Traversing the Esk

Christopher Watt – River Esk Project Officer

Hi there, I’m Chris and I’ve just recently joined the National Park Authority as a River Esk Project Officer, having moved down from Scotland, and seemingly brought the weather with me! My role will involve working with farmers and landowners to implement river restoration techniques that seek to improve the water quality of the River Esk catchment.

Over the last month I have started to piece together the Esk catchment, worked with volunteers in delivering practical tasks and began undertaking fish obstacle river surveys. It has certainly been a varied introduction to the role and area.

Autumn colours in Westeredale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Volunteers braved the drizzly elements back in October to repair a broken fence on the River Esk, near Castleton. Thankfully, the task allowed us to remain on dry land and avoid venturing into the river which was rather swollen after recent heavy rainfall. A bankside tree had fallen and crushed a section of the fence-line, slackening the wire and dislodging posts. The volunteers assisted with installing new posts, including a heavy duty straining post, re-attaching the wires and finally tightening them. The volunteers worked extremely hard and it was a pleasure to meet and work with them. The task was also completed in one afternoon and the sun even came out, which is a bonus!

This task was one of the many on-going works to restore and enhance the riparian habitats of the River Esk. Maintaining riverside fences assists in keeping cattle and sheep away from the bankside vegetation and so causing sediment loading through erosion. Bankside vegetation stabilises the soil and is an important habitat in its own right. The reduction of sediment loading should help improve conditions for conservation priority species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) which favour clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams.

In combination to riparian habitat enhancements, we have also been undertaking fish obstacle surveys stretching from Westerdale down  to Goathland. These involve inspecting an assortment of obstructions from weirs, fords and culverts and assessing how severe they impinge on fish migration. At each obstacle the length, width and height are recorded, along with a written assessment of the level of severity the obstacle poses to migrating fish populations.  

Esk Catchment weir after high rainfall event. Copyright NYMNPA.

Due to recent high rainfall, many of these obstacles have been partially or fully submerged, and although looking dramatic, have been just too dangerous to take measurements from. Electro-fishing will also accompany these surveys at a later date to inform us about fish species diversity and abundance at each obstacle. The purpose of these surveys is to update our records on obstructions across the catchment and prioritise where mitigation measures would best be targeted to benefit fish populations of the Esk. Migratory fish are a vital aspect of the biodiversity of the river.

Esk Catchment culvert and ford system. Copyright NYMNPA.

Annoying the neighbours

Agnes thought that it was round about this time of year when the nights were getting darker that the Fay woman came to the house. She knocked on the back door and asked for bread and cheese. She looked odd; something about her eyes, the sheen of her skin and how she mouthed her words. Anyway Agnes was busy, she had the milk to churn and the wool to card, and the baby was crying again – she didn’t mean to but she said no and shut the door sharply.

Now Agnes stood on the side of the stony hill looking down at her family’s farm, she had seen her children taken out in shrouds one by one. Then her grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She stood still with beetles and caterpillars in her hair. She’d long given up on being hopeful as the years grew up around her.

She stretched her spindly thorny fingers. Sometimes a blackbird or a thrush would come and sing to her, she would give them dark red berries in return. In May when the sun shone on the blossom there would be people talking and laughing nearby. But no one took her back and into their homes – it would be unlucky. Then each year the blossom would start to fade and release its cloying scent of death.

Agnes had always done what she should when it came to the Fay. She didn’t look them in the eye. She left them out the last of the beer of the year and the last apple on the tree. She wasn’t vain, she wasn’t cruel, she didn’t deserve this. It was just that one time – that one mistake.

Now and then a poor traveller looking for anything better would linger and if they had absolutely nothing they might nibble on the leaves because someone once told them they tasted like bread and cheese. Then Agnes would remember what had happened for her to end up here. She reached out to help but offered poor shelter from the batterings of life.

She dreamt lots of times of saying sorry and begging to be released but she rarely saw any Fay and when she did they would just wink at her and disappear back into the landscape.

In the frost she would cling on to lichen like clothing. In the cold and wind she would nash her teeth and wave her scraggy scrawny arms. There was no one left to remember her or wonder what happened to her. She’d long given up expecting someone would come with a saving axe or a rescuing saw.

Agnes stood skeletal with her feet rooted in the ground. Her skin knarled and knotted and her body tangled. She was stuck where she was on a side of a stony hill, turned into a Hawthorn Tree by a grumpy fairy…

Root tree - shmector.com - Free vector art

Much Ado About Mothing

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

MOTH NIGHT

Records generated from moth trapping with light traps by amateurs naturalists all over the UK is the main way conservationists can understand how moth numbers are changing. N.B. The moths are subsequently released unharmed. While many enthusiasts moth trap year round, Moth Night is an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public. It is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Usually held in the summer months, this year it is being held from 26-28 September to target the spectacular (in appearance and in name) Clifden Nonpareil, and other late summer migrants moths.

The records generated from Moth Night, and from all other moth trapping is useful to conservation. While declines in large and ‘charismatic’ species are regularly reported in mainstream media, insects are often forgotten. For example in the UK, Butterfly Conservation reported habitat specialist butterflies (26 species) to have declined by 77% since monitoring was started in 1976, while more generalist butterflies (24 species) decreased by 46%. This is unfortunately also seen on a global scale, with 40% of insect species declining, and a third classified as endangered. It’s also not just the numbers, but the biomass, with the total mass of insects falling by 2.5% a year – suggesting an unsustainable future for populations.

The more we know about insects, the more we can do to try and save them. Below are a few images of moths recently seen within and around the North York Moors, including our own brilliant Clifden Nonpareil – the first time this moth has been seen in Yorkshire for many years.

Further Reading/References
Insect Armageddon: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/insect-armageddon
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

Levisham Estate: scrapbooking

Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Looking across Newtondale and Levisham Estate. Copyright NYMNPA.

The photo above is my screensaver to remind me how lucky I am to live and work in such a gorgeous part of the world. It’s looking over the National Park owned Levisham Estate taken from Levisham Moor, close to the fascinating Skelton Tower which is a favourite feature of mine as I am sure you can see why …

Levisham Estate - Skelton Tower in the distance. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): Skelton Tower sits on Corn Hill Point (on the sky line). Crops were grown up here in the Napoleonic Wars.Levisham Estate - close up of Skelton Tower. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): This two story listed ruin was built around 1830 by Reverend Robert Skelton from Levisham as a shooting lodge.

Levisham Estate - close up of Skelton Tower. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): In 1978 the tower was partly restored and made safe by the North York Moors National Park Authority to commemorate the first 25 years of the National Park.

This place still continues to captivate me despite my 13 years managing the Estate for the North York Moors National Park Authority alongside our long term tenants and almost equally long term Senior Ranger, David Smith.

Levisham Estate - David Smith discussing land management. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): David Smith discussing habitat management with a tenant in Levisham Woods.

I got the opportunity to show off the Estate to National Park colleagues back in September 2017  – these are some of snaps (below) that they took, which just goes to show what wildlife is lurking about if you take the time to look.

We saw a dung beetle doing its thing too – happily recycling the Highland cow poo!

Levisham Estate - Highland cattle. Copyright NYMNPA.

As well as the cute and the curious we have plenty of what makes the North York Moors National Park special and that’s heather!

Levisham Estate - bell heather close up. Copyright NYMNPA.

And nothing shows heather moorland off better than a stunning landform or two and we are spoilt for choice on Levisham Estate. I said in a previous blog that my favourite view is shared by many at the Hole of Horcum but you don’t have to go far to find more satisfaction for the senses.

Levisham Estate - steam train. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train chugging up Newtondale with a backdrop of Levisham Moor.

One of the great things about Levisham is that parts of it are really accessible and very well used and then there are other parts that feel quite remote and isolated. The variety of habitats, archaeology and landscapes means that there really is something to interest everyone!  I would encourage you to come and explore.

Levisham Estate - moorland path. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Photo (above): A well used moorland path to explore!

Levisham Estate - Nab Farm. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): A moody shot of the deserted remnants of Nab Farm

So I’m bidding Levisham Estate a fond farewell as in future I will be spending more time on woodland and moorland issues across the whole of the National Park. I am certainly sad that I won’t be working on this Estate anymore but I am really pleased that I can hand over the reigns to an experienced colleague who I know will love it as much as I do. David Smith will still be involved with his 20+ years of knowledge of the Estate but it’s always good to get a new perspective and the time is right for a change.

Levisham Estate visit Sept 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Photo (above): A staff training day on the Estate where colleagues discuss land management options for the future, Sept 2017.

In my previous blog I started with a photograph similar to the one below which is taken on my regular dog walk round ‘the back lane’ at Newton on Rawcliffe. So I thought I’d finish my post with these three photos all taken this year from the same viewpoint  in the sun, snow and mist. I’ll be continuing to keep an eye on my beloved Levisham Estate whilst trying to keep two spaniels and two children under control!

 

In the Zone

Aside

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project area is now considered a Turtle Dove Friendly Zone. These zones form a loose association of areas in England where Operation Turtle Dove is in action. Here’s a link to a recent Operation Turtle Dove blog post with a bit more info on what’s going on across the different zones including ours.

Let Ryevitalise begin!

Alex Cripps – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

For the last two years we have been leading on the development of Ryevitalise, a landscape partnership scheme focusing on the River Rye and its tributaries.

So we are really delighted to report that we were successful with the final Stage Two application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and have been awarded nearly £2 million towards the delivery of this fantastic four-year scheme – starting now.

Top of the Rye Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

With match funding included Ryevitalise is a £3.4 million programme in total, focusing on three key themes:

  • Water quality and the environment – restoring and conserving the aquatic habitats of the Rye and the rare and threatened species that the river and wider landscape supports;
  • Water Level Management – harnessing natural flood processes to create a more naturally functioning river; and
  • Reconnecting people – improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.

River Rye - copyright NYMNPA.

Ryevitalise is very much a partner-led scheme with over 15 organisations working together to deliver their common goals across this part of the River Rye catchment. The River Rye and its tributaries meander through a variety of landscapes including moorland, upland farmland and lowland arable and livestock farmland; crossing over the National Park boundary into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and into the non-designated wider Ryedale beyond. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to work closely with partners like the the Howardian Hills AONB, Ryedale District Council and the Environment Agency.  The North York Moors National Park Authority itself is the lead partner and we’re currently recruiting the delivery team.

Rye at Ness. Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

I’ve recently been appointed as the Ryevitalise Programme Manager and I’m really excited about this amazing opportunity to share my enthusiasm for rivers and the fascinating wildlife that the freshwater habitats and the surrounding areas support. One of the main goals is to reconnect people with nature and our river environments. I am really keen to raise the profile of rivers by looking at how valuable these ecosystems are, and how important they are to people both within the Ryevitalise area itself but also beyond. Over the next four years we will be working alongside local communities, including land managers and young people, reconnecting people to their local river systems and exploring how simple every day actions to help care for our rivers can collectively make a huge, positive difference.

There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, from practical conservation tasks such as Himalayan balsam control to species monitoring. There will also be a programme of expert talks, exhibitions and discovery events. Keep an eye on social media, our website or this blog for further updates once the new team are up and running.

If you are keen to get involved at the start please get in touch, perhaps you are a member of a local community group wanting to know more, a local land manager interested in improving water quality, or you would like to sign up as a Ryevitalise Volunteer – it would be great to hear from you!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

What to do on a Sunday …

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

This coming Sunday the Moors National Park Centre at Danby (YO21 2NB) is hosting a family friendly fun day to celebrate the brand new immersive experience on offer. With funding from the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund and the David Ross Foundation, the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme has been helping to reinvigorate the interpretation resources at the Visitor Centre over the last few months.

Escape to the Moors is taking place on Sunday 21 July from 11 am until 4 pm. The event will celebrate the people and the natural and historical heritage of the North York Moors through workshops, family attractions and children activities all taking place in the grounds of the Moors Centre; whilst the Centre itself will be open for everyone to have a look at the new interpretation.

The new interpretation features the beauty and significance of the North York Moors, alongside the ironstone mining heritage of the area. The ironstone mining period was an era of rapid industrial growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries that saw the workings of the railways, mines, and huge calcining kilns in the heart of the North York Moors itself. For years the mined ironstone was refined and transported away to be used in construction projects across the world, helping to cement the industrial growth of Britain during this recent period of history.

Using the latest digital technologies and archaeological and ecological techniques, through our innovative interpretation we are helping to present the historical and natural heritage of the North York Moors for a new audience. You might be surprised to see how fast built heritage can quickly disappear back into nature once again, just leaving traces to be discovered.

Moors National Park Centre - almost there with the new interpretation. Copyright NYMNPA.

This is what’s coming up on the day:

  • The trailblazing Land of Iron tells the story of ironstone and railways in the North York Moors – build an ironstone foam bridge, excavate at a mini-dig, learn about industrious Victorians and handle artefacts, tackle the 3D jigsaw puzzle and lots more.
  • Whilst the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum in Skinningrove is closed for refurbishment the team will be bringing their incredible pop up museum to the Moors Centre. Celebrate the history of a long lost industry and the stories of the everyday people involved as you travel down a make shift mine tunnel.
  • Our Moors and Valleys Young Archaeologists’ Club officer will be there to let you know about the exciting activities the Club gets up to.
  • Through the Rosedale History Society learn all about how the small and sleepy medieval village of Rosedale Abbey drastically changed as it thundered into life during the industrial revolution as ironstone mines and calcining kilns appeared around the Rosedale hills and dale. Now known for its bucolic countryside beauty and isolation, Rosedale was once a beating heart of British industry on the international stage.
  • Experience history with the wonderful living history and reenactment group Rosa Mundi – there’ll be medieval spear practice and military drills as well as trying out candle-dipping and other traditional crafts along with games and cooking demonstrations.
  • Be digitally dazzled as Adrian Glasser presents his amazing Time Sliders where historic photographs blend into the modern landscape – learn all about 3D modelling with an introduction to photogrammetry and how this incredible technique is capturing key Land of Iron monuments for the future.
  • Cleveland Fibre Arts will be demonstrating how ironstone helps to give wood and felt-making distinctive colours and patterns. Join in and help make your own!
  • Join the Whitby Company of Archers to have-a-go at archery and discover your inner Robin Hood (charges apply).
  • The Teesoutdoors Climbing Tower will be on site and as well as climbing the tower under the expert guidance of the qualified instructors, you can pick up climbing tips and find out the best places to climb in the North York Moors (charges apply).
  • Ride the Grosmont Velocipede around the Moors Centre grounds – have you ever tried a velocipede before? why not give it a whirl on a 100ft of rail track as members of the team push you around! It might just be the oddest thing you do that Sunday.

The Moors National Park Centre, Danby. Credit Chris J Parker.

Further information
The event is accessible by wheelchair, with toilet facilities and a café on-site.
If you are travelling into Danby from further afield please think about using the local Moorsbus and other public transport options such as the Esk Valley Railway which stops at at Danby Station and has links to Middlesbrough and Whitby.

Have a look at the National Park website for further information and updates.

For information on the Land of Iron please see our website or telephone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 for exciting volunteer opportunities and to find out what we are up to.

Land of Iron logo band

 

Apprentices go all-a-Broad

Lisa Till – Coast Area Apprentice Ranger

At the end of May, six of us North York Moors National Park Authority’s Apprentices got the fantastic opportunity to take part in an Apprentice Exchange in the beautiful Broads. After a long drive down to the village of Coltishall, we received a lovely welcome at the Girl Guiding Lodge we were staying in from the Broads Apprentices who were hosting us. After a lot of introductions to the apprentices from the South Downs, Yorkshire Dales, and the Broads, the evening was filled with presentations from each National Park along with a plentiful BBQ arranged by Graeme and Polly, the Broads Rangers who had organised the whole trip.

On the next morning we all headed out first thing to Geldeston, where we met up with more Rangers from the Broads and went on a canoe trail along the River Waveney to Beccles. Out in the canoes for an hour and a half, we found that the best way to experience the Broads is definitely by boat. Our trail took us along a lovely tranquil stretch of river, showing us just a glimpse of the great scenery and wildlife there is on offer. The trip on the water also gave us chance to learn about the responsibility the Broads Authority has to maintain the navigation, along with stories of speeding boats and the inevitable accidents that occur. Back on dry land, and with only one canoe having capsized, we headed back to the minibus and on to our next adventure.

After a lunch break, where we were lucky enough to spot a Long-Eared Bat, we were taken on a guided walk by Ranger Stephen Fairbrass around part of Hickling Broad. Hickling Broad, like most of the Broads, is a result of peat digging in the 12th to 14th centuries where the area then flooded due to sea-level rise, an issue the Broads are continually facing. We were shown the last working Eel Sett in the east of England at Candle Dyke, and we spotted a Chinese Water Deer and saw the Konik ponies; both species graze the area.

After a fantastic home-made lasagne for tea back at the base, we were out again onto the waterways for a trip on the solar powered boat ‘Ra’ on the Whitlingham Great Broad at Whitlingham Country Park. We had a fantastic hour trip, and Captain Mark told us all about the fascinating history of the area and its wildlife. ‘Ra’ was Britain’s first solar-powered passenger boat, and with the City of Norwich so close if offers a great chance to view wildlife of the Broads so near to the city.  We all ended up in Norwich for a brilliant end to the day for a pub quiz at the Fat Cat Pub. Other employees of the Broads Authority joined us for additional brain power, but unfortunately even with around 20 of us we still didn’t manage to beat the locals.

Thursday began bright and early and we were all straight out to meet Volunteer Pete Morgan at St Benet’s Abbey, which 1000 years ago was a prosperous monastery. Pete gave us a brilliant guided tour of the Abbey remains and the setting. Back in Tudor times when King Henry VIII closed down monasteries across the country, St Benet’s remained the only one never officially shut down.

We left the Abbey on foot and walked towards How Hill along the River Ant – what with the sun shining, an ice cream stop was definitely in order. At How Hill we looked around Toad Hole Cottage, a traditional Marshman’s Cottage. There used to be plenty of Marshmen in the Broads, working across vast areas cutting and collecting reeds whilst managing the land with drainage and cattle. However, the growth of machinery has meant this way of life has slowly died out; the cottage at How Hill still shows how these families used to live and work.

As no trip is complete without a trip to the beach, so next we headed out to the coast. The beach at Horsey Gap gave us a chance for a paddle (even a dip for some). It is well known for its grey seal colony and we spotted some friendly seals popping their heads above the water. We soon had to head off again this time to Brandeston Village Hall to see a local theatre production called ‘Tide Jetty’. The play was a dramatic love story reflecting life growing up in the Broads, which was a perfect way to end our time spent together.

As Friday morning came we all said our goodbyes over our final breakfast together, before heading back to our own National Parks. The trip was a great experience to see another National Park whose landscapes and challenges are different to the North York Moors. As our National Park Authority has had apprentices for many years, the Apprentices and Rangers at the Broads were interested in how our programme runs and we all learnt a lot about the range of apprenticeships on offer. Our North York Moors group had apprentices from planning, tourism, and the ranger services which shows the diverse apprenticeship opportunities available. A big focus of the trip was to remind us all that although we work all over the country, we’re all part of one ‘National Park Family’ and it is always good to discuss ideas and to praise and support each other whenever possible. Huge thanks to Graeme, Polly, and everyone else who helped from the Broads Authority for being such brilliant hosts and showing us all the best bits that the Broads has to offer.

Apprentice on the Beach.Added Footnote
‘I can’t speak highly enough of the apprentices, the National Parks will be in safe hands and you should be very proud’.
Graeme Hewitt, Broads Authority Senior Ranger who organised and hosted the trip.

 

Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.