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.

Shared learning

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

I’ve taken over the role of Conservation Project Assistant from Kirsty who left the National Park Authority earlier this year for pastures new.

Roy McGhie - learning to scythe at Ryedale Folk Museum - copyright Roy Hampson

I have had a fairly diverse career so far. I am a qualified primary teacher, have worked in business and manufacturing, and have spent more time studying than I care to think about! I have always had a passion for the natural environment, and volunteered whenever and wherever I could. A recent move to North Yorkshire enabled me to retrain in this sector, and now I find myself working for the National Park Authority, which is a dream come true. I love being able to meet the people who manage the land in the National Park, helping them to conserve and enhance the North York Moors in a way that is beneficial to both people and the environment. So far I’ve been largely concentrating on turning Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) applications into agreements to help restore boundaries that are so important to the landscape character of the North York Moors.

North York Moors National Park landscape - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

Amidst my TBS efforts, a couple of weeks ago John (Land Management Adviser) and I attended the annual Farm Liaison Officers conference hosted by the South Downs National Park. This event is an opportunity for agri-environment staff from all 15 of the UK’s National Parks to meet and discuss common issues and difficulties that we face, as well as to find areas of best practice which we can take back to our own National Parks. Whilst the job titles differ from Park to Park it was clear that what we all shared was a passion for working with land managers to achieve mutually beneficial conservation goals.

The first full day was filled with site visits – even if the specific habitats and species we saw were sometimes different to those in the North York Moors, the issues around land management and competing pressures are similar to those we face here.

Tom Tupper - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPAThe first day started with a visit to Bignor Farm near Pulborough. Here, Tom Tupper, a local landowner, introduced us to the chalk grasslands, known as downlands, that make up much of the iconic character of the South Downs. During World War II the South Downs lost about 80% of its grassy downlands, partly to intensive agriculture for food production, and partly to military training. Today, only about 4% of the South Downs remain as chalk downland.

Tom also took us to Bignor Roman Villa, which has been in his family’s stewardship since it was re-discovered over 200 years ago. The site is renowned for having some of the best Roman mosaics in the country, both in terms of detail and preservation. Our stop at the villa allowed us to discuss the intricacies of preserving monuments alongside the public (and often financial) requirement for interpretation and access. There are similar issues at Cawthorn Camps, a Roman site on the North York Moors.

Roman Villa - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We visited Peppering Farm on the Norfolk Estate. The Estate is currently in a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment agreement, but carries out more conservation work than it receives money towards, for instance in regards to reversing the decline of the Grey Partridge. This highlighted the ongoing issues that arise from trying to balance landscape enhancement with the need for productive practical agriculture. We also saw a restored dew pond. Dew ponds have been dated as far back as Neolithic times, and are a source of much debate as to how they traditionally filled up with water. Landscape archaeology suggests they were used for watering cattle and were lined with clay to hold the water. As we saw, they are always a popular haven for wildlife. There are number of such ponds in and around the North York Moors.

Dew Pond - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

We also visited Pepperscombe on the Wiston Estate. Here we were introduced to the Steyning Downland Scheme which aims to reconnect people, particularly children, with the countryside around them. The Scheme partly came about because of increased visitor pressure on the South Downs Way, which runs through many farms and fields, as well as mountain biking and dog walking issues. Today there are Trustees and a steering group to represent the needs of the local community, which has seen a designated area created for bikers, the establishment of a team of local volunteers to monitor the plant life, and the opportunity for school children to enjoy creative educational days out on site.

Cattle are used to graze the scrub. The photo below shows the effect just a small number

Conservation grazing - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

of cattle can have. The area on the left in the foreground was grazed by just six Dexter cattle for only 3 weeks. The area on the right in the background is a new area of scrub the cattle have just moved in to. The difference is remarkable. Dexter cattle are the smallest of all European cattle breeds, and can be particularly suited to conservation grazing with public access because the animals are less intimidating to members of public than larger breeds.

South Downs landscape - South Downs NP, Farm Liaison Officers Meeting 2015 - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA

On the second day, we were back in doors talking through shared subjects such as funding opportunities under Rural Development Programmes and transition from the current national agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship) to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Overall the conference proved to be very informative, and I think we all took away knowledge that will help us with our work with land managers to enhance the qualities of each of our wonderful National Parks.

National Park Newbie

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Kate, Conservation Graduate Trainee - copyright NYMNPAHaving started in September as the new Conservation Graduate Trainee, I have been busy getting out and about in the National Park getting to know my colleagues and my fantastic place of work.

One thing I have been fortunate to get involved with so far has been this year’s National Park Authorities’ Ecologists’ Workshop. The theme of the three day workshop hosted by this National Park was “Improving Habitat Connectivity” and there was a great turn out – ecologists from all 15 UK National Parks attended, apparently the first time this has happened! For a new member of staff it was great for me to hear about how this National Park is working on restoring and reconnecting important habitat networks such as species rich grassland, river corridors and native woodland. It was also a great opportunity to meet people from across the country who are so passionate about conserving our countryside and wildlife.

Our Monday evening activity was a boat trip out of Whitby – with the possibility of seeing some whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. Everyone joked that it is always the way – as a group of ecologists approach, all the wildlife disappears! However, we had a great trip all the same with a beautiful sunset, topped off with fish and chips – a must if you are in Whitby.

View looking back at Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Sunset over land - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAComing back into Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAWe had beautiful weather for all three days, especially for our field trips on the Tuesday. We visited four sites which illustrate some great examples of restoration in the North York Moors – on moorland, in PAWS and along rivers – always returning to the importance of building a connected landscape within the National Park and beyond.

Glaisdale Moor peatland restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Lealholm stepping stones - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAEsk Valley farmland - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Arnecliff Woods - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAArnecliff Woods - PAWS restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m looking forward to getting involved with as many different things as possible to make the most of my time as Conservation Graduate Trainee over the next two years. I’ll be carrying out botanical and bird surveys, monitoring farmland and land management through our Wildlife Conservation Scheme and Traditional Boundary Scheme, and hopefully getting the opportunity to go on lots of interesting training courses as well as learning from my colleagues. All in all, I hope my time with the Authority will give me enough experience and knowledge to pursue the career in conservation that I have always wanted!

What’s so good about a National Park …

Added together England’s ten National Parks are among the best places in the country for wildlife. Statistics recently compiled by National Parks England show that while National Parks cover less than 10% of England’s area, they contain much higher percentages of the most wildlife-rich habitats such as heaths, fens and ancient woodlands providing homes for rare and threatened plants and animals. Up to 80% of the habitat types that have been identified as national priorities for conservation are found within National Parks.

See National Parks: England’s Wildlife Wonders

http://www.nationalparksengland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/588411/National-Parks-Englands-Wildlife-Wonders.pdf

 

Practical prize winning applications

Clair Shields – Planning Officer (Building Conservation)

North York Moors - Listed BuildingLast year the North York Moors National North York Moors - Listed BuildingNorth York Moors - Listed BuildingNorth York Moors - Listed BuildingNorth York Moors - Listed BuildingPark Authority took up the challenge of pioneering a more cost and time efficient way of surveying Listed Buildings (see our previous blog post). This was through an English Heritage funded project to come up with the best ways to assess the current state of nation’s Grade II Listed Buildings, for inclusion on the Heritage at Risk Register. There are nearly 346,000 Grade II Listed Buildings in England, so it can seem an overwhelming never ending task.

At the National Park we created a smartphone app loaded with historic data, photos and past survey results to help our Volunteers on the ground locate each listed building. The Volunteers then recorded data on the current condition and use of each building. This data was then synchronized to a database, reducing the risk of duplication or need for data manipulation back at the Office.

From the nine pilot studies funded nationally, ours was the only study to develop a bespoke app and English Heritage are now developing a toolkit which will include reference to the app for other volunteers to use across the country. You can see the overall conclusions from the English Heritage project, here.

And we won a prize – we were the runners-up in the Campaign for National ParksPark Protector Award 2014. The prize (bursary of £1,000) was in recognition of an exceptional project and its efforts to make a lasting contribution to the protection and conservation of the National Parks of England and Wales.

We’re very hopeful that the success of the app and the use of volunteers will transform how this sort of data is collected and make nationwide collection feasible.

Induction into National Park thinking

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant, and Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Plas Tan Y Bwlch Training Centre

Plas Tan Y Bwlch Training Centre

In April we attended a three day National Park induction course at Plas Tan y Bwlch in Snowdonia National Park. The course is held every now and again for new National Park staff and is aimed at sharing the National Park ethos and making connections between different Parks.

Some of the main themes we considered included UK National Park legal purposes which are:      

  • To conserve & enhance natural beauty, wildlife & cultural heritage.
  • To improve understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.

National Parks also have a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities. If these purposes ever come into conflict, the first purpose should be paramount.

UK National Parks are about cultural heritage and character rather than wilderness per se, and they fall into the United Nation’s Protected Areas Category V. Most UK National Parks are man-made and man-managed landscapes.

We looked at a number of case studies focusing on the village of Beddgelert –

  • Rhododendrons: There is a conflict of interests between tourism bringing coaches of visitors in to admire the masses of rhododendrons on the mountainside in flower over a few short weeks a year, versus conservation of the native species by the National Park through invasive plant species removal. National Park staff in Snowdonia think they have gradually won local people over to backing the protection of their native plants through education on their benefits, including a far longer flowering period from heather!
  • Gelert’s Grave: The story of a faithful dog and its final resting place is not entirely true, being based on myth and legend, yet tourists flock from all over the world to visit the dog’s ‘grave’, sometimes in floods of tears. Should the National Park Authority as a public body always strive to convey the facts/provide correct information, or is it fair enough to encourage the colour and character surrounding the local culture to thrive?
  • Tourism: In small villages parking and road capacity can be a big issue. Where as some locals want to increase tourism and depend on it for their livelihoods, others are fed up with the stress and hassle in the high-season around their homes. What stance should the National Park Authority take?
  • Second homes: Many of the villages in Snowdonia National Park include a substantial number of second homes, which have artificially raised local house-prices, resulting in locals being unable to afford housing in their own patch. Affordable housing schemes have been introduced, however often the resulting architecture/styling is not so aesthetically pleasing as the traditional buildings. Is this an addressable?

One of the most interesting projects in action involves the National Trust who have purchased a lake-side farm in Snowdonia National Park with the aim of taking on an apprentice annually to run the farm. The intention is to encourage young people to take up farming because farming is in decline amongst the young, and allow them to practice before they take on a ‘real’ farm. 

Our discussions revealed how similar the issues are across all of our National Parks, and the overall conclusion was that we need to work together to generate ideas and resolve problems. As National Park staff, together we have a wide range of experience, and cover vast tracts of land and water-way in the UK. Where there is an issue, another National Park has probably already tackled it and we should be linking up to move forward in each of our own Parks.

View of Snowdonia National Park

View of Snowdonia National Park