Letter from Scotland

Sam Jones – previous River Esk Project Student

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam

Quest for knowledge

Graham Lee – Archaeological Officer

We recently commissioned additional high resolution LiDAR data (Light Detection and Ranging) for several areas of the North York Moors in partnership with Durham University who are currently involved in a long term research project on the coast. The data is collected by scanning the ground with beams of laser light. LiDAR data sees through vegetation and tree canopies which otherwise can obscure the view of the ground level to conventional air photography. For this commission we were particularly interested in areas of heather moorland.

Most publically available georeferenced LiDAR data in England comes from the Environment Agency. It is relatively low resolution, with data points collected at 1 metre or 50 centimetre intervals. The collected points enable the ground surface to be accurately mapped – the more points that are collected, the greater amount of detail that is recorded and revealed through 3-D representation. The newly collected data we now have is at 10 centimetre resolution which equates to about 90 data points per square metre. The amount of data means the ground topography can be perceived through relatively dense stands of vegetation, such as gorse.  For large expanses of the North York Moors which are covered in thick protective heather the idea is that this new data will help us to artificially see the archaeological earthworks beneath. It was this upland moorland plateau where prehistoric people lived and farmed and buried their dead.

As an archaeologist I am looking for human-made patterns in the landscape which represent different forms of earthworks created by human activity – either upstanding banks or ditches/hollows –which are visible in the data. Once noted, experience with data collected from aerial photographic survey allows these features to be interpreted. The interpretation is not necessarily conclusive – some more complex features will require a ground visit to collect further information before an interpretation can be firmed up. The features identified can then be incorporated within the National Park Authority’s Historic Environment Record (HER) which is the catalogue of our current archaeological knowledge. New and enhanced information which increases our understanding of archaeological landscapes is also very important for the protection and future management of archaeological sites.

Gallows Dyke, Levisham Moor. Copyright NYMNPA.

Initial examination of the LiDAR data for Levisham Moor has greatly increased our knowledge of the complexity and extent of the prehistoric and medieval field systems as well as other sites that survive here. This means that individual sites – such as possible prehistoric hut circles, as well as the extent of field system remains – can be precisely located and mapped rather than just using a general area. This is a considerable advance in our knowledge which greatly simplifies the locating of sites on the ground within extensive areas of what can seem like featureless heather moorland.

Fig 1: Dundale Rigg, Levisham Moor – The LiDAR imagery shows up the subtle remains of earthwork banks of an earlier (?Prehistoric or ?Medieval) field system overlain by later ridge and furrow cultivation. Also visible is a Bronze Age round barrow (mapped as a tumulus) with a central disturbance from the 1930s and a trial excavation from 1962, and the faint curvilinear traces of what is thought to be a prehistoric hut circle towards the top left of the photo.

Fig 2: Horness Rigg, Levisham Moor – Remains of a probable Prehistoric field system. The enclosed platform at the southern end, which sits within rather than being overlain by the fields, has been dated by excavation to the Late Iron Age or Roman periods.

In the future new information supplied by the LiDAR survey will be used to aid and stimulate research into the history and development of Levisham Moor and other areas in the North York Moors, as well as informing management, presentation and interpretation. LiDAR does not remove the need to confirm details on the ground and there is always work to do to look for associated features that may not be visible on the LiDAR, but it is enormously helpful in the quest for increased archaeological knowledge.

Attritional conservation

Seas of Green – UPDATE

Last September we reported on the installation of black plastic sheeting on a couple of ponds in Bilsdale with the aim of shading out the non-native invasive plant species – New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii – which was accidentally flourishing there. The idea was to give the plant a taste of its own medicine by depriving it of light.

By two months the pigmyweed was becoming etiolated – pale and weakened due to the loss of sunlight – indicting the sheeting was effecting growth.

Crassula helmsii two months after black plastic sheeting applied. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sheeting was left on the two ponds through the winter and spring, and a second survey was carried out this July. The sheeting has killed off 100% of the pigmyweed that was covered, however pigmyweed plants remain around the edges of the ponds, where it was difficult to install the sheeting due to the surrounding vegetation and irregular shape of the pond edges.

One of the ponds covered by the black plastic sheeting July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contrast between the remaining Crassula helmsii at the edge of teh pond and under where the sheeting where the plant is now dead, July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.The National Park Authority’s southern Apprentice Team will be spraying off the pigmyweed round the edge with a herbicide. The sheeting will remain on the ponds until at least late autumn to try to finish off this invasive species once and for all in this location, allowing the biodiversity of the ponds to recover.

Other non-native invasive plant species

New Zealand pigmyweed is one of the most common non-native invasive plant species found in England, along with Common rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica, and Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. They were all introduced into the UK as garden plants. All of these species are present in the North York Moors to some extent, and work continues to control these particular plant species, without natural competition and predators, that can have such a detrimental effect on the area’s habitats and water quality.

We’re grant aiding the removal of rhododendron from important Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sties (PAWS), to help let in the light and give native ground flora a better chance of survival. Rhododendron can harbour the Phytopthora ramorum pathogen which is a great threat to forest species such as larch.

Himalayan balsam can be pulled out/cut down by hand but this needs to be done before the seeds are setting (August/September) because one shake of a plant can release 1000s of seeds that can travel up to seven metres potentially creating 1000s of new plants. Repeatedly removing the plants from a location before they can seed over a number of years will eventually mean this annual plant no longer regenerates there.

Japanese knotweed is trickier to tackle because it needs to be treated by careful herbicide injection. Repeated treatment can kill the rhizome which is so effective at spreading. The accidental breaking up of live rhizomes can spread the plant expediently. Careful disposal is vital.

We’re currently making best use of four years of funding from Yorkshire Water to tackle Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed along the banks of the Rivers Esk, Rye, Seph and Seven, through whole catchments and sub-catchments starting at the top. Both species are particularly menacing to river habitats as they out compete evergreen native species and die back in the winter leaving banks bare and prone to erosion increasing the sediment loads in the water.

Giant hogweed isn’t quite so common as the other plants in this area. It can be dangerous to deal with because its sap can burn skin so it needs to be treated with care. It can be cut down or tackled with herbicides, but like all non-native invasive species repeat control will be necessary to achieve eradication at a site.

There are lots of initiatives now across the country to address the threat of these out of place species, it can sometimes seem overwhelming but concerted repeated local efforts can have an effect.

Historical woodlands

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

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

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

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

Greencliff Hagg Wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

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

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

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

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

Mitchell Hagg Wood, Fadmoor. Copyright NYMNPA.

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

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

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

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

Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.

Codes of conduct

England has a Countryside Code. It’s been going for quite a while in various incarnations. It suggests how people should act responsibly in the countryside offering guidelines for ‘using’ the countryside so as not to leave a detrimental effect and damage the resource.

The 20th century saw a big rise in leisure time across society in Britain. People had the time and the inclination to go somewhere else from where they spent their week days living and working – for a lot of people the seaside and the countryside were appealing destinations. This casual movement of people had implications. There were struggles to assert or abjure a right to access the countryside, outcomes of which included the formation of English and Welsh National Parks in the 1950s and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. By the 1950s an official Country Code had been formulated to guide the new visitors to the countryside as if it were a foreign land, presumably to go some way to reassure the native population – providing a framework for the practising of freedom.

The different versions of the code provide an historic primary source over time. The main tenet in the 20th century was that the countryside isn’t just a playground, it was the property and livelihood of fellow citizens. According to earlier codes there was an implied and sometimes direct separation between the industrial town dwellers and the countryside population of farming folk, with a suggestion of ‘while you are there, try and fit in’. Now this separation is much more blurred between town and country, and far fewer of the rural population are directly employed in agriculture. The current code which takes into consideration open access rights, now also includes responsibilities of landowners.

The similarity between the earlier codes and the current code demonstrates how the fundamentals of controlling stock, leaving plants and animals alone, and not dropping litter are still valid for economic, environmental and aesthetic reasons. But there are also differences between the versions as well as telling changes in emphasis and tone, like the reference to a carelessly knocked pipe and a sense of being told off in the 1960s, the use of public information films in the 1970s to educate and inform society using working class caricatures to convey simple messages, and the prominence of Health & Safety advice and shared responsibilities in the 2016 version. The long length of the 2016 version results from trying to take all eventualities into consideration and not leave anything to chance. There is still a noticeable sense that the countryside is different, a bit alien.

Edge of arable field. Copyright NYMNPA.

 The Country Code circa 1966

GUARD AGAINST ALL RISK OF FIRE
Every year costly damage is done by fire to crops, plantations, woodlands and heaths. Picnic fires not properly put out are one cause. A cigarette thrown away or a pipe carelessly knocked out can start a raging inferno. Be careful – a spark may do terrible damage and destroy a lifetime’s work.

FASTEN ALL GATES
Animals, if they stray, can do great damage to crops and to themselves too. Tuberculosis-tested cows may mix with others and become infected. Wandering animals are a menace to themselves and to others on country roads. Even if you find a gate open, always shut it after you.

KEEP DOGS UNDER PROPER CONTROL
It is normal for a dog to chase anything that will run. Keep yours out of temptation’s way. Animals are easily frightened. The chasing of a ewe or a cow may mean the loss of valuable young. Town-bred dogs run great risks from traffic in narrow roads. When near animals or walking along the road, keep your dog on the lead, if he cannot be kept under close control.

KEEP TO THE PATHS ACROSS FARMLAND
Crops are damaged by treading at any stage of growth. Patches of flattened crops in a field make it difficult to harvest. Grass also is a valuable crop, remember. So please walk in single file on field paths. This keeps the track well defined and saves the crop on either side.

AVOID DAMAGING FENCES, HEDGES AND WALLS
If you force your way through a fence or hedge, you will weaken it. Where a man has gone an animal my follow. Stones from walls rolled down slopes may injure people and animals, destroy fences and damage crops or machines. Use gates and stiles.

LEAVE NO LITTER
All litter is unsightly. Broken glass, tins and plastic bags are dangerous; they very easily maim livestock. Tins, bottles, and stones in fields damage costly machinery. This may hold up work which is vital to finish while the weather holds. So take your picnic remains and other litter home with you.

SAFEGUARD WATER SUPPLIES
Water is precious in the country. Never wash dishes or bathe in somebody’s water supply or foul it in any other way, or interfere with water-troughs set for cattle.

PROTECT WILD LIFE, WILD PLANT AND TREES
Wild flowers give more pleasure to more people if left to grow. Plants should never by uprooted. Trees are valuable as well as beautiful; if they are damaged their health and beauty is harmed. Birds and their eggs, animals, plants and trees, should be left alone.

GO CAREFULLY ON COUNTRY ROADS
Country roads have special dangers. Blind corners, hump-backed bridges, slow-moving farm machinery and led or driven animals are all hazards for the motorist. Walk carefully, too. It is generally safer to walk on the right, facing oncoming traffic.

RESPECT THE LIFE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE
The life of the country centres on its work. While you are there, try to fit in. The countryman has to leave his belongings in the open; roads and paths run through his place of business, and the public are on trust. His work often involves hard labour. He has to keep early hours. So make as little noise as possible when you pass through his village in the evening. Be considerate, leave things alone, and so repay the local people for the pleasure their countryside has given you.

Countryside Code 1971 – public information film

Joe & Petunia – Acceptance of the Country Code. The National Archives - public information films.

The Countryside Code (2016)
RESPECT – PROTECT – ENJOY

Respect other people:

  • consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available

Protect the natural environment:

  • leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
  • keep dogs under effective control

Enjoy the outdoors:

  • plan ahead and be prepared
  • follow advice and local signs

Respect other people
Please respect the local community and other people using the outdoors. Remember your actions can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.

Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
Respect the needs of local people and visitors alike – for example, don’t block gateways, driveways or other paths with your vehicle.

When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow down or stop for horses, walkers and farm animals and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse- riders on bridleways.

Co-operate with people at work in the countryside. For example, keep out of the way when farm animals are being gathered or moved and follow directions from the farmer.

Busy traffic on small country roads can be unpleasant and dangerous to local people, visitors and wildlife – so slow down and where possible, leave your vehicle at home, consider sharing lifts and use alternatives such as public transport or cycling.

Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
A farmer will normally close gates to keep farm animals in, but may sometimes leave them open so the animals can reach food and water. Leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs. When in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.

Follow paths unless wider access is available, such as on open country or registered common land (known as ‘open access land’).

If you think a sign is illegal or misleading such as a ‘Private – No Entry’ sign on a public path, contact the local authority.

Leave machinery and farm animals alone – don’t interfere with animals even if you think they’re in distress. Try to alert the farmer instead.

Use gates, stiles or gaps in field boundaries if you can – climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.

Our heritage matters to all of us – be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.

Protect the natural environment
We all have a responsibility to protect the countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don’t harm animals, birds, plants or trees and try to leave no trace of your visit. When out with your dog make sure it is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, horses, wildlife or other people.

Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
Protecting the natural environment means taking special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife, and add to everybody’s enjoyment of the countryside.

Litter and leftover food doesn’t just spoil the beauty of the countryside, it can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals – so take your litter home with you. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.

Fires can be as devastating to wildlife and habitats as they are to people and property – so be careful with naked flames and cigarettes at any time of the year. Sometimes, controlled fires are used to manage vegetation, particularly on heaths and moors between 1 October and 15 April, but if a fire appears to be unattended then report it by calling 999.

Keep dogs under effective control
When you take your dog into the outdoors, always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control. This means that you:

  • keep your dog on a lead, or
  • keep it in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command
  • ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have a right of access

Special dog rules may apply in particular situations, so always look out for local signs – for example:

  • dogs may be banned from certain areas that people use, or there may be restrictions, byelaws or control orders limiting where they can go
  • the access rights that normally apply to open country and registered common land (known as ‘open access’ land) require dogs to be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July, to help protect ground nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals
  • at the coast, there may also be some local restrictions to require dogs to be kept on a short lead during the bird breeding season, and to prevent disturbance to flocks of resting and feeding birds during other times of year

It’s always good practice (and a legal requirement on ‘open access’ land) to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals and horses, for your own safety and for the welfare of the animals. A farmer may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner.

However, if cattle or horses chase you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it. Your dog will be much safer if you let it run away from a farm animal in these circumstances and so will you.

Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections, so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly – ‘bag it and bin it’. Make sure your dog is wormed regularly to protect it, other animals and people.

Enjoy the outdoors
Even when going out locally, it’s best to get the latest information about where and when you can go. For example, your rights to go onto some areas of open access land and coastal land may be restricted in particular places at particular times. Find out as much as you can about where you are going, plan ahead and follow advice and local signs.

Plan ahead and be prepared
You’ll get more from your visit if you refer to up-to-date maps or guidebooks and websites before you go. Visit Natural England on GOV.UK or contact local information centres or libraries for a list of outdoor recreation groups offering advice on specialist activities.

You’re responsible for your own safety and for others in your care – especially children – so be prepared for natural hazards, changes in weather and other events. Wild animals, farm animals and horses can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they’re with their young – so give them plenty of space.

Check weather forecasts before you leave. Conditions can change rapidly especially on mountains and along the coast, so don’t be afraid to turn back. When visiting the coast check for tide times on EasyTide – don’t risk getting cut off by rising tides and take care on slippery rocks and seaweed.

Part of the appeal of the countryside is that you can get away from it all. You may not see anyone for hours, and there are many places without clear mobile phone signals, so let someone else know where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Follow advice and local signs
England has about 190,000 km (118,000 miles) of public rights of way, providing many opportunities to enjoy the natural environment. Get to know the signs and symbols used in the countryside to show paths and open countryside.

Farndale Daffodil Walk. Copyright NYMNPA.

ADVICE FOR LAND MANAGERS

Know your rights, responsibilities and liabilities
People visiting the countryside provide important income for the local economy. Most like to follow a visible route, prefer using proper access points like gates, and generally want to do the right thing – but they need your help.

The Ordnance Survey’s 1:25,000 maps show public rights of way and access land. These maps are not ‘definitive’. If in doubt you can check the legal status of rights of way with your local authority. You can find out which areas of open access land are mapped under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 on the open access web pages.

For guidance on your rights, responsibilities and liabilities, contact your local authority or National Park authority. The Country Land and Business Association on 020 7235 0511 and the National Farmers’ Union on 0870 845 8458 can also offer advice. For specific queries about open access land, check the open access pages on GOV.UK, or contact the open access contact centre, on 0300 060 2091.

By law, you must keep rights of way clear and not obstruct people’s entry onto access land – it’s a criminal offence to discourage rights of public access with misleading signs.

Trespassing is often unintentional – for advice on tackling trespass contact your local authority.

Make it easy for visitors to act responsibly
Most people who visit the countryside are keen to act responsibly and problems are normally due to a lack of understanding. There are a number of ways you can help them to realise their responsibilities:

  • keeping paths clear and waymarks and signs in good order and up to date will help people stick to the right routes and access points. Contact your local authority or National Park Authority to find out what help is available
  • where there is public access through a boundary feature, such as a fence or hedge, create a gap if you can – or use an accessible gate or, if absolutely necessary, a stile. When installing completely new gates and stiles, make sure you have the permission of the local authority
  • encourage people to respect your wishes by giving clear, polite guidance where it’s needed. For example, telling visitors about your land management work helps them to avoid getting in your way.
  • rubbish attracts other rubbish – by getting rid of items such as farm waste properly, you’ll discourage the illegal dumping of rubbish and encourage others to get rid of their rubbish responsibly

Identify possible threats to visitors’ safety
People come to the countryside to enjoy themselves. They have the first line of responsibility to keep themselves and their children safe while there, but you need to ensure that your activities do not knowingly put them at risk:

  • consider possible man-made and natural hazards on your land and draw any ‘hidden’ risks to the public’s attention
  • try to avoid using electric fencing or barbed wire where people may accidentally touch it, particularly alongside narrow paths and bridleways
  • if electric fencing is used, ensure warning signs are visible
  • use and store any chemicals or poisonous substances responsibly on your land. They may kill wildlife or cause harm to people or pets. Any pest control you undertake must be planned with this risk in mind
  • animals likely to attack visitors should not be allowed to roam freely where the public has access – you may be liable for any resulting harm
  • your duty of care under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984 depends on the type of access right people have – so it’s important to know what rights, if any, apply to your land. By voluntarily dedicating land for permanent public access you may be able to reduce this liability

Hitching a free ride

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

You might remember at least something about photosynthesis from school – it’s the chemical process by which plants absorb light energy, which reacts with carbon dioxide and water, and produces glucose and oxygen. Photosynthesis provides food/energy for plants, which ultimately provide food/energy for every animal on the planet. It’s also the reason most plants are green – photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts within plant cells, which contain the green chlorophyll that absorbs the light energy.

However some plants have evolved ways to get the energy they need without having to photosynthesise. Instead, they do it by parasitising other plants. Orobanchaceae is one such family of parasitic plants. There are varying levels of parasitism within the family, ranging from those that are hemiparasitic (only deriving some of their nutrients from other plants) to those that are holoparasitic (obtaining all of their nutrients from a host plant).

Toothwort is an example of a holoparasitic plant. I’ve found some particularly nice specimens of Common toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) growing on our doorstep in Helmsley. Note the lack of green colouring because the toothwort doesn’t photosynthesise, and also the resemblance to teeth. Toothwort feeds off the roots of woody plants, such as hazel, elm alder, and also walnut. There is a particularly fine walnut tree close by.

Common toothwort - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Common toothwort, also sometimes known as the Corpse Flower - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

As I mentioned above, hemiparasitic plants are those that derive only some of their nutrients from the host plant but photosynthesise as well. Examples include Yellow rattle, Eyebright, Bartsia, Lousewort and Birds-nest orchid. We’ve commended Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) before on this blog. Yellow rattle can photosynthesise but also parasitizes grasses and other plants nearby. Because of its parasitic nature it can be a useful plant to reduce the vigour of grasses which in turn allows other wildflowers better opportunity to thrive. A recognised technique for establishing a wildflower meadow is to sow Yellow rattle initially to help ensure the grasses don’t out-compete everything else during the establishment phase. But it’s important to remember that Yellow rattle is an annual and like most annuals, it shouldn’t be cut or grazed until late July so it has had time to set seed and so has the chance to grow again next year.

Yellow rattle - copyright NYMNPA.

Plant relationships definitely aren’t as straightforward as you might think – and we haven’t yet featured the carnivorous sundews or butterworts (a future blog post). So the next time you’re out and about where ever you are have a closer look at what’s growing around you – it may not be as innocent as it seems!

Recipes for meadows

Aside

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

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

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

30,000 words on water quality

Rosie Nelson – Masters Student

Rosie, geared up for outdoor working - copyright NYMNPAI have finally finished my research masters. All that stands between me and the real world is corrections and actually printing a 30,000 (ish) word document. So did I actually achieve anything. Well I’d like to think so, but first up I’ll tell you a bit about what I did, and how I did it.

I spent six blissful months walking three beautiful watercourse catchments in the North York Moors – Toad Beck, Danby Beck and Great Fryup Beck which are all tributaries into the River Esk. Aside from sun kissed skin and being chased by sheep, dogs and cows, I somehow managed to collect what I was after – a lot of useful data. To establish the water quality of a river a variety of sampling techniques is required. My favourite was using a probe which measures dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, salinity, temperature and much much more. Imagine, dangling a very expensive cable off the side of a bridge and waiting in anticipation for the numbers on the screen to settle. I loved it. Although once or twice the probe did ricochet off rocks to produce an alarming sound.

As my data collection evolved, I also started to gather water samples to take back to the laboratory for COD, BOD, DOC, anion and cation analysis. You might think I’ve just put some letters together to appear clever, but they do actually stand for things:
– COD is chemical oxygen demand (amount of oxygen required to oxidise the organic matter in the solution);
– BOD is biochemical oxygen demand (amount of dissolved oxygen being used by aerobic microorganisms when decomposing the organic matter in the solution);
– DOC is dissolved organic carbon (amount of organic matter in the solution);
– An anion is a negatively charged ion, a cation is a positively charged ion, and an ion is an electrically charged atom.

So what did I actually find out in these three catchments? Well I analysed the spatial and temporal variations of a variety of water parameters. The significance of focusing on both spatial and temporal variations within a catchment is it can easily identify areas of point source pollution at a small scale, something which isn’t done often enough.

For this post I’m focusing on dissolved oxygen and conductivity. The very important key species Freshwater Pearl Mussels require dissolved oxygen levels between 90 – 110% (Oliver, 2000). Other aquatic life like fish can survive on much lower saturations of dissolved oxygen, as low as <30%. The graph below shows how dissolved oxygen (a vital parameter for ascertaining the health of a river) changes through the year. Changes in water levels and plant growth can have serious effects on the amount of dissolved oxygen available for organic and aquatic life. During the summer months, plants will become abundant in a river, thus using up more oxygen and depleting the overall amount of dissolved oxygen available in a river. Once rainfall increases in the autumn dissolved oxygen levels should be replenished. As you can see September 2016 was a particularly poor month for dissolved oxygen, with average levels as low as 80%. Similarly, August on Toad Beck was low as well with an average of 75% saturation. But aside from in September for all three watercourses, and in August for Toad Beck, the dissolved oxygen levels remained within or above the proposed dissolved oxygen threshold.

2016 Dissolved Organic Carbon data graph - copyright Rosie Nelson

Next up – conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of a watercourse’s ability to conduct electrical flow and is therefore related to the concentration of ions in a river. Particular aquatic species need higher or lower conductivity – the Freshwater Pearl Mussel likes a lower conductivity. There are variations between suggested thresholds for conductivity: Moorkens (2000) suggests it should be 65µs/cm, whilst Bauer (1988) suggests <70µs/cm and Oliver (2000) suggests <100µs/cm. So I chose the only logical way forward and used all three thresholds. Focusing again on the month of September 2016, I produced the map below.

2016 Conductivity levels map - copyright Rosie Nelson

This is where analysing data spatially comes into its element. First up, the circles represent sampling locations (every now and again samples were missed out say if there were a herd of cows approaching as I climbed the style into their field, needless to say my flight or fight response would always be flight as advised in the National Park Authority’s Risk Assessments). Using a traffic light system, green circles represent good conductivity levels. As you can see, September was a poor month for both dissolved oxygen and conductivity. What I found particularly interesting was the variations that could occur in a small watercourse like Danby Beck, where as tributary field drains entered the beck conductivity levels could spike or decrease dramatically; how fantastic!

So to round off I thought I’d quickly summarise my thesis’ findings. Water quality is good in the three catchments, but it’s not good enough for Freshwater Pearl Mussels, and that’s the gist of it. The work of the River Esk catchment officers at the National Park to address the issues is great, the water bodies are reaching and maintaining ‘good’ ecological status, unfortunately the Freshwater Pearl Mussels require pristine water conditions and ‘high’ ecological status. However the future direction is positive for the health and conservation of Freshwater Pearl Mussels. And I too am looking forward to the future; I shall be taking a few weeks off from being chased by animals and I can’t wait*.

 

 

 

 

* Editor’s note: Rosie didn’t get much time off – she’s gone off to pastures new and is now a Community (Water Quality) Modelling Project Officer at Thames21. We wish her all the best.