Planting for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

I believe that most people like the idea of trees being planted – as long as they are in the ‘right place’. Small, negligible seeds unfurling to create little, delicate saplings growing on and upwards into woody giants that dominate a landscape.

But why would we purposefully plant trees?  Here are some of the benefits that tree planting/woodland creation can provide.

Habitat

Each individual tree provides a habitats. Wooded habitats are some of the most diverse habitats in England; with many birds, mammals, insects and plants specialising in woodland environments these habitats are critical for biodiversity. Creating even small areas of woodland has the potential to greatly increase the number of species in almost any landscape.
Lesser? redpoll (woodland/wetland bird). Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

Lesser? redpoll  – this RSPB Red status bird has suffered severe population declines in the UK. It relies on wet woodland species like birch and alder.

Connectivity

It is important to look at woodlands from a landscape scale. Connectivity is the word used to evaluate how connected/joined up otherwise isolated fragments of habitat are. It is always a big advantage for tree planting if it helps to connect existing woodland areas and so allows woodland species to move freely across the landscape.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods. Copyright NYMNPA.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods, Appleton le Moors. The word Hagg suggests the land here has long been wooded. This new planting is an extension of an existing native woodland, which should improve connectivity through the landscape.

Water quality and retention

It is now widely accepted that planting trees and woodlands has benefits for the management of water catchments. Woodland filters sediment and nutrient run off from the land if planted between the source and a watercourse, and so can greatly improve water quality. Also when trees are planted along a river catchment they can help to slow down the flooding effects of heavy rainfall events by increasing the porosity of the soil. Water is more readily absorbed into the soil, thanks to the roots of trees, before being released into water courses of the catchment.

Bank stabilisation

Just as trees can slow down the movement of water they can also minimise the movement of landforms. The roots of trees help bind and stabilise river banks and hill sides. Trees hold landforms together minimising erosion and the displacement of soil, the effects of which can in some cases be devastating.

Small scale riparian woodland planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Small scale riparian woodland planting in the Esk Catchment. The opposite bank is slumping and loosing soil resource into the water. 

Shelter

Trees and woodland copses carefully located on a holding can provide useful shelter for livestock and gamebirds. It has been demonstrated that shelter provided by trees has resulted in significant reductions in cold, wet and windy weather lamb losses.
Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate taking advantage of the the woodland cover on a hot day.

Climate Change

One of the causes of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) into the earth’s atmosphere trapping heat. Trees produce energy to live and grow by using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis; a process which produces oxygen. So trees are using up Carbon Dioxide, storing carbon and generating essential oxygen.

Amenity 

As well as providing a land management tool, the presence of trees and woodlands can have positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of people. Trees and woodland are intrinsic to many landscapes, particularly so in the North York Moors. Woodlands provide amenity value as local cultural assets that can last for generations if looked after properly. Imagine the feeling of personal achievement in planting a new woodland that will grow and mature into the future, making a living mark on an evolving landscape beyond the constraints of a human lifetime.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Copyright NYMNPA.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Trees in the right place can really compliment the landscape and add amenity value from notable viewpoints.

The National Park Authority is looking for landowners and partners to create new woodland across the North York Moors. Funding is available for deciduous woodland planting projects of 1 hectare (2.5 acres) and above; the funding can cover the total costs of planting and establishment. If you are interested and would like more information please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

A to Z: a number of Ns and Os

N and O

NATRIX NATRIX

There are three native UK snake species*. Although Adders and Slow worms are common in the North York Moors, Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) aren’t. However they are found at at least one known site on the western edge of the National Park which makes them locally rare. They like rough grassland near to water and are known to swim (they’re also sometimes called Water snakes). Neither Grass snakes nor Slow worms are venomous, but Adders are.

Natrix natrix from www.herpetofauna.co.uk

All native snake species are protected. Please leave them alone and they should leave you alone.

*Actually, there are now four. The barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) is now recognised as a species in its own right, with the Natrix natrix (as found occasionally in the North York Moors) now known as the eastern grass snake.

NETWORKS

What is a network? In ecological terms it is basically the infrastructure through which species and habitats survive and flourish. In our 2012 Management Plan we identified the key ecological networks that we wanted to consolidate and enhance. Following the Lawton Principles (More, Bigger, Better and Joined) we’re working to ensure these networks and the associated habitats and species not only survive but become more resilient and sustainable into the future.

So what does a network actually look like? When we talk about networks and connectivity (which we do quite a lot on this Blog) we mean all sorts of things corridors, connections, linkages and stepping stones which whilst contributing to the same ecological goal, might look very different on the ground. For example, the Rivers Rye and Esk are important riparian linear networks, winding their way through other interconnected patchwork woodland and farmland networks. Some networks might be important for their great trophic diversity whilst others are essential for the survival of a particularly rare species. Promoting one particular network over another may impact on different species in different ways. For example, some farmland waders such as lapwing tend to nest in open fields with a low or short structure and areas of bare ground. One posited reason for preferring these open and large fields is that Lapwing want a clear line of site to any potential danger approaching their nests. So then planting hedgerows, usually a positive way to increase network connectivity, through good lapwing territory may negatively impact on this wader species. Similarly, native broadleaf woodland planting is usually something to be encouraged but not if it would break up a precious species-rich grassland network and adversely impact upon the important species that rely on it.

The North York Moors hosts a diversity of plants, animals and habitats. The challenge we’re grappling with is a putting together a jigsaw of different habitats and species; connecting up networks at varying spatial levels all within a framework of unpredictable future land use and climate change. It’s as difficult as it sounds.

And talking of different types of network, the National Park Authority is keen to foster a network of land managers in the North York Moors so we can share information and opportunities, and enable the North York Moors area to be a sounding board for new ideas in relation to land management and land use. If you are a local land manager and you’d be interesting in joining in – please contact us.

NEWTONDALE

Newtondale is a narrow valley cutting through the southern central moorland. It is the narrowness and steepness of Newtondale and its resulting inaccessibility which makes this dale unusual in the North York Moors which is renowned for its open landscapes. It contains important SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) successional habitats including wet woodland, flush communities and species rich grassland.

Newtondale - copyright NYMNPA

Newtondale was formed in the last Ice Age at least partly as subaerial overflow from the glacial lake in Eskdale to the north of the higher ground drained south into the glacial lake in the Vale of Pickering. The two lakes formed from meltwaters dammed in the west by the ice sheet in the Vale of York and in the east by the massive North Sea ice sheet. Recently it has been suggested that Newtondale existed already at this time and the overflow scoured and deepened an already existing feature.

This naturally formed cutting was exploited by the always practical George Stephenson when he built the Pickering to Whitby railway (opened 1836). The railway connected up the northern and southern parts of the North York Moors divided by the large central area of high moorland. For centuries the only connections had being inhospitable and difficult trods and tracks. The railway line is still used – by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and Newtondale has its own request stop.

NICHOLAS POSTGATE

Nicholas Postgate was born in or near to Egton Bridge in Eskdale at the end of the 16th century. He was a Catholic. Although Anglican Protestantism was the official state religion by this time, there was much insecurity and uncertainty and an international element was attached to Roman Catholicism that meant not following the protestant religion as prescribed by the state implied potential treachery. In the first half of the 17th century refusing to attend Anglican Protestant services was illegal, this recusancy marked people out as non-compliant and dangerous .

Nicholas Postgate decided to be an active Catholic when passivity was definitely safer. He went to a seminary in France where he was ordained a priest and returned to England where after ministering to catholic gentry families he finally came back to Eskdale in the 1660s to practice his faith and serve persevering Catholics in the wider North York Moors travelling from house to house. The situation of the North York Moors, on the edge and out of the way, has allowed non conformist religions to survive and flourish over the centuries.

Father Postgate survived the Civil War and Commonwealth periods in England, but the Restoration re-ignited the fear of Catholicism which blew up into the Popish Plot in 1678. The plot didn’t need much substance, it suggested that internationalist Catholics were conspiring to murder the King and destroy the State just as many Protestants had long feared and gave credence to some not very latent animosity towards Catholicism and Catholics. There followed a short lived period of persecution and settling of scores.

Father Postgate was arrested in Littlebeck near Whitby, reportedly carrying out a christening. He was charged with being a Catholic priest in England and therefore causing Catholicism to spread ‘of purpose…not only to withdraw … subjects from their due obedience … also to stir up and move sedition, rebellion and open hostility … to the great endangering  … and to the utter ruin, desolation and overthrow of the whole realm’ (Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists, 1585). In line with the punishment for high treason as the highest crime imaginable, Father Postgate was hanged, drawn (disembowelled) and quartered at York on 7 August, 1679. He was 83.

Nicholas Postgate has been beautified by the Catholic Church as one of 85 English Martyrs. His beatification means he is known as the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, intercessional prayers can be addressed to him, and his image and relics are venerated. Reportedly a lock of his white hair is kept in a reliquary at Egton Bridge, a jawbone at English Martyrs Church in York, and a hand with a blood soaked cloth at Ampleforth Abbey.

There is an annual local rally in honour of the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, held alternatively in Egton Bridge (where he was born) and Ugthorpe (where he lived up to his death).

NORTH YORK MOORS

A lot of people get the name wrong. The North York Moors means the moors north of the city of York. There are other areas of North Yorkshire moors and moorland, but only one North (of) York Moors.

OPPOSITE-LEAVED GOLDEN SAXIFRAGE (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is a creeping perennial plant which can form extensive mats in damp, shady areas. So look out for it alongside becks, flushes and springs. It produces tiny golden flowers (3 to 5 mm) from February through to July. The plant has square-stems with directly opposite pairs of leaves.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium from freenatureimages.eu

To make identification more complicated there is also an Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) which shares the same genus. This species is very similar to the Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage except, as the name suggests, the leaves are alternate rather than opposite, and on triangular shaped stems. Its flowers can also be a bit bigger and brighter. The Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage is less common than its Opposite-leaved relative and it prefers a more limey habitat, but occasionally the different species can be found growing together.

Chrysosplenium alternifolium from freenatureimages.eu

ORCHARDS

In the North York Moors 19th and early 20th century farms and a lot of village houses had their own small orchards (still visible on Ordnance Survey historic mapping). Orchard fruit and other soft fruit provided part of a multi source income to people living hand to mouth and making the most of what they had. The fruit season ran from July through to winter – starting with gooseberries, then red and black currants and raspberries, then plums and finishing with apples and pears. The fruit wasn’t just sold at local markets, fruit could be sold on and because of the railways could end up in towns like Scarborough or end up in jam factories in Liverpool and Grimsby, or at the Rowntree’s factory in York to make jelly.

Apple and pear trees, as well as other tree species, are susceptible to canker (fungus). To counter this people used to whitewash orchard tree trunks with lime and spread lime on the orchard floor. Lime is still used as a fungicide.

Main local orchard species for the moors and dales are recorded as being:
Cooking Apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Lane’s Prince Albert, Old Cockpit
Eating Apples: Green Balsams, Winer Pippins
Pears: Hazels

Taken from Life and Tradition in the Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingleby

The loss of orchards since WWII has been a major change in the landscape, biodiversity and culture of the North York Moors.

ORTHOSTATIC WALLING

An orthostat is a vertical ‘upright’ set stone. If its old enough i.e. prehistoric, it is likely to be called a standing stone. Less dramatic orthostats can also be found in drystone walls where farmers have made use of the stones to hand. Big stones have been reused over time and set vertically into the ground amongst the horizontally laid smaller stones more commonly found in drystone walls. Orthostats are also very useful within a wall as gate posts or as the edges of a sheep creep (to allow sheep but no other stock to rove) providing added strength and structure.

Orthostatic walling is rare enough here that where it does occur the walls are often recorded on the NYM Historic Environment Record.

Stone sheep creep built into wall in Raisdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

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

Summer days

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Grasslands are important habitats in the North York Moors supporting a wide range of plants and wildlife. They’re habitats that have suffered severe declines all over England in the past decades. Therefore conserving, restoring, creating linked grassland habitats is one of the key focuses of our Habitat Connectivity initiative.

National Park Volunteers carry out regular tasks like scrub control in order to maintain and restore grassland sites. But volunteers are also essential when it comes to monitoring our grassland sites. Botanical monitoring is a key tool to ensure that the prescribed management is having a positive effect on the site, and the information collected through the annual monitoring process ensures management can be tailored to each site to help ensure each is in the best condition they can be or are at least moving in the right direction. Repeat annual monitoring means changes, good or bad, can be quickly identified.

Our Linking Landscapes Grassland Volunteers have been across the National Park this summer monitoring grassland habitats. We currently have ten enthusiastic volunteers who kindly give their botanical expertise and diligently undertake an annual botanical survey at their ‘adopted’ site/s.

Back in June the LLG Volunteers attended an informal workshop to work through the survey methodology and brush up on field identification skills before embarking on their own surveys for 2016. Copyright - NYMNPA.

This summer I’ve also been out surveying a number of grassland sites which hadn’t been surveyed previously; getting to visit some lovely spots whilst improving my botanical identification skills and collecting information.

Common spotted orchid in an old limestone quarry sites - nearly twice as tall as my clipboard! Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Both the volunteers and I have followed the same simple methodology for monitoring our site/s. A walking route is marked out on an aerial photograph for the surveyor to follow – the approximate ‘W’ shape ensures that a fair representation of the site is surveyed. The surveyor walks along the route stopping at regular intervals – ten stops is usually adequate. At each stop a square metre (quadrat) of vegetation is assessed and each species present is noted down – this is usually where the ID books and hand lens are invaluable.

The monitoring route for an area of species-rich grassland at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Aerial photography copyright GeoPerspectives 2009 all rights reserved.

At the end of the ‘W’ shaped monitoring route, a survey sheet will look something like this.

One page of the grassland survey sheets - filled in - NYMNPA.

Because we’ve recorded which species are present in each quadrat at each of the ten stops we can work out the frequency of each of the species:

A species is rare (R) if it occurs in one or two stops out of ten;
It is occasional (O) if it occurs in three or four stops out of ten;
Frequent (F) species occur in five or more stops out of ten.

Common spotted orchid and Betony. Copyright NYMNPA.

Additional information is also recorded, including the amount of bare ground and height of the sward, the amount of scrub and bracken on site, and the presence of pernicious weeds (such as thistles, nettles and docks). Lots of photos are helpful, plus any sightings of notable wildlife!

All this information allows a site to be assessed and assigned one of the following categories:
Good quality species-rich grassland;
or
Good quality semi-improved or degraded grassland of high species-richness;
or
Semi-improved grassland of moderate species-richness;
or
Species-poor semi-improved grassland.

The National Park is keen to see an increase in the area of species-rich grassland. For the North York Moors that means the priority habitats lowland meadow and lowland calcareous grassland. By this regular monitoring we can get a clearer picture of the changing status of each site and use it to advise restoration methods. Altering the grazing regime, clearing bracken and scrub and/or sowing locally sourced wild flower seeds/spreading green hay can improve the quality and diversity of a grassland site with the ultimate objective of achieving and maintaining good quality species-rich grassland.

Ragged robin and Greater bird’s-foot-treofoil- indicators of the Lowland Meadow priority habitat. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Common bird’s-foot-trefoil, Knapweed and Field scabious on a species-rich area of calcareous grassland. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

We’ll be out again next summer, doing it all again.

Habitat connectivity: evaluating potential

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Over the last month or so I’ve been investigating habitat connectivity in a new target area – near Boltby on the western fringe of the North York Moors.

Landscape from top of escarpment, near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

This particular area has a fantastic variety of habitats, from the arable plain on top of the escarpment, down the slope through Boltby Forest and across to the pasture fields in the west. Our overarching objective for this area is to strengthen the mosaic of habitats, with special reference to improving networks for butterflies and bats.

After my initial desk-based research I proceeded to ground truth the area to establish how much of our mapping and existing information was still accurate and to build up a current picture of the area. With so many public rights of way in the National Park exploring is usually pretty straightforward, but for closer examination of any particular area we would always ensure we have the land manager’s permission.

Felled veteran tree with dead wood left in situ (good for invertebrates, fungii and lichens) - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

It’s important to establish what levels of connectivity already exist. Above the escarpment most of the arable fields are in Environmental Stewardship agreements, which suggests positive environmental land management is already in place and making use of national agri-environment schemes is something we would always encourage where appropriate for the environment and the land manager.

The Forestry Commission own a large forest within the area – Boltby Forest – and their Forest Design Plan sets out their long-term vision. This includes increasing the ratio of broadleaved trees to conifers and maintaining areas of open space. The open space is very useful in terms of meeting our original objectives for the area because open spaces in woodland create edge habitat which attracts bats.

Within Boltby Forest - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Another valuable habitat found within this area is unimproved and semi improved grassland, both acidic and calcareous in terms of soil pH because it’s where the farmland of the Vale of Mowbray meets the western edge of the moorland. Some of these grassland sites appear to be in a good condition and have an appropriate level of grazing to maintain this, whereas others seem more precarious.

Heath bedstraw and tormentil, indicative of an acidic grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Lots of wild thyme, commonly found on calcareous sites - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.The biggest threat to most of the grassland appears to be a lack of effective grazing. On several sites rank grass are beginning to dominate, resulting in wildflowers being outcompeted. On other sites scrub encroachment means that the grassland interest will diminish.

Rank grass and ash trees taking over a grassland site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

In a site where grazing is happening, there is occasional poaching (heavy ground trampling) by cattle alongside the small watercourse. This happens when stock congregate along particular parts of the bank to drink, or cross over.

Poached land beside a small beck - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Bracken is another issue in the target area. Bracken isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can provide excellent cover for ground flora and butterflies such as the rare Pearl-bordered fritillary, but its tendency to spread means that it can very quickly outcompete and overcome other vegetation.

Bracken alongside a public footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

There are plenty of positive biodiversity hot spots in this area, including patches of habitat that are excellent for butterflies. There are also a number of established hedgerows acting as wildlife corridors for bats to navigate by.

Common blue butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Small copper butterfly - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

So once I’d assessed the area and its connectivity potential, I discussed ideas and options for how best to deliver the original objective with input from Rona, our Ecologist, and Mark, our Woodland Officer.

One of the key ideas coming out of these discussions is to provide long term replacements for the many mature in-field and boundary trees. These trees provide multiple benefits such as shelter for stock as well as a habitat for birds, invertebrates and insects. I recorded a standing veteran tree during my on-site survey and ideally we would like to see this tree fenced off as the stock in the field are causing considerable erosion around the base which may be weakening it.

To reduce the poaching alongside the watercourse we could help repair the fencing and investigate the use of a field trough so the cattle wouldn’t need to drink out of the beck.

Another idea is to fence off a particular area of mature ash trees to allow natural regeneration. This is because some ash trees show genetic resistance to the ash dieback pathogen, so whilst planting new ash trees is currently not encouraged assisting natural regeneration by older trees might mean that potentially disease resistant stocks are bolstered.

For the various grassland sites in the area, different management options are proposed. On the sites with bracken encroachment we could suggest organising volunteer tasks to help keep the bracken under control. On other sites we will need to discuss with the land manager their aims for their land and see if there is scope to manage levels of grazing to ensure the wildflower interest remains and potentially expands. Land manager engagement is a crucial part of the habitat connectivity development process – our management proposals on private land can’t happen without their permission and goodwill. Negotiations are the next step in the habitat connectivity process.

Overall I think this target area near Boltby is in a pretty well connected condition. There is already a mosaic of habitats suitable for bats and butterflies, and it forms part of a much more extensive network along the western fringe of the North York Moors. Our involvement will probably be relatively minimal, working where we can with local land managers to conserve the valuable grasslands and to sustain the important tree population into the future.

Landscape near Boltby - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

 

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

This Exploited Land – past, present and future

Louise Cooke – This Exploited Land Heritage Officer

We’ve had excellent news from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) – we’ve got the funding for This Exploited Land (TEL).

TEL landscape - copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA

This Exploited Land: the trailblazing story of ironstone and railways in the North York Moors Landscape Partnership Scheme aims to understand, protect and enhance the landscape and its legacy of ironstone exploitation.

We will tell the story of ironstone mining and the associated railways in the North York Moors during the hundred years between 1830 and 1930. It is an exciting and little known story of discovery and industrialisation in a landscape which what is now designated as a National Park. For most visitors, and even for some residents, the extent of the ironstone industry in the 19th century is a surprise. The scale, the extent and the influence it came to have on the development of the North East of England as a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution at the height of the Victorian Period is poorly understood and the story has never been properly told.

Warren Moor Mine Chimney - copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA

TEL will conserve, protect, record and present a range of important industrial archaeological sites within a distinctive landscape. It will strengthen natural habitats within that landscape: restoring ancient woodland, managing hay meadows and enhancing riparian corridors; and assist rare and threatened species such as ring ouzels and water voles.

Top of Ingleby Incline - copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPAThe Scheme contains a range of projects under different themes:

  • Historic Environment;
  • Natural Environment;
  • Interpretation, Access and Engagement;

as well as cross-cutting elements which include community grants, a volunteer programme, training and education. The breadth of the Programme hopefully provides something for everybody and is structured in such a way that over the next 5 years and beyond we hope more people can get involved and share our passion for the landscape and the stories that lie at its heart.

Sil Howe Minehead - copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA

Which of the 46 individual projects to be delivered over the next 5 years am I currently most excited about?

After the very long period of project development, it is the very first one – the works to repair the landslip at Rosedale East and to unblock the railway culvert at Reeking Gill.

These are essential works to (1) enable access along the Rosedale Railway to be maintained (and in subsequent years of the project allow access for conservation works) and (2) to ensure the survival of the manmade embankments along the route of the Rosedale Railway – and to retain this important feature of the landscape intact.

Exploring the TEL landscape - copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA

Thanks very much to everyone involved so far who have got us to where we are today.

Stay posted – this Blog is going to be an important means of sharing stories and pictures as TEL picks up steam.

HLFNL_2747

logountitled

A little less salt, a little more species abundance

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

If you’ve driven up or down White Horse Bank near Kilburn recently you might have noticed the appearance of some new green lided boxes at the side of the road. These are grit bins which are now in place to hold the rock salt available to help in icy conditions on this 1 in 4 gradient road.

Looking up White Horse Bank, Kilburn - spreading salt heap. Copyright NYMNPA.Looking up White Horse Bank, Kilburn - salt bin replacing salt heap. Copyright NYMNPA.

It’s the most recent example of us working in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council Highways over the past few years to replace salt piles with salt bins at certain sites around the National Park. Holding the salt in bins limits leaching where rain washes salt into watercourses and limits ground salination, in both cases the chemistry of the water and the soil is altered by the accidental addition of salt.

The National Park Authority is involved because we’re particularly interested in the conservation of the small number of remaining species rich roadside verges, and the potential restoration of degraded species rich roadside verges, around the North York Moors. By holding onto and better controlling the salt source the idea is that the plant life of roadside verges will be less damaged.

The bins were paid for by the National Park Authority and NYCC Highways will refill them when empty. Salt is far from the only threat to our roadside verge habitats. Other dangers include over management, badly timed management and the lack of management; as well as through the encroachment of vehicles on one side and the affects of land management on the other. The replacing of sprawling salt heaps with the green bins is a cost effective and useful small scale initiative – which still helps keep roads passable in the winter but also means through the rest of the year the remnant grassland habitats found on verges have an improved chance of continuance. Botanically rich roadside verges are ecologically valuable in their own right but also provide useful connecting corridors between habitats for species such as pollinators. They also provide an accessible glimpse for many people of the colour and beauty of our wildflowers.

With spring just around the corner we’ll be looking out for a plethora of wildflowers growing on our species rich verges this year – on White Horse Bank the plants along this woodland edge roadside verge include Dog Violet, Primrose, Foxglove, Stitchwort, Wood Avens, Wood Sorrel and Wild Arum.

A number of our identified species rich verges are monitored by local volunteers who, working safely, record the presence or lack of it of key species, and keep an eye on the verge management. This monitoring is important so that change can be identified and then addressed if appropriate. If you’d like to help please contact us.

Example of a species rich verge in the North York Moors - copyright NYMNPA

Battling the birch

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Species rich grasslands are one of the key habitats that we’re working to conserve and enhance across the North York Moors.

Grasslands that are high in biodiversity interest are one of this area’s rarest habitats. A lot of these sites are now isolated, so once a site can be brought up to a good condition we’re looking for opportunities to buffer and expand the site and how best to link it up to other grassland sites in order to enable a re-propagating more sustainable future.

Grasslands have been compared with tropical rainforest in terms of the numbers of species and the importance of habitat to biodiversity. But over 90% of the traditional hay meadows (one type of species rich grassland) in the UK have gone under the plough or been ‘improved’ with inputs since the 1940s. Their importance to wildlife such as pollinators which mean the habitat is an ecosystem in itself is now being grasped and our initiative is only one among many being progressed across the UK.

As part of our ongoing habitat connectivity programme, National Park staff and volunteers are currently concentrating efforts in the south west corner of the North York Moors which has a particularly rich reserve of fragmented species rich grasslands peppering the area. Ensuring these sites are well managed, properly resourced and cared for into the future is a major part of our work in the Land Management Team.

Contact was initially made with landowners in the area and then followed up with an assessment of each grassland and proposals suggested to enhance the condition of the particular meadow or rough grassland habitat sites. One of the recurring issues arising from a lack of management is encroachment by scrub and bracken which can be detrimental.

This is an example of a site near Oldstead which recently required a task force and so National Park Volunteers were called in, organised and supervised by the National Park’s Volunteer Services Team. The task was taking out some of the birch scrub that was taking over and out competing the wet grassland/heathland habitat on the site. Rather than suddenly removing the scrub, the birch stems were cut and piled into concentrated habitat heaps to provide some shelter for wildlife over the winter before slowly rotting away. During that time the long lengths of timber providing wet, damp conditions just under the bark of the cut trees is ideal for invertebrates, so provides a food source for other wildlife inhabitants of the wet grassland/heathland site.

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPA

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPAAlthough this type of volunteering can look and sound like hard work, it can also be great fun to take part. At the end of the day you can see the results of your labour and you know it’s good for your natural environment as well as being good for you – you’ve had plenty of fresh air and it can actually improve your health!

Missing links

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

As mentioned previously one of our core conservation objectives is improving ‘habitat connectivity’ – ensuring that wildlife has the opportunity to travel within habitats and between habitats in order to help populations thrive into the future.

The National Park Authority itself owns very little of the land within the North York Moors; good relations with people who own and manage the land are crucial to be able to roll out connectivity.

One of the first acts in any connectivity scheme is to make contact with the land owner/manager (although we don’t always know who they are so this can take some time) and put any project ideas to them. After negotiations and if they are in agreement, the next stage is to work through the inevitable paperwork (it isn’t too convoluted) which sets out the process steps and secures the scheme in place. Once the agreement between ourselves and the land owner/manager is signed – the scheme can begin – materials ordered, labour organised and work carried out.

Creating these habitat networks for wildlife needn’t take up large tracts of land. Planting new hedges or creating rough grassland buffer strips are key elements of connectivity and can be installed at relatively little cost. Agreeing to leave awkward field corners out of cultivation, planting selected areas with trees or fencing out wet boggy grassland to avoid poaching of the ground, can all be beneficial to the enhancement of connectivity.

For example – a connectivity scheme with a landowner near Cowbar, along the coastal Harvest Mouse from sciencephoto.comhinterland, is delivering excellent long term results for biodiversity. A large expanse of arable land now has a wildlife superhighway running through it – a new hedgerow – linking the clifftop back to existing roadside hedgerows. Whilst weeding the new hedgerow last summer we came across a nest of a Harvest Mouse. The North York Moors is known to be close to the northern most limit of UK distribution for this little creature. The arrival of the Harvest Mouse demonstrates the value of movement between linked habitats; and the new hedge, providing shelter and food, will help enable the wider area to support a higher population in the future.

New hedgerow planted near Cowbar - copyright NYMNPA.

Connectivity efforts continue and I’ll keep you posted.

National Park Newbie

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Kate, Conservation Graduate Trainee - copyright NYMNPAHaving started in September as the new Conservation Graduate Trainee, I have been busy getting out and about in the National Park getting to know my colleagues and my fantastic place of work.

One thing I have been fortunate to get involved with so far has been this year’s National Park Authorities’ Ecologists’ Workshop. The theme of the three day workshop hosted by this National Park was “Improving Habitat Connectivity” and there was a great turn out – ecologists from all 15 UK National Parks attended, apparently the first time this has happened! For a new member of staff it was great for me to hear about how this National Park is working on restoring and reconnecting important habitat networks such as species rich grassland, river corridors and native woodland. It was also a great opportunity to meet people from across the country who are so passionate about conserving our countryside and wildlife.

Our Monday evening activity was a boat trip out of Whitby – with the possibility of seeing some whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. Everyone joked that it is always the way – as a group of ecologists approach, all the wildlife disappears! However, we had a great trip all the same with a beautiful sunset, topped off with fish and chips – a must if you are in Whitby.

View looking back at Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Sunset over land - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAComing back into Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAWe had beautiful weather for all three days, especially for our field trips on the Tuesday. We visited four sites which illustrate some great examples of restoration in the North York Moors – on moorland, in PAWS and along rivers – always returning to the importance of building a connected landscape within the National Park and beyond.

Glaisdale Moor peatland restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Lealholm stepping stones - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAEsk Valley farmland - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Arnecliff Woods - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAArnecliff Woods - PAWS restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m looking forward to getting involved with as many different things as possible to make the most of my time as Conservation Graduate Trainee over the next two years. I’ll be carrying out botanical and bird surveys, monitoring farmland and land management through our Wildlife Conservation Scheme and Traditional Boundary Scheme, and hopefully getting the opportunity to go on lots of interesting training courses as well as learning from my colleagues. All in all, I hope my time with the Authority will give me enough experience and knowledge to pursue the career in conservation that I have always wanted!