Ryevitalise Discovery: Woodlands

Ann Pease – Ryevitalise Administration Assistant

The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme focuses on a fascinating river catchment landscape encompassing the Rivers Rye, Seph and Riccal. The area contains some truly amazing woodlands which support an enormous array of wildlife, including some real rarities.

River Rye and riparian woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Over the next four years Ryevitalise will focus on the conservation and restoration of woodlands and adjoining habitats such as sunny clearings and marshy grasslands, to support the wildlife that relies on these important sites.

Patience is a virtue, and what can often seem like a quiet woodland setting on first glance can be a veritable highway of activity.  Back last summer a remote, motion sensitive camera was set up in a quiet corner of woodland near Helmsley ahead of an invasive-species control task we ran to control Himalayan balsam, just to see what we could see.  The device was left in situ for two weeks, and in that time stealthily caught the comings and goings of some of our most loved British wildlife. So here are a few of the captured images of the wildlife of the Ryevitalise catchment from last summer to lighten and warm up these cold winter days.  Some are easier than others – see if you can identify the roe deer, the badger, the bat, the fox, the rabbit, the thrush feeding its chick, the roe deer, the partridge.

Spring is not too far away – but the winter itself is a particularly great time to spot wildlife in your local patch.  An influx of winter visitors such as fieldfare, wax wing, and short eared owl boost bird populations, and many animals become bolder in their search for sustenance and shelter and food hotspots can support great concentrations.  If there is a covering of snow (or mud!), head out into the countryside to find footprints and secret paths hidden during fairer weather. The Nature Calendar pages on of the National Park’s website has some great information on the types of wildlife you are likely to see throughout January and February, as well as the best places to see them.

We are always keen to see your photos of wildlife on and around the Rye area – so if you can, when you post them online please include #Ryevitalise or @northyorkmoors so we can see them too. Whatever you do this winter – take time out in nature and enjoy the best that the National Park has to offer.

STOP PRESS
The official Ryevitalise launch event will be held on 25 May 2020 at Sutton Bank National Park Centre including lots of opportunities to learn more about the habitats and wildlife of the River Rye area within that week … more details will be announced shortly!.

If you would like to find out more about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership, upcoming volunteer opportunities or events keep an eye on our web pages.

Ryevitalise logo

Going with the FLO

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

At the end of October last year it was the turn of this National Park Authority to host the National Park Authorities’ Farm Liaison Officers (FLO) Group Meeting. It was the thirtieth such meeting and we welcomed 23 farm officers from 11 National Parks with attendees from the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.

The main purpose of these three day meetings is to enable discussions between colleagues about the common opportunities and challenges of working with landowners and land managers to conserve the special qualities of farmed landscapes. This is an annual event shared out between the 15 UK National Parks. The last time the North York Moors played host was back in 2002. There have been a lot of changes since then so we had a lot to showcase.

DAY ONE

The meeting was based at Wydale Hall near Scarborough on the southern edge of the National Park – a very peaceful and beautiful setting. Everyone arrived by midday and we started with a brief introduction and catch up from each National Park with representatives talking through their new projects and current issues from their point of view. We had a cup of tea and a presentation on the new Woodsmith Mine near Whitby followed by a drive past to see the setting within the landscape. The mine sparked much discussion around light pollution, the local economy, offsetting carbon emissions and the scale of the planned operation. We ended up in Whitby that evening for much appreciated fish and chips.

DAY TWO

Day two was all about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership. We started off in Nunnington, a village towards the southern end of the Rye catchment within the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). We had roped in various members of the Ryevitalise and the Howardian Hills AONB teams to help. Paul from Ryevitalise was able to present an overview of the Landsdcape Partnership, highlighting why the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund decided to fund this 3.2 million project for the area – i.e. to enhance water quality, to improve water level management and to reconnect the people who live within the catchment with their river.

By the River Rye in Nunnington, FLO visit 30.10.19. Copyright NYMNPA.

We went on for a short walk along the riverbank in Duncombe Park, Helmsley. Duncombe Park is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) because of its important ecology. We talked about the potential for alleviating some of the impacts that weirs can have on both water level management and the ability for fish to spawn throughout the length of a river.

View from Duncombe Park looking back over Helmsley Castle. Copyright NYMNPA.

Low Crookleith Farm, Bilsdale - FLO visit 30.10.20. Copyright NYMNPA.After indulging in pie and peas at Hawnby Village Hall for lunch we drove further upstream through Bilsdale to visit a farm where the farmer now has a land management agreement through the Ryevitalise programme. We looked at his riverside fields where trees will be planted through the agreement to create a riparian buffer, along with the installation of new fencing to stop stock accessing the river directly which can cause sediment to enter the water and negatively impact on the river ecology.

We ended up at Chop Gate Village Hall near the top of Bilsdale where we got to hear about riverfly monitoring from two very enthusiastic and interesting volunteers who are already actively engaged in monitoring the water quality in the Rye catchment.

Back at Wydale Hall dinner was followed by a range of after dinner presentations from invited speakers on Turtle Doves, Championing the Farmed Environment and the Esk Valley Facilitation Fund group, as well as an appreciation of Geraint Jones from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park who has been coming to these meetings from the beginning and for whom this one would be his last as he is due to retire shortly.

DAY THREE

Straight after breakfast the morning session began with a talk from Forestry England on their enclosed beaver trial ongoing in Cropton Forest.  There was fascinating video footage of how the beavers’ natural behavior of building dams can help with slowing the flow of water which has great potential as a natural and sustainable flood alleviation method.

We rounded off the session with in depth discussions of current issues including the development of the new national environmental land management scheme and rural development initiatives post Brexit and how National Park Authorities might be involved. Other subjects considered were; how National Parks could help companies offset their carbon, providing advice to farmers on how to reduce carbon emissions, opportunities for more landscape scale projects within National Parks, the always contentious issue of fencing on common land and how best to share farming stories with the general public. The meeting wrapped up at lunch time and everyone set off back to their respective National Parks hopefully with good memories of the North York Moors and its work.

Attendees at the Farm Liaison Officers Group Meeting October 2020. Copyright NYMNPA.

It is always useful to meet up with like-minded people and discuss pertinent subjects with colleagues from other National Park Authorities. We do tend to consider ourselves to be a family of National Parks and it is great to be able to come together occasionally, to discuss ideas, to learn from each other and to return to our individual Parks refreshed and inspired by what we have seen and experienced.

The Winter King

Paul Thompson – Ryevitalise Programme Officer

Trees give us so much – visually from a landscape perspective, environmentally by cleaning the air producing oxygen and storing carbon, and emotionally as spending time in a woodland is said to boost our immune system and have a restorative effect on our mental wellbeing.  They have also had a leading role in our cultural heritage and seasonal festivals for thousands of years.

At this time of year there is one tree in particular that stands out in hedgerows and woodlands across the land – relishing the freezing temperatures, still in leaf and adorned with bright red berries, it’s the humble holly tree (Ilex aquilarium).

Close up of holly. Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

Image of Old Father Christmas with a holly crown and a yule log on his back. From Wikipedia.This species’ highly recognisable spiky, waxy leaves contain cells with anti-freeze properties and were historically used as winter forage for sheep, while the berries now continue to provide food and shelter for migrating fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes. Pagan folklore has the Holly as the Winter King ruling over the cold winter months and providing food and shelter for wildlife during this crucial time, while the warmer half of the year is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King; the two doing battle at the spring and autumn equinox to regain their crown. It is suggested that the origins of Father Christmas hail from the idea of the Holly King, traditionally dressed in evergreen.

The Romans gave boughs of holly to friends during the festival of Saturnalia – a celebration of Saturn and the winter solstice, later christianised to make Christmas. Christian mythology had it that holly sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, “the leaves’ spines representing the crown of thorns and the red berries the drops of his blood”. The name holly derives from “holy tree”; Jesus’ cross was said to have been made from holly wood. From medieval times holly was being used to decorate churches and people’s homes during the festival of Christmas, and it wasn’t until Victorian times that conifer trees started to take centre place thanks to Prince Albert.

In the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme area we are lucky to have some of the largest specimens of holly in the UK.

Holly Tree in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Birch Wood nature reserve in Bilsdale. Copyright Paul Thompson, NYMNPA.

We also have some fantastic veteran and ancient oak trees in the Ryevitalise area; indeed one of the largest collections of ancient oak trees in northern England.  These arboricultural giants are home to one of the rarest mammals in the UK, the alcathoe bat. The presence of alcathoe bat was reaffirmed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) who were commissioned to carry out research into the distribution of bat populations as part of the development of the Ryevtialise scheme. The River Rye riparian corridors and adjoining hedgerows provide feeding super-highways for bat species. Ryevitalise will be expanding on this research through a citizen science project that will train up and empower the local community to monitor both the local bat and veteran tree populations to ensure they are valued and continue to thrive in our landscape.

If you would like to find out more about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership, upcoming volunteer opportunities and events please keep an eye on our website pages.

Ryevitalise logo

Inspirational birds

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project has benefited from huge support since we started back in 2016; from local farmers to national celebrities, we have been amazed at how many people want to help the project.

This year we entered what will be our last funded year as part of our current National Lottery Heritage Fund Project. Because of this we were determined to continue the conservation effort and to keep creating habitat to help the local Turtle Dove population survive. To help resource planned future work and to generally raise awareness of Turtle Dove conservation we decided to launch an autumn of fund raising.

So – how could artists, celebrities and a couple of cyclists help Turtle Doves?

The major art theme grew out of a donation from international wildlife artist Alan Hunt who lives in North Yorkshire. Alan donated two beautiful pieces of original art to the project.

Alan’s art along with other pieces were displayed at two venues in October (Danby and Dalby) ahead of an auction of the art works. This was a big success attracting a wide range of artists from sculptors such as Jennifer Tetlow to a local poet Tiffany Francis.

Alongside the formal art auction was our unique ‘Doodle a Dove’ celebrity auction. This was run by the local Forestry England’s Funding & Development Manager Petra Young, following on from her Scribble a Squirrel project in Scotland back in the 1990s. Over 30 doodles of Turtle Doves were donated with a crazy range of images by famous people including Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Lolo Williams, Derek Jacobi, Sophie Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Miriam Margolyes, Lily Cole and many more.

Then up popped fellow Birders Jonny Rankin (RSPB Dove Step fundraising hero) and Nick Moran (BTO) who said “How about we cycle from Thetford to Spurn and raise £3,000 for your project?”. So naturally I said a big yes please! And they did it in September, arriving at Spurn at the start of the iconic Spurn Migration Festival.

The total raised for future Turtle Dove work in North Yorkshire currently stands at £8,000. All of the funds will be spent on conservation one way or another, such as the creation of tailor made wild flower plots, pond restoration or scrub creation.

Our year was rounded off in style with news that our project had won the platinum award for the best conservation project at this year’s UK National Parks Conference. We could not have won this award without the amazing efforts of many people from survey volunteers to farmers with habitat space. We were highly commended on the international links achieved through the project such as Bird International’s Flyways Initiatives.

Turtle Dove Auction Artists, along with Petra and Richard (holding the Award). Copyright NYMNPA.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

Woodland enterprise

Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise was set up back in 2016 to take on the management of Raincliffe, Forge Valley and Row Brow Woods near Scarborough. Their mission is to build a strong community enterprise that secures a safe and sustainable future for the woods while enhancing wildlife and community benefits.

 

They’ve been working ever since to restore these ancient woodlands to predominantly broadleaf with all the biodiversity benefits that brings to this important area. Part of it is a National Nature Reserve and the area also includes the Raincliffe & Forge Valley Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its sequence of woodland types rich with botany, birds and other animals. The historic environment is also full of features related to past industry and endeavour such as charcoal platforms and a forge. The Community/Social Enterprise aspect means income generated through woodland management today is used to help make the ongoing management sustainable and also to provide associated activities such as improving access, increasing community involvement and providing education.

 

Recently the National Park Authority have been working with Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise (RWCE) and others to carry out works in the woods to get rid of litter, keep access open, and tackle rhododendron. Have a look at the RWCE’s recent Working Together blog post to find out more and to keep up to date about future plans.

Raincliffe Woods - https://www.raincliffewoods.co.uk/

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.