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

A to Z: a gathering of Gs

G

GARDENS

The Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England, was established in 1983 (National Heritage Act) and is managed by Historic England. It currently identifies over 1,600 significant sites across the country, ranging from the grounds of large stately homes to small domestic gardens, as well other designed landscapes such as town squares, public parks and cemeteries. The register aims to “celebrate designed landscapes of note, and encourage appropriate protection” so as to safeguard the features and qualities of these key landscapes into the future. The designation is on a par with scheduling and listing and therefore provides legal protection which means it is a material consideration in the planning process.

Within the National Park we have four entries on the national Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

Arncliffe Hall – A small 3 hectare site, Arncliffe Hall gardens include two walled enclosures, grass terraces, a summerhouse, and two L shaped canals. The Hall was built between 1753 and 1754 and the gardens and pleasure grounds had been laid out by the 1770s. Alterations have since been made, although the structure of the gardens has remained broadly intact.

The Hall gardens are not open to the public.

Duncombe Park – This 285 hectare park was created in the early 18th century and early to mid-19th century on the site of a medieval deer park associated with Helmsley Castle. It was described as “pleasure grounds” with a curving terrace, blocks of woodland with curving paths and a serpentine ha-ha. It is one of the earliest examples of a ha-ha in the country (around 1718-23) – the walled ditch demarcates between the garden and the thrilling ‘wilder’ landscape beyond without breaking up the important vista. The Park retains elements of both the formal, symmetrical garden style and the later more picturesque “English garden” style.

The Park still contains a large number of veteran trees and is considered the most important parkland in the north of England for dead-wood insects.

The Duncombe Park gardens are open to the public – please see the Duncombe Park website.

Rievaulx Terrace – This 23 hectare site forms a terrace laid out in about 1758 with views of the valley of the Rye and the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. The layout of the Terrace with the emphasis on unfolding views rather than formal axes was departure at the time and has been described as ‘a landmark in the development of English Landscape style’ and ‘a superlative example of large-scale landscape gardening’. The Terrace was part of the Duncombe Park Estate and the picturesque dramatic ruins of Rievaulx Abbey presented the ultimate landscape Folly.

The Terrace is open to the public – please see the National Trust website.

Mulgrave Castle – A 350 hectare park which was laid out by the first Earl of Mulgrave in the late 18th century and early 19th century incorporating proposals of Humphry Repton (the last great English landscape designer of the 18th century, often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown). A series of drives took in the most dramatic and aesthetic features. The Park makes full use of its ‘wild’ rural setting and encompasses the steep valleys of the Sandsend Beck and East Row Beck, as well as the romantic ruins of the old Castle.

The Park is occasionally open to the public, by invitation.

GEOLOGY and GEOMORPHOLOGY

‘The region forms one of the most natural divisions of Yorkshire possessing its own special physical boundaries’ Frank Elgee, 1912.

The North York Moors stands out from the surrounding lowland landscape to the north and west, stands up against the North Sea in the east, and to the south slopes more gently down into the Vale of Pickering. The North York Moors were originally designated as a National Park because of its landscape. The land forms and land management which result in the changing landscape are a result of the underlying geology.

From Geology of the North York Moors by Alan Staniforth, North York Moors National Park 1990

The geology of the North York Moors is made up largely of layers of sedimentary rock formed under water during the Jurassic Age. The exception is the Cleveland (Whinstone) Dyke which cuts across the area and is an igneous seam forced vertically upwards as molten lava. The last Ice Age, around two million years ago, meant the North York Moors plateau was surrounded on three sides by ice sheets. The effects of the ice itself, and then as it retreated, had huge effects on the land forms along the edges e.g. the western scarp, the Newtondale and Forge Valley glacial meltwater channels. Sedimentary rocks continue to erode over time, due to the wind, rain and the sea, and so the landscape continues to morph – this can be seen most dramatically now along the coastal edge. In a number of places where softer shale rocks have eroded away, the harder sedimentary rocks remain as outcrops e.g. Bridestones.

Formed under water sedimentary rocks contain the fossilised remains of animals and plants deposited on the sea floor which is why this area is so well known for fossils. There was a thriving industry on the coast in the 19th century where dealers were happy to supply real, and not so real, fossils and other historic artefacts to collectors.

Geology shaped in prehistory continues to affect the more recent history of the North York Moors. The sedimentary rock groups include elements which have been quarried and mined, and vestiges of these industries can still be seen today. These minerals, valuable enough at one time or another to encourage exploitation, have included jet, coal, alum, and ironstone; as well as limestone and whinstone for building materials. The needs of the industrial revolution led to advances in geology/geomorphology because it was financially important to be able to understand and identify where the best mineral seams could be most easily accessed. The latest minerals of the North York Moors area to be valued are potash and polyhalite. Oil and gas (created by fossilisation) are also present in the sedimentary rock stratification.

GOLDEN-RINGED DRAGONFLY (Cordulegaster boltonii)

Female adult golden-ringed dragonfly - from yorkshiredragonflies.org.ukThis particular dragonfly species favours watercourses and waterbodies in upland heathland areas, including the North York Moors. One of the places it can be seen is the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Fen Bog Nature Reserve.

The majority of the life of a dragonfly is spent as a nymph living in water and predating on other creatures including fish. The short lived adult emerges from the larval stage when it leaves the water, begins to breathe and breaks out of its old skin. Adult dragonflies are a spectacular summer sight in England where native wildlife is seldom flashy, because of their unusual size and their eye catching bright colours.

GOLDEN PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

Golden Plover - copyright Mike Nicholas

The Golden Plover is a wading bird. A wader is any species of longish legged bird that feeds in shallow water. The Golden Plover is one of a number of wader species that breed on the North York Moors – the other main species being Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. Golden Plover spend spring and summer on the moorland and along the moorland/farmland edge (inbye). They are a ground nesting bird preferring shorter managed vegetation so they can see approaching predators. Like most ground nesting birds they are often more easily heard than seen.

The major moorland area of the North York Moors National Park is an internationally important habitat for Golden Plover and because of this Golden Plover population (as well as its Merlin population) the area has been designated as a Special Protection Area. Our most recent Moorland Breeding Wader survey (2014) found the highest densities of Golden Plover on record in this area.

Goldilocks Buttercup - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAGOLDILOCKS (Ranunculus auricomus)

The Goldilocks Buttercup (sometimes known as Wood Buttercup) is a small low growing straggly plant that flowers in April/May. It has bright yellow flowers with uneven misshapen looking petals. It is often found in Ancient Woodlands sites growing in moist glades, on hedge banks and along shrubby margins, and as a ‘calcicole’ it thrives on chalk, limestone and other basic soils.

There are orphan Goldilocks within Helmsley Churchyard. To the north of the churchyard is Beckdale which is still wooded and here the plant grows alongside the beck – just downstream the same beck runs through through a culvert in the Churchyard. The Goldilocks could be a surviving remnant from woodland on the site over 1,000 years ago.

GOOSEBERIES

The Egton Bridge Gooseberry Society has maintained the competitive northern tradition of showing and comparing the heaviest gooseberries grown, since approximately 1800. The Egton Gooseberry Show is held every year on the first Tuesday in August – and is all about this deliciously juicy cultivated fruit.

The wild relation (Ribes uva-crispa) can be found occasionally in old hedgerows.

GOTHSIllustration by Abigail Rorer from Dracula - www.foliosociety.com

The Goths, or Visigoths, were a Germanic Tribe largely responsible for the fall of the Western Roman Empire. But it’s not that type of Goth that congregate in Whitby at least twice a year. Our Goths are those who celebrate the darker side of existence and share an appreciation of the morbid and the beauty of horror, and you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of people. They are drawn to Whitby because of its association with Dracula, a personification of the Gothic. Hopefully on their way over the moors to Whitby they enjoy the dark brooding skies and the grim lonely landscapes of the North York Moors.

GRASSLAND

2014-06-30 Species Rich Grassland at Sutton Bank - Red Clover, Quaking Grass, Fairy Flax - by Kirsty Brown, NYMNPAGrasslands are extremely important habitats supporting a wide range of plant and animal species. A large part of our grassland habitats resource has been lost in the National Park, like elsewhere in the country, through agricultural intensification where land has been ‘improved’ by using fertiliser and re-seeding to increase productivity and make a better living. Species rich unimproved grasslands still exist in the National Park, though they are now often small and isolated remnants of habitats that used to be widespread – in 2012 it was calculated that of the 45,000 hectares of grassland in the North York Moors only approximately 1,150 hectares were species rich grassland. These small areas hang on where their location or terrain has made it difficult to intensify management, for example on steep banks and in awkward field corners. Roadside verges can also retain valuable grassland flora.

In the Tabular Hills, along the southern edge of the North York Moors, diverse species-rich calcareous grasslands can still be found. However, these grasslands are at risk; under grazing can lead to scrub encroachment, whereas over grazing can cause erosion and loss of vegetation structure and plant species. Lowland Calcareous Grassland* is a priority habitat that the National Park seeks to conserve, restore and where possible create.

Locally, there is a lot more good quality, semi-improved grasslands in the North York Moors which despite being species rich, do not qualify as a species rich priority habitat because they don’t reach the abundance threshold. Instead these grasslands are classed as ‘good quality semi-improved or degraded grassland of high species richness’, or ‘semi-improved grassland of moderate species richness’. These grasslands are often farmed but just aren’t ‘improved’ to the level of other fields.

Our grasslands may have been slightly more species poor historically than grasslands elsewhere in the country e.g. the Yorkshire Dales because they are close to acid moorland soils and not surrounded by calcareous geology and consequently do not typically have an abundance of calcareous (limestone) species. However, for this National Park they are still locally valuable habitats supporting a diverse flora and associated species and well worth conserving for biodiversity and landscape reasons. This is one of the main aims of our Habitat Connectivity initiative.

*The North York Moors is mostly under 300 metres altitude which is the approximate dividing line between ‘lowland’ and ‘upland’ habitats.

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

Catchment Trilogy – Part 3: wildlife wonderland

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer I’m the Catchment Partnership Officer for the Esk and Coastal Stream Catchment and I love rivers! A big part of my role is surveying along the River Esk and its tributaries. I get to … Continue reading

Positive messaging from the Midlands

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

I’ve recently returned from the lowlands of Leicestershire and three days training with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). The BASIS Conservation Management course was highly informative, well led and thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part.

The Trust’s own Allerton Farm Project at Loddington  was the venue for the course – a 272 hectare mixed farm enterprise that is innovative in its approach to conservation management. One of the first things I noticed when I drove into the village was the amount of farmland birdlife, so I knew somebody was doing something right in terms of conservation land management.

The course covered all of the different elements required when managing farmland for conservation and wildlife, alongside profit. We covered a multitude of subjects including Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, Minimum Tillage systems, Biobeds for pesticide removal, increasing farm energy efficiency, recent pesticide developments, Biodiversity 2020 strategy, Farm Assurance Schemes, Cross Compliance regulations, gamekeeping for wildlife management, maintaining soil sustainability, improving water quality, tackling non-native invasive species, and managing farm woodlands. Starting off in the classroom the lessons were then observed in practice across the farm.

Gamekeeping techniques in practice at Loddington - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA

Settlement ponds seperate out soil particles and reduce run off before water returns to the ditch system at Loddington - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA

The Allerton Farm Project targets management for specific (Red and Amber Status) species such as Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Bullfinch, Tree Sparrow and Skylark. Cultivating a mixture of high hedges, managed grass buffer strips, plots for nesting in amongst the cereal crop as well as putting up nest boxes, has added to the aggregate of necessary habitats and increased habitat diversity on the farm.

The farm has benefited from a number of agri-environment grants over the years but is by no means reliant on these. If there is something that an agri-environment scheme promotes but doesn’t fit in with farm practices it isn’t taken up. However this is relatively rare, and the general thinking is that farms should take advantage of these schemes where possible and can do so with a little assistance.

Energy efficiency and recycling are common threads within sustainable farm management and our classroom for the three days was a good example of an energy efficient building: surrounded and insulated by straw bales, heated by a biomass boiler and lit via solar panels on the roof.

The afternoon of Day Three meant sitting a two and a half hour exam – as a middle aged man that’s something that some of us on the course hadn’t done for many a year. I’ll find out how well I’ve done when the results come through in a few weeks!

The Allerton Farm Project is a great example of how mixed farming and wildlife conservation can work in practice, and benefit species recovery and landscape enhancement.

Beetle Bank seeded with a mix of species including Teasel, Yarrow and Knapweed to benefit farmland birds at Loddington - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA

All in all, I learnt a lot and one of the positive messages I’m taking away is that on every farm there is always something that can be done to benefit wildlife without having to lose out on money in the process. I’ll carry these thoughts with me as I start back on my day job in the North York Moors, refreshed and revitalised from my three days at Loddington.

The Allerton Farm Project has its own Research Blog.

Barn fit for an owl

Tammy Naylor – resident of Esk Valley and member of the This Exploited Land Executive Group

Now that the new footbridge spans the Murk Esk near the hamlet of Esk Valley I am regularly meeting friends from Dale End and Green End, not to mention seeing the early morning silver flash of our newly arrived barn owl. A beautiful sight greets the dawn as he spreads his wings and rises over the bridge, looking for rodents, before circling the old building connected with the whinstone mining, set in the bend of the river.

Historically Esk Valley and Green End were closely associated with whinstone mining. Whinstone is a hard basaltic rock formed when the Cleveland dyke cut up through local rocks during Tertiary times. Mines and quarries were opened on both sides of the valley in the 19th century, the stone being either crushed for road making material or knapped into stone setts to pave the streets of West Yorkshire. For the observant the dyke itself can be seen in the bed of the river under the railway viaduct and the Rail Trail dissects it in a short but deep cutting near the bridge. The newly resurrected bridleway follows the railway that brought the rock to the main Whitby to Pickering Railway for transportation. The barn that the owl sees as the perfect location is built of a jumble of brick linings from the nearby Beckhole Ironworks. These are both stories waiting to be told as part of This Exploited Land, along with the recycling of the abandoned industrial landscape by the natural environment.

The photo below is of the whinstone workers on the Green End side of the valley from circa 1900. The three ponies brought the stone out of the drifts and across the old bridge. They were housed in a now demolished stable in an old orchard off the Rail Trail.

Whinstone workers, Green End c. 1900 - from the Naylor Collection.

TEL COMBINED LOGOS

Winter visitors

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

As winter approaches, avian visitors arrive from the north and east to spend winter in the British Isles where the climate is milder and food is more abundant. These visiting birds will then leave our shores to head for their breeding grounds in springtime.

Two well-known and widespread winter visitors to the North York Moors, and across the UK, are the winter thrushes – Redwing and Fieldfare. Flocks are a well-known sight in our British countryside with hundreds of birds arriving each year looking for food.

Redwings Turdus iliacus

Redwing - http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/ce3cd0beac24186666bee91e279da9ecaecd0321.jpg

Redwings tend to arrive from Iceland and Scandinavia to winter in the UK before heading south to breed come springtime. Although a very small number have been known to breed in the far north of Scotland. These small thrushes are dark brown above and white below, with a black-streaked breast and orange-red flanks and underwing. The birds look for open countryside to feed on berries in hedgerows and on farmland; making the landscape of the North York Moors an ideal location. However Redwings have a nomadic nature depending on food availability and weather conditions which means they will also travel to built up areas, parks and gardens.

Fieldfares Turdus pilaris

Fieldfare - http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/About/General/2010/1/11/1263232128755/A-fieldfare-001.jpg

Fieldfares, like Redwings, begin to arrive in October and head to open countryside to feed on berry-laden bushes. Fieldfares have a chestnut-brown back and yellow breast streaked with black, a black tail, dark wings and pale grey rump and head. They can often be seen in large flocks mixing with Redwings and roaming the countryside in the same search for food. This large colourful thrush will also come into gardens to feed if the weather conditions are poor. Holding back cutting hedges and bushes with berries on such as Hawthorn, Rowan, Holly and Rosehips is a help for these birds.

Waxwings Bombycilla garrulous

Waxwing - http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/PHOTO/LARGE/bohemian_waxwing_sim_3.jpg

Waxwings are not annual winter visitors to the British Isles but they do arrive irregularly en masse in an event termed an ‘irruption’. This will happen every 10 years or so and is often termed a ‘waxwing winter’ where large numbers of birds travel to the UK from their usual winter residence in Scandinavia. Waxwings usually turn up in the north and east of the country and this is typically the result of a lack of food. These birds are very distinctive with a Mohican style crest and red tips on the wings giving an impression that they have been dipped in wax. Waxwings, like the winter thrushes, will move on when food runs out at one location, often visiting our gardens looking for food with their favourites being Rowan and Hawthorn berries.

Catchment Trilogy – Part 1

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer

It’s been a year since the River Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership was established and we have a lot to be pleased about!

The new initiative – the River Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership – has brought together the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) and the North York Moors National Park Authority to pool knowledge and resources to improve and safeguard the catchment’s valuable ecosystems. Our Partnership has the support of DEFRA which, in 2013, rolled out the Catchment Based Approach idea across the UK promoting the need to work together to protect and improve our river catchments, with particular focus on sharing the knowledge, skills and expertise of local people.

I was appointed the Catchment Partnership Officer to help deliver our three year Action Plan which sets out a range of projects including river habitat improvements, fisheries monitoring and wider community engagement initiatives.

The main watercourse of Esk and Coastal Streams management catchment is the 28 mile River Esk which flows through some of the area’s most outstanding scenery. Its catchment is almost wholly within the North York Moors National Park – heather moorland, valleys of farmland, ancient woodlands and stone built villages – it reaches the North Sea at Whitby, just outside the National Park boundary. The river hosts a variety of wildlife which rely on it to survive including Freshwater pearl mussel, Water vole, Atlantic salmon, Sea trout/Brown trout (same species), Sand martin, Dippers, Kingfisher and Otters (which are found now in increasing numbers).

Atlantic salmon lifecycle - http://www.nasco.int/atlanticsalmon.html

Atlantic salmon lifecycle - egg deposition in gravels - http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/habitat/spawningbed_protection/redd.html

Over the last year we have secured funding to deliver particular projects in the Catchment – the People’s Postcode Lottery is funding the delivery of our Discovering the Esk project (look out for a future blog post) and the Environment Agency’s Catchment Partnership Action Fund is funding our Glaisdale Beck Restoration Project. Glaisdale Beck is a tributary of the River Esk and suffers from a number of issues affecting water quality, which inevitably in-turn affect the aquatic life found within the beck. Our restoration project is addressing these issues, such as:

Fine sediment – this causes huge problems for spawning fish including Atlantic salmon and sea trout, as a layer of fine sediment over spawning gravels (where fish eggs are deposited within the gravel) starves eggs or young fish (alevins) of oxygen. It also affects species such as the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

Nutrients and organic matter, and bacterial loading from dirty water run-off from farms and livestock having access to the watercourse.

Riverfly Monitoring Volunteer - copyright NYMNPAPollution incidents – we have established a team of local people to act as Riverfly Monitoring Volunteers to assess water quality on a monthly basis by monitoring aquatic invertebrates that are very sensitive to water quality. There are 30 sites being monitored across the catchment, including sites in Glaisdale, so if the number and diversity of aquatic invertebrates drop the Volunteers can alert YERT of any apparent pollution or other trigger incidents so the source can be tackled quickly and the effects limited.

 

Habitat deterioration both in-channel and along the riparian corridor – working with local farmers capital works will be undertaken over the next few months which will help to improve the water quality and riparian habitats of Glaisdale Beck:

  • 2,481 metres of fencing adjacent to Glaisdale Beck will prevent livestock  Example of stock fencing and riparian buffer in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPAaccessing the beck and stop stock excrement entering the river, and also stop the bank sides becoming broken up and bare of vegetation because of stock. The newly formed buffer strips within the fencing will allow riparian vegetation to develop and trees to become established, stabilising the banks and catching sediments and nutrients that may run off neighbouring fields.
  • 5 drinking bays and 2 cattle pasture pumps will be installed because we’re fencing off the access to Glaisdale Beck so we obviously need to install new water supplies for stock.
  • 2 crossing points will be strengthened where there are pinch points in the landscape which livestock pass through on a regular basis. Crossing points can become poached (muddy and eroded) and loose sediments are then easily washed into any nearby watercourse. Crossing points benefit from the laying of hard surfaces such as concrete sleepers to lessen the poaching.

Example of crossing point in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPA

Example of improved crossing point with concrete sleepers in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPA

  • 60 trees will be planted to bolster the age structure of riparian trees in the dale and help stabilise the banks with their impressive root systems.

Example of new tree planting in Esk Catchment, for stronger banksides - copyright NYMNPA

As usual, teams of National Park Volunteers have already been hard at work in the catchment doing management tasks that make such a difference such as removing derelict fences, repairing existing fence lines and installing new ones. Over the next couple of months they will be carrying out other tasks such as tree planting too. As always, thanks to all of them for their hard work!

National Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPA

National Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPANational Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPA

Beside the sea

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

The spectacular coastline that makes up the eastern edge of the North York Moors National Park consists of a great number of composite habitats which in turn are home to a great number of complex plants and animals. The number of habitats – from grasslands to woodlands, farmland to coastal slope, rocky shore to marine environment – means the biodiversity interest on the coast is particularly abundant.

North York Moors coastal landscape - looking out to sea - NYMNPA

On the clifftop farmland plateau, a network of traditional field boundaries provide corridors for a variety of wildlife. Small mammals such as Field voles, Mice and Shrews take advantage of the cover that old walls and growing hedges offer, whilst high in the hedgerows farmland birds such as Yellowhammer, Linnet, Whitethroat and Goldfinch call out to mark their territories and deter predators from their nest sites. Old stone walls and also buildings offer cover for herptiles along the coast such as Slow worms and Adders. The large open fields on the clifftop are often lookout points for Brown hare and Roe deer at dawn and at dusk.

Yellowhammers - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Slow worm - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Hare - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Intersecting the plateau there are coastal woodland gills (narrow valley with stream) running down to the sea which contain their own microclimates. Sycamore often dominate the frontage to coastal gill woodlands as they seem to tolerate the cold north easterly winds; further up the gills where the growing conditions are less harsh, indicators of ancient woodlands are prevalent. English Oak and Ash are common along with a healthy understory of Hazel, Holly, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. Below this layer during springtime a plethora of ground flora comes to life with Wild garlic, Lesser celandine, Wood anenome and Dog-violets providing dashes of colour to the woodland floor.

Wild garlic - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Hayburn Wyke near Cloughton retains many native tree species growing alongside more recently planted introductions such as Larch and Rhododendron, a Victorian favourite! Introduced into the United Kingdom from Southern Europe and South East Asia in the late 19th century, Rhododendron flowers may be pretty, but the plant has become a serious problem in many woodlands due to its vigorous ability to colonise via seed and underground suckers. In doing so the evergreen canopy of the bush shades out much of the native ground flora leaving a barren ground layer below. Which is why the National Trust at Hayburn Wyke are actively controlling this non-native invasive species and bringing the native ground flora back to life.

Magic wood of Hayburn Wyke by robiuk - http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/North_Yorkshire/Cloughton_Newlands/photo155135.htm

The coastal cliffs and crags are temporary homes to seabirds such as Kittiwakes, FulmarsCommon gulls and Herring gulls before they take to the wing and patrol the waters below. Sand martin colonies also exist in the soft cliffs if you know where to look. Kestrels and the occasional Peregrine falcon will also use the craggy outcrops as they search for prey on the undercliffs and rocky shore.

Kittiwakes - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Coastal slope grasslands on the undercliff (below soft cliffs) offer some of the most unimproved habitats in the whole of the National Park. They have evaded the plough and fertiliser spreader and have therefore remained an almost natural habitat with an abundance of wild plant life. The grasslands are home to a variety of orchid species but these can become choked by ranker vegetation such as bracken and bramble. This is where management is needed to conserve the best features of the habitat through grazing by livestock to keep the invasive domineering species in check. In the sheltered hollows within the cliffs mosses and lichens grow, the lichens being good indicators of unpolluted, clean air in the atmosphere.

Exmoor ponies grazing the coastal slope - NYMNPA

Butterwort, Beast Cliff - NYMNPA

Marine life abounds along the rocky shore between land and sea – intertidal habitats. Covered by seawater twice a day, plants and animals that live in the rock pools are super resilient and have adapted to the constant flooding and desiccation that the harsh coastal environment brings. Barnacles, Blennies, Butterfish, Anemones, Periwinkles, Dog whelks and Limpets have all developed intricate methods of survival as the tides recedes for 6 hours before returning to overtop their pools and hiding places and plunge them underwater again. Common seals and Grey seals also regularly visit our shores during the summer and autumn months, hauling out at the remotest headlands to rest and give birth to pups.Rocky Shore - tide out - near Port Mulgrave - NYMNPA

Periwinkles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Marine mussles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Limpets - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Out into the sea along the North York Moors coast marine cetaceans thrive during the summer months. Along with Bottlenose dolphin and Harbour porpoise, five different species of Whale have been recorded off the coast not that far from the shore – Pilot, Fin, Sei, Minke and even Humpback whales – as they follow the herring shoals around the North Sea.

Dolphin - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

What with cliffs, crags, caves, coves, crabs and cobblestones this post on the coast was meant to be part of the next instalment of our North York Moors National Park A to Z – but it just felt like it needed its own space.

A to Z – a bounty of Bs

B

BEES

It’s estimated that bees contribute £651 million a year to the UK economy – largely through pollination of crops such as apples and strawberries, of which a large percentage depend on pollination by bees. Unlike other pollinators, such as wasps, mosquitos, ants, moths, flies and beetles, bees rely solely on pollen as a food source, just as plants rely on the bees to reproduce. The resulting co-evolution of the two has meant that bees are especially efficient pollinators and can pollinate a vast range of species. These plants then provide animals (including humans) with a rich variety of fruit, nuts and seeds to feed on. Contrary to popular belief, only 4 out of the 250,000 species of bee in the world produce honey.

Bumblebee - NYMNPABees are in decline due to various cumulative reasons such as intense grazing regimes, use of some pesticides, loss of field margins and hedgerows. At the moment there is a lot of interest in bees and their future e.g. see Defra’s National Pollinators Strategy. In the National Park our efforts are going into conserving, extending and connecting species-rich habitats (through the Habitat Connectivity project) to help support the migration of bees between nesting and feeding sites. The Cornfield Flowers Project and the management of species rich roadside verges help to provide the vital ‘stepping stones’ and ‘corridors’ for bees and other pollinators moving across the landscape. Gardens can do the same thing.

BEE BOLES

Bee bole wall, Glaisdale - NYMNPA

Bee boles are cavities or hollows built into walls to provide shelter for bee skeps which were woven baskets used before the development of bee hive structures you see today. One of our best examples is in Glaisdale and consists of a drystone wall forming the boundary between enclosed (farmland) and common (moorland) land since at least the 17th century. The north face of the drystone wall is crudely constructed from drystone rubble but the sunnier south face contains about 77 recesses or remains of recesses. These recesses vary in size and are formed from two stone dressed uprights and a lintel – in many cases the uprights are shared between adjacent recesses. Each recess would have accommodated a skep or two. The intention was probably for the bees to access the flowering heather on the moorland during the summer. The feature is associated with a farmstead just to the north which is linked to the common land by a ‘driftway’ forming a funnel like track which was probably once paved. The wall has been repaired over time indicating it was valued – it was most recently repaired in 2013/14 because it is still valued as a local cultural and historical asset.

BIODIVERSITY – what is it?

‘Biodiversity’ encompasses all life, from the birds singing outside your window to the bacteria growing on your keyboard. The interaction between animals and plants within a habitat (your garden, for instance) is called an ecosystem in which various food chains interlink. The larger and more diverse the ecosystem, the less likely animals within it are going to be affected by environmental changes, and the more likely the community is to thrive. Not only does a biodiverse ecosystem have intrinsic value, but it also provides social and economic benefit. Supply of food, water and the fresh air all rely on biodiversity in nature, as well as more obscure necessities such as the discovery of new medicines, protection against natural disasters, the pollination of crops and the regulation of our climate.

Biodiversity 2020 is a worldwide agreement, signed in 2010 by over 190 countries, to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2020. Here at the North York Moors National Park, we’re doing all we can to live up to the agreement but we can‘t do it alone; local landowners, farmers and other members of the public are involved in practical conservation to help secure and improve the local biodiversity of the North York Moors – a small but integral component of the world’s biodiversity.

BLUEBELLS

The UK is home to almost half of the world’s population of the British bluebell, Hyacinthoides nonscripta. They are important enough to the nation to have been protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which means it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild bluebells.

It can easily be distinguished from its Spanish relation by looking at the flowers; whereas Spanish plants are upright with bell-shaped flowers on either side of the stem, British plants are much droopier, with darker, narrower flowers falling on one side of the stem. You need to watch out though, for hybrids of the two are becoming increasingly common and aren’t so easy to classify.

Woodland near Hawnby - NYMNPA

Bluebells are usually found in shady habitats such as broadleaved woodland and emerge in spring, flowering before the trees gain all their leaves and block out the majority of the sunlight. They’re actually extremely slow at growing so some ecologists believe that if bluebells are present and yet there are no young trees or any trees at all, it could indicate that it was once a site of ancient woodland where the trees have been lost or have declined but the associated ground flora lingers on. Where there are no trees at all anymore, remnant bluebells are known as “orphans”.

Not all bluebells are blue - photo from Dalby area, North York Moors

BOBBY SHAFTO…

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,

Silver buckles on his knee;

He’ll come back and marry me,

Bonny Bobby Shafto.

 

Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,

Combing down his yellow hair,

He’s ma man for ever mair,

Bonny Bobby Shafto.

This is a nursery rhyme, particularly associated with the north east of England. Robert Shafto was real; he was an 18th century Member of Parliament first for County Durham and then Wiltshire (he had family connections in both places). The rhyme is probably an electioneering song sung by his supporters. And this historic celebrity’s particular association to the North York Moors? He married the daughter and heir of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Helmsley; so he and his rhyme are part of our local history.

BRACKEN (Pteridium aquilinum)

Bracken is incredibly wide spread in temperate zones across the world and remarkably persistent. We have a bit of a dual relationship with bracken here at the National Park. Notorious here for its rapid colonisation of moorland and moorland edge habitat, bracken can often create a monoculture which can be bad for biodiversity and take over productive agricultural land, and don’t get our Archaeology Team started on what destruction bracken can inflict on archaeological features. Bracken mainly spreads through underground stems, or rhizomes, with each stem producing active or dormant buds. Whilst active buds can be destroyed by environmental stresses – such as herbicide or cattle grazing/stamping – the dormant buds will remain immune until they become active in a couple of years on a potentially never ending cycle. Annual management is needed just to keep bracken under control, and a lot of money is spent on trying to do this.

Bracken - NYMNPA

It’s important to remember though that bracken isn’t all ‘bad’. In some areas it can act as a surrogate to trees in providing cover for woodland ground flora such as bluebells and violets. It can also provide nesting, feeding and roosting habitat for birds such as Ring ouzels, and Whinchats; and shelter for butterfly eggs such as Pearl-bordered fritillary. People have long been trying to turn this prolific plant into something useful, such as bedding for animals, thatching for rooves and now as mulching.

Walter H BRIERLEY

Walter Henry Brierley (1862–1926) was a highly-reputed architect who practised in York for 40 years. Sometimes known as ‘the Lutyens of the North’, he designed buildings in the fashionable styles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century including the Arts and Crafts and Queen Anne Revival styles. Brierley designed many public buildings such as County Hall in Northallerton and a large number of schools in York, as well as being highly sought-after by the Yorkshire aristocracy and gentry for country-house work, such as the reconstruction of Sledmere following a catastrophic fire in 1911, and Welburn Hall.

Mallyan Spout Hotel, Goathland - http://www.mallyanspout.co.uk/But perhaps a lesser known fact is that much of the village of Goathland was also designed and built by him – including many of the houses around the green, the hotel and St Mary’s Church were his – all of which reflect the Arts and Crafts aesthetic. These buildings are now well-known to the public because if you watched the television series Heartbeat, many of Cottages in Goathland - http://www.rightmove.co.uk/Brierley’s buildings ‘star’ alongside the actors!

Arts and Crafts architecture represented a reversion to a simpler more functional style of building which elevated craftsmanship and honesty in design and materials, influenced by vernacular buildings and folk art. The style was a reaction against the elaborate detailing and Gothic architecture of the Victorian period, with its fussy, often-manufactured ornament, but also of the classical styles based on ancient Greek and Roman architecture which had characterised the Georgian and Regency periods. The preference for local slate, handmade clay tiles and red brick, for English oak fixtures and fittings, and for the inglenook fireplace, all defined the Arts and Crafts style. Architects like Brierley used local materials and traditional styles to create something that would not jar with its surroundings, but at the same time distinctive and of its time – an ideal which the National Park promotes today.

BUILDINGS AT RISK REGISTER

The National Park’s Buildings at Risk Register was established in 1995 when the Authority engaged consultants to complete a structural and photographic survey of the Park’s 3014 listed buildings. The survey was subsequently updated in 2004/2005 and we are now in the process of carry out another survey with the help of our volunteers, this time using our prize winning ‘app’ and tablet to capture information electronically.

A lot of time and resources have gone into this area of work over the years and although the final figure is constantly changing (as buildings are removed from the register, more are always added) our running total currently stands at 39 buildings on the At Risk register. When compared to 200 buildings in 2009 we can’t help being pleased with such an achievement, to have helped secure the long-term future of many of the North York Moors’ most important buildings and structures. We have no intention of stopping though and will continue to work towards securing the future of all such buildings.

BEFORE Listed Building repair - NYMNPABEFORE Listed Building repair - NYMNPABEFORE Listed Building repair - NYMNPA

 

 

AFTER Listed Building repair - NYMNPAAFTER Listed Building repair - NYMNPAAFTER Listed Building repair - NYMNPA

 

 

The success so far has been achieved in a variety of ways, often involving a collaboration between the Authority’s Building Conservation Team and the land or property owners, galvanized by the availability of grant or assistance in kind (such as the provision of professional architectural services). Other routes to repair have included working with owners to find alternative viable uses for disused buildings. The Authority only use listed building enforcement action as a last resort.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A