Way! Hey! It’s Lamprey!

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

My friends in the world of fresh water have always tried to convince me that lampreys are beautiful creatures that are an essential part of our eco-system. I was somewhat unconvinced! Their slippery skin, suckers and razor teeth never quite made them the most attractive of animals. Having grappled with measuring elvers in plastic trays in the last Ryevitalise blog post, I was never convinced that neither eels nor lamprey were anything other than something out of a horror film. However whilst Riverfly monitoring on one hot sunny morning recently along with one of our (socially distanced) experienced volunteers, we came across one of the blighters. Even though notoriously difficult to catch, one landed right in our net after our 3 minute kick sample. As our volunteer excitingly popped it onto his hand and waved it in my face, I really wasn’t sure why he was that excited … so he explained how fantastic they were for our rivers.

Young lamprey temporarily caught during recent Ryevitalise Riverfly Monitoring. Copyright Amy Carrick, NYMNPA.

So why the Rye?

Firstly we have three species of lamprey in this country – sea, brook and river lamprey. These have been a rare sight recently in this area until the past few years. As a result of an improvement in water quality, the removal of migratory obstacles and the installation of special tiles that help movement, the lamprey are navigating through the River Derwent. The population has become so important that the lower reaches of the Derwent now have protected status, reflecting the spawning distribution of the species in the catchment.

That this ancient species has made it back up to the River Rye towards the top of the Derwent catchment is very encouraging. Small numbers have been recorded in the past few years by our Riverfly monitors.

So why should we care?

Well over the past few decades high levels of pollution in our rivers has nearly wiped out any chance of seeing lamprey in the UK. All species of lamprey require clean sandy gravels to spawn. The young larvae then swim off to the soft marginal silt of the river to grow; feeding on the algae, bacteria and detritus. Sediments can also smother spawning gravel sites, also effecting other species of fish too. Dramatic changes in water flow and levels also affect these spawning sites. The migratory sea and river lamprey require good water quality to survive their long journey from sea to spawning sites.

This means that if you do have lamprey in your river, something is going right!

So what can we do to help?

Although the fate of the lamprey population depends on the goings on in the lower catchments, the more we can do in the upper catchments to keep lamprey here the better for our freshwater ecosystem, and that’s exactly what the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme is trying to achieve. The reduction in sediments is one of the biggest factors; reducing Himalayan Balsam eroding our river banks, stopping cattle predation in rivers, changing the way riparian land is farmed to reduce runoff, all helps in the battle against sediment. Water level management and the planting of trees also helps with reducing the dramatic water level changes during the winter. And most importantly (slightly biased) is engagement! If people don’t know why we should care for lamprey, then they never will. Sharing the beauty and importance of this slippery creature with as many people as possible will help in protecting these quirky river species.

Did you know for example lamprey predate dinosaurs by 200 million years?! And my favorite – apparently during the Middle Ages, lampreys were widely eaten by the upper classes throughout Europe. It is thought King Henry I died from overindulging on lampreys.

So while I will still recoil in horror at seeing one, I now know how special lamprey are and I will attempt to make these as popular as the cuddly otter or water vole….well one can try…..

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logo band

A miscellany of wildlife encounters

During the last few months, alongside everything else that has been going on, there has been the chance for additional up-close and personal nature experiences. Here’s a few from the (mostly) home life of the Conservation Department – some in pictures some in words.

Here’s a stunning patchwork green view that could be seen when looking over towards Whitby from Borrowby while completing a grassland survey. Copyright Victoria Franklin, NYMNPA.

Golden ringed dragonfly being pointed at. Copyright Rachel Pickering, NYMNPA.“A golden ringed dragonfly let both our children [very gently] touch it. For me I guess one of the more striking things about this encounter was that we were in Cropton Forest – part of Forestry England’s ‘commercial conifer forestry’ which some people write off as having no wildlife value. My family and I have spent many happy hours in Cropton Forest during the past couple of months enjoying wildlife and cultural heritage and just for that time not seeing another soul.

There was a nesting blackbird squashed into a hole in a wall in my parent’s potting shed which successful fed and raised a brood of chicks. On our usual dog walk near home we came across a cobweb of small eggar moth caterpillars. We took some home for a week or so and they enjoyed living in our kitchen fed on blackthorn. We let them go back into the hedgerow when we realised that when they form a cocoon they stay in it overwinter and perhaps even for 2 or 3 winters! So much better off back in the hedge.”

“Last week after a dawn bird survey I stumbled across a fantastic small quarry … With three species of orchids; Bee, Butterfly and Fragrant (maybe Chalk Fragrant) … I was as they say Well Chuffed!”

“I’ve been seeing loads of wildlife; it’s photographing the pesky thing’s that’s the problem – for some reason they don’t seem to want to cooperate! There’s the barn owl that’s been hunting at the bottom of the garden and in our neighbour’s field almost every morning and evening for the past couple of months; I’ve seen more badgers this year whilst out running than ever before, including an adult with two cubs; then there’s the hare that’s taken up semi-permanent residence on the lawn; the herd of 10 fallow deer in the barley field next door that I see from the kitchen window most evenings; and I’ve been dived bombed by lapwings when running on the moor above Kepwick.”

“I came across this delightful critter in my garden yesterday – it’s a Nicrophorus Nicrophorus Investigator. Copyright Briony Fox, NYMNPA.Investigator – it is a burying beetle and like other burying beetles they bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and mice as a food source for their larvae. They are common and widespread (although I’ve never seen one before!). They have a very good sense of smell and are reputed to be able to smell a carcass up to two miles away (ewww!). It was quite a big bug – around 2cm long.”

“I had a rather unpleasant wildlife encounter at Falling Foss on Thursday when our friends dog ‘found’ a nest of agitated bees on the path and they swarmed and chased us. I evaded the inevitable but the others all got stung so that wasn’t fun. We did see a toad later on so that made up for it a bit!”

“Me and my family have spent hours watching the wildlife in our garden and in and around the village throughout lockdown, this is my favourite event because I love a happy ending…We have a troop of sparrows who eat their way through a big feeder of bird seed every day. I enjoy watching them line up on twigs waiting for a go and squabbling over the perches on the feeder. They have a dust bath under the hedge often alongside our chickens. The group fledged lots of young and my two children loved watching the fluffy youngsters hanging around under the feeder waiting for attention from their parents. Just before the children’s bath time one day we heard a loud thump on the lounge window. I ran out followed closely by the children and found a stunned just fledged sparrow lying on the ground. I picked up the little bird and we all peered down at her – she opened an eye! We decided to put her in a big cardboard box while the children had their bath and see what happened . . . After the quickest bath on record we opened the box and there she was standing up and looking up at us. The children carried the box out into the garden and off she went back to the troop…”

Swallow Beard - Alasdair wearing a swallow chick. Copyright NYMNPA.“Earlier in the year I had about 50 whooper swans fly low over the house! What a noise! I’ve had a pair of redstarts nesting in the eaves of the house…A pair of swallows built a nest in the chicken coop and the chicks fled the nest early to escape the temperature of a hot day (nest was very close to the tin roof). So I moved the nest, scooped up the chicks and popped them back – one got attached and found comfort under my beard for a while before I popped it back with siblings – happy to say all four have fledged! Good work mum and dad!

Being at home more has meant that I’ve gotten to see the green woodpeckers more often rather than just hearing them ‘yaffling’ in the woods…”

“My main experiences with wasps have mainly been negative…it normally involves providing a glass of sacrificial cider to keep them at bay in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon. They also act as play things for my cats when they invade my house. I don’t know much about wasps but never the less I know how important these little beasties Alex's wasp nibbled bird table. Copyright Alex Cripps, NYMNPA.are, although trying to explain that to anyone outside of the conservation sector can prove challenging. Whilst attempting to tackle my garden I noticed my log bird table had slowly started to shrink, once a solid round log was now two thirds of its size. I assumed I was not feeding the birds enough food and they had taken to destroying my table as a form of protest, until I noticed a wasp happily munching away at the wood. I was unsure why a wasp might have taken a liking to my bird table until I stumbled across an episode of Springwatch where Chris Packham was stood excitingly next to a wasp having a good old munch on his old shed door. I didn’t realise that this ritual was part of the nest building process until seeing that episode, so although my bird table is not as smart of it used to be, it’s great to see nature in action!”

“No major surprises but it’s been a lockdown pleasure to watch goldfinches, tree sparrows, magpies, wood pigeons, doves, crows, etc. pop into the garden and the occasional herring gull pop down to eat any scraps left out and remind me just how big they can get! We also have three cheeky hens who are resident in the back garden…We’ve also had a few visits from hedgehogs in the front garden, including one who popped by at 5pm for a quick snuffle in the soil – we haven’t actually seen a hedgehog in the front garden for quite a few years now, so our late afternoon visitor was quite welcome. There was also some distinctive paw prints left out on the front step one night and we think it had popped back for some more exploration. We’ve also had rabbits in the garden too, probably from the close-by cemetery which is home to a few. Last weekend I joined a small group of friends in a mates back garden to celebrate his birthday and at dusk we had the pleasure of watching the local bats pop out and skitter around the sky for insects – one bat came very close to brushing all of our faces with its wings as it did a loop around the table top! I’m presuming they were common pipistrelles, we have them at home too and they have been a delight to watch.”

“In my tiny garden I’ve had three blackbird nests, one thrush nest, and two robin nests … and the butterfly is a common blue seen in a quarry near my house.”

Ephialtes manifestator. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.“I’ve had lots of red mason bees and leaf cutter bees using my solitary bee ‘hotel’ and holes drilled in the fence. While watching them a few weeks ago, an impressive parasitic ichneumon wasp called ‘Ephialtes manifestator’ visited and started laying eggs in some of the full nesting tubes. I’ve since found out that it’s only the 10th record of this wasp in Yorkshire, so I’m really pleased that I’m helping support these associated parasitic species as well.

More small eggar moth caterpillars. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.I ventured on a few new footpaths not far from home, and on one came across a really nice veteran oak tree. While looking at it, I found a number of deathwatch beetles on it – which this far north are very rare in natural situations (i.e. not eating National Trust properties!) – so were quite an exciting find (for me anyway!).

When lockdown began to ease I spent some time looking for small eggar moth webs in the nearby hedgerows, and have also reared some caterpillars. They’ve all pupated now, but they kept me very busy as they ate an immense amount and needed daily supplies of fresh blackthorn!”

“I saw a hedgehog as I was leaving a site visit in Bilsdale last week, makes a refreshing change to see a live one rather than the many killed on the roads.”

Bilsdale hedgehog. Copyright James Caldwell, NYMNPA.

Not all the species have been rare and not all the locations special – but each encounter made an impression.

Microscopic wildlife

Recently the Hoopoe blog by NHBS hosted an interview with Ben Fitch, the Riverfly Partnership’s Project Manager.

Ben emphasis how important riverfly monitoring is as an initiative because it is such an effective way of monitoring the health of a river through its fly life. Ben also happens to mention the flat-bodied mayfly larva (Ecdyonurus dispar – Autumn Dun) as one of his favourite river flies, particularly the white-spot variant.

Excitingly during a socially distanced riverfly training session a few weeks ago Alex, Sam and Amy from the Ryevitalise Team found this very variant here in the River Rye. Apparently the exotic looking spots might be caused by a recessive gene, but what triggers it remains unknown.

Autumn dun white spot from the River Rye - through a microscope. Copyright NYMNPA.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye catchment is getting going again now, whilst keeping in line with current Covid-19 restrictions. So we thought we’d have a chat with one of our own riverfly people – Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field Officer.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.How long have Riverfly volunteers been out in the Rye catchment this year?

We started the phased return of riverfly monitoring from the middle of June. Amy (Education and Engagement Officer) and myself have been meeting individual volunteers on site to go through revised risk assessments and answer any questions they may have, as well as conducting the first kick-samples of the year. Normally riverfly monitoring would have started up at the beginning of May, but due to restrictions our volunteers understandably weren’t able to get out and monitor for the first 6 weeks of the sampling season.

How many Riverfly volunteers have you got on the Rye?

Currently we’ve got 30 riverfly volunteers registered through the Ryevitalise programme, although not all of these are currently ‘active’; unfortunately due to C-19 we had to Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.cancel our riverfly training and refresher days in April, so some volunteers are still awaiting their official training, including health & safety. Others have received training previously and are in the process of being assigned a site to monitor. Our first phase of volunteers to get back to volunteering were our established riverfly volunteers (8 in total) at sites where they had monitored before.

Riverfly monitoring is a good thing because…
See Catchment Based Approach partnerships website’s explanation of riverfly monitoring

“Riverflies (and other freshwater invertebrates) are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Because riverflies are riverfly populations are affected by many factors, predominately water quality, habitat diversity, water level and flow rate. Their common characteristics of limited mobility, relatively long life cycle, presence throughout the year and specific tolerances to changes in environmental conditions make them powerful biological indicators to monitor water quality, and so are commonly referred to as ‘the canary of our rivers.’  The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality…”

Basically this Citizen Science initiative “ensures that water quality is checked more widely [than it would be otherwise] and action taken at the earliest opportunity if any problem are detected”.

Ryevitalise is participating in the national riverfly monitoring scheme run by the Riverfly Partnership. It’s important that we’re part of the wider scheme for several reasons: it standardises the methodology used across the UK; we get top-notch training and support from the Riverfly partnership’s extremely knowledgeable qualified trainers; we can run reports of our results easily from the database that our result go into; and we get to contribute important data on water quality and catchment health to the wider national scheme so that research into trends in the health of our rivers can be carried out and lead to informed changes and positive impacts on terrestrial and aquatic management.

Riverfly monitoring focuses on three groups – the up-wing flies or mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera).

Such tiny creepy insects are actually fascinating and wonderful because…
See Freshwater Biological Association’s website

  • Riverfly monitoring - Mayfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.They are a vital link in the aquatic food chain as a food source for fish, birds and mammals
  • They are one of the longest lived group of animals on the earth (mayflies have been around for over 3 million years, with the first written reference to them being made over 4000 years ago!)
  • Mayfly nymphs are present in the water all year round, and can spend up to two years feeding under the water before emerging as their adult form… but once they’ve Riverfly monitoring - Yellow hawk female. Copyright Stuart Crofts, Riverfly Partnership.emerged they fly for only a few hours (enough time to display and mate) before dying
  • Caddisfly larvae are fantastic grazers that clean up old leaves and twigs from the river bed, and sort through sediment as they go
  • Caddisfly cases used to be made into jewellery because they are so beautiful!
  • Riverfly monitoring - Cased caddisfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.Stonefly nymphs are extremely hardy – managing to continue growth even in sub-zero temperatures. They are also able to suspend growth if a river dries up temporarily
  • Overall, riverflies are a vital part of both the aquatic and terrestrial food chains, as well as being key players in sorting sediment on the river bed and breaking down waste products like old leaves and twigs

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logos

Good news story: Turtle Doves in a weedy corner

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

On 24 June I got a text message from one of our Turtle Dove volunteer surveyors. The message went something like…

‘A good morning’s survey – I saw five Turtle Doves including two feeding alongside eight Yellowhammers in a weedy corner of a nearby field’.

I was very pleased Andy had seen five Turtle Doves because that was one more than I had seen in the same survey square the previous month. But hang on a minute … ‘feeding in a weedy corner’ ?… that phrase pushed me to the edge of my seat … I messaged Andy back and asked him to send me a map of where they were feeding … as soon as I saw the map, I gave a big hurrah!!!

The ‘weedy corner’ was in fact the wild flower plot sown in the last couple of years by a farmer especially for these endangered birds as part of the grant scheme through the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project. Even better – Andy had actually got a photo of one of the doves (see below), great evidence of success! I rang up the farmer to give him the good news – not surprisingly he was very pleased that his hard work was having the desired effect. The flowers in the mix he planted include Turtle Dove favourites such as Common Fumitory, Black Medick and Birds-foot Trefoil. Three species which were once commonly found by the side of arable fields but are now increasingly rare.

The farmer and I had located the flower plot in one of his arable field alongside Forestry England woodland. This forest-farmland edge is a habitat known to be favoured by Turtle Doves, and other species such as the Yellowhammers Andy had also seen.

A Turtle Dove in seeded plot 24.6.20 (North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project). Copyright A Malley.

Our Turtle Dove Project has been overwhelmed by the good will shown by local communities and farmers. Now we have direct local evidence showing that these wild flowers and their seed really do make a difference for these beautiful birds when it comes to feeding – so we can continue our work with an extra spring in our step!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

For more about the North Yorkshire Turtle Doves (and Richard) – have a look at a feature on our website called Bid to save turtle doves.

Reconnecting people to the near and far past

Paul Thompson – Ryevitalise Programme Officer

Ryevitalise is reaching out with its ‘Rye Reflections – inspired by the river’ project. We’re currently putting a call out for people to send in their memories of wildlife encounters, past activities and changes in land management practices so we can record these experiences before these precious memories are lost.  We want to document change that has happened within the living memory of our communities, providing a framework that shaped how we connect with our local landscape today and how our children will connect with this landscape in the future.

We will share these memories with local school students, encouraging them to compare these experiences with their own, highlighting the differences and similarities and inspiring them to protect our catchment habitats in the longer term.

Old photographic image of Rievaulx.

I’m really excited about Rye Reflections, and what we might find out about the landscape we think we know so well.  I remember seeing hedgehogs regularly in my garden, and my car number plate used to get covered in dead flies in the 90’s, but these are no longer common sights in 2020.  I can’t wait to hear what memories our local community have about growing up and living around the catchment of the river Rye.  I hope to share these stories and help people reconnect with nature and the river.

If you have any wildlife memories, old photographs, journals or other records that might help us inspire the next generation of landscape guardians – please get in touch with me by email or post (North York Moors NPA, The Old Vicarage, Bondgate, Helmsley, York, YO62 5BP).

And that’s not all…we’re already underway with Rediscovering the Rye project …

Amy Carrick – Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer

Humans have lived with, and adapted the Rye from the earliest times. The story of how and why humans adapted their environments can be traced through the ages; from low-impact exploitation in Bilsdale during the Mesolithic era, to the beginnings of dramatic alterations and clearances for cultivation purposes in the Neolithic era. Current land managers have inherited these changes which bring about the opportunity to learn about these old practices, especially the use of the flowing waters of the Rye for farming, metal extraction and working. There is documentary evidence of the manipulation of the Rye by the monks of Rievaulx Abbey, including a long-established ‘canals’ theory. Land in Bilsdale belonged to the Abbey as an important grange site with a prototype blast furnace at Laskill and was the location of the quarries for which much of abbey’s construction relied. Dissolution destruction of this technically advanced furnace (c. 1530s) is suggested by metallurgical expert Gerry McDonnell to have delayed the Industrial Revolution by 250 years.

On the earth science side, there is a complicated story of how the Rye runs along various complex geologies, impacting on the unusual behaviour of the water; disappearing down sinkholes, bubbling up unexpectedly at springs, flash floods and how communities have managed to adapt to the unexpected ways of the river.

But where to start? We needed to design a project to enhance our understanding of the Ryevitalise landscape through river science and field investigation but also provides a unique and engaging way for our volunteers to engage with archaeology.  Which lead us to….LiDAR! LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) is a relatively new technique that records ‘lumps and bumps’ on the ground using a laser mounted aeroplane. LiDAR data, originally commissioned by the Environment Agency for non-archaeological purposes, is available in most areas of the Ryevitalise catchment. This data can be processed into LiDAR maps that show the ground surface in amazing detail beneath the trees and vegetation, including previously unrecorded archaeological features.

Example of a 1km LiDAR data grid square.

So with our 30 eager volunteers and academics from Durham and York Universities Ryevitalise hase set about this exciting project, the initial stages of which can usefully be done at home! Volunteers will be given their own 1km square of LiDAR, within the Ryevitalise area, to analyse and annotate for any possible archaeological sites. These will then be validated by our project consultant, Paul Frodsham (ORACLE Heritage Services), leading to a list of intriguing sites to explore further through Ryevitalise …

Although this particular project now has a full quota of volunteers, if you might be interested in other Ryevitalise volunteer opportunities, please see here.

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme logos

A to Z: a variety of Us and Vs

U, V

Underwood

Underwood is a term for trees within historically managed woodland (Silva minuta in the Domesday Book) – the ones grown and managed for common usage such as wattle for buildings, stakes for fencing, and firewood and charcoal for fuel i.e. not for building timber. A managed woodland often included underwood as well as timber trees left to grow big and straight. Underwood is made up of the trees that were coppiced and pollarded over and over again – from early history on to the post medieval period.

The underwood was managed frequently so trees stayed smallish, and their crop of wood was productively harvested much more often than from the timber trees and so the underwood could be worth more than the timber. What is left of the historic underwood can sometimes still be seen within semi natural ancient woodland – look for idiosyncratic-shaped overgrown veteran trees. Because the trees were managed and encouraged to rejuvenate they have lived a lot longer than single timber trees which were felled. They are as much cultural heritage as natural heritage. 

Veteran tree - grown up underwood - in the upper Rye catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whereas oak and beech might be more likely to have been left to become timber trees, the quicker growing underwood species were often more of a mix such as crab apple, holly, service, ash, sallow, hazel, maple, thorn, wych elm, birch. Careful rotation would be needed to give the different species the best chance to flourish and to ensure there was always wood available to the people who had the rights to collect it. The species mix were what came naturally in different parts of the country and what thrived in local conditions.

From the 18th century onwards, as demand altered, the products from underwood became less valuable and timber trees became more so, and therefore the management and species proportions of woodlands changed. During the 20th century predominantly conifer planted woodland for timber prevailed.

Urra

Urra Moor, part of the Cleveland Hills, contains the highest point on the North York Moors – 454 metres above sea level, at Round Hill. There is a lot of prehistoric archaeology in the area – cairns, lithic scatters and a flint arrow head find. Being at the highest point for miles around is always going to be useful for humans as well as significant.

There is some disagreement over where the unusual name Urra comes from. Most simply it might mean hill from the Norse haugr, or it could imply a more impressionistic idea of the darkness and gloom of such a wild barren area and be from the Old English word for dirty – horheht/horhig/horuweg. Try speaking the words without pronouncing most of the consonants.

Trig Point on top of Round Hill, Urra Moor. Copyright NYMNPA.

Obviously it’s not the time to explore Urra Moor, due to the Covid-19 situation. Please do not travel into or around the North York Moors National Park unless this is absolutely essential (essential travel does not include travel for exercise or to second homes and holiday accommodation). The National Park will be here waiting for you to enjoy when it is safe to do so.

Urtica dioica

The European stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is found where there are high amounts of nutrients in the soil and so is usually associated with habitation and other types of development. It is often frowned upon as a ‘pernicious weed’ because it is such a successful perennial that spreads through its rhizomes and runners, out competing other plants. At least it wont be suffocating many wildflowers however as many of those don’t appreciate nutrient rich soils.

Urtica dioica has serrated edged leaves and small grouped flowers. The leaves and stem are covered in hairs the tips of which can deliver a biochemical sting into your skin if touched (Urtica comes from the latin word for burn). This active element may be one of the reasons some people think it has medical efficacy. The plant can be usefully added to compost, and it (as a young plant only) can be used as an ingredient in food and drink, the immediate danger being in the collection rather than the eventual digestion. N.B. Don’t partake of any wild plant unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is and whether it really is edible or not. 

From a biodiversity point of view the nettle is particularly useful as a living plant because it acts as a host for the eggs and then provides vital food for the caterpillar stage for a multitude of butterfly and moth species – including Comma (Polygonia c-album), Peacock (Aglais io), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum), Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis), Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae), Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli humuli), Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis), Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum), Snout (Hypena proboscidalis), Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).

Red Admiral caterpillar on nettle plant. From Butterfly Conervation website.

Verjuice

Verjuice (Verjus) is the liquor that comes from pressing unripe fruit. The word means ‘green juice’ – ‘green’ conveying the tart un-ripeness of the fruit. The fruit used depended on what was available in the region. In and around the North York Moors that would have largely been crab apples, and maybe gooseberries. The fruit would have been pressed/crushed to abstract the liquor. The remaining mush could be fed to animals like pigs. The liquor could be used to flavour food with sourness – it is very acidic, like lemon juice before lemons were widely available, like a mild vinegar or a bad wine – and as medicine or tonic. The Crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris) is native to Britain and the trees were mostly wild in the past, although sometimes used in fencing (i.e. manipulating woody species to create enclosure hedges). In the 19th/early 20th century foraged crab apples were collected along with orchard fruit from the North York Moors to be sent off to jam factories; crab apples have a particularly high level of pectin to help the jam set.

Crab Apple Tree in Tripsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

There are a couple of records of parts of Verjuice presses included in the North York Moors Historic Environment Record (HER 840 and HER 19525). There is also at least one ‘crab mill’ which would have been driven by a horse, conserved as a feature in village of Sutton under Whitestonecliffe on the edge of the Moors. Crab apple trees are much less common than they were, both in the wild and in the hedgerows.

Image of a Crab Mill

Vernacular

Vernacular buildings were domestic and functional. They were ordinary in their time – built out of local materials (what was to hand) using traditional techniques. The vernacular buildings in each area might look similar, but are very rarely identical. It is this local distinctiveness that makes these buildings particularly important nowadays and therefore the best examples are worthy of being listed.  From the 19th century onwards materials became more easily transported around, house building was done on a more uniform and larger scale, architectural techniques and fashions were reiterated across the country – so the term vernacular is mainly used only for pre 19th century buildings..

Vernacular buildings have been described as a component of the landscape and not just because they’re built from materials hoved out of the local geology. The buildings needed an appropriate toughness to withstand the weather.  They are patched up over time to stay useful sometimes these phases of building add to the character sometimes they might deflect. But vernacular buildings,  whether they’re listed or not, always have a connection back to the people who built them, lived in them, drank in them, kept their animals in them. 

In the North York Moors vernacular buildings that still stand are mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. The most typical are built from sandstone and clay pantiles. Around Whitby cut ashlar blocks and quoins (corner stones) are common instead, and along the south edge of the Moors buildings are often built out of mixed rubble and quoins or sometimes gritstones/limestone. Materials were often re-used; after the Dissolution (mid 16th century) new or repaired buildings around some of the dissolved Abbeys and Priories of the North York Moors ended up a characterful mix of the vernacular and the spectacular.

Whereas it can be easy to see why stately homes, churches and castles are listed (protected for the nation), it can be more difficult to identify which of the many vernacular buildings of England should be listed too. Historic England have a series of Listing Selection Guides.

Vernacular building (not listed), after repairs - Raisdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … ABCDEF, GHI, J, KL, M, N, O, PQRS, T

Pond Purr-fect!

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

There is something magical about ponds: the mystery of what’s lurking in the depths, the tranquility of water and the constantly changing scene as many types of wildlife come and go on a fleeting visit or stay on to take full advantage of the precious habitats provided.

Turtle doves are no different from every other bird on the planet – they need water to survive. During the summer when our doves are raising a brood of chicks or squabs, finding water becomes even more important. Turtle doves feed crop milk to their small chicks in the nest in the first four days of their life. The milk is made from secretions from a lining in the crop. After four days the milk is mixed with regurgitated food and slowly changed to solid food as they become older.

That’s why through our Turtle Dove Project we have been keen on providing water sources – in particular now during the winter before our turtle doves return in the spring. This post celebrates one local farmer who has been keen on restoring his dew pond for a long time in the south west corner of the North York Moors and we were very pleased to assist his aim with a bit of project funding, especially as there were turtle doves recorded on the farm in 2019.

Over 100 years ago there were many dew ponds across the landscape. Originally used for livestock to drink from and created at sites which naturally collected water, many of the older ponds have now vanished as farming systems have changed and the ponds have dried up.

This is the story of the recent dew pond restoration revealed through photography…

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond location. Copyright NYMNPA.

Before the pond (the site in summer 2019). The original depression left of the track filled with ruderal vegetation with very little sign of the old pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Digging the test pit. A major success as we found the old dew pond stone base about three feet below ground.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Taking Levels. This to to ensure the pond is created level to the above ground area, a tilting pond will run dry!

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first buckets. Spoil was piled up by the side of the site then removed from site using a dumper.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first layer, weed membrane. A membrane helps to prevent vegetation growth into the water tight clay and provides a level  area for laying the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The second layer. clay lining. Special ‘puddling clay is brought in to provide the water proof base for the pond. A radio controlled roller is used to compact the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The third layer, barley straw . Straw is spread over the clay to reduce algal growth and provide an additional substrate within which essential pond plants can grow.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The fourth and final layer, limestone chippings. Used as a traditional protection layer to reduce the risk of clay drying and protect the pond base from the damaging feet of paddling stock animals.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The finished pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - restored dew pond. Copyright NYMNPA.

One week later! After Storm Dennis we have water in the pond.. All we need now is the vegetation to grow back up and of course our doves to come back from Africa! 

Belemnites: A Window to Yorkshire’s Past?

Ailsa Roper – Post Graduate Researcher, University of Leeds

I am pleased to be working for the next three years with the School of Earth and the Environment at the University of Leeds as a Post Graduate Researcher funded by the North York Moors National Park Authority through their planning agreement with Sirius Minerals. The agreement provides funding for a range of initiatives and projects to help offset the impacts of the Woodsmith Mine development on the National Park, including its exceptional coastal geology. Construction of the mine provides an opportunity to access new geological materials and through my research project I intend to study changes in ocean chemistry across the Early Jurassic period which have been preserved in these and in the rocks of the North York Moors coastal area.

Kettleness Cliffs. Photo credit Dr Crispin Little, University of Leeds.The cliffs of the North York Moors coast at Kettleness, showing the very top of the Cleveland Ironstone Formation (deposited around 183 million years ago) with the Grey Shales, Mulgrave Shales and Alum Shales overlying it.

The early Jurassic was a turbulent period in the Earth’s history. At the start of the period the supercontinent Pangea was just beginning to split up to form two continents, Gondwana in the South and Laurasia to the North, with a shallow ocean between them. The climate was also changing with the arid Triassic giving way to the warmer, wetter Jurassic. The changes over this timeframe put stress on the animals and plants of the period, causing several extinction events.

The Toarcian (the last geological period of the early Jurassic), which contains one such extinction event, is the first section of the early Jurassic I plan to study. This event (called the Early Toarcian Mass Extinction) was a second order extinction, meaning it wasn’t one of ‘The Big 5 Extinctions’ of the last 500 million years, but it was still a significant crisis for biodiversity at the time. During this event it is estimated 26% of genera died out, particularly affecting marine groups such as bivalves, gastropods and brachiopods living on the seafloor and squid-like belemnites and ammonites in the water column.

Pavement of fossilised ammonite. Photo credit Dr Crispin Little, University of Leeds.

Pavement of fossilised ammonite (Tiltoniceras) from the top of the Grey Shales.

Researchers now think that this extinction event was caused by increasing volcanic activity in the southern hemisphere during the early Toarcian, which triggered an increase in greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide. This increase in greenhouse gas concentration warmed the climate, possibly causing further release of greenhouse gases from methane in the shallow oceans and permafrost. This feedback cycle would have further raised the global temperature and affected the hydrological cycle, creating a hotter, wetter environment in the early Toarcian time period

More rainfall increased the amount of sediment washed into the ocean from the continents, potentially flooding the ocean with high concentrations of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphate. This high level of nutrients may have caused a spike in primary producers in the sea, such as algae. When these organisms died, they were likely broken down by microorganisms which removed a lot of oxygen from the water, causing a shortage of oxygen, known as dysoxia. This dysoxia and the increasing global temperatures are believed to be the key drivers behind the Early Toarcian Mass Extinction.

Understanding the changes in the ocean nutrient cycling is thus vital to understanding the impact on the organisms living there. Phosphate is a particularly interesting nutrient to study as phosphorus is an essential element in all organisms; on a geological timescale phosphate has even been shown to be the limiting nutrient required for the formation of life.

The initial phase of my PhD project looks at identifying changes in dissolved phosphorus in the ocean over the Toarcian time period. To do this I will examine changes in the phosphorus content of belemnite fossils. Belemnites are extinct squid-like cephalopods. Belemnites are the ideal candidates for this work as they lived in the water column, rather than at the ocean floor, and they are common and often well-preserved. Some pilot work appears to show an increase in phosphorus concentration of belemnites over the Toarcian anoxic event, though this is rough data with large associated uncertainties. Currently it’s unclear if there is a real change in belemnite phosphorus content, and if it represents changes in water column phosphorous concentration.

Fossilised belemnite in sediment. Photo credit Ailsa Roper, University of Leeds.

Fossilised belemnite in sediment, taken from a sediment core from Mochras, North Wales.

My first step is to develop a method which is effective in determining the phosphorus concentration in the belemnites. Once I have the method in place, I will apply it to belemnites from different sections across Europe to try to identify a coherent trend in phosphorus concentration. I will also analyse belemnites of different species and sizes of the same age to identify any variability between them.

Some work has already been done to study phosphate concentration on the ocean floor over the Toarcian period by analysing sediment. Though my work is attempting to identify changes in phosphorous in the water column, I intend to complete this sediment analysis for sediment surrounding the belemnites as well. This analysis could help determine if the phosphorus in the belemnite originated from the water column during the belemnites life, or if it originated in the sediment after its death.

I am excited to see what my analyses will show, and I hope my research will contribute to the understanding of the process behind some mass extinctions. If my technique is successful, I could spend the remainder of my project applying it to other sites around the world or to other extinction events.

Esk ventures

Ryan Harvey – River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer

Hi there, I’m Ryan the new Partnership Officer for the River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment – its part of a Catchment Based Approach and my post is jointly hosted by the National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) . I started back in August and what a fantastic experience I’ve had so far. My role is very varied and fulfills a broad range of objectives: liaising with landowners and farmers, managing volunteers, working with partner organisations and carrying out surveys. All this effort is in the hope of benefiting the ecology of the Esk and building strong relationships and partnerships to maintain the ecology into the future.

It all started with the electro fishing season. That meant getting to know our e-fishing volunteers and arranging some refresher training for them. This was a great opportunity for me to meet the team ahead of our actual surveys and set the scene for the coming weeks. Once the work started along with volunteers I had the much appreciated help of Victoria Franklin (our Conservation Trainee) and Ami Carrick (our Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer). Electro fishing is a hugely important element of our data collection on the Esk. It allows us to gain a better understanding of our fish species diversity and abundance, in particular migratory species such as salmon (Salmo salar), sea trout (Salmo trutta), European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and lamprey (Lampreta planeri).

Electro fishing on the Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our sites are repeated year on year and we now have a record of each species population over the last six years. This along with a whole suite of other data collecting techniques better informs our next steps and future conservation measures.

We are looking for new electro fishing volunteers for the 2020 season, so if this is something that may interest you please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Volunteers Team. We can offer all the training you might need.

Another aspect of my role has been working alongside our Pearl Mussel Volunteers who have a long standing history in the National Park; some of its volunteers have been working with us for over 10 years. The volunteers’ work is invaluable because it’s through this group (along with contractors) that we get most of the physical works and restorations done on the river. There are usually volunteer tasks every two weeks at locations along the Esk and in surrounding riparian habitats. Tasks can vary from week to week for instance woodrush and tree planting for bank stabilization and habitat creation, riverbank fencing and repair to help water quality, as well as hedgerow and riverside grassland management to enhance biodiversity. We don’t stop for winter; this year so far we’ve tackled left over Himalayan Balsam pulling/bashing tasks on the upper Esk catchment.

Our 26 existing Riverfly Volunteers have been busy as ever in 2019, providing vital spot data on the Esk’s freshwater invertebrates. This data is crucial as many of our invertebrates are indicator species and being very sensitive they act as useful litmus for water quality and pollution. Many invertebrates are key component of freshwater and riparian food webs and many other species feed on them. Rivers need to be clean for them to thrive and in turn every other species will benefit. The data returns from 2019 have all been highly valuable for us and the national Riverfly Partnership, with most sites showing high levels of target group abundance and a few showing the highest levels in the last three years, which is encouraging news – hopefully this trend continues into 2020!

Riverfly monitoring in the Esk Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Adopt a Stream initiative is also a great source of data for the catchment. Another long standing citizen science project, this has volunteers who “take ownership” of given sections of the Esk, which they monitor on a month to month basis. Volunteers note down the general ecology of the site, the state of the river (flow regimes and water levels), any pollution inputs, any litter and invasive non-native species. This allows us, through the eyes of the volunteer, to recognise any apparent issues along the Esk. So if this is something you might be interested in, if you have a favourite walk or spot along the catchment you care about and like to visit frequently, then please get in touch and help us to continue to monitor the ecological health of the Esk Valley.

In addition we are hoping to start addressing some of the remaining in-river obstacles such as weirs, culverts and fords. This work could help towards the restoration of natural river processes and hydrology of the Esk and also importantly aid the passage of migratory fish species, such as salmon, trout, lamprey and eels. Structures can prevent fish species migrating up river to spawning sites and also prevent successful downstream migration of our salmon smolts which, added to the decline of salmon at sea, has further compounded population declines in the catchment in the last few decades. We found extremely low juvenile salmon numbers from our electro fishing surveys; this suggests that the installation of fish passage and fish easements could be a vital part of the continued conservation efforts along the Esk.

Example of an In channel obstacle for fish passage. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lastly but most importantly there are our pearl mussels. The catalyst for all this work over the last decade and into the future is our Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) population in the River Esk. We work with land managers as well as our volunteers and contractors to fence river corridors, plant trees/vegetation, stabilise and restore river banks in order to:

  • reduce diffuse pollution because mussels require oligotrophic (low nutrient) conditions, and
  • tackle erosion and sedimentation leading to suspended solids in the river because juvenile mussels require clean gravels with good oxygen circulation.

A strong salmonid population supports good healthy mussel numbers as the fish are crucial to the mussel’s life cycle – the larval form (glochidia) use the fish as hosts by attaching to the gills until large enough to detach and then self sustainably live within the river gravels. This is why we’re so keen on our river obstacle work because we want fish to spawn all the way up the catchment, creating strong, wide spread populations. Helping the fish helps the mussels and the mussels, being bivalves, help clean the river which in turn provides better conditions for our freshwater invertebrates, which then are fed on the by the fish and the cycle continues….

The glochidea phase of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Copyright Elizabeth Clements, NYMNPA.

Everything in the river is connected and helping one species will help another, this is why all our conservation work is so important and why partnership and cooperation between our volunteers, land managers and partners is crucial for the future of the River Esk.

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.

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