A Date with a Dove

Richard Baines – North York Moors National Park Turtle Dove Officer

Was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, a birdwatcher? As she sat about looking pretty with doves fluttering around her feet maybe she wondered when Turtle Doves would arrive back in Yorkshire from Africa that year!

Valentine’s Day has long been associated with doves, specifically Turtle Doves, and true love. This may have a link with science. Turtle Doves have been known to have a preference for monogamous partnerships; their strong connection is played out during their beautiful display when they first arrive back on their breeding grounds. The male will sing his soft purring song then fly up above the trees, fan his black and white tail and glide effortlessly down, making sure the female is watching!

Turtle Doves at Sutton Bank, 2015 - copyright Richard Bennett

Turtle Doves at Sutton Bank, 2015 - copyright Richard Bennett These photographs – kindly donated to our project by local photographer Richard Bennett – illustrate the wonderful care and attention Turtle Doves put into their post breeding courtship whether they are with the same mate as the previous year (or trying to woo a new one…. )

Sketches of Turtle Dove by Jonathan Pomroy

In the past few months I have had lots of requests from organisations in Yorkshire to talk on the National Lottery funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project. Happy to oblige, here are some up-coming evening talks over the next few months. Please note romance is not guaranteed but lots of interesting facts and enthusiasm are.

22 February 2018 Newton-on-Rawcliffe Parish Council Newton-on-Rawcliffe Village Hall Starting 19:30
5 March 2018 Malton & Norton Green Drinks Malton Blue Ball Inn Starting 20:00
7 March 2018 Levisham with Lockton WI Lockton Village Hall Starting 19:30
4 April 2018 North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Dalby Forest Visitor Centre Starting 19:00
17 April 2018 Ryedale Natural History Society Kirkbymoorside Methodist Hall Starting 19:30
19 April 2018 North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Yorkshire Arboretum Starting 19:00
24 April 2018 East Yorkshire RSPB Group North Bridlington Library Starting 19:30

Last year’s top 6 posts

These were our top 6 posts during 2017, according to the number of views – in reverse order to make it more exciting.

North Yorksire Turtle Dove Project Logo6. Talking about Turtle Doves

The Turtle Doves are currently in western Africa. Work here is now focused on preparing for a new season of surveying starting in May when these migratory birds return to the UK. There is a meeting for volunteer surveyors in the Howardian Hills AONB area organised for 17 January, and another for volunteer surveyors in the National Park area on 4 April. If you’d be interested in becoming a volunteer surveyor – please contact us.

Rosedale Abbey - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

5. Etymological landscapes

Live Moor monument after remedial work. Copyright Solstice Heritage.

4. Deconstructing modern mounds

Our post set out the reasons for taking forward this work to help conserve nationally important historic monuments, through the Monument Management Scheme. It was followed up with a post updating on progress later on in the year – Deconstructing modern mounds: what happened next…

River Rye near Hawnby. Copyright NYMNPA.

3. Ryevitalising the Rye

Since stage one approval was achieved back in January 2017, the development of this Landscape Partnership Scheme has continued apace.

Anne-Louise and Alex (the Ryevitalise Team) are coordinating as fast as they can, working alongside partner organisations and the wider community. Following on from local community consultation exercises in November, a series of taster events are planned for this spring to enable people to experience the kind of events on offer should Ryevitalise move into it’s delivery phase. One such event will be marking World Fish Migration Day on 21 April.

Partners are labouring over the 22 complementary project elements which make up the partnership scheme, around the themes of water quality and environment, reconnecting people and water level management. Alex is liaising with local land managers to build up a mutual understanding of how Ryevitalise could help support practices that deliver specific objectives around water quality and habitat improvements.

The stage two application currently in development is due to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of this October. If successful, the four year delivery phase will start in spring 2019.

We’re keen to incorporate as many ideas and aspirations as possible. If you want to get involved please complete our online survey form.

Casten Dyke North - wall to counterscarp bank looking north. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

2. Battle of Byland: considering the evidence

October 2022 will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland. Clear evidence that the battle took place at Roulston Scar remains elusive.

Lidar survey - Holmes Alum Works. 1. Quest for knowledge

Quite a few readers of our Blog have asked for more on LiDAR survey results – so please look out for next week’s post…

Talking about Turtle Doves

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

Our Turtle Doves are now in Africa, but that doesn’t mean our work stops.

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

With the majority of results now in for our two formal survey areas (Cropton and Dalby Forests), along with many additional sightings logged this year, we can now announce our results. In 2017 a total of 244 birds were logged over 78 dates between the first seen on 17 April and the last record of one on 25 September near Pickering. Over both the 2016 and 2017 survey seasons we recorded 24 singing males in Cropton Forest. During our 2017 surveys in Dalby Forest we found 12 singing males. Our largest flock was 13 birds including juveniles recorded on 25 July 2017.

These results illustrate how important our area is for these endangered birds. In comparison there were very few sightings in the rest of Yorkshire this year and even fewer to the north of us. We have known for some time our area has been a stronghold for this species due to the committed work of many individual birdwatchers and the local Forest Bird Study Group. However this is the first time Turtle Doves have been surveyed as a single species in the north of England. We would not have been able to achieve these detailed results without the hard work of our volunteer surveyors. I started this project as a volunteer myself, keen to help these beautiful birds and I hoped other people would feel the same. Thankfully a small army have now joined the Turtle Dove brigade! Here’s a quote from George Day, one of our volunteer surveyors this year; “Being part of such an exciting project has been fantastic. It’s been a real treat to spend dawn in the forest with purring Turtle Doves”.

Carrying out these surveys can be fun in themselves, but we are often asked what happens to the data collected and is there a direct benefit to Turtle Doves? Within the first six months of this project the data collected by volunteers so far has been used to identify and target the best areas to set up new feeding sites and attempt to improve nesting habitat. I can now visit a farm, explain to the land manager how important their land is for Turtle Doves based on how many birds are nearby. This makes a huge difference to the delivery of the project.

Richard presenting to an end of term meeting of Turtle Dove volunteers, Dalby Visitor Centre 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working hard to spread the word and plan sites for new and improved habitat to create in 2018. I have a Heritage Lottery Fund target to deliver 40 talks to groups in the three years of the project and I’m pleased to be on course to complete 20 by the end of the first year! It seems a lot of people want to learn about and help these iconic birds. From a small village community in Sawdon to a national Forestry Commission conference the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove roadshow is purring its way around our beautiful county and beyond….

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partner logos

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.

 

Turtle Doves: back with a purr

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

In my time as a birdwatcher I have learnt to identify any large pigeon-like bird crashing through the trees as a blundering Woodpigeon. These very successful birds are with us all year round fattening up on our winter bird tables.

Turtle Doves however are a very different story* – more remarkable and more refined, no clattering of wings, just a delicate flutter and an enticing soft purr. The Turtle name is presumed to come from the latinisation of their call: turr turr. The Turtle Dove is currently considered a high conservation priority in the UK because of severe population decline, and is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

NYM Turtle Dove - coyright Steve Race

The Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) is the smallest member of the European dove family but it flies the furthest during migration; a bird nicknamed Titan was radio tracked in 2014 and found to have flown 11,200 km from Mali back to its nesting site in Suffolk. He flew up to 700 km per night, at speeds up to 60 km per hour!

This year our North York Moors Turtle Doves have arrived back from Africa on time despite the cold north winds in early spring. Our first bird was seen on 16 April near Pickering. This was perfect timing for the start of my role as the HLF funded Turtle Dove Project Officer a few weeks later.

As the spring has developed our vital group of volunteer bird surveyors have been out and about recording Turtle Doves in known sites where they were present last year and in new sites offering similar habitats. Our project area survey is one of only two formal, locally based Turtle Dove surveys in the UK this year and the only one in the north of England. We’ll be looking to extend this surveying into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 2018.

One of the known sites for Turtle Doves is the National Park Centre at Sutton Bank. Up to three birds were recorded here in May visiting the bird feeding station, usually when there were fewer visitors around. Turtle Doves can be shy and wary. We are collecting lots of data on the birds at Sutton Bank and have a special Turtle Dove sightings book in which we want visitors to note their sightings – so if you are up at the Centre and you see the Turtle Doves, please add your report.

Using reported sightings we’ve identified the initial villages along the southern edge of the North York Moors which have small populations of the bird (< 6) and where we hope to start building community links and engagement.

During the next couple of months if you’re lucky enough to see or hear a Turtle Dove in or around the North York Moors, please let us know. The best time to hear them is either very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Example of Turtle Dove habitat - forest edge, Cropton Forest - copyright Richard Baines

*Footnote: The Turtle Dove has long been culturally associated with true love and devotion.

“..Oh yonder doth sit that little turtle dove
It doth sit on yonder high tree
A making a moan for the loss of his love
As I will do for thee, My dear
As I will do for thee”

Two Turtle Doves, one Turtle Dove, and then there were none

We’re beginning a new three-year project (Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor) with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund* through their ‘Our Heritage’ grant. We want to try and help our local population of Turtle Doves. The species is declining dramatically in the UK and is considered vulnerable to global extinction. The North York Moors still has a small population of the birds which currently breed here over the summer before migrating back to Africa.

Turtle Doves - copyright RSPB.

We know that Turtle Doves have been recorded mainly around the forests on the southern fringe of the North York Moors. Through our project we want to establish what it is that the Turtle Doves favour in terms of farmland/forest edge habitat here and then provide informed advice and carry out conservation work to secure and enhance these habitats to maintain our local population. We’re aiming to assist the birds by ensuring there are suitable plants for seed to eat throughout the summer, and also by providing clean supplementary seed in spring. The spring seed will help the birds reach breeding condition quickly once they arrive back following migration and this should hopefully improve breeding success.

We will be commissioning annual surveys and working with local volunteers on supplementary surveys, as well as asking the general public to submit sightings. The conclusions from the data collected will build up an understanding and help target and tailor advice to land managers whose land is, or could be, supporting the species though simple actions or help into an agri-environment scheme. The idea is that this will not only benefit Turtle Doves, but other declining farmland birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge and wider biodiversity interests such as cornfield flowers, wildflower grasslands and pollinating insects.

We’re looking to build on synergies developed with the Cornfield Flowers Project, a long term arable flora conservation initiative and its existing network of conservation-minded farmers which provides a model for engagement and a source of farmer champions. We want to expand this engagement and use farm and woodland managers as advocates to share knowledge and best practice.

We’ll also be involving other parts of local communities as well as visitors – through interpretation, events and talks – sharing how to identify the Turtle Dove, where it goes on its perilous cross continent migration, why it needs assistance and what that entails. The more people appreciate the species as part of their natural heritage, the better placed the species will be to get the active help it needs to survive. We will be working with Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils to manage public land for the benefit of the species e.g. roadside verges, village greens, churchyards, cemeteries; and we’ll be advising what people could do in their own gardens. Hopefully small actions will have beneficial consequences for the birds and for the people who then get to see and hear Turtle Doves in their own locality.

As well as the HLF and the National Park Authority, other project partners include the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, Scarborough Borough Council, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and crucially volunteers as well as the land managers and the local communities on the ground.

Turtle Dove - copyright THINKSTOCK.

We want to do what we can to prevent local extinction and to contribute as much as we can to the conservation of the species nationally so as many people as possible can get to hear the Turtle Dove’s evocative purring call first hand.

We’ll let you know what’s happening and how to get involved as the project develops.

* The project is part of the HLF’s campaign – Yorkshire’s Back Garden – to re-connect people to their natural heritage.

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

 

A ‘Gothic’ icon

Ravens (Corvus corax) are a relatively common bird in some places. In the British Isles they currently breed mainly in the west and north. But they have been moving eastwards.

Single Ravens are now and again seen over the North York Moors. Excitingly, this summer saw the first breeding Ravens in the North York Moors for a long while, at least 50 years. Three chicks fledged.

Adult Raven near Ravenscar - copyright Graham Oliver, BTO.

The nest was near Ravenscar on the coast. Ravenscar and other places in the North York Moors such as Raven Hill, Raven Heath, Ravensthorpe, Raven Stones, Ravens Gill and Ravensgill Beck, usually share some kind of nearby cliff edge habitat (coastal or inland) where Ravens like to nest. The occurrence of these place names indicate that Ravens were more usual in the North York Moors in the past, so the fact that they have bred again in the North York Moors suggests a return and a boost to the natural heritage of the area.

These places were named so because of the presence of Ravens; Ravens have always been culturally significant. It’s not hard to see why. Their size, colour and sound is striking, but it is also their perceived cleverness, their carrion eating habits and their interaction with human society which gives them a special place in cultural history. Ravens have been loaded with superstitions and connotations. Wariness of the apparent watching and knowing nature of the bird causes unease. They are associated with premonitions of doom; seeing or hearing a Raven has been taken as a sign of imminent death. These dark associations continue, at least in part, today.

Raven - the Watcher by JestePhotography. http://jestephotography.deviantart.com/art/Raven-The-Watcher-532656250.

So in celebration of this age old cultural fear and to mark Halloween, here is an example of a local Raven tale. The lesson is – never look a Raven in the eye.

Some time ago a man was walking home over the moors.

It was already dusk but he didn’t mind because he didn’t have much further to go and he had made money that day.

He knew the way because he had walked it many times before. He counted the scarce land marks as he went till he knew there were only three more boundary stones to pass before the moors would give way to a gentler landscape and then it was only a few miles to his home.

As the gloom drew in he saw the first of the three boundary stones just ahead of him. A Raven was sitting on top of the stone. As the man went passed the bird didn’t fly away, instead it looked at him, cocked its head and called out in the silence

“Craaw craaw”
“Corpse corpse”

The man turned his head. The Raven still looked at him.

“Craaw craaw”

The man hurried on. He was starting to feel tired but he could see the glow of the lights of his village in the distance just over the horizon of the darkening moors. He thought about the warmth of his fire and the taste of his dinner.

It was getting colder and the greyness around him was turning to black. There were no stars in the sky, and he couldn’t see the moon. There were odd shapes on the moors, in the gloom – ancient silent burial mounds and twisted bitter rowan trees.

Just in front he saw the outline of the second boundary stone. There was a Raven sitting on top. The man didn’t look at it – he walked straight on, looking ahead. The Raven looked at him though.

“Craaw craaw”
“Corpse corpse”
“Corpse corpse”

The man pulled his coat around him. He didn’t know why he was mishearing the bird call. He tried to hum a tune, but he couldn’t think of one.

For a moment he thought about heading off the track to avoid the last boundary stone but he knew he couldn’t because then he would be lost. He thought about the people he’d heard of that had been lost on the moors and who had never got home.

He kept walking. He felt the damp blackness pressing about him. He couldn’t see the last boundary stone. He thought he should have seen it by now. The glow on the horizon didn’t seem any closer, in fact it looked to be receding as if it were being out blotted out by the dark.

He stumbled and nearly fell. There was the last boundary stone and there was a Raven.

“Corpse corpse”
“Corpse corpse”
“Corpse corpse”

The man stopped and looked at the Raven. The Raven looked back at him, eye to eye.

The man became aware of the dead around him and knew in fact he must be dead too. He could go on walking but would never get home. So instead he sat down next to the last boundary stone and waited.

The darkness gathered in.

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Ravens make a lot of different noises (listen here) – and can even learn to mimic words.

For a Halloween Raven-themed treat – both ominous and ghastly – try here.

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