The North York Moors – forged by nature, shaped by generations. Come and explore our National Park – 554 square miles of secluded dales, magical moors, ancient woodland, historic sites and 26 miles of stunning coastline, all easily reached from York, Teesside and County Durham. Read about our work here, and then pay us a visit!
Hi! My name is Ellie Davison. I graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Biology and then spent a couple of years working as a laboratory technician in a microbiological food testing facility. I always knew I wanted to get into conservation but found it hard to break into the competitive job market so although I kept volunteering in my spare time with the Wildlife Trust and various smaller charities, it remained something of a pipe dream. Once the pandemic hit, a lot of us (including me) were forced to reconsider our priorities. Why was I putting all this time and effort into a job that wasn’t for me when I could be going after my dream career? After a lot of hard work, I was super excited to get on a six month traineeship on a red squirrel conservation project in Knowsley. This boosted my confidence in myself and my decision to switch careers. When the squirrel project ended, I was ecstatic to begin working with the North York Moors National Park as a Conservation Trainee.
So what sort of things have I been up to so far?
My role as a trainee is super varied and I get the chance to learn all sorts of new skills in some beautiful parts of the North York Moors.
I have had great fun working with some of the National Park’s fantastic volunteers. We have been electro-fishing, peat dipping, tree guard removal, fencing, restoring ponds and undertaking lots of vegetation management to help restore grassland habitats or to give newly planted hedgerows a good chance to establish. I really enjoy the job satisfaction of the practical side of conservation and love seeing the difference one day and one group of dedicated volunteers can make to a site. I am looking forward to upcoming training sessions, particularly one in dry stone walling.
I’ll be continuing to work closely with our volunteers and eventually leading sessions for my own projects.
One of my personal highlights so far has been visiting Forestry England’s Cropton Forest. I got to see first-hand the impressive impact the introduced beavers have had on their surroundings since their release into an enclosure there in 2019. Their dams and carefully placed channels to slow water flow and raise water levels have completely transformed the whole area. Beaver activity has had a huge increase in biodiversity on the site. Felling trees near the water opened up the area to sunlight which led to more plant species. Larger and deeper pools have encouraged an increase in frogs, toads and insects which resulted in an increase in birds and bats on site. The beavers have had an impact on humans too – residents in towns downstream of the site have noted a decrease in flooding frequency. This is a wonderful project and I can’t wait to see what happens with it in the future.
I have long been fascinated by fungi and so joining the conservation team during mushroom season has been a real treat! On my various site visits I’ve been lucky enough to see all sorts, including waxcaps, mottlegills, milk caps, stinkhorns, ink caps, parasols, earth stars, puffballs, vomiting russulas, beefsteak and many, many more. I enrolled on a remote lifelong learning course with Aberystwyth University, “An Introduction to Fungi”. This course has improved my ID skills and enabled me to learn a lot more about the biology, ecology and uses of fungi, and I’ll gain a qualification in something I love at the end of it!
Without trying to sound too clichéd, it is true that no two days are the same here at the North York Moors National Park. If you are passionate about conservation and are looking for a chance to get into this competitive field, I cannot recommend this 2 year traineeship post enough!
N.B. A few types of wild (uncultivated) mushrooms are edible, many taste of nothing, and others are toxic and quite often deadly. You always need to be absolutely sure which are edible if you’re intending to eat one.
Also picking mushrooms won’t necessarily damage the fungi they’re attached to but the more that are picked the less chance the fungi has of reproducing.
FRAGMENTS OF THE OLD IRONSTONE RAILWAY TRACK, FROM ROSEDALE EAST MINE TO OVEREND FARM.
NORTH YORK MOORS 10 SEPTEMBER 2020
[NB: ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT PROTECTED]
I first began to document local walks, using a sequence of 12 images, fairly early on in 2020; and it was idea that emerged from two different sources.
In 2019 I made a 12 image photo-piece to illustrate a poem by R S Thomas; extracting individual words, in sequence, from the poem, and linking them to 12 small, almost abstract, images. And in the previous winter I had photographed various collections of twigs on the freshly ‘snow-covered-towpath’ of my local canal.
So, when lock-down descended on us all in late March 2020, I suddenly found myself retracing local track-ways and paths, that were to become increasingly familiar. And in that repeated retracing, I became increasingly aware that there was another landscape beneath my feet; one that reflected, in many ways, the landscape around me, but that also carried a story and a beauty of its own.
And so the first work, in what was to become an on-going series of works, was born. ‘Still Traces:1’, used 12 images, with words, to document a walk from canal-bridge 56, quite near where I live in Marsden, to the banks of the infant river Colne, a little way up the valley.
But the year moved on; and by September, when the travel restrictions that had affected all of us began to relax, the faithful, old, converted-VW-van – imaginatively christened Van Rouge on account of the colour! – could once again be pointed at a semi-distant landscape for exploring.
Having been born in Leeds – and having been lucky enough to possess a bicycle at a time when roads could be enjoyably cycled on – the coast of Yorkshire was always a favourite destination. And as anyone who has cycled from almost anywhere to Whitby will testify – the North York Moors are quite difficult to ignore!
But if one looks beyond their obvious, and formidable, ‘physical presence’, they also represent an incredible diversity of both natural and human history; and it was my discovery – mainly through gazing intently at Ordnance Survey maps and wondering, it has to be said – of the now vanished industries that once flourished on the moors, that has triggered numerous visits to the area over the years; be it to the old limekilns above Rosedale, or the, slightly mind-boggling in scale, Ingleby Incline.
However, the track-bed of the old railway in Rosedale had always fascinated me – especially the distinct ‘horse-shoe’ loop at Rosedale Head – and so, one morning in September 2020, Van Rouge was fired into action and we headed for the moors.
After parking on Daleside Road, and climbing the track on the western edge of Swine Stye Hill, I think the first thing that will hit any first-time visitor to this section of track-bed is the sheer scale of the workings at the old East Mines – a cross between, for me at least, some ancient Egyptian monument, and a colossal mausoleum. But whatever one might make of it, the scale of the industrial operation that took place around the area is quite astonishing to contemplate.
The 12 images, and the words, are just one small ‘response’, to a truly magical landscape…
The photographs were taken in the sequence presented, starting just before East Mines and ending on the farm track leading back to Daleside Road – the only one that might cause ‘puzzlement’ I would guess being the rabbit: An image for which I can offer no explanation. That is was dead, and very recently, was obvious. But why it had died, remains a mystery.
‘Rosedale Head’ and other works in the ‘Another Landscape’ series can be found at:
Without the Conservation Department’s usual mid morning coffee time over the last 18 months we’ve missed out on the usual office chatter of what everyone thought to the latest BBC Countryfile episode, what people have been growing in their gardens or the interesting things we have seen on our site visits. So with my late summer holiday looming I thought I would ask what everyone’s favorite books are, not that my book shelves are in need of anymore!
So here we go with a list that contains some of the Department’s favorite books, each with its own synopsis. This is part one of a two part series, this part containing ten Natural History books and part two containing ten Local History books. Maybe our recommendations will inspire you to pick up a book and learn something new as the darker nights draw in.
The Peregrine by J A Baker
J. A. Baker’s extraordinary classic of British nature writing was first published in 1967. Greeted with acclaim, it went on to win the Duff Cooper Prize, the pre-eminent literary prize of the time. Luminaries such as Ted Hughes, Barry Lopez and Andrew Motion have cited it as one of the most important books in twentieth-century nature writing.
Despite the association of peregrines with the wild, outer reaches of the British Isles, The Peregrine is set on the flat marshes of the Essex coast, where J. A. Baker spent long winters looking and writing about the visitors from the uplands – peregrines that spend the winter hunting the huge flocks of pigeons and waders that share the desolate landscape with them.
“… honestly the most beautiful prose by this guy who’d never written a book before … wrote this absolute banger then disappeared back into obscurity.” Ann Pease, Ryevitalise Administrator
The Harvest of the Hills’ by Angus Winchester
This illustrated environmental history of rural life in Northern England and the Scottish Borders in the late medieval and early modern periods explores the relationship between society and the environment – the ways in which humans responded to and used the environment in which they lived. The author uses the orders and byelaws made by manorial courts to build up a picture of how pastoral society in the Pennine, Lake District and Border hills husbanded the resources of the uplands. It offers an upland, pastoral paradigm of land use, the management of common land, and the transition from medieval to early-modern farming systems to balance the extensive literature on the agrarian history of the lowlands. The geographical scope of the book includes the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, the Border hills, the North Pennines and the Forest of Bowland.
“One other that has come to mind – is ‘The Harvest of the Hills’ by Angus Winchester. It’s a historical look at farming practise and kind of environmental history, including the use/exploitation of common land in the upland north and borders. It covers the period 1400 – 1700, so quite useful for understanding the landscape as we see it now.” Miles Johnson, Head of Historic Environment
“As a general cultural/natural heritage crossover, how about …” Miles Johnson, Head of Historic Environment
The History of the Countryside by Dr Oliver Rackham
Exploring the natural and man-made features of the land – fields, highways, hedgerows, fens, marshes, rivers, heaths, coasts, woods and wood pastures – he shows conclusively and unforgettably how they have developed over the centuries. In doing so, he covers a wealth of related subjects to provide a fascinating account of the sometimes subtle and sometimes radical ways in which people, fauna, flora, climate, soils and other physical conditions have played their part in the shaping of the countryside.
“Miles great shout, I love that book.” Holly Ramsden, Conservation Officer
Nightwalk: A journey to the heart of nature by Chris Yates
Chris Yates, one of Britain’s most insightful and lyrical writers, raises his gaze from his beloved rivers and ponds and takes us on a mesmerizing tour of the British countryside.
“Last November, the sudden appearance of a hundred wintering ravens in a wood in Cranborne Chase, where I have lived for twenty-five years without seeing more than a few solitary specimens, reminded me that there is always something ready to flame up again in the landscape, just when it seemed the fire had gone out.”
In Nightwalk we accompany Chris Yates on the most magical of journeys into the very heart of the British countryside. His acute observation of the natural world and ability to transcend it exquisitely sets Chris apart from his contemporaries.
Time slows down for a deeper intimacy with nature, and through Chris’s writing we hear every rustle of a leaf, every call of a bird. He widens the power of our imagination, heightening our senses and revealing beauty in the smallest details.
Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts
The wilderness is much closer than you think. Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands – those familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside – have become the great wild places on our doorsteps.
In the same way the Romantic writers taught us to look at hills, lakes and rivers, poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts write about mobile masts and gravel pits, business parks and landfill sites, taking the reader on a journey to marvel at these richly mysterious, forgotten regions in our midst.
Edgelands forms a critique of what we value as ‘wild’, and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own.
Feral by George Monbiot
In Feral, George Monbiot, one of the world’s most celebrated radical thinkers offers a riveting tale of possibility and travel in the wild
How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us?
Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way.
“A journey to the heart of nature by Chris Yates (guy goes out at dusk and walks through the night in the countryside), Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts (wildlife and value of ‘wasteland’ and scraps of land on edges of urban areas), Feral by George Monbiot (rewilding, humans needing to up their game etc) and anything by Robert Macfarlane obs …. We’ve developed a bit of a problem in this house buying them and our front room does resemble the natural history section of Waterstones.” Ann Pease, Ryevitalise Administrator
A Sting in the tale by Dave Goulson
One man’s quest to save the bumblebee…
Dave Goulson has always been obsessed with wildlife, from his childhood menagerie of exotic pets and dabbling in experimental taxidermy to his groundbreaking research into the mysterious ways of the bumblebee and his mission to protect our rarest bees.
Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee is now extinct in the UK, but still exists in the wilds of New Zealand, descended from a few queen bees shipped over in the nineteenth century.
A Sting in the Tale tells the story of Goulson’s passionate drive to reintroduce it to its native land and contains groundbreaking research into these curious creatures, history’s relationship with the bumblebee, the disastrous effects intensive farming has had on our bee populations and the potential dangers if we are to continue down this path.
“… also on my list would be …” Victoria Franklin, Conservation Graduate Trainee
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
This book is a lens to help you take a closer look at what you may have taken for granted. Slow down, breathe deep and look around. What can you hear? What can you see? What do you feel?
Are trees social beings? How do trees live? Do they feel pain or have awareness of their surroundings?
In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben makes the case that the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers.
Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in his woodland. A walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Here is a lifeform so strange and wondrous that it forces us to rethink how life works…
Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organisms ever recorded, living for millennia and weighing tens of thousands of tonnes. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, it can survive unprotected in space, and thrives amidst nuclear radiation.
In this captivating adventure, Merlin Sheldrake explores the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that sustain nearly all living systems. They can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of ‘intelligence’, and can manipulate animal behaviour with devastating precision. In giving us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, fungi have shaped human history, and their psychedelic properties, which have influenced societies since antiquity, have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. The ability of fungi to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies, and the discovery that they connect plants in underground networks, the ‘Wood Wide Web’, is transforming the way we understand ecosystems. Yet they live their lives largely out of sight, and over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.
Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into this hidden kingdom of life, and shows that fungi are key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel and behave. The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them.
“OOH! and Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (best name???) – extraordinary book about fungi.” Ann Pease, Ryevitalise Administrator
English Pastoral by James Rebanks
As a boy, James Rebanks’s grandfather taught him to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient agricultural landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, it was barely recognisable. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song.
English Pastoral is the story of an inheritance: one that affects us all. It tells of how rural landscapes around the world were brought close to collapse, and the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things were lost. And yet this elegy from the northern fells is also a song of hope: of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.
This is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against all the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral: not a utopia, but somewhere decent for us all.
“I have loved seeing everyone’s reading suggestions. I now have a long wish list! Like Victoria I have recently read the English Pastoral by James Rebanks and thoroughly enjoyed it.” Rachel Pickering, Woodland Team Leader
Thanks to archaeologists and historians we know a lot about the people who lived and worked in the historic landscape, but less about the shape and ecology of the landscape. There have been a lot of theories by ecologists such as Frans Vera and George Peterken, who suggest that the landscape was fluid with more wood pasture rather than the closed canopy dense woodlands we’re more familiar with today.
Historic woodlands were a hub of life, providing fodder for livestock and materials for villagers, farmers, tanners, blacksmiths, carpenters, broom whittlers and charcoal makers. Trees were even a source for medicine, for example the bark of Pedunculate OakQuercus robur was used as an antiseptic and AshFraxinus excelsior was steeped into tea and used to aid kidney problems. This eco-cultural hub seems a far cry from how we see woods today, often used as a place of tranquillity, for bird watching or to seek refuge from everyday life.
Over the past year I’ve been researching ‘Shadow Woods’ – areas where there was woodland in the past that is no longer there. These, now shadows of a former landscape, can be identified in a number of ways. As a starting point for the search, the Doomsday Book and historic Tithe and Enclosure maps can give an indication of how the landscape once looked. Researching old place and field names such as ‘Hagg’ meaning an area where trees were felled or ‘Hollin’ historically a word for Holly or browse, also give clues as to the location of previously wooded areas.
With permission from land managers, we followed up on potential sites by surveying for any ancient woodland indicator species, ground flora that has colonised over generations and gives an indication that the area has been continually wooded for a considerable length of time. These species will change from woodland to woodland and throughout the country, but include BluebellsHyacinthoides non-scripta, HoneysuckleLonicera periclymenum, RamsonsAllium ursinum, Wood sorrelOxalis acetosella, Early purple orchidsOrchis mascula, PrimrosesPrimula vulgaris and Climbing corydalisCeratocapnos claviculata. These plants continue to flower long after the surrounding woodland has gone. The residual flora and soils in these spaces are irreplaceable.
Any remaining veteran and ancient trees were surveyed for signs of being worked, which gives another glimpse into the past history of the wood. Coppiced trees such as willow were cut at the base when they are relatively young and the wood was used to make fences and shelters. Pollarded trees were cut just above the trunk to provide timber and fodder for animals leaving the tree alive to produce more wood in future years. An historically pollarded tree can be identified by having multiple branches.
Ancient and Veteran trees are home to a whole host of deadwood beetles, fungi, lichen mosses and plants that cannot live anywhere else. These trees, botanical indicators and the soil of ancient and shadow woods are irreplaceable micro-habitats that have taken generations to create, once lost they will be gone forever.
The Shadow Wood sites surveyed within the North York Moors National Park were all in upland locations, many in remoter areas with little human disturbance since they were worked woodlands. The majority of these sites have been classed as grassland or as scattered parkland with a small amount of ancient or veteran trees. This classification strengthens the idea that the historic landscape was often open wood pasture rather than closed canopy woodlands.
The hope is that identified sites can be targeted for woodland creation in the North York Moors National Park, therefore continuing and restoring life in these magical habitats, that are not only home to some amazing species and important trees but are a little bit of folklore too.
The Shadow Woods project within the North York Moors National Park has only been possible due to the dedicated work of Professor Ian Rotherham. His book Shadow Woods: a search for lost landscapes and publication Shadow Woods and Ghosts Survey Guide by C. Handley and I. D. Rotherham have provided invaluable research into these almost lost landscapes.
The National Park Authority has begun a process to develop a new Management Plan for the National Park in collaboration with partners and stakeholders. If you have any interest at all in this National Park or National Parks as a whole – you’re a stakeholder. Since our last Plan was drawn up in 2011/12 there are new environmental challenges to confront, new environmental issues to take on and new environmental priorities to progress…
Paul explains below how you can get involved in shaping the future, if you would like to.
Paul Fellows – Head of Strategic Policy
Every few years we take the opportunity to ask ourselves what we want the North York Moors National Park to be like in the future and how we might realise that vision.
In doing this we would really like your ideas – the people who live and work in, care for and visit this special place. Generation after generation has helped create this landscape, from moorland, dale and forest to village, farm and field. Many millions more cherish this place as visitors and supporters. The National Park looks like it does because of you and your families; its future is in all our hands.
Our task is to help create a shared vision that we can all agree on, because that’s the best way to pass the National Park on to future generations in an even better state. What do we want farming, housing, tourism, transport, business, heritage and nature conservation to look like? What sort of place do we want to grow up in or grow old in? What’s the correct balance that works best for everyone?
Over the course of the next year we’ll enshrine this shared vision in a document called a ‘Management Plan’, which will set out exactly the work that needs to be done. We want the plan to be ambitious but deliverable; we want to anticipate the challenges and work together to meet them. We’ll set dates and targets, so that you can see the progress we’re making together.
This then is your chance to help us by having your say about the future of the North York Moors National Park. You’ll have your own ideas of what the National Park could and should be like in twenty years’ time. Every viewpoint is valid. Each opinion matters. The more perspectives that are offered, the stronger the overall plan and vision will be.
Think of this as a conversation about the future. It’s always an important discussion to have, though perhaps – after the experiences of the last year – more vital than ever before. Tell us your thoughts and hopes. Be bold. It’s your National Park and together we can plan effectively for better days ahead.
To start with, we’ve created a quick survey that asks up to five short questions so you can let us know what you think the main issues are.
If you would like a bit more background, or to look at some of the challenges we think we are facing, please take a look at our ‘working together’ page, which goes into more detail and asks more specific questions. We’ve come up with three themes to think about – Leading Nature Recovery, Landscapes for All, and Living and Working Landscapes. There is bound to be a lot of cross over between these themes, for instance in regards the historic environment. Anyway, have a think yourself and let us know your thoughts by email .
You can also keep in touch – if you want to be kept informed of further work on the Management Plan please join our mailing list.
2020 was a voyage of discovery for many people and my family were no exception. We discovered nature on our doorstep which we would never have made time to see if we’d have been zipping about to children’s parties and swimming lessons. Most of our daily walks have been in nearby Cropton Forest and Newtondale. Both peaceful and inspiring, and full of nature’s wonders …
The highlight for me was watching badger cubs playing in the sun near their sett. I was whispering to my children that they would never see such a special sight again in their lives. They were enthralled for a few minutes but equally keen to get back to their skipping and shouting!
A simple walk in the forest is filled with signs of wildlife if you know what to look for. We have seen evidence of roe deer from the ‘fraying’ they leave behind. This is where the males rub their antlers against sapling trees to mark their territory.
We found a leaf where an insect had been eating away inside and left a pale trail.
Some wildlife allows you to get close and this Golden-ringed dragonfly was very obliging. This was found on a walk where our son was in a ‘worst day ever’ kind of mood but the second they found a wet ditch to explore it turned into ‘best day ever’. They love a bit of Bear Grylls adventure.
Most children love the gross stuff so this cuckoo-spit, the home of the frog hopper, was also a big hit.
The shear scale of some wildlife is outstanding and there is one part of Cropton Forest which is literally alive with ants – Northern Hairy Wood Ants to be precise. Some whopping great big nests but the whole forest floor and tracks were covered with them too.
Right next to the ant city we found the nest of a bird that eats them. A neighbour told us they had seen the woodpecker going in and out but we weren’t patient enough to wait!
The dead birch tree was not only home to a woodpecker but also a lovely bracket fungi of which we have appreciated many.
The edges of the forest rides are often packed with flowers and I was very proud one day when our daughter was able to identify stitchwort and red campion. Here is a lovely pale pink marsh valerian.
Although a lot of our family walks have been in ‘commercial’ forest we are lucky to have some old broadleaved woodland nearby. This track near home is called locally ‘water bank’ and the age of the beech trees and the form of the land always makes me think of previous generations who have walked down that path, perhaps to collect water from the stream at the bottom.
Like many people we have said many times ‘I can’t believe we’ve never been here before’ and that was certainly the case when we found this verdant gem in Raindale.
If you were to ask my children which was their favour woodland walk they would say ‘swing wood’ for obvious reasons. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about watching the children play in such a natural environment.
So when we all get the chance again the nation’s forest, owned by Forestry England for the enjoyment of us all, will be a great place to go. A surprising amount of wildlife will be on show – in the meantime some animals (and some people) will be happily hibernating – this slow worm is under a pile of leaves until spring.
Even though there is less wildlife on show during the winter months the trees are there and they always make excellent dramatic subjects for the budding photographer, like these taken by my husband.
That 2020 had been unusual hardly needs emphasising. The need for adaptation and restraint in our routines has, as we all know, continued into 2021. It’s frustrating, and we all wish it could end right now, but we have to be patient a while longer.
For me, back in April and May last year when the first lockdown was at its peak, the main consolation was the lengthening hours of daylight. Combined with the glorious spring weather and the absence of traffic, it was possible to get out for a walk, bike ride, or run and experience the National Park (or at least that little bit of it near my home) as never before. Some of the reasons we all love it – its diverse landscapes, the wide sweeps of heather moorland, its tranquillity and sense of remoteness, the valleys, forests, and of course it’s wildlife – were all brought into sharp focus in a way that I’d not quite experienced until then, and they seemed more valuable than ever. It wasn’t just the long hours of sunshine; more what the place meant to me during that difficult time.
Sometimes we know instinctively that something, or someone, is special even if we can’t put a finger on just why. But when it comes to a place, as for many things, getting to the bottom of this sometimes tricky question is a critical first step towards being able to look after it in way which ensures its intrinsic value is retained for the future.
The North York Moors National Park Authority has tried to identify exactly what it is that makes the area such a special place. These ‘special qualities’ help us describe and understand why it is so valuable and why it needs protecting. They include those qualities I was enjoying on my lockdown excursions in spring but there are many more, in fact twenty-eight in total. All are equally important, even if we each have our own favourites.
Importantly, promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public is one of the two main statutory purposes of a National Park Authority. Alongside the other main purpose, to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, it drives much of what we do as an organisation.
Last year spring turned into summer and then autumn brought lockdown mark two, and this time it was different. The long days of sunshine seemed quite distant. It was dark before the end of the working day and opportunities to get into the outdoors were much harder to find. Chances are when daylight and opportunity coincided, the weather wasn’t cooperating. Which brings me back to the need for adaptation.
One of the National Park’s special qualities is its ‘dark skies at night and clear unpolluted air’. Recently the National Park Authority has been carrying out a lot of work on the dark skies theme and you can find out more about this in previous blog posts by my colleague Mike Hawtin.
Although I’ve always enjoyed looking at the night sky, and appreciate the way that a starscape on a clear winter’s night can be just as inspiring as a beautiful landscape, or a dramatic seascape, as seen during the day, I’ve never tried to carry on with my outdoor activity at night. The thought of going off for a run through the woods or across the moors after dark for my ‘daily’ activity is a bit unsettling, however much your head also tells you there’s no rational basis for this. But recently, that’s just what I’ve been doing.
It’s been a revelatory experience in many ways. Firstly, that I was easily capable of overcoming that irrational worry that had deterred me from trying it before. Secondly, I wasn’t the only one doing it (in a socially distanced manner)! More importantly, it has opened my eyes to a whole new sphere of ‘understanding and enjoyment’ of some of the National Park’s special qualities – sights, sounds, smells, wildlife – that wouldn’t have been noticeable through the sensory overload that full daylight can bring. A landscape reduced in scale perhaps, but enhanced in detail and refreshingly new, even in places I’ve visited many times before.
And of course there’s the night sky. Pause to look upwards on a clear night and it’s impossible not to be impressed and inspired. Yes there’s sheer enjoyment in this, but I also feel that each individual night time visit is another step on a journey towards a better understanding of my local countryside that happens to be on the edge of a National Park, and how its special qualities meld together to make a coherent whole. I know it won’t be for everyone, but I’m pretty sure my adaptation won’t be a temporary one this time.
Yew links to Christmas and Christianity and back beyond into the depths of time. Like other evergreens, branches of yew were brought into people’s houses at Christmas as decoration and also as bitter reminder of the Christian Passion.
Yew trees (Taxus baccata) are now strongly associated with churchyards. They are a connection to the old Norse and Celt beliefs that yew trees protected against bewitchment and death. Pagans celebrated the yew at the mid winter festival of Saturnalia, which later melted into Christmas. Many old churchyard yews may have been planted by church-builders, brought out of the woods and into a civilised setting. Or later on top of graves to ward off evil around the dead and provide branches to be carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. It became a tradition without a remembrance of its origins.
There are also a number of churchyard yews predating their churches, and even Christianity. Some trees alive today in Britain are truly ancient. The Fortingall Yew in Scotland is possibly between 2,000 and 3,000 years old – a myth tells of Pontius Pilate as the son of a Roman envoy, being born beneath and playing as a child within its branches. While the Ankerwycke Yew witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, as an already 1,000-year-old tree overlooking Runnymede meadows in Surrey.
The first few lines of ‘Lines on the Ancient Yew in Darley Church Yard’ (in Derbyshire)
By Samuel Barker
Thou art an interesting tree, The fact’s beyond dispute, Thy monster trunk and giant bows And intersecting roots, Rearing in solemn grandeur, Thy patriarchal head, Reigning in midnight dimness, O’er the regions of the dead.
The story of the yew tree is one of life, death, and resurrection. It was said by the noted forester and dendrologist Alan Mitchell, that “there is no theoretical end to this tree, no need for it to die”.
Yews reach such old age through an amazing ability to renew themselves and return from apparent decay. New shoots from the base can coalesce with the main trunk, while lowered branches can put down roots, and fallen trees remain alive as long as the smallest amount of root remains attached. Ancient trees can be split into several parts, and no longer look like one tree, but can go on surviving for many hundreds of years more.
Death lingers in these long-lived trees, with all parts of the plant containing highly poisonous taxine alkaloids. Yet at the same time these same highly poisonous chemicals provide modern day science with anti-cancer compounds. The yew tree can regenerate us, as well as itself.
Yorkshire has a strong but somewhat forgotten link to yew trees. The ancient Celtic name for the City of York is Eborakon, which can be translated to ‘the place where the yew trees grow’, or came from the name Eburos, meaning ‘yew man’. In the North York Moors, yew trees are common in churchyards, and can occasionally be encountered in the surrounding areas.
Richard Baines – Volunteer North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer
2020 Breeding Season
Many people ask me ‘how did the Turtle Doves in North Yorkshire do this year?’ This is always a tricky one to answer because we have only been conducting surveys for five years. This is a short time scale to confirm a population trend. However, this year has been amazing for several reasons. The great weather in spring got us off to an excellent start and must have been good for returning doves. Despite observing the lockdown restrictions at all times we managed to monitor 20 population squares and conduct both visits in each square.
Turtle Dove in North Yorkshire 2021. Copyright Richard Baines.
A maximum of 33 and a minimum of 23 singing males were found in these 1km squares. Turtle Doves were found in 50% of the twenty squares. This compares well to previous years but may have been helped by the good weather. During the surveys I realised how important it is to conduct a Turtle Dove breeding survey in still conditions. It would have been so easy to miss a purring Turtle Dove on a windy morning.
Many additional sightings were sent in to our project this year, a total of 270 birds. Many of the casual sightings will have been seen more than once but the good news is this was 28 more than 2019. These included a minimum of 63 singing males which were found in locations away from our formal survey squares. This gives a minimum total of 86 singing males in our project area in 2020. The number of unique singing males found in each of the four years of our project has been consistently between 50 and 100 birds.
Turtle Dove in North Yorkshire 2021. Copyright Richard Baines.
With less surveys being possible in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions we are very pleased with the results. A Big Thank You to everyone who sent us their sightings this year. We now know where most of our Turtle Doves are in North Yorkshire. This is a big help, allowing us to target conservation work in the areas where Turtle Doves need it most.
We are hoping to be able to carry out the full suite of North Yorkshire Turtle Dove surveys next spring. We will shortly be announcing the dates for our annual April volunteer meetings, either at one of our regular venues or, if necessary, virtually. Its really important we keep up these surveys and continue working equally hard on improving habitat for Turtle Doves in our area. If you are new to our project and would like to volunteer please email.
Barn owls, such an iconic species of our countryside, are on the increase in many areas of the North York Moors, helped in part, by recent mild winters. However, good habitat management and providing nest boxes has played an important part. Barn owls are extremely vulnerable in prolonged wet weather and extended periods of laying snow, both conditions prevent them seeking prey items such as voles and shrews. Monitoring of barn owls takes place by Schedule 1 Licence holders as part of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing and nest recording programme. This provides valuable data on survival rates and suitable habitat in order to best direct conservation efforts.
Many young barn owls were ringed before they fledged their nests this season within the North York Moors National Park by members of Tees Ringing Group. When a barn owl is found with a ring on its leg, the unique number tells us where it was ringed and therefore how far it has travelled and how old it is. One such barn owl was recovered recently and now it’s got a beer named after it.
On 28 September, a juvenile barn owl was found with a injured wing on land at Great Newsome Brewery near Hull. It had been ringed as a nestling in a tree cavity on 24 June earlier this year at Rosedale. On fledging the nest, it had dispersed a massive 89kms/60miles. It was nursed back to health in Hull and successfully released back at the brewery site on 6 November. The brewery named their latest trial beer after it, Tyto alba, a hoppy pale ale. What a great success story.