What Katie did next

Katie Pownall – Conservation Research Student

My name is Katie Pownall and I am currently working at the North York Moors National Park for my year in industry, before heading back to the University of York to complete my biology degree next autumn. So many people have told me how valuable a year in industry can be for future employment prospects, and I feel very lucky to be able to spend my year with such an inspiring organisation. I hope to gain skills and knowledge from this placement that will allow me to pursue a career in ecology when I have graduated. What other job would involve me doing some of the things I’ve already had the chance to do so far?

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank…

Four of us travelled to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre and walked round existing paths on the heathland area there to locate the mats previously placed on the ground to act as attractive refuges for reptiles. We were looking for three particular species – Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards, all of which are protected by law in the UK. The ongoing monitoring was to provide evidence to consider as part of a planning application for a car park extension.

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank Visitor Centre - September 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

After carefully looking under about a third of the mats and having had no luck, we decided to wait a little to allow the sun to heat up the mats a bit, which would encourage the cold blooded reptiles to rest there in order to warm up. When we continued we had more luck, finding some Common lizards as well as some Common toads. Unfortunately we did not come across any slow worms or adders, nevertheless we were pleased with what we had found, and a Fox moth caterpillar and a vole or two added even more excitement to the day!

Water vole surveying at Eller Beck…

The next day I joined the search for Water voles, or at least for signs that they are living in the area around Eller Beck, Fylingdales. Water Vole populations have suffered in the UK due to habitat loss as a result of agricultural intensification. More significantly populations have come under threat from the American mink as a short lived mink fur industry in the 1960s/1970s declined and mink were released into a wild without natural predators. Between 2004 and 2007 the UK’s Water Vole numbers decreased by around a fifth. In many areas mink have wiped out water voles completely; the remnant populations hang on in less than optimal habitats for Water voles but where mink find it very difficult to survive – upland areas such as Eller Beck and urbanised areas such as Burdyke in York. The fragility of the populations are why surveys to ensure they’re surviving in the North York Moors are so important.

Having donned our wellies and waterproofs we started trying to make our way over the rough terrain of a former plantation to find the beck. The ground was very tricky to move across, and we soon found multiple smaller streams running across the landscape by putting our foot down in the wrong place! Eventually we found the actual water channel that we were going to survey and started searching for clues that Water voles had been there. We were looking for latrines (piles of water vole droppings that look like dark green or brown tic-tacs!), grass that had been chewed and cut at a 45° angle, and Eller Beck - Water vole latrine with cut grass. Copyright NYMNPA.Water vole burrows along the side of the bank (which should have a clean opening with a diameter of 4-8 cm). After carefully treading along the banks of the beck we came across several latrines, some cut grass and potentially one or two burrows. This was encouraging since it proved that Water voles were still living in the area. Also, we didn’t find any evidence of mink in the same area, which is great news.

As the day progressed we found that some channels where signs of Water voles had been recorded in the past now seemed less suitable since the vegetation on the banks was particularly overgrown and so latrines and burrows could be less easily formed here. Water voles may still have been using these channels, but possibly just not living in them.

Eller Beck - Water vole burrows. Copyright NYMNPA.

Just after lunch we were surprised by an individual who had been lying low in the grass and which we accidentally startled. After not seeing one the day before whilst doing the reptile surveying, I was delighted to see my first Adder! The excitement of this experience more than made up for having a welly full of water all day.

Eller Beck - Adder. Copyright NYMNPA.

Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites investigations…

As part of the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, PAWS surveys are being undertaken to look for opportunities to conserve remaining ancient woodland features. The Ingleby Plantation was previously planted on the site of what might have been ancient woodland, so our job was to survey the area to identify any trees that we thought were over 60 years old, and would therefore have been present before the plantation. We recorded the level of threat to the amount of standing and lying deadwood, which is such a great habitat for invertebrates and fungi, and to the remaining ground flora.

Ingleby Plantation - stream that ran through the site, with stones from old retaining wall. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - dead wood placed in piles after selective felling. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - Dead Moll's Fingers fungus on lying dead wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

We considered what changes could be made to the area to reduce these levels of threat. Where it seemed like there was little succession of ground flora some thinning of the trees preventing light from reaching the ground would help. Tree felling in a ‘halo’ around older, more vulnerable trees would help them to grow and stay healthy. Ring barking some trees – cutting off the nutrient supply to the tree – would create more standing dead wood where there is a lack of it.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

Practical conservation work…

I joined a group of National Park conservation volunteers to clear an area of scrub near Rievaulx to encourage wild flowers to grow and spread next spring in a site of potential species rich grassland. To prevent the scrubland plants such as bracken and bramble from taking over the site again before the wild flowers get a chance to establish we had to remove all the cuttings from the area so that they didn’t reintroduce their nutrients to the soil. Wild flowers should grow better than the scrubland plants on nutrient-poor soil.

This kind of outdoor work was what I had imagined I might be doing quite a bit of during my time with the National Park, and despite the couple of downpours we had, it was good fun, and we all felt a huge amount of satisfaction once the job was done!

National Park conservation volunteers clearly scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

As the new Conservation Research Student I sarted my new job not knowing what the next week would hold, never mind the next year! I have not been disappointed so far, as so many opportunities to go out on site and get involved in a wide range of projects have been presented to me, and I am keen to gain as much experience as I can from them.

Following in the footsteps

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

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

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

Prints, tracks and signs

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

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

Pellets and poo

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

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

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

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

Camera tracking

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

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

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

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

 

Cosy and warm

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Hygge (pronounced hoo–gah) has been a major trend for this Christmas period. It’s a Danish ‘concept’ of living cosily e.g. wearing thick socks whilst drinking hot chocolate and watching Murder She Wrote – which can make us feel better about the icy and harsh season outside.

For a number of wild animal species, they have their own version of hygge except for them it’s a necessary survival mechanism. Hibernation is an extended period of deep sleep, or torpor*, which allows animals to survive the winter extremes. By reducing their metabolic rate and lowering body temperature this enables them to sit tight, conserve their energy and survive through the cold periods when food is scarce or has little energy value. *Animals in a state of torpor rather than sleep can venture out to try and find additional supplies during warmer winter spells.

In autumn as the temperature begins to fall and the nights draw in, many of the small mammals that live in our fields, woodlands and hedgerows forage for extra food to store over the winter and look for a suitable site (a hibernaculum) to hole up in for the coldest part of the year. Autumn months are often one of the better times of year to see small mammals in the North York Moors such as mice, voles, shrews and Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) out and about eating vast quantities of food to build up fat reserves which will carry them through to the spring.  Following this period of feasting they retreat to somewhere suitably warm and undisturbed and begin to enter into a period of hibernation, which can last for up to four months of the year depending on the harshness of the weather. Also in autumn bats relocate to hibernation roosts looking for a constant temperature and to avoid frosts and freezing e.g. caves, trees and built structures.

And it’s not just our small mammals that hibernate:  Queen bees dig in for the winter and also some species of moths and butterflies, like the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) which hunker down in grassy tussocks. Many of our reptiles and amphibians also hibernate. Adders find warmer crevices under boulders or in dry stone walls. Newt species spend the winter in the muddy banks of ponds, under paving slabs, piles of wood or in a handy compost heap. Common Toads (Bufo bufo) sleep out the winter buried deep in damp places such as leaf piles or compost heaps, before emerging to travel back to their traditional breeding sites in early spring. The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) which needs to keep damp is able to partially freeze in its state of hibernation before thawing out in spring. Occasionally such species come out of hibernation during any short sunny spells in the winter to make the most of the weak sunshine, only to return to their hiding place when the temperature falls again.

Malkin Bower, Bilsdale - in winter - copyright NYMNPA.

So as you’re reading this, hopefully somewhere cosy and warm, spare a thought for our wildlife that’s out there sleeping through the winter, hidden away from view deep in their retreats, practising their own life saving hygge and waiting for the first signs of spring.

Herbivory in West Arnecliff Wood

Sam Witham – Conservation Research Student

During my placement year with the National Park I’m required to complete a research project.

It was important to me to ensure the research will be useful for the National Park. So I am looking at the effects of deer herbivory* on the regeneration of broadleaf woodland on areas of selectively-felled conifers.

* Herbivory is the eating/grazing/browsing carried out by herbivore species e.g. animals that have a diet composed entirely of plants.

I am conducting research at West Arnecliff Wood near Glaisdale. The woodland is designated as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and as a SAC (Special Area of Conservation). It is also classed as ancient woodland i.e. woodland has been present since at least 1600.

Inside West Arnecliff Wood in 2010 - copyright NYMNPA.

Six former conifer areas within the wood were chosen for the study – where conifers had been planted under established native broadleaf trees. The conifers had been felled in 2011 to help restore semi-natural woodland conditions. The felled conifers were all c. 40 years old and were mainly Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), but also included Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Grand fir (Abies grandis), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and various Larch species (Larix sp.). The removal of the conifers was part of the North York Moors National Park Authority’s long term efforts to encourage and support PAWS (plantations on ancient woodland sites) restoration.

In the six former conifer areas in West Arnecliff Wood, twelve fenced areas have been erected to exclude deer. The number of deer exclosures erected in a selectively felled area was proportional to the size of that area, although this was not always possible exactly due to extensive brash cover. The deer exclosures needed to be erected on areas as free of brash as possible. Six of the fenced areas include rabbit wire to exclude rabbits, while the other six allow rabbits to enter. As much as possible the fenced areas were kept to 6 x 6 metres, although the size and shape do vary because of obstacles on the ground.

A 4 x 4 metre quadrat has been created inside each fenced area to standardise the survey area. A 4 x 4 metre unfenced quadrat has been created next to each deer exclosure on similar vegetation to act as a control.

One of my exclosures at West Arnecliff Wood - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

I completed the first vegetation surveys in March, and I will be carry out another series of surveys in the summer to compare plant growth within the fenced areas and without, in the unfenced areas next to them. I recorded lots of data during my surveys this spring, including the percentage cover and mean height of each species of plant in the quadrats, and the number of deer bites per species. I also recorded background data such as the number and species of mature trees within 20 metres of the quadrats so that the surrounding tree seed source is known. Geological data such as soil depth and the percentage cover of rocks/brash was also recorded.

The results of my research will inform the National Park Authority’s methods of PAWS restoration so as to ensure that once conifers are removed the long term regeneration of broadleaved ancient woodland species is given the best chance of success.

Habitat connectivity: back to basics

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Currently this National Park Authority has two strategic priorities: one is to promote the North York Moors and the other is to improve the connectivity of habitats in order to benefit the biodiversity and landscape of the area, and mitigate the encroaching impacts of climate change.

Habitat connectivity features quite heavily on our Blog; that’s because it’s important to us. Habitat connectivity is the main driver for the work of the Conservation Department. It’s generally accepted that some of the most (ecologically) important habitats within our countryside have declined and fragmented over the decades and good quality habitat now tend to only exist in isolated pockets across the landscape. The first step is to conserve these remnants and then go on to establish connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones – linking and increasing the habitat resource and therefore its sustainability into the future. These connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones allow animals, birds, plants to move through the landscape between the habitats they need which helps populations thrive and grow (helping to mitigate the effects of climate change) – ‘stitching’ the landscape back together for wildlife.

Imagine a habitat e.g. native woodland and the biodiversity that depends on it e.g. oak, ash, birch, hazel, bluebell, wood anemone, wild garlic, great spotted woodpecker, nut hatch, wood warbler, tawny owl, ringlet butterfly, feathered thorn moth, barbastelle bat, wood mouse, not to mention the ferns, fungi, lichens, mosses, beetles and spiders etc. etc. We want to better the condition of existing native woodland habitat, to increase the extent of native woodland habitat, to create new native woodland habitat, and to ensure native woodland habitat is better connected; all to ensure a linked landscape for native woodland and the wildlife that depends on it.

Woodland with bluebells, near Hawnby - copyright NYMNPA

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Back in 2012 we sat down with a map of the National Park and considered where we were at. As discussions developed a clear picture of where concerted effort was needed began to emerge. We knew more or less where the surviving key habitats were and we also knew where we wanted to enhance other habitats more generally e.g. the areas which had been key habitats in the past and could benefit from restoration. Key habitats such as Ancient Woodlands, species rich and semi-improved grasslands, riparian strips and coastal hinterland were used as focuses around which to plan for greater connectivity. In the North York Moors, heathland/moorland which makes up around a third of the National Park would seem a likely key habitat but as this is already well connected with large expanses stretching as far as the eye can see, it does not require the attention that more isolated habitats do in terms of habitat connectivity.

We identified the strategic corridors where our efforts would be best focused in our 2012 Management Plan. We then identified the key ecological gaps along these corridors as well as a number of essential gaps to address more widely – 132 of them in total.

Strategic Connections Map from the North York Moors National Park Management Plan 2012

Target Connection Sites map from North York Moors National Park Business Plan 2012

What we then needed was a method of implementing our thoughts and vision. We draw polygons around the gaps to provide a framework for practical implementation. Officers are assigned individual or groups of polygons and using the original objectives for each ecological gap (e.g. restore PAWS to having Ancient Woodland characteristics, develop a mosaic of habitats, enhance species rich grassland) we develop rationales setting out what might be done on the ground and how best to do it. If we are going to carry out work and spend money in these target areas we need to establish sound reasons for doing so and to be able to justify our decisions. We start by carrying out a desk study of the habitat interest and records in that area – this includes previous habitat surveys, species information, existing and previous agri-environment agreement areas, public access, historic environment records, designations, and aerial photography. The records are important because as well as looking for opportunities we need to also consider potential constraints such as the historic environment because we don’t want to accidentally damage a valued feature by attempting to achieve the aims of Habitat Connectivity.

Once we have this background picture of a target area we need to get our boots on and get out on the ground to see what’s really there. We’re looking initially from Public Rights of Way only (unless specific permission to access the land has previously granted) – we need to assess how much of the information we have matches the real situation on the ground. A key requirement is to take good quality photographs (both of individual habitats and the wider landscape) as well as making accurate field notes, annotating our original maps and at the same time looking out for possible linkages across the landscape. As our main habitat survey information (a Phase 1 Survey) is nearly 30 years old it is not always still accurate as habitats have changed and shrunk since then. This is especially true of unimproved grasslands identified in the late 1980s where scrub, bracken and bramble succession has since encroached.

Once back in the Office with the results of the field work, we consult with specialist Officers (Rona the Senior Ecologist, Mark the Woodland Officer etc.) to agree the best way forward i.e. how to make a difference. A plan of action is developed using the following principles:

  • Identify – find and assess the current condition of the key habitats.
  • Protect – ensure that quality habitats are in some way ‘protected’ i.e. conserved. If there are particularly important species e.g. breeding waders, making use of a habitat e.g. rough pasture, that habitat might be enhanced but shouldn’t be transformed.
  • Enhance/restore – most areas of habitat need some form of continuing care and maintenance to prevent decline or loss.
  • Expand – are there any adjacent buffer areas of land that could be incorporated into the habitat?
  • Create – establishing new areas of habitat nearby – this is easier for some habitats e.g. woodland than others e.g. grassland. Long term commitment is required.

To take forward any ideas the involvement of landowners/land managers is essential. In many cases for a land manager and their family the land is their living. To protect, enhance/restore, expand or create the landowner/land manager has to be willing. We’re talking about facilitating capital works like fencing to control stock, scrub control, tree/hedge planting, spreading wild flower seeds, cutting grassland, managing woodland etc. Following negotiations, the National Park Authority can provide grant assistance, use its own Volunteers and Apprentices to carry out the required tasks, or buy the necessary materials and the land manager provides the labour. Longer term requirements are met through maintenance clauses or land management payments over time.

Then once the work is organised and underway, at some point we need to be able to declare whether the gap has been addressed and the looked for key ecological connection made, or rather is on the way to being made. We do that by returning to the rationale – have we been able to achieve what was identified as being required at the beginning of the process?

Although the process takes time it is necessary in order to ensure that we achieve the best workable and sustainable linkages we can.

Little Fryupdale - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

A to Z – an exaggeration of Es

E

EBENEZER CHAPELS

There are a number of Ebenezer Chapels in the North York Moors. These were generally built during the 19th century in the evangelical revivals in response to changes across society bringing uncertainty and upsetting traditional beliefs and controls. Being geographically ‘separate’ to some extent the North York Moors has tended to be on the edge of conventional authority and control; it has a long history of non-establishment religious belief. With influxes of people to work in the booming industry in the North York Moors non-conformist denominations flourished – such as the Primitive Methodists and Strict Baptists. Chapels were sometimes given the name ‘Ebenezer’ because it means ‘rock of help’ (a good name for a stone built building) and reminds the congregation of God’s protection for his repentant people.

Ebenezer Chapel, Rosedale built 1872  - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3198945

EELS (Anguilla anguilla)

The European eel has an amazing lifecycle – use this link to access a great illustrative video put together by the Zoological Society of London.

The European eel is a critically endangered species fish species which was once common in the rivers of the North York Moors. Its numbers have declined by over 90% since the 1970s due to a number of cumulative factors such as barriers to migration (such as weirs), pollution, overfishing, a parasitic nematode (worm), and also changes in climate. The presence of eels is often used as an indicator of water quality in a river.

European eels - http://europeaneel.com/european-eel/

Dr Frank ELGEE

Frank Elgee was born in North Ormesby near Middlesbrough in 1880 – his father worked as a book keeper for one of the town’s Iron Masters. He suffered a litany of childhood diseases which limited his formal education and culminated in him being sent home from hospital to die at the age of 17 – but this didn’t happen. With a body somewhat confined and debilitated by his bad health his mind flourished and grasped at everything: history, literature, philosophy, languages, astrology and in particular local natural history and archaeology. As his health improved somewhat he applied himself to practical investigation in order to draw his own rational conclusions, heading off into the hills and moorland of the North York Moors. He became the Assistant Curator at the newly opened Dorman Memorial Museum in 1904 and he began to write.

Photo of Dr F Elgee from A Man of the Moors: extracts the Diaries and Letters of Frank Elgee edited by Harriet W Elgee, 1957His first and now most famous book was ‘The Moorlands of North-eastern Yorkshire; their
Natural History and Origin
’ which after much self-doubt and revision was finally published in 1912. He and his family relocated in 1920 to Commondale within the North York Moors – surrounded by the moorland that so stimulated him. He became Curator at the Dorman Museum in 1923. He continued to research and write leading, probably inevitably, to his health breaking down on a number of occasions, although as his wife recorded he continued to write from his sick bed. He was recognised by the awarding of a Doctorate in Philosophy from Leeds University in 1933.

Harriet his wife, who always provided stirling support, gave Frank Elgee a heartfelt epitaph after his death in 1944 – ‘his labours had been Herculean; his physical strength was nothing but frailty; his monetary resources were meagre…he stands for the triumph of mind over body, of spirit over matter…a scholar-saint of the Yorkshire Moorlands, as having entered fully into his rights of pre-eminent domain as their genius loci, unto whom all is revealed’.

Below is an extract from A Man of the Moors: extracts from the Diaries and Letters of Frank Elgee edited by Harriet W Elgee, 1957. It is interesting to consider whether what Frank Elgee saw and experienced over 100 years ago, can still be seen and experienced today.

Wooded slopes in Baysdale 2008 - copyright NYMNPA

Jan 19 1908 In Baysdale

  A misty, frosty morning becoming brilliantly sunny at mid-day. Went up Baysdale Beck beyond the Westerdale-Kildale road. Along the slopes the cowberry is extremely abundant, even growing among bilberry which only here and there preserves its leaves, the square wiry stalks standing up like thistles. Trees grow along the beck slopes and include oak, birch, holly, hawthorn, and one small juniper bush, the first I have seen for several years.

 Under heather growing on blocks of sandstone two or three small Lepidoptera [butterflies] were found, whilst under a stone Zonites alliarius [snails] were noted.

 Along the streams are one or two old slag heaps evidently made in olden days when the ironstone of the Ellerbeck Bed was worked.

 In the afternoon I walked as far as Howl Syke and back. From the railway bridge there is a fine view of the Lealholm moraine and Cunkley Gill, and it is clear how the Esk has been deviated by an ice barrier at this place, the level at which it began to cut down being considerably higher than the lowest point of the moraine.

 To me the Moorlands of Cleveland [northern part of the North York Moor] have been a source of physical and intellectual development. On them I have found that health which the town cannot give; and they have forwarded, and I hope they will continue to forward, my intellectual career.”

There is a memorial stone to Frank Elgee on Blakey Ridge, erected by the Natural History and Archaeological Society of Yorkshire in 1953.

Frank Elgee Memorial - http://www.hidden-teesside.co.uk/2013/07/25/frank-elgee-memorial-blakey-ridge/

ENCLOSURE ACTS

Since medieval times, here and there land often farmed under an ‘Open Field system’ had been enclosed and holdings established out of owned and tenanted fields. During the 17th century the practice of using an Act of Parliament to enclose land took off. Enclosure was a way for landowners to make the most of their assets and at the same time expedite investment to increase productivity – hence the 18th century ‘agricultural revolution’ in England.

Enclosure enhanced agricultural productivity and meant more and more land was able to be managed/cultivated for agricultural use. It therefore had a big effect on the landscape, as the area of cultivated ‘improved’ land grew, and stock numbers increased considerably. Many (but not all) of the ‘traditional’ boundaries such as hedgerows and walls that divide up the countryside and are so valued today, came about due to Enclosure – as well as demarcating ownership divisions the boundaries were needed to manage stock. The enclosed field systems with square or rectangular parcels of land are still visible if fields have not been subsequently amalgamated, particularly around villages where individual villagers received a division of the previously ‘common’ land. In contrast the remains of ridge and furrow can also still sometimes be seen – for instance on aerial photographs – revealing the ploughing regime of a previous ‘Open Field system’.

The effects of Enclosure on local communities is still widely debated, and are bound up with the effects of the industrial revolution taking place around the same time. Productivity increases alongside the introduction of machinery meant less labour was required on the land, and parts of the population left without any or too little enclosed land needed to seek a living elsewhere not withstanding the lure of a more regular industrial wage. Increased productivity of farmed land was then even more important – in order to feed a growing urban population, without the wherewithal to feed themselves.

There were so many individual bills coming before Parliament regarding Enclosure that the first General Enclosure Act was passed in 1801 which did away with the need for private bills. The final General Enclosure Act of 1845 included a number of exceptions like village greens, but otherwise was the legal consummation of the ‘inclosure and improvement of commons and lands held in common’ in England.

In the North York Moors, as in other areas, there remain a number of un-enclosed ‘Commons’.

EUROPEAN PROTECTED SPECIES

These are European Protected Species*, found in and around the North York Moors, which are protected by European law across the European Union. In addition national law protects other species that are thought to be particularly important.

European otterEuropean otter http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/discover/rivers/wildlife-on-the-river/otter

Great crested newtGreat crested newt - http://www.adas.uk/Service/edna-analysis-for-great-crested-newt

All bat species (currently 10 species in the North York Moors – soprano pipistrelle, noctule, brown long-eared, common pipistrelle, Nathusius’ pipistrelle, whiskered, Brandt’s, Daubenton’s, Natterer’s bats and Alcathoe).Alcathoe Bat http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/uk_bats.html

Killarney fern Killarney fern http://www.british-wild-flowers.co.uk/T-Flowers/Trichomanes%20speciosum.htm

Bottle nose dolphins, Harbour porpoises, Whales – Fin, Minke, Sei, Pilot and HumpbackSei Whale - balaenoptera_borealis-karin_hartman_nova_atlantis_foundation - from http://uk.whales.org/species-guide/sei-whale

*Doesn’t include any lichens, fungi or birds which are protected through seperate legislation.

EXTENSIVE FARMING

Extensive farming – as opposed to intensive farming – is a term used to describe the farming of areas of land that are managed using less inputs relative to the area of land being farmed. Upland areas of the UK, like most of the North York Moors, are normally farmed extensively, due to the physical limitations of the climate and soil resulting in lower productivity. The majority of these upland farms consist of extensive livestock grazing of natural and semi-natural vegetation.

Extensive farming - muck spreading in Fryup Dale - copyright NYMNPA

Accepting that yields cannot be as high as in lowland areas and so minimising inputs can profit the surrounding environment. Inputs change the environment – and this can in the extreme include the acidification of land and the eutrophication of water systems.

Extensive grazing benefits many plants, insects and birds and so provides a higher biodiversity than in both intensively grazed fields and in ungrazed fields. Extensive farms generally run less livestock per hectare than intensive farms. This is due to the lower growth rate of plants in upland areas with minimal inputs and so fewer stock can be supported. Fewer stock avoids the chance of overgrazing, and in catchment areas minimises the siltation ending up in rivers.

Feeding livestock hay from unimproved (i.e. no inputs) hay meadow habitats instead of silage from improved grasslands gives a purpose to maintaining upland hay meadows, and some people suggest the end product – i.e. meat – therefore tastes better. One of the downside of a more ‘natural’ system is that the livestock takes longer to reach maturity; this can be offset somewhat by selling the meat at a premium for this improved taste. The premium can also be justified to consumers with the idea of helping to conserve the upland hay meadows as a by-product of raising the livestock that way.

Elements of extensive farming can also assist more intensive farming. When planting insect pollinated arable crops (usually an intensive process), it has been shown that managing the lower yield edges and corners of arable fields as habitat buffers can increase overall crop yield on a farm. This can be explained by the increased presence of pollinators attracted by the cornfield and wild flower plants growing in these edge habitats without damaging inputs.

EYEBRIGHT (Euphrasia sp.)

This is a common plant on short (e.g. grazed) grassland/heathland habitats. It has small white/mauve flowers with purple/yellow markings and ‘frilly’ petals. It is semi-parasitic because it collects nutrients off the roots of neighbouring grasses and plants, demonstrating in its own small way the vital interconnections that make up biodiversity.

Its common name came from the traditional use of a tonic made from the plant to treat eye ailments. Like most plants it can also have detrimental (poisonous) effects.

Eyebright has numerous species and hybrids hence the general binomial Latin name given above – with a generic name Euphrasia first but with sp. instead of a species name second to indicate the particular species is unknown/unidentified.

Eyebright (Euphrasia sp) - copyright NYMNPA

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D

Conservation grazing

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant and Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Conservation grazing as a management technique: how does it work, when do we use it and what animals do we use? These are all questions we discussed during a recent Grazing for Site Conservation Management course held at Plas Tan y Bwlch, Snowdonia National Park’s Study Centre.

Why use grazing?

Conservation grazing can be an important tool for habitat management and works in three main ways:

  • defoliation by grazing and browsing vegetation;
  • trampling by treading and breaking up vegetation;
  • dunging/urinating by recycling materials back into the system.

The combination of these three processes, along with understanding the ways that different animals graze can help manage and extend important habitats.

Grazing is the traditional way of managing hay meadows (species rich grassland). Surviving meadows have an increased fungi:bacteria ratio, when compared to improved grasslands, as fertilizers increase bacterial levels which result in less healthy soils. The addition of any type of artificial fertiliser has a negative effect. Controlling the grazing e.g. shutting the animals out of a meadow in the summer is vital to allow the plants to flower and set seed without being eaten. Where the hay meadows are shut in summer, a later shut date leads to greater meadow species richness. A helping hand to the traditional grazing method is also useful as studies have shown that the addition of appropriate seed mixes helps establish good species richness.

The course involved a number of case studies/site visits looking at grazing and non grazing on a variety of different upland habitats. Sites included Newborough Warren Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Llanddwyn Island, both on Anglesey, to study grazing management in action using ponies and cattle on coastal habitats; Caeau Tan y Bwlch, managed through a partnership between Plantlife, The Wildlife Trusts and Natural Resources Wales; and Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve. This Nature Reserve with its mountain habitats had previously been heavily grazed, but grazing had been removed in 1998 to help restore priority features, including rare plants. The image here shows an exclosure (on the right) that has been closed off from grazing for approx. 40 years, showing how vegetation varies from that on the left, which has been excluded from grazing for only approx. 10 years. It was surprising to see that the majority of 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brownvegetation in the 40-year exclusion area was still barely knee-high. On this particular site, without grazing, there is currently a diverse botanical richness of species and structure, and it hasn’t become swamped with invasive species or scrub. This is an improvement in terms of biodiversity against the original uniform short sward that once covered the area, caused by over-grazing.

Which animals?

When looking to choose the best grazing animal for an area we learnt that:

  • Sheep can select particular plants and leaves down to ground level. Horses can also select to plant level.
  • Cattle have a big, wide mouth, and eat by wrapping their tongue around vegetation then pulling it out. They can only graze down to about 5cm from the ground, and can eat a variety of plant species in one mouthful. As they take longer to digest their food, they are able to absorb more nutrients from poorer grasslands.
  • Mixing different types of grazing animals on a site can be very beneficial, e.g. on grassland dominated by Molina (Purple Moor Grass), grazing with sheep only saw increased spread of Molina, but with a ratio of 1.5 ewes to 0.75 cattle grazing the area, there was a significant decrease in Molina.
  • Some grazing animal breeds do better than others in the winter (usually native breeds over continental breeds).
  • Grazing animals change their plant preferences depending on their nutritional needs, and tend to choose the tastiest and most nutritional plants first. They can also change their preference for different plants throughout the year.
  • Where animals have had particular worming treatments it is necessary to make sure the treatments have had time to flush through (at least 3 weeks) before the animals enter a conservation grazing area, to avoid detrimentally affecting beneficial and non-target invertebrates at the conservation site.

Animal welfare

It is important to consider whether, on a conservation grazing site, the animals are going to be:

  • Living a natural life? e.g. in an environment to which the species/breed is adapted;
  • Fit and healthy? e.g. able to achieve normal growth and function, and maintain good health in adult life;
  • Happy? e.g. sense of mental satisfaction, or at least freedom from mental distress.

The Grazing Animals Project has helpful advice.

Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) regulations (2000, 2003): includes duty of care by both Owners and Keepers. Persons attending to the animals should be acquainted with the relevant statutory welfare codes. So for conservation grazing management we need to

  • Enlist the help of an expert on that species/breed.
  • Ensure a site risk assessment for the grazing animals is carried out well in advance of putting the animals on the site, keep the document under review.
  • Ensure there is adequate contingency planning, in case the usual stock keeper/checker is unable to tend to the animals for any reason.
  • Make sure we’re not accidentally breaking the latest animal movement and standstill regulations and transport welfare regulations.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownManagement plans

Every plan needs a sustainable goal – and we need to know when we’ve reached that goal.

Currently lapwing are in the spotlight as they are declining in the UK, however their initial population rise was due to post-war human habitat intervention, creating lots of grazed habitat that benefited them and other farmland waders over other species. What is our goal? – should we be concentrating our efforts on supporting lapwing? should we look to the species assemblages that were present prior to this? or should we work towards habitat mosaics supporting lapwing and the other species?

The rule of thumb is to start by grazing the area lightly. Establishing the level of grazing appropriate is always important, over or under grazing can be damaging or ineffectual. Incorporate regular assessment and survey. Monitoring the site is vital so that the effects of the grazing on the valuable features can be assessed, and the grazing adjusted if necessary. Be prepared to be flexible and ready to tweak if necessary – increase/decrease, change animals/timing etc. Be ready with Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work! Management plans need to be dynamic documents and be reviewed/amended/built upon as required.

Conservation grazing is not an exact science so this course was really valuable in learning from the experts and hearing about their experiences and the general principles they have adopted. As each site is so unique it is important to recognise our starting point and decide what we want our end point to be: we may currently have quite a species-poor grassland but we would like it to become a species-rich hay meadow….so then we can work up a management plan to make that happen.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Caeau Tan y Bwlch - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown

2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Blaen y Nant - by Kirsty Brown
2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownNow to translate all we have learned to help manage relevant sites in the North York Moors National Park, through our Habitat Connectivity project!

Swallows and Amphibians (and ponies)

John Beech – Heritage Coast Project Officer

The six ponds installed last year through our Habitat Connectivity programme (“Linking Landscapes”) are thriving with life this spring. I’ve just returned from a site visit to the area north of Robin Hood’s Bay and found the ponds full of tadpoles, water boatmen, backswimmers and whirligig beetles. It’s a marvellous sight given that these shallow hollows in the landscape previously held no water at all and contained very little in the way of wildlife.

We arranged the project with the landowner (National Trust) and tenant, and paid for the contractor with his mini digger to form these scrapes and ponds. The ponds were fenced off to allow the vegetation around them to grow up and not be grazed off by stock. This type of habitat should be ideal as breeding sites for amphibians.

Whilst looking for submerged wildlife, I also saw my first Swallow of the year as it swooped to drink from the ponds freshwater after its long journey of migration. The Yorkshire Coast must have been its first landfall for thousands of miles. It’s incredibly satisfying to think that you’ve added to the whole biodiversity and wildlife interest of the area with a few scoops from a digger.

Further up the coast at Wrack Hills near Runswick Bay, hardy Exmoor ponies are settling in well on the undercliff grassland. Undercliff habitat is found alongside soft cliffs where the land has slumped and settled, and been recolonized by vegetation over time. During the winter we’ve fenced off part of the existing SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and installed a watering point. The fencing, in part, follows an historic fence line which implies that there was stock in the past on this useful, if difficult to access, rough pasture. We were previously talking about putting cattle on the undercliff but instead the land manager has managed to arrange for Exmoors to begin to tackle the coarse grasses and scrub that have been taking over the site. This conservation grazing regime is aimed at halting the decline of the patches of species rich grassland that are left here. Big thanks to the land manager and the Exmoor Pony Trust for taking on this challenge. We’re promoting this type of grazing management on the National Park’s coastal undercliffs wherever possible.

The two ponies (one small mare and one larger gelding) were introduced to the site in April. Since then the paths they’ve made (and dung piles they’ve left!) show that they’ve explored much of the site and have started to make an impact on some patches of grassland. Encouragingly there are plenty of primroses, bluebells and a few early-purple orchids in flower, so it doesn’t look like the ponies are eating the flower heads.P1030889

It might be good to have more ponies on the undercliff when the ground is drier and less liable to poaching up. Otherwise combining ponies with the land manager’s own shorthorn cattle might be advantageous. Mixes of ponies and cattle have an added benefit that ponies can graze the best grass very tightly, which encourages cattle to tackle the rough stuff before the ponies might get round to it. In addition, after the bird breeding season, if human labour is available, it might be worth strimming some of the edges of the bramble patches, or creating routes though them which the ponies can then expand. The same could apply to bracken patches, although I hope the ponies might make inroads there themselves.

More encounters

Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student

I was thinking about what I could share with you and found myself pondering the various enchanting and unexpected meetings I have had with wildlife since starting here in August. I decided to ask around the Conservation Department and gather together a number of recent stories and the odd picture to share.

It is amazing once you stand still how quickly wildlife often finds you. Whilst carrying out the Veteran Tree survey in Hawnby, Alasdair and Alex have been lucky enough to have several great wildlife encounters. While standing still, quietly surveying a fantastic old oak tree with lots of veteran characteristics a tiny Goldcrest started calling close by, this lovely wee bird was shortly followed by a flock of Long-tailed tits, chattering loudly in the canopy above them. They then heard the recognisable sound of a wood pecker drilling into old dead wood…to their surprise it was a rare Lesser spotted woodpecker, the first time either of them had seen one. It was surprisingly small compared to the more commonly seen Great spotted woodpecker and busied around for a good 10 minutes. They enjoyed watching it so much that neither of them thought to take a photo!

Whilst out conducting botanical surveys for the National Park’s habitat connectivity ‘Linking Landscapes‘ programme, Kirsty, Ami and Alex found some interesting creatures in the undergrowth.

Minature worldAlex and Kirsty joined in with a bunch of volunteers to discover how to spot water vole signs around Fylingdales, and although they didn’t see any notoriously shy water voles, there was a female adder lurking nearby.

Female adder

As well as adders, beautiful slow worms can often be found under stones, in and around dry stone walls, like this one found in a derelict wall near Cawthorn Camps.

Slow worm - being moved for it's own safety

Talking about Cawthorn Camps – from time to time, one of the tasks for Graham, our Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer, is to keep an eye on the Roman forts here. The site is owned and managed by the National Park Authority and Graham is watching out for erosion and encroaching vegetation problems. On a particularly hot, sunny summer’s day, he was showing a placement student around the site. Many of the visitors to Cawthorn walk around the main circular path, often exercising their dogs, but the interiors of the forts at this time of year are covered in long grasses and some heather. Because few people venture into the fort interiors, they are well-known as good adder habitat. In this sort of knee deep vegetation, generally the first sign of the presence of an adder is a fierce hiss just before you are about to step on it! On this most memorable occasion, Graham was pointing out the subtle internal earthworks of the site to the student when an extra loud hiss sent him into low earth orbit, badly jarring a frozen shoulder at the time – excruciating! He landed – unfortunately without a camera to hand – to the sight of a pair of conjoined adders which then – their coitus interrupted – serenely slid away while Graham + student stood there, recovering from the shock.

An excited Simon during his second summer of surveys for the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project found a “young” pearl mussel. Until then he had only found mussels which were 60-70+ years of age. This individual – the smallest live musseI that has been found in the river (75mm) recently, was approximately 20-25 years old. This proves that the mussels have bred successfully in the not so distant past, which gives encouragement to the aims of the Project, and all in all it was Simon’s best day out – ever.

A young Freshwater Pearl Mussel

As for myself, while sampling for bugs in Glaisdale Beck I spied a strange brown shape floating downstream in a very odd fashion. It turned out to be a common toad that drifted ungainly towards me and bounced off my waders before bobbing off downstream – a little bewildered.

Common Toad - River Esk

As I was dipping a small pond beside the River Esk looking for smooth newts prior to hibernation I came across this enormous hawker dragonfly larvae at nearly two inches long, a top predator within the little pond.

Hawker dragon fly larvae

And we mustn’t forget the local ladies when discussing encounters for it is hard to visit many parts of the North York Moors without meeting farm animals of some kind or other.Cattle - Esk Valley

The creatures we come across may not necessarily seem exotic or exciting (except maybe for Simon’s mussel) on an international scale, but each animal and bird is part of the biodiversity of this corner of the world – and that’s important to us.

Hedgerow possibilities: part 1

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Hedgerows are an important feature of the English countryside, adding to the aesthetic value and character of the landscape around us. Data collected by the Countryside Survey 2007 indicated that there was just under 250,000 miles (402,000 km) of hedgerow in England (Countryside Survey data owned by NERC – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology). Field boundary hedges in and around the North York Moors can be of considerable wildlife value and are a living historic record of demarcation.

What’s in your hedge?

The number, variation and type of plant species in a hedgerow can point towards its age, and some hedges are remnants of ancient woodlands. Rare plants may thrive in and around the footings and ditches. Hedges support a wealth of wildlife as they provide food, shelter and nectar. Pollinators such as honey and bumble bees take full advantage of the early spring flowers of blackthorn and late-season ivy flowers. A plethora of invertebrates live within hedges, seeking out the nooks and crannies, leaves, fruit and soil. Voles, shrews and rabbits create their tunnels in a maze beneath the roots, using the thick hedge to hide from predators as they search for food. Larger mammals such as badgers and foxes also frequently live in and around hedgerows, making use of the food supply and shelter. Bats are known to use these linear features as food sources or as a commuting highway to get between the roost and feeding grounds, choosing the more sheltered side in strong winds. Birds of prey such as kestrels and owls may use the hedgerow trees as look-out posts and resting spots whilst they digest their prey. Many other species of bird use hedges throughout the year for shelter, nesting and roosting sites.

Mycorrhizal fungi are associated with hedgerows and boundary trees. Mycorrhizae are found between plant roots and the soil, helping plants gather the moisture and nutrients (such as phosphorus) that they need in exchange for carbohydrates and sugars in a mutualistic relationship. Root diseases also appear to be reduced in presence of mycorrhizae. The mycorrhizae and fungi effectively extend the root system, and it has been said that a single oak tree might have up to 19 km of mycelium associated with it! Cultivation and the application of fertilisers can supress and disrupt this beneficial underground network. For more information – the BBC recently produced an article on these connections, describing how plants can even communicate aphid attacks.

Hedges criss-cross the landscape and form important habitat connections for wildlife, allowing greater freedom of movement between different habitat ‘islands’. Our Connectivity programme looks to develop these habitat connections, and other organisations have similar projects such as the Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes. These efforts stem from the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper.