Letter from Scotland

Sam Jones – previous River Esk Project Student

I still recall the morning as, fresh-faced and hopeful, I sat in the back of a bus trundling along country roads towards the North York Moors. As we turned a corner and crested a ridge I was gifted my first view of the National Park and I could feel butterflies in my stomach, this would be my first real job in conservation. This was the start of my life serving the environment as I saw it then (and still do now I suppose). That was about four years ago, things have moved on quite a bit since then.

I worked for the National Park Authority on a year in industry placement back in my third year of University assisting with the Esk Pearl Mussel Salmon Recovery Project lead by Simon Hirst aimed at conserving the remaining Freshwater pearl mussel population in the River Esk. It was a wonderful and varied experience.

At the end of my time I spent a week wading through ocherous becks in the very upper reaches of the Murk Esk. I was rather cheekily using my last few weeks working at the National Park to collect data for my upcoming final year project. I collected samples of upland invertebrates from becks through moorland and coniferous woodland to test the effects of acidification on aquatic life, and to see how the impacts of acidic moorland and plantation woodlands compare. My project has now been published although you need journal access to see the whole thing. Simon has asked me for a basic summary of my findings and conclusions – so here goes…

I used aquatic invertebrates as indicators of environmental degradation. It’s well recognised that moorlands and uplands can have acidification issues, and the North York Moors may well be one of the most extreme areas for it in the UK with its nearby zones of industry. Acid issues have been recorded in local becks in the past, including severe fish kills. However my results were a little surprising. Originally I thought that plantation woodland, being the newer and least natural habitat (compared to moorland which is also man-made habitat), and having less ability to slow down and buffer the incoming water, would have a much more degraded community. However, my results showed significantly more acid sensitive species living in the woodlands than the moorland. This was despite the fact that previous studies had recorded lower pH values (i.e. more acidic) in plantations than in moorlands. I think that the reason for this is the woodlands provide a more diverse and richer freshwater environment for the invertebrates to live in. This is a good sign as it shows that the conifer plantation woodland, that so much of our countryside is dominated by, may not have such a bad effect on aquatic life as once assumed. The aquatic communities were also generally healthier than would have been expected given the severe acidification. I think this shows that the species of invertebrates living in the uplands of the North York Moors are well adapted for highly acid conditions and that, despite the seemingly poor chemical results, life in the upland becks is thriving.

What happened next? After I graduated from the University of York I went on to work for Natural England, the Environment Agency and now I’m part of an ecological consultancy. I’ve come full circle, and recently I was lucky enough to get accepted for a PhD up in Inverness studying Freshwater pearl mussels. Apparently they needed someone with more waders and bucket experience than lab experience, and I fitted the bill.

Scotland is one the great bastions of the Freshwater pearl mussels with populations of tens of thousands in numerous rivers and multiple populations with favourable age structures and reproductive ability (unlike in the Esk sadly). As such, my PhD is to study these populations and monitor them using traditional methods. However the focus of the investigation is to allow comparison of conventional survey methods with new eDNA techniques. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a method of monitoring species or habitats using the DNA that is freely found in the environment. All organisms living in an environment discard DNA, whether through waste, dead cells, carcasses, etc. and this can be picked up in trace amounts in water, soil, and even air. With Freshwater pearl mussels the hope is that DNA markers and techniques can be designed to allow detection of small or isolated populations of pearl mussels in rivers simply from a scoop of river water downstream of these prospective populations. There is also potential that the techniques could be used to monitor the size, health and population structure of these populations and perhaps even help identify sub species or genetically distinct populations. Whether this is possible or not, the possibility of cheaper and easier monitoring of pearl mussels fundamentally helps with conservation efforts.

I’m hoping to be able to keep Simon and the Esk Project up to date with our findings and perhaps provide some new information and techniques that may help the Esk’s own struggling mussels over time.

Anyway, that’s my little summary of things. I hope you guys found this interesting.

Thanks for reading, and keep on supporting the National Park,

Sam

Historical woodlands

Around the North York Moors there are mediaeval place names that indicate the presence of managed woodland in the past, and in some cases the woodlands and the names are still present today. Where a woodland has existed for at least 400 years it is classed an ‘ancient’.

Hagg or Hag, Spring and Fall in a name suggest growing/managed/enclosed woodland. Hagg/Hag and Spring are both common in the North York Moors, Fall less so. There are numerous unimaginative but practical occurrences of ‘Hagg Wood’ and ‘Spring Wood’, as well as Hagg End, Hagg House, Hagg Common, Spring House, Hagg Hall and Spring Farm. There are also both ‘Ash Hagg’ and ‘Birch Hagg’; these two tree species respond well to coppicing.

Brockill Hagg, Skiplam - the multi stemmed tree in the forefront at the right is a lime, lime is one of the indicator species of ancient woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ancient woods are as near to natural as woodland can be in this country, however they are unlikely to be entirely natural. Most woodlands has been managed in some way in the past. In the mediaeval period timber, coppiced wood, pollarded wood and the underwood itself were valuable for fuel and materials. Woodlands were managed, just as fields were cultivated, to produce a valued crop. A managed wood could be sustained over time to regenerate with new wood growth and made to be valuable to its owner and others with rights to its commodities. Planting new woodlands (i.e. plantations) and waiting for years for the trees to grow required the luxury of long term thinking beyond normal life spans.

Greencliff Hagg Wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

The two main types of mediaeval woodland management – as recorded in the Domesday Book – were coppicing (silva minuta – small wood) and wood pasture (silva pastilis).

Coppicing is where the trunks of trees are cut leaving the stump to regrow, many native broadleaves respond well to coppicing and produce new wood. Areas of coppiced wood would need to be enclosed to prevent stock chewing on the new growth hence the use of the word hagg meaning fenced enclosure. By careful rotation over the years a coppiced woodland could be maintained to produce all sorts of different size and types of wood product. One particularly important product was charcoal or white coal (dried wood – not carbonised like charcoal), usually manufactured on site and used as fuel for nearby industrial enterprises such as iron production. The big medieval monastic organisations e.g. Rievaulx Abbey, were early industrial pioneers. Close to the Rievaulx site are Lambert Hag Wood, Greencliffe Hag Wood, Abbot Hagg Wood and Hags Wood.

Brockill Hagg, Skiplam - you can see how conifers have been planted onto this ancient woodland site. Copyright NYMNPA.

Wood pasture was usually common land where commoners could graze stock and collect firewood and occasionally timber. The presence of stock would keep the number of trees down as they nibble at new growth. Without continued grazing, sites of previous wood pasture may now have become denser woodland. One element that might indicate a wood pasture origin is the presence of pollarded trees – lower branches were removed to encourage growth higher up in the trees to produce new wood out of the reach of the stock. The shapes of the oldest trees may still indicate this past practice.

Mitchell Hagg Wood, Fadmoor. Copyright NYMNPA.

About half of Britain’s ancient woods are still made up of native trees and so are known as ‘ancient semi-natural woodlands’; others have been planted with newer non-native species. Ancient semi-natural woodlands have usually regenerated through coppicing or by the natural regeneration of native trees on the site. Only 1.2% of Britain is ancient semi natural woodland.

Ancient woods provide a link between man and his environment over time and so are of cultural and archaeological as well as landscape importance. An ancient wood also provides a specific biodiverse habitat – soils which have only been minimally disturbed and contain remnant ground flora and fungi, as well as native tree stocks that have regenerated in that place, over the centuries. The habitat still requires management to replicate the past and retain the open woodland species which developed. Once any of these elements are lost, they cannot be replaced and the ancient woodland becomes a fragmented echo of itself.

Mitchell Hagg Wood, Fadmoor - the remnants of broadleaved woodland are surrounded by conifers making this a Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). Copyright NYMNPA.

Thanks to Historical Atlas of North Yorkshire, edited by Robin A Butlin.

Recipes for meadows

Aside

Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

A to Z: a number of Ns and Os

N and O

NATRIX NATRIX

There are three native UK snake species. Although Adders and Slow worms are common in the North York Moors, Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) aren’t. However they are found at at least one known site on the western edge of the National Park which makes them locally rare. They like rough grassland near to water and are known to swim (they’re also sometimes called Water snakes). Neither Grass snakes nor Slow worms are venomous, but Adders are.

Natrix natrix from www.herpetofauna.co.uk

All native snake species are protected. Please leave them alone and they should leave you alone.

NETWORKS

What is a network? In ecological terms it is basically the infrastructure through which species and habitats survive and flourish. In our 2012 Management Plan we identified the key ecological networks that we wanted to consolidate and enhance. Following the Lawton Principles (More, Bigger, Better and Joined) we’re working to ensure these networks and the associated habitats and species not only survive but become more resilient and sustainable into the future.

So what does a network actually look like? When we talk about networks and connectivity (which we do quite a lot on this Blog) we mean all sorts of things corridors, connections, linkages and stepping stones which whilst contributing to the same ecological goal, might look very different on the ground. For example, the Rivers Rye and Esk are important riparian linear networks, winding their way through other interconnected patchwork woodland and farmland networks. Some networks might be important for their great trophic diversity whilst others are essential for the survival of a particularly rare species. Promoting one particular network over another may impact on different species in different ways. For example, some farmland waders such as lapwing tend to nest in open fields with a low or short structure and areas of bare ground. One posited reason for preferring these open and large fields is that Lapwing want a clear line of site to any potential danger approaching their nests. So then planting hedgerows, usually a positive way to increase network connectivity, through good lapwing territory may negatively impact on this wader species. Similarly, native broadleaf woodland planting is usually something to be encouraged but not if it would break up a precious species-rich grassland network and adversely impact upon the important species that rely on it.

The North York Moors hosts a diversity of plants, animals and habitats. The challenge we’re grappling with is a putting together a jigsaw of different habitats and species; connecting up networks at varying spatial levels all within a framework of unpredictable future land use and climate change. It’s as difficult as it sounds.

And talking of different types of network, the National Park Authority is keen to foster a network of land managers in the North York Moors so we can share information and opportunities, and enable the North York Moors area to be a sounding board for new ideas in relation to land management and land use. If you are a local land manager and you’d be interesting in joining in – please contact us.

NEWTONDALE

Newtondale is a narrow valley cutting through the southern central moorland. It is the narrowness and steepness of Newtondale and its resulting inaccessibility which makes this dale unusual in the North York Moors which is renowned for its open landscapes. It contains important SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) successional habitats including wet woodland, flush communities and species rich grassland.

Newtondale - copyright NYMNPA

Newtondale was formed in the last Ice Age at least partly as subaerial overflow from the glacial lake in Eskdale to the north of the higher ground drained south into the glacial lake in the Vale of Pickering. The two lakes formed from meltwaters dammed in the west by the ice sheet in the Vale of York and in the east by the massive North Sea ice sheet. Recently it has been suggested that Newtondale existed already at this time and the overflow scoured and deepened an already existing feature.

This naturally formed cutting was exploited by the always practical George Stephenson when he built the Pickering to Whitby railway (opened 1836). The railway connected up the northern and southern parts of the North York Moors divided by the large central area of high moorland. For centuries the only connections had being inhospitable and difficult trods and tracks. The railway line is still used – by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and Newtondale has its own request stop.

NICHOLAS POSTGATE

Nicholas Postgate was born in or near to Egton Bridge in Eskdale at the end of the 16th century. He was a Catholic. Although Anglican Protestantism was the official state religion by this time, there was much insecurity and uncertainty and an international element was attached to Roman Catholicism that meant not following the protestant religion as prescribed by the state implied potential treachery. In the first half of the 17th century refusing to attend Anglican Protestant services was illegal, this recusancy marked people out as non-compliant and dangerous .

Nicholas Postgate decided to be an active Catholic when passivity was definitely safer. He went to a seminary in France where he was ordained a priest and returned to England where after ministering to catholic gentry families he finally came back to Eskdale in the 1660s to practice his faith and serve persevering Catholics in the wider North York Moors travelling from house to house. The situation of the North York Moors, on the edge and out of the way, has allowed non conformist religions to survive and flourish over the centuries.

Father Postgate survived the Civil War and Commonwealth periods in England, but the Restoration re-ignited the fear of Catholicism which blew up into the Popish Plot in 1678. The plot didn’t need much substance, it suggested that internationalist Catholics were conspiring to murder the King and destroy the State just as many Protestants had long feared and gave credence to some not very latent animosity towards Catholicism and Catholics. There followed a short lived period of persecution and settling of scores.

Father Postgate was arrested in Littlebeck near Whitby, reportedly carrying out a christening. He was charged with being a Catholic priest in England and therefore causing Catholicism to spread ‘of purpose…not only to withdraw … subjects from their due obedience … also to stir up and move sedition, rebellion and open hostility … to the great endangering  … and to the utter ruin, desolation and overthrow of the whole realm’ (Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists, 1585). In line with the punishment for high treason as the highest crime imaginable, Father Postgate was hanged, drawn (disembowelled) and quartered at York on 7 August, 1679. He was 83.

Nicholas Postgate has been beautified by the Catholic Church as one of 85 English Martyrs. His beatification means he is known as the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, intercessional prayers can be addressed to him, and his image and relics are venerated. Reportedly a lock of his white hair is kept in a reliquary at Egton Bridge, a jawbone at English Martyrs Church in York, and a hand with a blood soaked cloth at Ampleforth Abbey.

There is an annual local rally in honour of the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, held alternatively in Egton Bridge (where he was born) and Ugthorpe (where he lived up to his death).

NORTH YORK MOORS

A lot of people get the name wrong. The North York Moors means the moors north of the city of York. There are other areas of North Yorkshire moors and moorland, but only one North (of) York Moors.

OPPOSITE-LEAVED GOLDEN SAXIFRAGE (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is a creeping perennial plant which can form extensive mats in damp, shady areas. So look out for it alongside becks, flushes and springs. It produces tiny golden flowers (3 to 5 mm) from February through to July. The plant has square-stems with directly opposite pairs of leaves.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium from freenatureimages.eu

To make identification more complicated there is also an Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) which shares the same genus. This species is very similar to the Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage except, as the name suggests, the leaves are alternate rather than opposite, and on triangular shaped stems. Its flowers can also be a bit bigger and brighter. The Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage is less common than its Opposite-leaved relative and it prefers a more limey habitat, but occasionally the different species can be found growing together.

Chrysosplenium alternifolium from freenatureimages.eu

ORCHARDS

In the North York Moors 19th and early 20th century farms and a lot of village houses had their own small orchards (still visible on Ordnance Survey historic mapping). Orchard fruit and other soft fruit provided part of a multi source income to people living hand to mouth and making the most of what they had. The fruit season ran from July through to winter – starting with gooseberries, then red and black currants and raspberries, then plums and finishing with apples and pears. The fruit wasn’t just sold at local markets, fruit could be sold on and because of the railways could end up in towns like Scarborough or end up in jam factories in Liverpool and Grimsby, or at the Rowntree’s factory in York to make jelly.

Apple and pear trees, as well as other tree species, are susceptible to canker (fungus). To counter this people used to whitewash orchard tree trunks with lime and spread lime on the orchard floor. Lime is still used as a fungicide.

Main local orchard species for the moors and dales are recorded as being:
Cooking Apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Lane’s Prince Albert, Old Cockpit
Eating Apples: Green Balsams, Winer Pippins
Pears: Hazels

Taken from Life and Tradition in the Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingleby

The loss of orchards since WWII has been a major change in the landscape, biodiversity and culture of the North York Moors.

ORTHOSTATIC WALLING

An orthostat is a vertical ‘upright’ set stone. If its old enough i.e. prehistoric, it is likely to be called a standing stone. Less dramatic orthostats can also be found in drystone walls where farmers have made use of the stones to hand. Big stones have been reused over time and set vertically into the ground amongst the horizontally laid smaller stones more commonly found in drystone walls. Orthostats are also very useful within a wall as gate posts or as the edges of a sheep creep (to allow sheep but no other stock to rove) providing added strength and structure.

Orthostatic walling is rare enough here that where it does occur the walls are often recorded on the NYM Historic Environment Record.

Stone sheep creep built into wall in Raisdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M

Turtle Doves: back with a purr

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

In my time as a birdwatcher I have learnt to identify any large pigeon-like bird crashing through the trees as a blundering Woodpigeon. These very successful birds are with us all year round fattening up on our winter bird tables.

Turtle Doves however are a very different story* – more remarkable and more refined, no clattering of wings, just a delicate flutter and an enticing soft purr. The Turtle name is presumed to come from the latinisation of their call: turr turr. The Turtle Dove is currently considered a high conservation priority in the UK because of severe population decline, and is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

NYM Turtle Dove - coyright Steve Race

The Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) is the smallest member of the European dove family but it flies the furthest during migration; a bird nicknamed Titan was radio tracked in 2014 and found to have flown 11,200 km from Mali back to its nesting site in Suffolk. He flew up to 700 km per night, at speeds up to 60 km per hour!

This year our North York Moors Turtle Doves have arrived back from Africa on time despite the cold north winds in early spring. Our first bird was seen on 16 April near Pickering. This was perfect timing for the start of my role as the HLF funded Turtle Dove Project Officer a few weeks later.

As the spring has developed our vital group of volunteer bird surveyors have been out and about recording Turtle Doves in known sites where they were present last year and in new sites offering similar habitats. Our project area survey is one of only two formal, locally based Turtle Dove surveys in the UK this year and the only one in the north of England. We’ll be looking to extend this surveying into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 2018.

One of the known sites for Turtle Doves is the National Park Centre at Sutton Bank. Up to three birds were recorded here in May visiting the bird feeding station, usually when there were fewer visitors around. Turtle Doves can be shy and wary. We are collecting lots of data on the birds at Sutton Bank and have a special Turtle Dove sightings book in which we want visitors to note their sightings – so if you are up at the Centre and you see the Turtle Doves, please add your report.

Using reported sightings we’ve identified the initial villages along the southern edge of the North York Moors which have small populations of the bird (< 6) and where we hope to start building community links and engagement.

During the next couple of months if you’re lucky enough to see or hear a Turtle Dove in or around the North York Moors, please let us know. The best time to hear them is either very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Example of Turtle Dove habitat - forest edge, Cropton Forest - copyright Richard Baines

*Footnote: The Turtle Dove has long been culturally associated with true love and devotion.

“..Oh yonder doth sit that little turtle dove
It doth sit on yonder high tree
A making a moan for the loss of his love
As I will do for thee, My dear
As I will do for thee”

Going with the flow

Anne-Louise Orange – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

Following the success in securing Heritage Lottery Fund money to support the development of our Ryevitalise programme, the team are now in place and working towards a Stage 2 application*.

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Landscape Partnerships programme is for schemes led by a partnership of local, regional and national interests which aim to conserve specific areas of distinctive landscape character.

River Rye at Lower Locker, Snilesworth - copyright Liz Bassindale, HH AONB.

The Ryevitalise landscape incorporates the main upper Rye catchment, made up of the upper valleys of the Rye including the River Seph and the River Riccal. The Ryevitalise programme aims to protect and enhance the area’s natural and cultural heritage, resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape.

River Rye in Duncombe Park - copyright NYMNPA.

We’ve got a remarkable abundance and variety of priority habitats and wildlife; a number of rare and priority species are strongly linked to the river valleys, including one of only three known UK populations of Alcathoe bat. The catchment is also a national hotspot for veteran trees – iconic and irreplaceable features of both our natural and cultural heritage.

River Rye - crow foot beds in the Vale of Pickering - copyright.

Ryevitalise projects will cover four themes:

  • River Riccal at sunset - copyright Rosy Eaton, Natural England.Water Environment, investigating 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 encouraging people to protect their heritage.

The new team – that’s me and Alex Cripps, Catchment Restoration Officer – are keen to hear from anyone with an interest in the Rye catchment. We will be consulting with partners, local landowners and wider communities over the coming months as we develop the projects we want to deliver, ensuring we incorporate peoples’ ideas and knowledge under the four themes. We look forward to meeting with/talking to as many people as we can as we develop our Stage 2 application.

Aerial view of River Rye and Nunnington Hall - taken by NEYEDC.

*The Stage 2 application will be submitted to Heritage Lottery Fund in the autumn of 2018.

Heritage Lottery Fund logo

Two Turtle Doves, one Turtle Dove, and then there were none

We’re beginning a new three-year project (Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor) with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund* through their ‘Our Heritage’ grant. We want to try and help our local population of Turtle Doves. The species is declining dramatically in the UK and is considered vulnerable to global extinction. The North York Moors still has a small population of the birds which currently breed here over the summer before migrating back to Africa.

Turtle Doves - copyright RSPB.

We know that Turtle Doves have been recorded mainly around the forests on the southern fringe of the North York Moors. Through our project we want to establish what it is that the Turtle Doves favour in terms of farmland/forest edge habitat here and then provide informed advice and carry out conservation work to secure and enhance these habitats to maintain our local population. We’re aiming to assist the birds by ensuring there are suitable plants for seed to eat throughout the summer, and also by providing clean supplementary seed in spring. The spring seed will help the birds reach breeding condition quickly once they arrive back following migration and this should hopefully improve breeding success.

We will be commissioning annual surveys and working with local volunteers on supplementary surveys, as well as asking the general public to submit sightings. The conclusions from the data collected will build up an understanding and help target and tailor advice to land managers whose land is, or could be, supporting the species though simple actions or help into an agri-environment scheme. The idea is that this will not only benefit Turtle Doves, but other declining farmland birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge and wider biodiversity interests such as cornfield flowers, wildflower grasslands and pollinating insects.

We’re looking to build on synergies developed with the Cornfield Flowers Project, a long term arable flora conservation initiative and its existing network of conservation-minded farmers which provides a model for engagement and a source of farmer champions. We want to expand this engagement and use farm and woodland managers as advocates to share knowledge and best practice.

We’ll also be involving other parts of local communities as well as visitors – through interpretation, events and talks – sharing how to identify the Turtle Dove, where it goes on its perilous cross continent migration, why it needs assistance and what that entails. The more people appreciate the species as part of their natural heritage, the better placed the species will be to get the active help it needs to survive. We will be working with Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils to manage public land for the benefit of the species e.g. roadside verges, village greens, churchyards, cemeteries; and we’ll be advising what people could do in their own gardens. Hopefully small actions will have beneficial consequences for the birds and for the people who then get to see and hear Turtle Doves in their own locality.

As well as the HLF and the National Park Authority, other project partners include the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, Scarborough Borough Council, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and crucially volunteers as well as the land managers and the local communities on the ground.

Turtle Dove - copyright THINKSTOCK.

We want to do what we can to prevent local extinction and to contribute as much as we can to the conservation of the species nationally so as many people as possible can get to hear the Turtle Dove’s evocative purring call first hand.

We’ll let you know what’s happening and how to get involved as the project develops.

* The project is part of the HLF’s campaign – Yorkshire’s Back Garden – to re-connect people to their natural heritage.

Following in the footsteps

Elspeth Ingleby – Natural Heritage Officer, This Exploited Land of Iron

Wildlife can be wonderfully conspicuous – in the UK there are lots of places where you are assured a wealth of wildlife before your very eyes, be it throngs of guillemot on a sea cliff, ducks and geese scrambling for titbits at a local park, or even clouds of the infamous Scottish midge. However many other species can be much harder to discover, whether because of where they live, what they eat or their sensitivity to disturbance.

But with a little effort and some detective work, you can discover a whole new world of wildlife. Spring is a great time to look a little more closely and see what you can find.

Prints, tracks and signs

You can pick up guides to some of the more common prints and signs (the Field Studies Council produce several) and then with a little practice it is possible to find and follow the footsteps of your local wildlife seeing how animals are using the landscape which is their home. Things to look out for include:

  • Bare ground, turned earth or puddle edges which are great for retaining foot prints of passing wildlife – head out a few hours after rain (or snow!) to see what has passed by in the recent past.
  • Patches of white splattered on the ground, branches or tree trunks that are a dead giveaway for a regular perch or roost where the resident has lightened the load before taking flight.
  • The bottom of fences and around the base of trees which can provide rich pickings of hair tufts which can identify who has been there.
  • Holes in the ground that can indicate where a pheasant has scratched, or a badger has dug after worms.

Pellets and poo

You can tell a lot about wildlife from the physical remains they leave behind. Looking a little closer at droppings or the regurgitated pellets of raptors can yield a wealth of information, not only about the eater, but also about the eaten.

At our recent This Exploited Land of Iron launch weekend, we challenged young wildlife explorers to see what they could find within Barn Owl pellets. Within minutes we had identified remains of Field Vole, Common Shrew, Wood Mouse, Robin and Frog showing just what a range of food owls will eat. It’s also fun trying to see how many skulls you can find, or identifying the different bones of the victims’ anatomy!Getting hands on at the Land of Iron launch event (copyright NYMNPA) and photo of Barn Owl (copyright Brian Nellist).

Many of our native predators use scats (animal excrement) as sign posts advertising their presence and territory to others. Surveying some of our shyest mammals is often done almost entirely by poo alone. The distinctive ‘tic-tac’ Water Vole droppings can identify not only where a population is, but also size of inhabited area, number of population, whether breeding or not – where you could be walking every day and never actually see ear nor tail of a Water Vole.Water Vole by WildStock Images

Smell can be a great way to tell different species apart as a careful sniff can tell you a lot. For instance Otters will leave ‘Jasmine scented’ scats often containing fish bones and scales, on prominent rocks in a stream, whereas Foxes will leave grey, foul smelling scats with wisps of hair, bone and beetle shells in the middle of a path giving clues to their daily haunts and diet.

Camera tracking

Trail camera. Copyright NYMNPA.A slightly less ‘hands on’ approach is to wait for the wildlife to come to you. As technology progresses and costs fall, remote cameras are becoming much more accessible – whether you are hoping to learn about a particular species, or simply work out what is digging up your vegetable patch! Our Land of Iron Programme has recently invested in a number of cameras to help us find out more about the shy and elusive Ring Ouzel which breeds around the moorland edge, and is also known as the Mountain Blackbird. The local population in Rosedale has been vulnerable to nest predation in recent years and we are hoping to catch the Ring Ouzel with its distinctive white chest. Copyright North East Wildlife.culprits in the act by staking out key nest sites. We are also expecting these cameras to give us real insights into Ring Ouzel behaviour, informing how we can best support and bolster the population of these beautiful birds. The best bit? – we don’t have to spend the next three months sitting behind a bush to find out!

Rosedale with Rowan in the foreground. Copyright Tom Mutton, NYMNPA.

Animal tracking can be incredibly rewarding, and a great activity to do when you’re out and about – particularly with kids. You can get involved for yourself by joining This Exploited Land of Iron at the upcoming Rosedale History Society Festival on 22 and 23 April where we will be busy dissecting owl pellets, or taking part in one of the family friendly events at The Moors National Park Centre over the Easter holidays, or just heading out yourself for an explore! However when you’re exploring please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to explore over private land.

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When is a woodland a wood?

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer

The National Park Authority has played a role in creating more than 600 hectares of new native woodland since the turn of the century, with something in excess of half a million trees established.

But when is a new woodland actually a wood and how do you measure the success of a habitat created?

In terms of tree growth the first milestone is when the young trees are fully established and have outgrown the competing vegetation and the attention of voles, rabbits, deer and livestock and their teeth. The second is when the branches of the new neighbouring trees meet – this is called “canopy closure” – from which point the ground flora will alter as shade tolerant and shade loving species will have better success, including our beloved bluebells. Perhaps a third is when the new trees reach a stage where they could be used to produce wood and timber through thinning or coppicing.

I was thoughtful of this question when revisiting a site that was planted about 16 years ago in Bilsdale. Here the area of an existing woodland had been extended by new planting, mainly young oak trees.Existing area of Ancient Woodland in Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contractors planting new woodland alongside the existing Ancient Woodland, back in 2001. Copyright NYMNPA.

There were some initial challenges caused by a faulty batch of plastic tree shelters that degraded faster than they should have leaving the new trees vulnerable. However the trees are now fully self-supporting and I can walk under them, which for me personally is a good moment as I can then consider myself in a wood rather than looking at it. The icing on the cake however is that some of the trees planted 16 years ago are now producing acorns, a sign that a true self-regenerating woodland has been created.

Part of the woodland planted approx. 16 years ago showing this year’s additional planting in the distance. Copyright NYMNPA.

Buoyed by such success we have, with the cooperation of the land owner and his agent, planted an additional area of 3 hectares this winter. I can’t wait to see how this new woodland extension looks in another 16 years’ time, alongside the ancient and post-millennial woods already in place.

As a Woodland Officer, I do tend to think in the long term.