We’re keen on owl pellets on this Blog. For more about owl pellets and what owls have been eating lately – have a look at this post by the Updale Natural History Recorder on the Our Rosedale Abbey Blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
The man turned his head. The Raven still looked at him.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
This 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)
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.
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.
The Egton Bridge Gooseberry Society has maintained the competitive northern tradition of showing and comparing the heaviest gooseberries grown, since approximately 1800. The Egton Bridge 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.
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.
Grasslands 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.
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.
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.
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.