esk mussel population went into decline.

Dr Elena Dunca from the Swedish Natural History Museum sectioned (cut though) the shells supplied and then counted the growth lines on the mussel shell using a high powered microscope.

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Growth lines visible on the freshwater pearl mussel shell.

Esk FWPM - Age and length graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

This age/length graph will allow us to age fairly accurately any mussels we find in the wild in the future just by measuring them.

A total of 10 shells were aged by Dr Dunca, and the graph below shows that the mussels sent to Sweden ranged in age from 45 to 88 years of age.  The mussels in the River Esk also showed normal growth rates.

Esk FWPM - Length frequency graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

Length frequency graph of mussels in the River Esk

The smallest live mussel we have found in the Esk up to now was 75mm (approximately 28 years of age). This means the last time the Esk mussels reproduced successfully in the wild was in the late 1980s. The largest mussel we have found in the Esk was 156mm (approximately 100 years of age), which means it was born around the time of the First World War. The vast majority of the mussels are around the 130mm-140mm size range (approximately 80 years of age). We now know for scientific certainty that the Esk has an ageing population in need of help!

The best hope for our mussels is for them to start to successfully reproduce again. We’re working with the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) who are carrying out captive breeding work in the Lake District. We hope to re-introduce the captive bred young Esk mussels from the FBA Facility back into the Esk once the riparian habitat is restored enough to sustain them, and so ultimately stop this species from becoming extinct in the wild (of Yorkshire).

* Please note – No mussels were harmed in the making of this study! We used empty shells that were found on the banks of the Esk.

Thanks to our funders at Biffa Award, for their support to carry out this vital research work.

Biffa

Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund.

Helping turn plans into profit

Amy Thomas – North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme Manager

North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme logoIt’s great to be able to start a new year with some good news – so we are very pleased to say that the North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER Programme is now open for business again.

LEADER funding is for projects that create jobs and help businesses grow and which therefore benefit the rural economy.

Between now and September 2018 the LEADER Programme in the North York Moors, Coast and Hills area is looking to support applications for projects or activity under the following four priorities:

  1. Farm Productivity;
  2. Micro and Small Business & Farm Diversification;
  3. Rural Tourism; and
  4. Forestry Productivity.

Farm Productivity
As an important and significant economic sector in the wider North York Moors area, the Programme wants to support the agricultural sector to grow and become more profitable. Applications under this priority need to help improve your farms productivity. Examples of potential activities include:

  • The purchase of equipment to improve the efficiency of use of water, energy, fertilizer, and animal feeds such as LED lighting in livestock sheds,
    specialist drills and crop robotics;
  • Support for businesses which process, market or develop agricultural products both on and off farm holdings, for example food and drink businesses and butchery facilities; or
  • Improvements to animal health and welfare for example gait analysis systems, mobile handling systems, and electronic weight systems linked to EID (electronic identification) readers.

Pickering Market Place

Micro and Small Businesses
LEADER wants to help establish, support and grow micro and small businesses in the area. Investments can be made which will help you produce more or something new, or help you access new markets or link up with other businesses in the area. All applications will need to show that the investment will directly result in increased employment opportunities and / or growth of the business. Farm diversification activities are also eligible.

Rural Tourism
Tourism is another key element of our Blue plaque - Brompton, near Scarboroughlocal economy. The LEADER Programme wants to support tourism businesses to improve their offer to visitors, to be more innovative in the use of technology, and to extend the season which will increase footfall and visitor spending in the area. Visitor attractions, facilities, products and services can all be considered. To be successful your application will need to show that jobs will be created and that the economy will benefit as a result of any funding being awarded.

Forestry Productivity
Our fourth priority is forestry. LEADER wants to support forestry contracting businesses or private forestry holdings requiring equipment and machinery to help produce, extract or process both timber and non-timber products. Continuing with the economic theme of the Programme, your application will need to show that LEADER funding will help create employment opportunities, and add value to the timber / forest products, as well as improve woodland management.

Forestry management in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.Our area has inspiring landscapes, unique attractions, notable assets and resourceful people – LEADER funding can help make more of these benefits. If you have plans for your farm, your business, your community, it would be well worth having a look at what LEADER is offering.

Full details on how to apply, including the Outline Application (and a list of eligible / ineligible equipment), can be found on our website – www.moorscoastandhills.org.uk

Our website also has a lot more information on LEADER, but if you have any questions or queries, or would like to talk through a potential project or application in advance of submitting an Outline Application, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Revitalising the Rye

Tom Stephenson, External Funding Officer

There must be something in the water in the North York Moors, having just started delivering the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, the National Park Authority and its partners* have also been successful at the first stage of securing a further £2 million of Heritage Lottery Fund money to develop our next Landscape Partnership SchemeRyevitalise.

The River Rye and its tributaries rise on the moorland of the North York Moors, flowing through fast and clear upland becks that carve out steep sided dales until the land flattens and the river slows and broadens taking on the character of the undulating Howardian Hills and the flat lowlands of the Vale of Pickering. The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme under development will help appreciate and enhance the Rye’s verdant landscape and clear waters which have been prized for millennia for their beauty and tranquillity resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape.

Planned projects will cover four themes:

  • Water Environment, looking at aquatic habitats of the Rye and rare and threatened species;
  • Water Quality, working with land-owners and managers to reduce pollution;
  • Water Level Management, working alongside our delivery partners to harness natural processes to manage the sources and pathways of flood waters; and
  • Reconnecting People, improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and helping people to protect their heritage.

Without wanting to spoil the surprise of future blog posts, below are just some of the particular issues we are aiming to address through Ryevitalise scheme projects if we’re lucky enough to be successful in our Stage 2 application due in October 2018.

The wet…

Water is the major theme of Ryevitalise. Through the Ryevitalise scheme, from the high moorlands to the lowland wetlands, we will identify priority areas of riparian habitat for restoration to ensure existing high-value habitats (and their species) are in positive management and can act as nodes from which to extend outwards by creating ‘stepping stones’ and connections between these habitat sites.

Wetter still, we will assess the geomorphology and key features of the aquatic environment and target areas where aquatic habitats could be improved by creating changes to the channel through creating gravel bars, by placing debris to create slacks or by making changes to river bank profile. This work will include a survey of the habitats and species of the oxbow lakes in the lower Rye, and also the collecting and analysis of sediment cores to look for valuable paleoecological data which might shed light on how the local landscape formed.

The dry…

We have previously reported on the problems that fluctuating water levels in the River Rye
in Duncombe Park has on the White-clawed crayfish, the only native crayfish in the UK, White-clawed crayfish - during 2016 rescue in Duncombe Park. Copyright NYMNPA.which is suffering from a “perfect storm” of threats. Ryevitalise will prioritise protective measures for the existing population and carry out a feasibility study to identify where potential local ark sites might be located. Ark sites for White-clawed crayfish would allow populations to become established in isolation, separated from the threat of non-native crayfish and the crayfish plague they can carry.

The small…

Alcathoe bat. Copyright Cyril Schonbachler.One of the Rye catchment’s smallest inhabitants is the Alcathoe bat. Relatively new to science, having been first identified in 2001 and only recently becoming the latest addition to the UK bat family, this little creature has only been found at two other sites in the UK so far. Ryevitalise will seek to establish a deeper knowledge of where colonies of the Alcathoe bat and other key bat populations are, along with the requirements to support their survival.

The tall…

At the other end of the size spectrum and intrinsically linked to bats are some of the Rye catchment’s largest residents – its ancient and veteran trees. The area is a national hotspot for these giants that not only give an air of majesty to the landscape as living witnesses to history but also provide important habitat for many invertebrate species as well as providing important roosting sites for Rye bat populations.

The old…

Not only is the Rye catchment home to iconic built heritage like Rievaulx Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace, Duncombe Park and Nunnington Hall but it also contains a wealth of less obvious heritage that traces vernacular land use and tells the story of the working River Rye. Working with local history groups, Ryevitalise will record the remaining evidence of man’s relationship with the river over the centuries, surveying and recording the traces of the former agricultural and industrial settlements along the river banks. Accurate 3D models will be produced of the principal remaining watermills, iron working sites, water races and leats. Essential conservation and consolidation work will be identified from the surveys carried out.

The new…

Meanders in Rye near Sproxton - can see the water crowfoot beds within the river, September 2016. Copyright North East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre.Like a lot of watercourses, it is not practical to access the river in its entirety at ground level. So as part of the Ryevitalise scheme an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight will record the entire 50km main river from its moorland origins all the way downstream to where it
meets the River Derwent. This will produce an invaluable record and will provide an insightful journey along the river for local communities, highlighting how this vital artery connects them all. Tailored sections of flight data will be made freely available to local schools, businesses, and community groups as a community resource; it will also form part of the scheme’s wider education programme.

We are all really excited about the next steps in developing the Ryevitalise scheme; the opportunity to make the most of the wealth of habitats, species and history surrounding the river; the potential to make a lasting difference to this wonderful landscape, and the chance to create a real splash.

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* Partners currently include East Yorkshire Rivers Trust, English Heritage, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Howardian Hills AONB, National Trust, Natural England, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council, Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, as well as local communities.

End of an era

Our Senior Archaeologist is taking phased retirement, so before he goes he has been asked to reflect on his time with the North York Moors National Park.

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

graham-leeHow do I sum up a career lasting over a quarter of a century in a few paragraphs? It is a strange feeling to have 26 years seemingly flash by so fast.

I started work for the North York Moors National Park in April 1990, having previously worked in the archaeology section of North Yorkshire County Council since the summer of 1983. I had decided many years before that I loved the north of England and had no desire to return to my southern ‘roots’.

Graham had decided many years before that he loved the north of England, whatever the weather ... Copyright - NYMNPA.One of my first tasks with the National Park was the completion of a management survey of one of our large estates, encompassing moorland and large blocks of forestry. This quickly whetted my appetite for the excitement of making new archaeological discoveries – often very subtle earthworks, no more than a handful of centimetres in depth or relief – despite an exceptional tradition of previous high quality archaeological fieldwork in the region. Working solo in large blocks of conifers was a good test of dedication – crawling under the branches of dense stands of conifers searching for vague earthworks mapped in the 1890s – and the steadiness of nerve, when yet another wretched pheasant exploded out of the leafy vegetation where I was just about to step! In recent years the delights of discovery have been broadening thanks to new technology and techniques, especially LiDAR which provides an aerial view through tree and ground-cover vegetation of archaeological remains that were previously hidden or obscured.

If you have a passion for the past, the North York Moors have something for pretty much everyone – enigmatic Neolithic rock art; surviving prehistoric pitted boundaries and avenues; upstanding Bronze Age funerary monuments and field systems; Roman encampments; medieval castles and monasteries…

Human industry is also well represented – from the earliest iron industry through the search for alum into the full-blown “iron rush” of the mid 19th century, the exploitation of coal and jet, and the plentiful local rivers managed to provide motive power for a range of watermills. Research and conservation priorities relating to these local industries finally led to our new HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, This Exploited Land of Iron. Some 15 or so years in gestation, it is very rewarding to see new generations captured by the excitement of the important remains of our 19th century ironstone industry and the associated development of early railways – although the original scheme for a canal link between Whitby and Pickering would have been a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction if it had ever been built.

Into the 20th century, remains survive here from both world wars – in the form of coastal defences, army camps as well as troop training and target practice areas. Finds are still occasionally made of 2nd World War unexploded ordnance in former training areas across the North York Moors, in particular after the wildfire on Fylingdales Moor in 2003 which affected two square kilometres of heather moorland.

Fylingdales Moor after teh wildfire in 2003. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Although an environmental disaster – the severity of the fire in reducing the shallow peat cover to ash, this event was an archaeological revelation. Virtually everywhere you looked, subtle archaeological remains became visible, including the drip gulleys around former prehistoric round houses, low stony prehistoric boundaries and cairns, large numbers of previously unrecorded examples of Neolithic rock art and occasional shallow trenches which resembled grave cuts with a subsiding infill. As numbers of the latter quickly increased their interpretation became clear – slit trenches from 2nd World War troop training. I remember my first visit to the site after the fire when the ground was reddened and blackened, covered in ash and still smouldering; few trees had survived and many had toppled after the peat holding their roots in place had been burnt away. Flashes of colour were very noticeable, such as an adder emerging from its underground refuge having survived the conflagration. A major project ensued, both to protect and restore the moorland habitat and to record and investigate the breath-taking remains of surviving archaeology.

Rosedale Calcining Kilns in a perilous state. Copyright - NYMNPA.There have always been new specialisms to get to grips with. A visit to the Scheduled Rosedale iron calcining kilns with the Park’s Conservation Director at the time revealed that a portion of one of the kilns’ firebrick linings had collapsed the previous winter. This led to a major conservation project to stabilise these huge monuments which ran for three years in the mid 1990s, a forerunner of This Exploited Land which will continue the efforts to conserve these monumental sites 20 years on.

Conservation project to stabalise the Calcining Kilns in the 1990s. Copyright - NYMNPA.

It has been such a pleasure working with like-minded and dedicated professionals, both in my own National Park, but also with colleagues throughout the family of British National Parks, and Historic England and Natural England. We’ve shared experiences and ideas to the betterment of our discipline from research to management, and also shared the excitement of attempting to bring our subject, which we love, to life for anyone who cares to see and to get involved.

Graham at work - examining finds at an archaeological excavation - Coxwold Creative Minds Project, March 2006. Copyright - NYMNPA.

The National Park Authority is currently looking for a new Senior Archaeologist to lead on archaeology in the North York Moors. The closing date for applications is 26 January 2017.

This Exploited Land – hitting the ground running

Tom Mutton – TEL Programme Manager

This Exploited Land (TEL), our HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, is now building up steam with projects starting on the ground and the recruitment of new project staff underway. As well as myself we’ve got Elspeth Ingleby as our Natural Heritage Officer and Thelma Wingfield as our Administrative Assistant. The remaining two TEL vacancies for a Cultural Heritage Officer and a Volunteer Coordinator are expected to be filled by January. Special thanks to Louise Cooke for building and nurturing the Scheme to where it is today. We hope Louise will continue to be involved with TEL and will see all the project ideas become a reality over the next five years.

One of the first projects underway is the repair of the landslip at the East Kilns in Rosedale. The landslip is on the line of the old Rosedale Railway and is a popular route round the top end of the dale. The remedial engineering works will maintain safe access along the path, enable vital practical access to the two sets of kilns which will be subject to major consolidation during 2017/18, and help conserve into the future the distinctive landscape feature of the railway embankment as it carves its way along the hillside.

Rosedale East landslip - before start of works. Copyright NYMNPA.

The works to stabilise the embankment and rebuild the path involve digging away all the loose material down to firm foundations and constructing four tiers of stone-filled gabion baskets topped with a new stone path. The front of the baskets that will be visible after the works have been faced with soil filled bags containing a specially selected moorland grass seed mix. Despite the cool autumn weather this seed is already germinating.

The works are due to be completed and the path reopened by mid-November.

During the works archaeologists have been keeping a watching brief to help identify and understand the construction of the railway. A couple of original sleepers were salvaged, one with the track shoe still in place. The profile of how the track was built up using waste from the calcining kilns (red/brown) and cinders from engines (black) can be clearly seen in the photograph below taken during the excavation.

Rosedale landslip repairs autumn 2016 - section through the railway track bed showing original materials used. Copyright NYMNPA.

Rosedale landslip repairs autumn 2016 - original sleepers from railway track. Copyright NYMNPA.

Regular monitoring of the landslip by local residents reported on the Rosedale Abbey Blog had showed the slip getting progressively worse so time was of the essence for these repairs at the beginning of TEL. Now the same residents have been reporting on the works underway and will continue to monitor the site as it recovers.

To sign up for the mailing list for This Exploited Land and find out more about our exciting Landscape Partnership Scheme – see here.

This Exploited Land: the trailblazing story of ironstone and railways in the
North York Moors

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Patience and perserverance

We’ve launched a new concerted effort against two of the most threatening non-native invasive plant species in the North York Moors, bolstered by funding from Yorkshire Water over the next four years. We’re chasing down Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in the River Esk and River Rye catchments.

As well as damaging existing ecosystems and decreasing diversity, both these species tend to overwhelm other plant species along river banks and the danger from this is that during the winter when these non-natives die back the banksides are left bare of vegetation so subject to erosion which increases the sediment getting into watercourses and smothering the water habitat.

Both plants are vigorous growers and virulent spreaders. Himalayan balsam disperses thousands of seeds per plant through exploding seed pods that can propel the seeds metres from the original plant. If the plants are next to watercourses the seeds can be carried downstream to colonise new areas. Japanese knotweed spreads through its underground rhizomes which are so effective that all remnants of the plants need to be carefully disposed of because even a small fragment of rhizome if given the chance to re-root will form a new plant.

The only way to have any real impact on the plants is to tackle them systematically starting at the top of catchments and moving downstream, and repeating the control year after year to remove any vestiges of the plants. This new funding will provide a much needed boost to efforts made over the last few years.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - it has a sickly, sweet smell, pink flowers and a bright green hollow stem. It can grow up to two meters tall. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Japanese knotweed grows to around three metres tall and has large alternate heart shaped leaves and a characteristic zigzag stem covered in purple speckles. Its flowers, which appear in late summer, consist of clusters of tiny creamy-white flowers. Copyright - NYMNPA.

We’ll be surveying the current extent of the plants and then resurveying each year to monitor the effects of the control. We’re using tried and tested control methods – hand pulling the Himalayan balsam before it gets the chance to seed and propogate, and treating individual Japanese knotweed plants with directly administered glyphosate injections to carry the chemical down into the rhizomes. We’ll be using contractors and volunteers to carry out the work coordinated by National Park staff.

Controlling and hopefully eradicating non-native invasive species in an area takes a long time. Simon, our River Esk Project Officer, is a real enthusiast for non-native invasive species control because he sees the detrimental effects the plants have on the river environment and on his beloved Freshwater pearl mussels. He can see the years of attrition starting to pay off as native vegetation starts to recolonise sites where invasive species have been removed.

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose” — Benjamin Disraeli

From Beck Hole to Brazil

Louise Cooke – This Exploited Land Progamme Manager

This Exploited Land has a wealth of stories to tell. These stories from the past can be traced on the landscape today and have tracks stretching out beyond the North York Moors.

For 30 years from 1836 the trains along the new Whitby to Pickering railway had to overcome the 1:15 incline at Beck Hole. The carriages were initially horse-drawn but when the trains came up against the steep gradient of the incline between Beck Hole and Goathland the only way up and down was pulling and holding the carriages on a system of wire ropes. Steam power took over from horses in 1845, but trains still had to negotiate the incline by means of winches. Winches are intrinsically dangerous; a fatal accident occurred in 1864. The delays, problems and dangers of using the incline motivated the construction of a more practical deviation line in 1865. This allowed steam locomotives to travel along the complete line for the first time, and this is the current route of the North York Moors Railway.

2015 LiDAR image - NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above is a detail of the TEL Lidar survey undertaken in the development phase of the TEL Scheme. The defined line at the top shows the route of the current NYMR Whitby-Pickering Railway. The less defined line through the centre shows the route of the Beck Hole Incline.

So what happened to the ‘abandoned’ Beck Hole incline which connects the TEL landscape to Brazil and to innovations in railway technology that changed the ways railways worked through the 20th century…

In 1872 a 685 metre length of 3’7” (narrow) gauge track was laid on the disused Beck Hole Incline and successful tests were carried on a fell-system locomotive built by Manning & Wardle of Leeds. A fell-system uses a third rail to provide the necessary extra power and control when travelling up and down intense slopes. Manning & Wardle narrow gauges were exported around the world to Europe, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Australasia and South America – so this short stretch of the Beck Hole Incline may have had an impact on the wider world opening up mountainous regions to exploitation.

Four fell-system locomotives were purchased from Manning & Wardle for use on the Cantagallo Railway in Brazil. This was Brazil’s first mountain railway linking Niterói to Nova Friburgo and allowed coffee to be shipped down from the mountains and out to the coast for export.

Back in the North York Moors, late in 1908 the railway line from Grosmont to the foot of the incline was re-opened for an Autocar service which ran in the summer months until the outbreak of the war in 1914. The North East Railway’s Autocars used early experimental petrol engines that generated electricity, and so are predecessors of the diesel and electric trains which took over the railways through the 20th century. The excursion/day trips by Autocar to Beck Hole saw tourists and visitors making use of industrial remains within the declining industrial landscape at the time.

Part of the Beck Hole Incline today – now the Historic Rail Trail. Copyright NYMNPA.

The site of the former railway station at Beck Hole at the base of the Incline – shown by the stone edge. Copyright NYMNPA. The Beck Hole Incline is now the route of the Historic Rail Trail footpath between Goathland and Grosmont. Walking down the incline today it is hard to imagine how it worked and what it looked like in its hey-day. It is perhaps even harder to imagine how this now tranquil part of the North York Moors is associated with changes in railway technology and how Beck Hole can be connected to Brazil.

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Habitat connectivity: evaluating potential

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Over the last month or so I’ve been investigating habitat connectivity in a new target area – near Boltby on the western fringe of the North York Moors.

Landscape from top of escarpment, near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

This particular area has a fantastic variety of habitats, from the arable plain on top of the escarpment, down the slope through Boltby Forest and across to the pasture fields in the west. Our overarching objective for this area is to strengthen the mosaic of habitats, with special reference to improving networks for butterflies and bats.

After my initial desk-based research I proceeded to ground truth the area to establish how much of our mapping and existing information was still accurate and to build up a current picture of the area. With so many public rights of way in the National Park exploring is usually pretty straightforward, but for closer examination of any particular area we would always ensure we have the land manager’s permission.

Felled veteran tree with dead wood left in situ (good for invertebrates, fungii and lichens) - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

It’s important to establish what levels of connectivity already exist. Above the escarpment most of the arable fields are in Environmental Stewardship agreements, which suggests positive environmental land management is already in place and making use of national agri-environment schemes is something we would always encourage where appropriate for the environment and the land manager.

The Forestry Commission own a large forest within the area – Boltby Forest – and their Forest Design Plan sets out their long-term vision. This includes increasing the ratio of broadleaved trees to conifers and maintaining areas of open space. The open space is very useful in terms of meeting our original objectives for the area because open spaces in woodland create edge habitat which attracts bats.

Within Boltby Forest - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Another valuable habitat found within this area is unimproved and semi improved grassland, both acidic and calcareous in terms of soil pH because it’s where the farmland of the Vale of Mowbray meets the western edge of the moorland. Some of these grassland sites appear to be in a good condition and have an appropriate level of grazing to maintain this, whereas others seem more precarious.

Heath bedstraw and tormentil, indicative of an acidic grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Lots of wild thyme, commonly found on calcareous sites - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.The biggest threat to most of the grassland appears to be a lack of effective grazing. On several sites rank grass are beginning to dominate, resulting in wildflowers being outcompeted. On other sites scrub encroachment means that the grassland interest will diminish.

Rank grass and ash trees taking over a grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

In a site where grazing is happening, there is occasional poaching (heavy ground trampling) by cattle alongside the small watercourse. This happens when stock congregate along particular parts of the bank to drink, or cross over.

Poached land beside a small beck - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Bracken is another issue in the target area. Bracken isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can provide excellent cover for ground flora and butterflies such as the rare Pearl-bordered fritillary, but its tendency to spread means that it can very quickly outcompete and overcome other vegetation.

Bracken alongside a public footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

There are plenty of positive biodiversity hot spots in this area, including patches of habitat that are excellent for butterflies. There are also a number of established hedgerows acting as wildlife corridors for bats to navigate by.

Common blue butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Small copper butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

So once I’d assessed the area and its connectivity potential, I discussed ideas and options for how best to deliver the original objective with input from Rona, our Ecologist, and Mark, our Woodland Officer.

One of the key ideas coming out of these discussions is to provide long term replacements for the many mature in-field and boundary trees. These trees provide multiple benefits such as shelter for stock as well as a habitat for birds, invertebrates and insects. I recorded a standing veteran tree during my on-site survey and ideally we would like to see this tree fenced off as the stock in the field are causing considerable erosion around the base which may be weakening it.

To reduce the poaching alongside the watercourse we could help repair the fencing and investigate the use of a field trough so the cattle wouldn’t need to drink out of the beck.

Another idea is to fence off a particular area of mature ash trees to allow natural regeneration. This is because some ash trees show genetic resistance to the ash dieback pathogen, so whilst planting new ash trees is currently not encouraged assisting natural regeneration by older trees might mean that potentially disease resistant stocks are bolstered.

For the various grassland sites in the area, different management options are proposed. On the sites with bracken encroachment we could suggest organising volunteer tasks to help keep the bracken under control. On other sites we will need to discuss with the land manager their aims for their land and see if there is scope to manage levels of grazing to ensure the wildflower interest remains and potentially expands. Land manager engagement is a crucial part of the habitat connectivity development process – our management proposals on private land can’t happen without their permission and goodwill. Negotiations are the next step in the habitat connectivity process.

Overall I think this target area near Boltby is in a pretty well connected condition. There is already a mosaic of habitats suitable for bats and butterflies, and it forms part of a much more extensive network along the western fringe of the North York Moors. Our involvement will probably be relatively minimal, working where we can with local land managers to conserve the valuable grasslands and to sustain the important tree population into the future.

Landscape near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

 

A to Z: a horde of Hs

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HANDALE ABBEY

Handale Abbey Farm nestles in a sleepy valley near Grinkle Park in the north of the North York Moors. On first glance there is little to indicate its dramatic past but closer inspection reveals clues to its history…

The farmstead was once the site of a Cistercian Priory and home to a small community of nuns. Handale Priory was founded in 1133 and is thought to have stood somewhere near
the existing farmhouse. Nuns from Rosedale Abbey in the south of the North York Moors Handale Abbey - mediaeval cross shaft base and tomb lid - copyright NYMNPA.were sent to this outlying subsidiary house as a penance, presumably because of the difficult journey required to get there over the moors and possibly due to the hard day to day life once they got there although little documentary evidence survives to help us understand what life would have been like for the women who lived and worked at Handale Priory.

In the centuries following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, the Priory’s surviving mill building was used for the manufacture of cotton undergarments and the Priory ruins were incorporated into a new farmhouse and walled garden. Evidence of the Priory can be seen today in the medieval fish pond to the south of the walled garden and the medieval tomb lid and cross base which have been relocated to the base of the medieval wall to the left of the farmhouse. There is a small carved stone that stands next to the tomb which is a memorial to the last cart horse at the farm before diesel engines took over.

There is also a less historic more fantastical tale associated with the site too. Local legend tells of a ‘loathsome serpent’ that lived in the area and would steal beautiful maidens from nearby Loftus, bringing them back to its lair at Handale to devour. One day a brave knight called Scaw killed the serpent and rescued one of the beautiful maidens called Emma Beckwith from the serpent’s lair. The couple wed and presumably lived happily ever after. The nearby wood is known as Scaw’s Wood. In 1830, along with 16 other burials (possibly remains from the nuns’ graveyard) a coffin was found on the site with a picture of a sword and the words ‘snake slayer’ carved in the lid. The skeleton inside was apparently holding a four foot long sword and so naturally was believed to be Scaw himself.

In 2011 the LEADER Programme funded the repairs of the disused, listed walled garden at
the site which was in a parlous state and classified as being at ‘extreme risk’. The project Handale Abbey Farm - bringing the Walled Garden back to life - copyright NYMNPA.also commissioned an imaginatively designed interpretation panel and bench, and a contemporary gate to keep cattle out. At this current time permissive access into the garden is still extant and visitors are welcome. Along with the local apple varieties introduced into the reinvigorated garden there were also initially bee hives. The current owners would be keen to host new hives if anyone is interested in producing Handale Honey.

HEATHER and HEATH

The North York Moors is renowned for its heather – the largest continuous expanse of heather moorland in England and Wales – which blooms purple during the summer months (July/August). The display is mainly made up of three species – Bell heather (Erica cinerea), Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). The main difference between a heather and a heath plant is their leaf structure. In addition there is a record of another heath plant in one location on the North York Moors – St Dabeoc’s Heath (Daboecia cantabrica) – which is more familiar in the west of Ireland.

Heather moorland - copyright NYMNPA.

The moorland habitats of the North York Moors are dominated by heather and heath. The dry climate in the east of England favours NVC (National Vegetation Classification) types H9 Calluna vulgarisDeschampsia flexuosa, with some H10 Calluna vulgarisErica cinerea heath on well-drained areas and large areas of H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath on steeper slopes. However there are also smaller areas of M16 Erica tetralixSphagnum compactum wet heath. From North York Moors Special Area of Conservation site details.

HEDGEROWS

Hedgerows are man-made lines of trees managed and manipulated to demarcate boundaries and to control stock. Every hedgerow will have had a purpose and every hedgerow has a value. Hedgerows can develop their own understorey of plants and provide shelter and food for invertebrates, birds and animals. They act as living connecting corridors between other habitats and are important visual features in an English landscape. Hedgerows can last as hedgerows for a very long time as long as they continue to be managed and the longer they last the more biodiverse they can become – one new plant species establishes in a hedge about every 100 years.

Old roadside hedge, Bilsdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.Because of the importance of hedgerows in the North York Moors we’re offering grants to help land managers regenerate and gap up their valued hedgerows.

Where hedgerows no longer have an agricultural purpose they might be seen as a hindrance to modern land management. To remove an agricultural hedge more than 30 years old a land manager must apply to the Local Planning Authority for a Hedgerow Removal Notice (under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997); for the North York Moors National Park we’re the Local Planning Authority. When this happens we need to establish whether the hedgerow is ‘important’ according to a number of set criteria that consider both its ecological and historical value. If the hedgerow is ‘important’ the hedgerow is retained and if it isn’t, the hedgerow can be removed. There are very few applications for hedgerow removal in the North York Moors.

HERBERT READ

Herbert Read (1893 – 1968) was born at Muscoates Grange in Ryedale, just to the south of the North York Moors. As a child, following the death of his father, his family moved from the pre WW1 countryside to the city (Leeds and Halifax to be precise). The feelings engendered of loss and contrast had a profound effect on him.

During his lifetime Herbert Read was an army officer, a bank worker, a museum curator, an academic, a journal and book editor, a writer, a poet, a theorist and critic. He co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts and was President of the Society for Education in Art. He was a prodigious thinker and believed in art as a necessity for society. He saw art as a natural organic phenomenon that comes out of a need for expression and championed modern British sculptors and artists of the mid-20th century. Despite being a theoretical anarchist he was knighted in 1953.

Herbert Read returned to Ryedale in his later years. Here he wrote about his recollections and current thoughts, now that he was back.

Sir Herbert Read - Leeds University Library Special Collections - https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections

From Between the Riccall and the Rye: selected writings on Ryedale from Herbert Read’s poetry and prose (© The Herbert Read Trust):

“I think I heard those hooves again the night my father died, but of this I am not certain; perhaps I shall remember when I come to relate that event, for now the memory of those years, which end shortly after my tenth birthday, comes fitfully, when the proper associations are aroused. If only I can recover the sense and uncertainty of those innocent years, years in which we seemed not so much to live as to be lived by forces outside us, by the wind and trees and moving clouds and all the mobile engines of our expanding world – then I am convinced I shall possess a key to much that has happened to me in this other world of conscious living. The echoes of my life which I find in my early childhood are too many to be dismissed as vain coincidences; but it is perhaps my conscious life which is the echo, the only real experiences in life being those lived with a virgin sensibility – so that we only hear a tone once, only see a colour once, see, hear, touch, taste and smell everything but once, the first time. All life is an echo of our first sensations, and we build up our consciousness our whole mental life, by variations and combinations of these elementary sensations. But it is more complicated than that, for the senses apprehend not only colours and tones and shapes, but also patterns and atmospheres, and our first discovery of these determines the larger patterns and subtler atmospheres of all our subsequent existence.”

HIGHLAND CATTLE

Highland Cattle are great at conservation grazing, they’re particularly hardy, and they’re also extremely placid.

There are currently five Highland Cattle on the coastal slope at Common Cliff (also known as Beast Cliff) near Ravenscar. Common Cliff is a 44 hectare area of undercliff habitat at Ravenscar. The site is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its seacliff grassland communities; however these grasslands are being encroached upon by rank grasses, bracken and scrub. So a 5-year conservation grazing programme was introduced in 2015, hence the cattle.

Highland Cattle grazing Common Cliff - copyright NYMNPA.

Grazing cattle on the site has three particular effects:

Defoliation – The cattle are ideal for removing long, coarse vegetation – they wrap their tongues around the vegetation pulling tufts into their mouths which leaves a tussocky appearance. Removing this coarse vegetation will allow wildflowers, such as the Common Spotted Orchid, to flourish. Cattle are less selective grazers (compared to sheep or ponies) and do not eat flower heads, unlike sheep.

Trampling – Cattle are heavy animals and as they walk around the site, they trample the vegetation, creating pathways through the bracken and scrub, opening up the dense sward and suppressing growth of these unwanted species. Hoof marks can also create germination niches – areas where wild flower seeds can germinate.

Dunging/manuring – Dunging returns nutrient back to the soil whilst also providing a food source for invertebrates.

Because of their hardiness the cattle can remain on the sea edge site throughout the year. They are also very sure-footed, a must for grazing on coastal slopes! The stock is checked regularly, the site has been fenced to help manage the animals, and there is a year round water supply, to ensure that the cattle stay happy and healthy.

 HISTORIC ENGLAND

Historic England (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is the Government’s statutory adviser on all aspects of the historic environment and its heritage assets. This includes archaeology on land and under water, historic building sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historic elements of the wider landscape. The National Park Authority works closely with Historic England to achieve shared objectives, recent examples of partnership working include:

Traditional Estates Craft Apprenticeship Project (2012-2014) – In partnership with the University of York, and Historic England we launched a new apprenticeship scheme which offered three young apprentices hands-on experience in a range of building maintenance and conservation skills. Hosted by Estates in the North York Moors the apprentices gained the specialist skills needed for conserving the nationally important built heritage of the National Park whilst achieving their NVQ Level 2 at York College. The initial project was so successful we’re hoping to follow it up with a new Trailblazer Apprenticeship.

New Listings – Historic England advises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on which heritage assets are nationally important and should therefore be protected by designation. Buildings and structures which meet the criteria for national protection are listed. This protection system has been in place since 1947 and operates under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The test for listing is architectural or historic special interest, with the final decision to list being taken by Government. Recently within the North York Moors Historic England has listed a rare surviving Clapper Bridge and a Battle of the Somme War Memorial on Commondale Moor.

Monument Management Scheme – This is a partnership initiative largely funded by Historic England which has been running in North York Moors since 2009; we’re now into Phase 3. The essential aim of MMS is to improve the condition of scheduled monuments and ultimately to remove ‘At Risk’ monuments from the Heritage at Risk Register, using the most practical means available. The current Register includes 54 of the National Park’s 841 Scheduled Monuments (as of November 2015) – a big reduction from the 198 which were ‘At Risk’ when the MMS began in 2009.

Buildings at Risk Survey Pilot – Using funding from Historic England, we created a NYMNPA Buildings at Risk AppNYMNPA Buildings at Risk Appsmart phone survey application to help with condition surveys of listed buildings. The App allows volunteers to remotely access information about the National Park’s listed buildings and enables on-site condition assessments to be carried out and data automatically updated. With a runners-up prize from the Campaign for National Parks’ Park Protector Awards, we were able to refine the App and Historic England have since used the concept to create their own version which is now being trialled prior to launch.

Grant provision and advice – Joint funding projects between the National Park Authority and Historic England have enabled the removal of several key buildings from the Buildings at Risk Register recently, like the Ionic Temple and Nelson Gates at Duncombe Park in Helmsley. The Authority also liaises closely with Historic England in providing coordinated expert advice to support the conservation of important historical sites in the North York Moors, such as Whorlton Castle Gatehouse and Arden Mill on the River Rye.

Whorlton Castle Gatehouse - copyright Paul D Hunter.

Historic England have lots of useful advice notes and guidance on managing and maintaining our built heritage, for example suggesting sensitive and practical ways for home owners to improve the energy efficiency of listed buildings such as draught-proofing of windows, secondary glazing, cavity walls and insulation.

HOBS

A lot of cultures have their own ‘other folk’. These other folk have lots of different names such as Fairies, Trolls and Goblins; in the North York Moors they are known as Hobs. Hobs are little and aren’t renowned for their good looks. They can be very helpful and are keen to work hard, just as long as you are grateful in return. If you’re not suitably grateful or you try and trick a Hob – woe betide you.

The National Park has a team of Volunteers known as The Hobs. They’re not necessarily little or lacking in good looks but they do work hard.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G