More encounters

Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student

I was thinking about what I could share with you and found myself pondering the various enchanting and unexpected meetings I have had with wildlife since starting here in August. I decided to ask around the Conservation Department and gather together a number of recent stories and the odd picture to share.

It is amazing once you stand still how quickly wildlife often finds you. Whilst carrying out the Veteran Tree survey in Hawnby, Alasdair and Alex have been lucky enough to have several great wildlife encounters. While standing still, quietly surveying a fantastic old oak tree with lots of veteran characteristics a tiny Goldcrest started calling close by, this lovely wee bird was shortly followed by a flock of Long-tailed tits, chattering loudly in the canopy above them. They then heard the recognisable sound of a wood pecker drilling into old dead wood…to their surprise it was a rare Lesser spotted woodpecker, the first time either of them had seen one. It was surprisingly small compared to the more commonly seen Great spotted woodpecker and busied around for a good 10 minutes. They enjoyed watching it so much that neither of them thought to take a photo!

Whilst out conducting botanical surveys for the National Park’s habitat connectivity ‘Linking Landscapes‘ programme, Kirsty, Ami and Alex found some interesting creatures in the undergrowth.

Minature worldAlex and Kirsty joined in with a bunch of volunteers to discover how to spot water vole signs around Fylingdales, and although they didn’t see any notoriously shy water voles, there was a female adder lurking nearby.

Female adder

As well as adders, beautiful slow worms can often be found under stones, in and around dry stone walls, like this one found in a derelict wall near Cawthorn Camps.

Slow worm - being moved for it's own safety

Talking about Cawthorn Camps – from time to time, one of the tasks for Graham, our Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer, is to keep an eye on the Roman forts here. The site is owned and managed by the National Park Authority and Graham is watching out for erosion and encroaching vegetation problems. On a particularly hot, sunny summer’s day, he was showing a placement student around the site. Many of the visitors to Cawthorn walk around the main circular path, often exercising their dogs, but the interiors of the forts at this time of year are covered in long grasses and some heather. Because few people venture into the fort interiors, they are well-known as good adder habitat. In this sort of knee deep vegetation, generally the first sign of the presence of an adder is a fierce hiss just before you are about to step on it! On this most memorable occasion, Graham was pointing out the subtle internal earthworks of the site to the student when an extra loud hiss sent him into low earth orbit, badly jarring a frozen shoulder at the time – excruciating! He landed – unfortunately without a camera to hand – to the sight of a pair of conjoined adders which then – their coitus interrupted – serenely slid away while Graham + student stood there, recovering from the shock.

An excited Simon during his second summer of surveys for the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project found a “young” pearl mussel. Until then he had only found mussels which were 60-70+ years of age. This individual – the smallest live musseI that has been found in the river (75mm) recently, was approximately 20-25 years old. This proves that the mussels have bred successfully in the not so distant past, which gives encouragement to the aims of the Project, and all in all it was Simon’s best day out – ever.

A young Freshwater Pearl Mussel

As for myself, while sampling for bugs in Glaisdale Beck I spied a strange brown shape floating downstream in a very odd fashion. It turned out to be a common toad that drifted ungainly towards me and bounced off my waders before bobbing off downstream – a little bewildered.

Common Toad - River Esk

As I was dipping a small pond beside the River Esk looking for smooth newts prior to hibernation I came across this enormous hawker dragonfly larvae at nearly two inches long, a top predator within the little pond.

Hawker dragon fly larvae

And we mustn’t forget the local ladies when discussing encounters for it is hard to visit many parts of the North York Moors without meeting farm animals of some kind or other.Cattle - Esk Valley

The creatures we come across may not necessarily seem exotic or exciting (except maybe for Simon’s mussel) on an international scale, but each animal and bird is part of the biodiversity of this corner of the world – and that’s important to us.

Looking after Levisham Estate

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

I recently carried out the Levisham Botanical Survey for this year with the help of Dawn Rothwell, our current Volunteer Service Assistant and a keen Volunteer herself, and Sam Lightfoot, LEADER Volunteer.

Levisham Estate is one of the very few areas in the North York Moors actually owned by the North York Moors National Park Authority. It’s just north of Pickering and the land holding is made up of c. 1,360 ha of moorland, woodland, and upland farmland..The overall aim of management on the Estate is to maximise the contribution of the Estate to National Park Purposes

The purpose of the annual Levisham Botanical survey is to ascertain if bracken/scrub encroachment and over grazing are still having a detrimental effect on sites which had been identified as being species rich and of high botanical interest in the past. The Survey has been carried out most years since 2006 and the results help inform us on further management, or suggest changes to the current management, in order to improve the botanical value of the sites.

Three specific exclosures (4m x 4m) have been set up in Levisham Bottoms, the Hole of Horcum and on Levisham Moor. The exclosures are monitored each year to compare species diversity within the exclosures where grazing is eliminated compared to the surrounding area where grazing continues.

Over the years since 2006 the areas outside the exclosures have greatly improved due to the change in grazing pressure on Levisham Estate. A balance is needed between over grazing/management and not enough management allowing scrub to build up at the expense of other habitats.

Ragged RobinRagged Robin 2Ragged Robin 3This year six additional sites were surveyed that hadn’t been monitored since 2007. These sites had previously had an indication of over grazing and bracken encroachment/shading. Some of these additional sites are still species rich but others are suffering from overgrazing, resulting in species being miniature in appearance. Some sites are under severe threat from bracken and gorse encroachment and have reduced in size since they were previously surveyed.

All in all however sites have greatly improved as a result of active management – bracken and scrub clearance – that has been carried out in the last few years. These sites, such as a species rich flush in the Hole of Horcum and a roadside flush near Levisham Station, are really special. A flush is an area of wet ground fed from ground water. Plant species such as Black bog-rush, Round-leaved sundew, Common butterwort, Bog pimpernel and Ragged robin have been found in good numbers. These areas are also attracting other species such as the Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, Golden-ringed dragonfly and the Common lizard.