It’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it or: When all’s said and dung, don’t poo-poo the Dung Beetles

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.

Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.

How the different groups of British Dung beetles utilise dung in different ways. Copyright Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project.

Dung  beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.

These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.

A Geotrupidae dung beetle with hitch hiking mites getting a lift to their next pile of dung. From https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/422423640023441381/

Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.

So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.

One of the Dung beetles - this is called a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius). Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.

Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.

Some of the British Dung beetles. Copyright Beetle UK Mapping Project.

So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.

The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.

There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.

Apologies for the titular puns.

An exceptional bog

Last year the Land of Iron commissioned an eco-hydrological assessment of Fen Bog(s) by consultants (Sheffield Wetland Ecologists).  An eco-hydrological assessment examines the workings of a water system and its wider ecosystems. Sunday was International Bog Day so to celebrate the complexity and variety of bogs – here is a very very simplified overview of that assessment. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation is all mine.

View over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Background

Fen Bog(s) is at the top end of the Newtondale glacial channel in the east of the North York Moors. It’s part of the Newtondale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the majority of it is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Most of the site is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, other parts are owned by the National Park Authority, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Fen Bog(s) is a large peatland/wetland site, and according to the report “is of exceptional biological, palaeo-ecological and telmatological (to do with bogs) interest, especially as there are no comparable examples in the region or, indeed, in most of England”.

The bog happens to be within the boundary of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. The scheme focuses on the landscape area impacted on by the short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway development in the North York Moors. Intriguingly part of the Fen Bog(s) site has been subject to long-term modification since the Whitby–Pickering Railway line (now belonging to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) was built alongside/across the site. The Partnership commissioned the report in order to get an holistic assessment of the existing data (of which there is a lot), and to identify the gaps and address these through additional field investigations, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the eco-hydrological functioning of Fen Bog(s) in order to help inform future management decisions. This management needs to conserve and restore its environmental value as well as allowing the continued functioning of the railway.

Historical Aspects

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was first opened in 1837, as a single-track, horse-drawn enterprise carrying freight between the two towns. Newtondale connects through the central moorland which largely separates the north and south of the North York Moros. Soon after the line was doubled and substantially rebuilt for steam propelled haulage with services starting in 1847.

Benham (An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2008) explains that Fen Bog(s) proved a “major headache” for the railway builders and that “Stephenson resorted to the same technique employed at Chat Moss when building the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This involved stabilising the land by ‘pile-driving’ fir trees into the bog and overlaying them with sheaves of heather bound in sheep skin, together with more timber and moss.” In addition deep drains were dug alongside the railway through the mire to try and keep water off the track. The extensive drainage has tilted parts of the bog. It has also been suggested that it meant the bog turned from a topogenous system (source water mainly from the land) to an ombrogenous one (source water mainly from precipitation) – but the report considers this is unlikely. The railway’s embankments and sidings were built and maintained using railway ash, basic slag, limestone and basalt – all base rich materials imported onto the site which still have an impact.

The summit of the railway is a short distance north of Fen Bog(s), near the former location of the ‘Goathland Summit’ signal box. South of this the railway track skirts the western edge of the wetland, it is built mostly along the steeply-sloping edge so that its upslope side is on mineral ground or shallow peat whilst the mire side is over deeper peat. The railway line has therefore partly obliterated, truncated and drained much of the western edge of Fen Bog(s). Towards the southern end of Fen Bog(s), the glacial channel curves west and the railway here crosses the bog to the other side of the channel, thereby cutting across and separating parts of the Bog(s).

View of North Yorkshire Moors Railway crossing Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Methodologies

Peatlands are strongly influenced by hydrology, chemistry, and vegetation.

The Fen Bog(s) report considers the hydrogeology including stratigraphy, surface profiles, and solid, wetland, and superficial (recent) deposits.

It also investigates the water supply in and the drainage out. All the different water features on the site are mapped – as pool, spring or seepage, stream/ditch with visible flow, water flow track, water filled ditch with no visible flow, damp channel, or seasonally wet channel. The main artificial drainage is associated with the railway including the drains on either side of the line, but there is also other historic drainage at the south end of Fen Bog(s) which was done to improve the land for agriculture.

Hydrochemical measurements were taken as part of the assessment to establish the current pH and also the electrical conductivity of the water at different points. There is a lot of variation across the site. It has been suggested that high pH readings i.e. alkaline are caused by leeching slag used in the construction of the railway track. Measurements from the recent assessment suggest that in terms of chemistry any effects of the trackway on the Bog(s) is either historic or localised. Because of the mix of chemistry Fen Bog(s) is classed as a Transition mire and this is reflected in its mix of vegetation (see below). The transition can be geographical or successional, or both.

There are a series of historic water table measurements at two specific points, from the 1970s to 1990s – one in ‘wet’ bog, rich in sphagnum, in the north, and one in relatively ‘dry’ bog, with a lot of heather, in the south. The report suggests the main reason for the more consistently higher water table at the northern monitoring point can be associated with the greater number and penetration of flow tracks across the mire, the number of groundwater outflows and a more consistent supply of telluric water (surface water and groundwater). Groundwater geology is always important in sustaining a high water table.

Looking into Fen Bog. Copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA.

Development and status

Much of the depth of peat at Fen Bog(s) is believed to sit in a hollow which decreases at its southern end. It has been suggested this hollow may have been a glacial or post-glacial lake. However it appears as if the mire developed on a dry surface, that is through paludification, and not by infilling a water body (terrestrialisation).

The lower layers of peat cores and sections collected contain the remains of tree species (Birch, Willow and Alder) and other plants (Reeds and Sphagnum) that suggest wet woodland. Then the higher up layers on top contain more plants and silt indicating the formation of swamp and a rise in the water level. This may be a consequence of wetter climatic conditions but also may partly be to do with human activity. There is an increase in non-tree pollen suggesting the removal of trees at the time, and the report postulates that the build-up of water on the site may have been due to it being artificially damned at the southern end. Sphagnum increases in the top level of peat, from c. 1100 AD atleat until the 19th century. The development of a Sphagnum-dominated surface on a reed-monocot swamp requires some isolation of the surface from more base-rich water sources which means the margins with inflow must have remained largely free of Sphagnum and a dome of peat therefore developed in the middle of the bog.

Fen Bog(s) can therefore be considered an embryonic raised bog, which has developed upon a protracted phase of reed–monocot peat that, because of the topography of the trough and the occurrence of marginal inflows, has been susceptible to flooding with telluric water until relatively recently. Because the system has developed across a shallow watershed, it can be regarded as an embryonic ‘sattelmoor’ (saddle bog). The report notes that this assessment is based on the centre and eastern margin of Fen Bog(s) – the western margin has been modified too much by the railway development and associated drainage to be useful as evidence. The modification led to a tilt of the mire’s surface towards the west.

Vegetation over time is the raw ingredients of a bog. The report reviews and updates current NVC vegetation classifications across the Fen Bog(s) site. It’s quite a mosaic. As well as non-mire vegetation such as dry grassland, bracken, dry heath and wet heath, there is also:

  • Weakly base-rich springs and soakways – base rich means a richness of chemical ions i.e. alkaline, a soakway is a narrow track of water flow where little or no water is normally visible. Supports plants such as Bog bean, Broad-leaved cotton grass*, Common butterwort*, and Black bog-rush*, as well as Sphagnum sp. and other bryophytes. Beyond the immediate Fen Bog(s) site there are base-rich springs and weakly base-rich soakways – where soils are acid rather than alkaline so it means the water ends up only weakly or not base-rich at all.
  • Acidic springs and soakways – supports plants such as Common sedge, Yorkshire fog and Marsh violet, as well Sphagnum sp.
  • Ombrotrophic bog – where the main source of water is precipitation. Supports plants such as Common cotton-grass, Cross-leaved heath and Bog myrtle.
  • Minerotrophic Bog – where the main source of water is watercourses and springs. Supports plants such as Purple moor-grass, Common yellow sedge and Carnation sedge.
  • Molinia mire – purple moor-grass dominated vegetation, also supports plants such as SundewsStar sedge and Bog asphodel
  • Nutrient-rich fen – these areas may be influenced hydrochemically either by base-rich springs, or by the base-rich material that make up the railway embankments/sidings. Supports plants such as Angelica, Tufted vetch and Water horse-tail
  • Carex rostrata fen – base-rich mire supporting plants such as Bottle sedge (this is the Carex rostrata), Marsh marigold and Ragged robin.
  • Pools and soakways with Carex limosa – supports plants such as Bog sedge* (this is the Carex limosa), Slender sedge*, and Bog pimpernel.
  • Wet woodland – these remaining woodlands are similar to that which began the formation of peat millions of years ago. Supports plants such as Grey willow, Downy Birch and Creeping buttercup.
  • Reeds and willow scrub – can also be classed as wet woodland. Supports plants such as Narrow buckler fern, Soft rush and Sphagnums.
  • Tall swamp and reedbeds – each at different stages of development with their own characteristics. One site which supports bulrush is presumably mineral enriched from the track ballast but this shows no sign of spreading out into adjacent vegetation without the enrichment. Another site, not yet colonised by willow scrub, supports plants such as Marsh pennywort, Water mint and Branched bur-reed.

* notable uncommon vascular plant species

Another view over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

What next?

From the assessment the report goes on to outline the main management issues and to suggest restoration opportunities for the Fen Bog(s) site. These include vegetation control through gazing and fencing, monitoring the spread of reeds (Phragmites), clearing parts of the species poor scrub areas, retaining the wet woodland/scrub habitat, blocking and redirecting specific railway ditches, minimising the introduction of new embankment ballast material, and using engineered solutions to tackle subsidence problems. Interested parties will consider the recommendations and decide what is desirable as well as practically possible, in order to maintain this very important bog site that embodies a clash of natural and cultural heritage.

Postscript: There is a story that a steam locomotive sank into Fen Bog(s) at some point in the past, and remains there today. But this is just a story.

State of our Soils (and Wonderful Worms)

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

Charles Darwin was an undoubted genius, according to most people’s definition – so it should come as no surprise that he was interested in earthworms. He even wrote a book with the catchy title The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habitats.

Cartoon of Charles Darwin in Punch magazine (1881) - he studied worms for many years, even playing music to them!

Earthworms are fundamental. They are ecosystem engineers – a term associated with important ecological outputs, which can often be stalked by controversy because of the affects caused e.g. Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber). However, everyone can get behind earthworms; they are the only species playing a significant role in pedoturbation and are a major player in pedogenesis.

What are pedoturbation and pedogenesis? Well, they’re words we should all know. They describe the process of mixing between soil horizons resulting in healthy homogenization, and the formation of soils through biogeochemical processes.

Organic rich woodland soil. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Soil is the unconsolidated material on the top level of the earth in temperate climes. In the UK most plants grow in soil. Our soils are under pressure from erosion/loss, compaction and decline in organic matter. In the 2015 bestselling book, What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper, estimated the annual cost from soil degradation is between £900 million and £1.4 billion, while studies suggest soils will be too degraded for production within around 100 harvests. The need for solutions is urgent.

These aren't sandbanks - this is the sediment (soil) runoff from the Thames, as seen from the International Space Station in 2014

Soil health targets are included in the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan. Further national measures are planned through legislation during 2018 to manage all soils sustainably, including devising a soil health index, and updating guidance on crop establishment and optimal tillage choice.

Earthworms are crucial for tackling these problems and maintaining the health of soils. Still little is known about earthworms, despite Darwin’s efforts. We know there are 29 species in the UK, split into four groups: composters living in organic rich vegetation, epigeics living amongst leaf litter, endogeics living in the soil, and anecics living in vertical burrows. They all eat (and so recycle) decaying material, help drainage and aeration, and are food for many other species (so crucial for biodiversity). The fact that all four groups and all the species have varying ecology enhances their benefits to the reducing of erosion, compaction and the loss of organic matter, therefore benefiting the entire ecosystem – including us.

It will be very important to increase our understanding of distributions and ecology of each earthworm species, to help us to properly conserve and encourage worms to be a vital partner in such a time of soil health concern.

What is known about worms...all earthworms are hermaphrodites - mating head-to-tail by covering themselves in mucus and exchanging sperm. From Science Learning Hub.

The Earthworm Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has information regarding the recording of earthworms, identifying different species, and further facts on their biology and ecology.

The British Society of Soil Science is supporting the advancement of soil science in the UK. The more we understand the resource the more we can do to conserve and enhance it.

A to Z: a preponderance of Ps

P

PAWS

Where woodland has existed for at least the last 400 years (c. 1600 AD) it provides an ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ habitat. Around 4% of the North York Moors National Park is classed as ‘Ancient Woodland’ according to Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory. In some places woodland will have existed for much longer.

As well as the removal of woodland, particularly over the last century, there is another slower acting less visible threat to the continuation of ancient semi-natural woodland. This is where ancient woodlands have been planted up with trees such as conifers to create plantation forestry. These sites are still recorded on the Ancient Woodland Inventory, and categorized as ‘Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites’ (PAWS). This conversion leads to a detrimental decay of the ecological value of the woodland habitat from the shading caused by evergreen conifers, the acidic modification of soils, and potentially the management of the woodland to ensure maximum timber production. As well as the gradual decline of woodland flora, mycorrhizal fungi and native tree species; historic features within the woodland and the landscape value of the ancient woodland are also at risk.

Example of PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites) with bare slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

Some habitats can be created/re-created, but when Ancient Woodland is lost it’s gone for generations. However restoration can be possible if it’s not too late. PAWS restoration i.e. management to maintain/enhance the ancient semi-natural woodland habitat elements, comes in many forms and scales from the removal of non-native invasive species like Rhododendron, to the replacement of conifers with predominantly native trees. Like most things to do with woodland, restoration takes time. Partial or limited restoration is often worthwhile, and maintaining the management and value of a woodland is often more beneficial than restoring but then abandoning it. The National Park Authority is keen to work with owners of PAWS to explore what might be done to conserve this significant element of our local natural heritage.

Small scale conifer removal and planting with native species on PAWS slopes. Copyright NYMNPA.

 Pecten Seam

The ‘Pecten Seam’ is part of the geological Cleveland Ironstone Formation made up of a number of ironstone seams formed one on top of the other during the Early Jurassic period (c. 199 to c. 175 million years ago). The ironstone seams are made up of shales and sideritic (iron carbonate)/chamosatic (silicate of iron) ironstone which settled at the bottom of the shallow sea across the area which now includes the North York Moors (see also Polyhalite below). The seam is called Pecten after the numerous animal fossils found within it from the Pecten genus (large scallops).

Large scallop shell (Genus - Pecten) from http://www.bgs.ac.uk

The Pecten Seam outcrops around Grosmont in Eskdale and is more important in local history for what it suggested rather than what it delivered. It was the identification of the ironstone in the ‘Pecten Seam’ during the construction of the Whitby and Pickering Railway in 1836 which led to the outbreak of ironstone mining during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills (see This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme). The Pecten Seam was the second ironstone seam down (second latest) and quickly turned out to be of a poor quality, so it was the ‘Main Seam’ on top (the latest) which was largely exploited by the local ironstone industry as it was higher up and so easier to access, it contained more ore, and it was thicker than the other seams making it more cost effective to mine.

On top of the main ironstone seams were further sedimentary layers of shale containing jet, alum, coal, and further ironstone all of which have been exploited at one time or another in the North York Moors.

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

Picturesque

The word picturesque was first used in the latter half of the 18th century to describe a scene worthy of being painted. It has since come to mean traditional and maybe a bit twee, but originally it meant an image that would stir the sensibilities of every right feeling man (and woman) because of its aesthetics and sublimity. The ‘natural’ and dramatic were in fashion and to not be able to appreciate the beautiful dread inspired by a landscape or view was a poor reflection on a gentleman’s character. The North York Moors did not have the grandeur of the Lake District’s mountains or the awe of the glaciers of the Alps, but it was not without its picturesque attractions.

JMW Turner engraved Rievaulx Abbey in 1836 from sketches he made in 1812. The view contains mediaeval romantic ruins (the might of nature overwhelming the vanities of man), wild woods and Italianate steep hills, a glowering sky and rustic peasants: all highly ‘picturesque’. The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey belonged at the time to Duncombe Park, the Estate had both a ruined abbey and a ruined castle (Helmsley) with which to create its own ‘natural’ picturesque landscape for the pleasure and wonder of the Duncombe family and their friends.

Rievaulx Abbey engraved 1836 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Bequeathed by Travers Buxton 1945

Pignut (Conopodium majus)

Pignut is a member of the carrot family, along with parsnip, fennel, parsley and less ‘benign’ plants such as hemlock and giant hogweed. Like some other members of the carrot family it has an edible tuber. The small tubers have been eaten by pigs hence its most common name (another name – St Anthony’s Nut – is because St Anthony is the patron saint of many many things including swine herders), and also by people who like to forage. Obviously never ever eat anything unless you are absolutely definitely sure what it is, and don’t dig on other people’s land without their permission.

Pignut is a short plant which flowers in early summer with tiny delicate white umbels (flat topped flowers on stalks like umbrella spokes coming from a single stem) that together resemble lace. It’s a tough little thing containing both male and female parts and therefore is self-fertile relying on pollinators like hoverflies, and also moths. It is an indicator of grassland/woodland pasture and can be found on road verges and alongside hedges where fragments of old pasture and woodland survive.

Pignut - from http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/pignut.html

 A Particular Pigsty

Usually people probably wouldn’t want to go on holiday to a pigsty, however there is a particular listed building in the North York Moors that isn’t many peoples’ idea of a home for pigs. Described in the listing description as “a large dwelling for pigs” this pigsty was built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century by John Warren Barry – a Whitby shipbuilder and ship owner who was the owner of Fyling Hall near Robin Hood’s Bay. He seems to have been inspired by the classical architecture he came across on his travels around the Mediterranean as the pigsty is built in the style of a Greek temple with timber pediments at both ends and a portico of six timber columns with Ionic capitals in its south side. It contained two small sties, and was intended to provide accommodation for two pigs, whose attendants were to be housed in a pair of neighbouring cottages. The pigs were apparently unimpressed and unappreciative of their sumptuous quarters.

In time, lacking any obvious practical use, the Pigsty fell into a poor state of repair. Luckily it was purchased by The Landmark Trust in the 1980s. The Landmark Trust aims to preserve remarkable buildings by providing them with new purpose. The pigsty has been restored, converted and extended for use as a holiday cottage. The extension is minimal which enables the principal building to remain the main focus and the conversion works have managed to maintain the original character. The Pigsty certainly adds to the diversity of the built conservation of the North York Moors.

The Pigsty, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright The Landmark Trust.

It was apparently Mr Barry’s intention that the pigs should enjoy unrivalled views across Robin Hood’s Bay – a privilege that holiday-makers instead are fortunate to have today!

Primitive Methodists

In a number of villages and dales in the North York Moors as well as an established Church building there will be a Methodist Chapel building (sometimes known as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel), and in some there also is, or was, a Primitive Methodist Chapel in close proximity. In Chop Gate the Wesleyan Chapel and the Primitive Chapel stood back to back, as if choosing to ignore each other.

View of the Rosedale Abbey Primitive Methodist Chapel, in close proximity to the Church of England church and churchyard. Copyright Rosedale History Society.

Methodism had made early in-roads in the North York Moors in the 18th century where the location of the area, out on a limb, provided a home for dissenting religion. The Primitive Methodist ‘connection’ splintered off from the Methodist Church at the beginning of the 19th century when the preachers William Clowes and Hugh Bourne were dismissed from the main congregation. Primitive Methodism was so called because its converts believed it was they who were following more strictly and truly in the footsteps of original Methodism and its founder John Wesley. One particular aspect of early Primitive Methodism was the holding of open air prayer meetings encouraging evangelical conversions, as the Wesleys had done in the century before. This was at a time when the meeting of ordinary people in groups, unsanctioned by Society and Authority, were considered a danger to the status quo.

‘On Sunday, July 30th [1820], he [William Clowes, one of two founders of the Primitive Methodist connection] conducted a camp-meeting [open air meeting] upon a depressed part of a mountain called Scarth Nick [near to Osmotherley]. About two thousand persons were supposed to be present. The Word preached was attended with much Divine power; the prayers of the people were very fervent, and many sinners were deeply impressed. Four or five persons were made happy in the love of God; one of whom, a farmer, was so overjoyed that he called upon the hills and dales, and every thing that had breath, to help him to praise God. He afterwards hastened home, and told his wife and servant what the Lord had done for his soul, and they also sought and found the salvation of God….He [Clowes] had invitations to Weathercote, and to Auterly [now Orterley] in Bilsdale [these two sites are still farmsteads], at both of which he preached with great effect, and many were brought to God. Many exciting scenes were witnessed during his missionary tour in this district, and a great awakening took place among the inhabitants, which we can not particularize’.
A History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion by John Petty, 1864.

The Primitive Methodists emphasized the role of the lay congregation rather than a clerical hierarchy and this included a sense of equality that allowed for women preachers. They valued simplicity in worship and believed that their Christianity demanded political engagement in the modern world. Primitive Methodism appealed particularly to the rural poor and the industrial immigrant labourers, to whom the promise of reward in heaven might have seemed like a longed for relief.

‘Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power:
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more’
The Primitive Methodist Hymnal, 1889

The Primitive Methodist Church in Britain reunited with the main Methodist Church in 1932.

Polyhalite

Polyhalite is a mineral lying deep (over 1,000 metres) under the North Sea and along the eastern edge of the National Park; it’s a type of Potash. It was formed over 260 million years ago as salts were deposited in a shallow sedimentary sea as it evaporated. Polyhalite specifically contains potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur; useful components in agriculture fertilizer.

Alongside the existing Cleveland Potash Mine at Boulby (ICL UK), over the next 5 years the new Woodsmith Mine (Sirius Minerals) is being constructed in the National Park to extract naturally formed polyhalite for commercial use. The new mine is expected to be operational by 2021 and whilst the development work is taking place, a whole range of compensatory and mitigation projects to enhance the natural and historic environment and to promote tourism in the wider area are being delivered. The first of these initial priority projects for this year include the upgrading of a 4km section of the Coast to Coast at Littlebeck and improvements to the Lyke Wake Walk, repairs and renovations to the Grade 1 listed Old St Stephen’s Church at Robin Hood’s Bay with The Churches Conservation Trust, and habitat restoration within Harwood Dale Forest.Old St Stephen's, Robin Hood's Bay. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O       

Feathered courtship

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

No matter how much you plan wildlife photography sometimes the sweetest moments arrive when you least expect it. On the afternoon of 15 May back in 2015 Richard Bennet called into Sutton Bank National Park Centre for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, unaware of the lovey-dovey scene he was about to witness.

The café windows were an irresistible draw for Richard who is a keen birder and photographer. As he sat down he noticed two Turtle Doves feeding on the ground beneath the bird feeders. Very pleased with this sighting he took several photos.

After feeding for a little while the two birds then flew up into the trees and performed a courtship routine right in front of the café window! Richard completely forgot about his cake as the opportunity for photographing the unfolding love scene outside was a far sweeter treat.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

Richard has kindly allowed our new North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project access to his gallery to promote the conservation of this beautiful bird.

Now at the end of August it’s post breeding time for our Turtle Doves, the young have fledged the nests. The birds will gather at the best feeding sites, often not far from where they have been nesting, to put on as much fat as possible prior to migrating back to Africa (Mali) in September. We’re looking forward to seeing them again next year.

 

Busy counting

Aside

NOT TOO LATE – we’re nearly at the end of this year’s Great British Bee Count but there is still a chance to join in and record bee sightings in the North York Moors up to the end of June. Reported records will help to build up a snap shot picture of the national bee population in 2017.

Bees, like all pollinators, are a vital cog in the workings of biodiversity. Volunteers are a crucial constituent in data recording that means trends and issues can be recognised and understood. With understanding there is a chance of addressing the issues.

Fostering hedgerow trees

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Mature trees within a hedgerow network are an important feature in the countryside. This is where land managers across generations have allowed single hedgerow plants to grow to their potential, alongside hedgerow plants that are coppiced, laid, and managed to create a boundary. Hedgerow trees have no particular value in terms of land management, but have huge value for wildlife and for the landscape.

Re-laying a hedge - copyright NYMNPA.

Traditionally Elm, Ash and Oak trees were the dominant hedgerow tree species reaching heights of up to and over 30 metres tall, towering above the hedgerow corridors. Saplings that are allowed to grow higher than the surrounding hedge do not need to compete for light and therefore grow and spread their canopy high and wide up into the air. This provides a wonderful habitat kingdom for many species of wildlife, free from the clutch of ground based predators. Such trees act as key wildlife ‘stepping stones’ between woodland habitats and across a mixed landscape.

Large hedgerow tree near Low Askew - copyright NYMNPA.

The intensification of agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century including increasing field sizes resulted in the loss of thousands of miles of hedgerows along with their hedgerow trees. The outbreak of Dutch elm disease from the late 1960s onwards removed some 20 million elms from our countryside, mostly from hedgerows. It is therefore quite rare now to find a mature Elm tree within a hedgerow. Similarly Ash trees are now threatened by Chalara dieback.

In 1998 there were an estimated 1.8 million hedgerow trees in Britain (CPRE survey). Many of our over mature hedgerow trees today are beginning to die and slowly retrench. There is an adage that an Oak tree takes over 200 years to grow and then 200 years to die.

Planting hedgerow gaps between old hedgerow trees - copyright NYMNPA.

To check the loss of hedgerow trees we need to be planting new ones to replace the ones that are dying back. The 1998 survey revealed that only 1% of hedgerow trees were in the youngest age class (1-4 years old). Without successional planning there is a danger that these key features will be lost for good from the landscape and the disconnection between farmed land and semi natural woodland will become more marked than ever. It takes a leap of imagination but by planting now land managers will be leaving their mark on the landscape for their children.

Trees take time to grow. Native wildlife species use hedgerow trees but birds, bats and butterflies in particular favour mature hedgerow trees.

Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.Tawny Owls take advantage of mature trees both as nesting sites and day roosts usually hiding close up against trunk. From a tree perch owls can see the movement of their potential prey on the ground below them. Bullfinches clamber amongst the branches searching for seeds, buds and insects. Treecreepers and Nuthatches use their Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.acrobatic skills to forage for insects, nuts and berries and Woodpeckers drill away into the deadwood high in the canopy to make a home and feast on any tiny invertebrates in the wood. Butterflies such as Hairstreaks forage for honeydew from aphids and lay their eggs high up in the Oaks and Elms. Rich lichen communities also grow on the branches of old hedgerow trees.

In some of the older trees, holes and crevices provide ideal habitats for a variety of bat species. Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. Bats use different parts of the tree for different reasons, depending on the time of year and temperature. In the summer bats use the higher canopy sites to have their young in warmer temperatures. In winter, they move deeper and lower into the tree to hibernate. Trees such as Oak, Beech and Ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any hedgerow tree has potential for a bat roost – especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy. In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by law.

Single hedgerow tree alongside an arable field - potential 'stepping stone' - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working on enhancing wildlife corridors and connections through our habitat connectivity initiative, and as part of this we’re actively encouraging the planting of hedgerow trees where appropriate. With the loss of Elm and the threat to Ash, Oak is now the main species being planted in the North York Moors to become the hedgerow trees of the future. With good care and maintenance the trees should grow into vigorous specimens.

Mature hedgerow trees as a feature in the landscape - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA.

To foster hedgerow trees:

  • Select suitable saplings from within an existing hedgerow and add a tree tag to the top of it. This shows/reminds the person who cuts the hedge to leave this strong sapling to grow into a mature tree.
  • Alternatively, plant a hedgerow tree adjacent to an existing hedge to add variety and height. This has the added advantage of widening the hedgerow and enables useful wildlife buffer strips to develop along the hedge bottom. If there is an existing gap within a hedgerow that is wide enough to accommodate a hedgerow tree then plant a new tree there.
  • Try to avoid uniform planting and instead plant the new trees at irregular intervals along the hedge line. Planting two or three together may also be suitable for instance if a site is next to a field corner.
  • Plant trees with local provenance that will be used to the local conditions and be more likely to flourish.
  • It is best practice to add a tree guard or tube attached to a stake to protect a tree in its early years from stock, rabbits or deer. A mulch mat around the base of the tree helps to keep the weeds down. This will give the tree every chance to grow strong and straight.

Practical help and advice can be provided by the National Park Authority. Contact us.

Saving up for the future

Sam Witham – Conservation Research Student

This summer I collected 10,000 (approx.) native raspberry seeds Rubus idaeus from the North York Moors for the UKNTSP (UK National Tree Seed Project). This is a project run by Kew to collect tree and shrub seeds from different regions of the UK in order to build a genetic representation of all UK tree/shrub species in the country. I first got involved with the project when I first started with the National Park last autumn.

Collecting wild raspberries in the North York Moors for the UKNTSP - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

A couple of weeks ago I got to visit the Kew Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex to drop off the raspberry seeds and see behind the scenes. Bede West, a field officer for the UKNTSP, kindly gave me a tour of the Seed Bank, and explained the processes involved.

Kew Millennium Seed Bank - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Collected seeds are sent, along with a herbarium (plant) specimen, to the Millennium Seed Bank. The herbarium specimen is used to determine the correct plant species and is then stored at the Herbarium at Kew Gardens.

If seeds are not yet ripe, they are ripened in a ripening room.

Millennium Seed Bank - a zigzag aspirator - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Once the paper work has been checked over, the seeds are extracted from casing or fruit, and washed using inventive methods such as squashing them while wearing wellies, scrubbing them on a rubber car matt, sieving them, and rinsing them in the sink. A zigzag aspirator can be used to separate seeds by size.

Most seeds are then x-rayed. Seeds can be infected by pathogens such as grubs, fungi, viruses and bacteria, reducing their viability. Viruses can be hard to detect in the x-ray so a sample of seeds can also be looked at under a microscope.

Millennium Seed Bank - x-raying seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

There are orthodox, recalcitrant or unorthodox seeds, along with intermediate seeds. Orthodox seeds can be dried to 5% moisture content or lower and then frozen. Relcalcitrant seeds will not survive if their moisture content drops below 40%. Intermediate seeds are someway inbetween and can be dried somewhat.

Millennium Seed Bank - seeds from all over the world are dried in the same room - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Millennium Seed Bank - Sam's NYM raspberry seeds in the drying room - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Orthodox seeds are placed in a temperature and humidity controlled drying room where the seeds are gradually dried to 5% moisture or lower. Certain seeds can take more than six months to dry out. The seeds needs to be dried so that damaging water crystals do not form when they are frozen.

 

At some point before the seeds go into storage, 50 seeds from a collection are weighed and then the whole seed collection is weighed. From this the mean seed weight is calculated.

Millennium Seed Bank - storing seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Millennium Seed Bank - storing seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.When the seeds are ready, they are put in jars and then stored at -20oC in an underground vault.

 

 

Millennium Seed Bank - underground seed vaults - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

There are two types of vault rooms – active rooms and base rooms. The seeds in the base rooms are left undisturbed, while seeds from the active rooms are used for research and regular monitoring. After seeds have been frozen, an initial seed sample is warmed up and germinated to test for viability. Samples are then taken from the underground freezer every ten years and germinated in order to monitor their continuing viability. This is done until there are no longer enough active room seeds to do this. The remaining frozen seeds are then moved to a base room and are also left undisturbed. At this point it’s time to collect more seeds from the wild.

Seeds are germinated on agar, a jelly-like substance taken from algae. Certain nutrients can be added to the agar to meet the requirements of the seeds. The seeds are kept at temperatures and humidities matching their country of origin, and some seeds are moved from light rooms to dark rooms to simulate day and night. Some seeds can be more demandng and extra steps need to be taken to improve germination such as subjecting them to different climatic conditions and adding chemicals.

Millennium Seed Bank - germinating seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Millennium Seed Bank - seed incubators for germination - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Once the active room seeds have been germinated and counted they are often destroyed, although Kew is looking into being able to grow more of them on in a nursery. Some seeds are grown on in greenhouses to definitively ascertain species and to create herbarium specimens, and also if they have been requested by outside organisations.

Millennium Seed Bank - growing seeds on in greenhouse - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

The recalcitrant seeds that could not survive the drying and freezing processes include coconuts, brazil nuts and acorns. Currently these seeds are germinated and the embryos are then cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196oC. This method is being actively researched and developed because as yet its not been that successful.

Millennium Seed Bank - recalcitrant seed embryos stored in liquid nitrogen - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

The value of the seeds stored at the Millennium Seed Bank is as a research resource, and as a living natural heritage archive which can be used to boost wild plant populations if plants become rare.

Sam, on location at the Millennium Seed Bank.

Thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank, and thanks to the Society for National Park Staff for paying my expenses.

Patience and perserverance

We’ve launched a new concerted effort against two of the most threatening non-native invasive plant species in the North York Moors, bolstered by funding from Yorkshire Water over the next four years. We’re chasing down Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in the River Esk and River Rye catchments.

As well as damaging existing ecosystems and decreasing diversity, both these species tend to overwhelm other plant species along river banks and the danger from this is that during the winter when these non-natives die back the banksides are left bare of vegetation so subject to erosion which increases the sediment getting into watercourses and smothering the water habitat.

Both plants are vigorous growers and virulent spreaders. Himalayan balsam disperses thousands of seeds per plant through exploding seed pods that can propel the seeds metres from the original plant. If the plants are next to watercourses the seeds can be carried downstream to colonise new areas. Japanese knotweed spreads through its underground rhizomes which are so effective that all remnants of the plants need to be carefully disposed of because even a small fragment of rhizome if given the chance to re-root will form a new plant.

The only way to have any real impact on the plants is to tackle them systematically starting at the top of catchments and moving downstream, and repeating the control year after year to remove any vestiges of the plants. This new funding will provide a much needed boost to efforts made over the last few years.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - it has a sickly, sweet smell, pink flowers and a bright green hollow stem. It can grow up to two meters tall. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Japanese knotweed grows to around three metres tall and has large alternate heart shaped leaves and a characteristic zigzag stem covered in purple speckles. Its flowers, which appear in late summer, consist of clusters of tiny creamy-white flowers. Copyright - NYMNPA.

We’ll be surveying the current extent of the plants and then resurveying each year to monitor the effects of the control. We’re using tried and tested control methods – hand pulling the Himalayan balsam before it gets the chance to seed and propogate, and treating individual Japanese knotweed plants with directly administered glyphosate injections to carry the chemical down into the rhizomes. We’ll be using contractors and volunteers to carry out the work coordinated by National Park staff.

Controlling and hopefully eradicating non-native invasive species in an area takes a long time. Simon, our River Esk Project Officer, is a real enthusiast for non-native invasive species control because he sees the detrimental effects the plants have on the river environment and on his beloved Freshwater pearl mussels. He can see the years of attrition starting to pay off as native vegetation starts to recolonise sites where invasive species have been removed.

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose” — Benjamin Disraeli

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