Increasing life chances – addendum

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

A redundant weir on the River Dove at Low Mill in Farndale has recently been removed by the Estate in partnership with the National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England, and the East Yorkshire Rivers Trust. The weir was in a poor state of repair, and erosion was occurring around the side of the structure. Its removal will allow natural river processes like the movement of river substrates to occur , and also allow migratory fish to move up and down the river to spawn.

Low Mill weir - before removal - NYMNPALow Mill weir - after removal - NYMNPA

The River Dove is a tributary of the Yorkshire Derwent. Part of the River Derwent catchment is designated as a Special Area of Conservation for a very rare fish species called the River Lamprey. These fish would also spawn (lay their eggs) in the upper catchment (in areas like the River Dove), but they cannot access these sections of river due to a large number of barriers, such as weirs, in the catchment. Removing these barriers will also allow other species such as Atlantic salmon to access these important spawning areas too.

Hangover cure

Emily Collins – Conservation Student Intern

The future of Sil Howe, an abandoned mine site above Beck Hole, has changed quite a bit since I first set foot there in early autumn. It was then that we recognised the iron ochre within the mine as being an ongoing potential threat to the surrounding countryside. In the event of high rainfall, this thick orange blanket, which oozes into the watercourse at the slightest disturbance, could potentially form a terracotta cascade potent enough to wipe out whole communities within the surrounding area… Silhowe January 2015 - someone's wellie covered in iron ochre - by Emily Collins

Residents of nearby Darnholm, Goathland and Beck Hole should have no fear though, for I’m talking about a very different type of community to that which might revolve around the local pub. As explained in an earlier post, this iron sediment can smother invertebrate populations in the surrounding watercourses and reduce the amount of food available for important fish populations in the Esk. Even when leaking into the beck at low levels the iron sediment seems to be having an effect, with initial water samples indicating large changes in pH and a loss of aquatic invertebrates close to the entrance of the mine. Now we’re working on a solution.

Silhowe January 2015 - group discussing proposals - by Emily Collins

Earlier this month my colleagues and I were joined by Natural England, the Environment Agency, the University of Hull and the local Head Gamekeeper on site to discuss plans for the installation of a reed bed at the Sil Howe mine entrance. Whilst trying not to become too distracted by the beautiful views and the numbing feeling in our toes, we discussed how the reeds would slow the flow of the water, allowing enough time for the iron to precipitate out of it before it continues downstream.

Silhowe January 2015 - remains of miners' hut - by Emily CollinsOf course, such a venture poses a number of concerns:

Will it be aesthetically pleasing?

Will the bund be large enough to hold the water and where do we get the material from to build it?

Will it have any impact on the neighbouring remains of the historic miners’ hut?

Whilst it meant freezing our appendages off on top of the moor for two hours, resolving these environmental, cultural and local conflicts was vital for strengthening the foundations of the project.

Silhowe January 2015 - mine adit - by Emily Collins

If planning permission is granted the work is due to start around the beginning of February and will last 2-5 days. In the meantime, students at the University of Hull are analysing the invertebrate and water samples we collected from the beck in October and will provide evidence for the detrimental impact that the iron sediment is having on aquatic life in the beck. We will then return to collect more samples once the reed beds have been installed, and again for the following few years to record the changes in water quality over time.

Original plan for remedial wetland creation at Silhowe - subject to change

If this works, we could roll out the same kind of thing elsewhere where the historic environment still impacts on the North York Moors today.

A Toast to the Coast

John Beech – Coastal Project Officer

Turning plans into action

The eastern edge of the North York Moors National Park ends abruptly as it cascades over the cliffs onto beaches and shoreline and into the North Sea. As spectacular as any coastal landscape in the UK, our local coastline is a real gem.

Old harbour at Saltwick Bay used by vessels to transport materials for the Alum industry - John Beech

Careful planning is needed to look after our marvellous natural asset. As the local Coastal Projects Officer, I’ve spent the last few months working on a new coastal Management Plan that, if followed, should make sure our share of national treasure is looked after into the future.

HC boundary marker at Upgang, Whitby JBThe coastline between Boulby and Cloughton is not only in the North York Moors National Park but it also makes up part of the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast, one of 45 Heritage Coasts in England and Wales. These undeveloped scenic coastlines were defined in the 1970s by the (now extinct) Countryside Commission and they’re just as worthy of the special protection and recognition now as then. The Management Plan covers the whole North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast (from Saltburn down to Scalby Mills).

Working on the new Plan has taken some time. We ran a public consultation over the summer to gauge people’s views on how to care for the coast into the future. Many of the responses chimed with what we were thinking but new issues and ideas were also raised regarding conservation, recreation, beach and water quality and coastal communities both by local people and national organisations – and these all needed considering and incorporating.

Cattersty Beach, Skinningrove - John Beech

The new Management Plan, which is due to be published in early 2015, will promote key principles to guide agencies and land managers and local communities working together as we move into the 2015 – 2020 period. To get an idea of what kind of thing we’re working towards – our previous Management Plan 2009 – 2014 is available on the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Coastal Forum website.

Our ongoing Coastal Forum is an active collection of people and organisations who have a vested interest and shared vision in the safeguarding and enhancement of a sustainable Heritage Coast. Back in September we organised our 12th annual Coastal Forum partnership conference. We had over 60 people attend to hear guest speakers from the Marine Management Organisation, Whitby Fishing School, Parkol Marine (shipbuilders), Whitby Whale Watching, Whitby & District Tourism Association and East Barnby Outdoor Centre. Due to the all-day sea fret (fog) we couldn’t get out to sea to look for whales in the afternoon but we did have an informative boat trip up and down Coastal Forum - a foggy day in Whitby Town the River Esk (no whales) and had a chance for a close up look at the Whitby harbour walls – impressive listed structures that were originally built in the 15th century.

If you’re interested in joining the Forum – get in touch.

Disused Alum Quarrries at Boulby - John BeechBack to the day to day stuff

In between developing and writing the new Plan, I’ve been working closely with the Environment Agency to improve the rivers and watercourses that run into the sea along the coast. In 2015, our bathing beaches at Staithes, Runswick, Sandsend and Robin Hood’s Bay will be subject to increased scrutiny as the EU Bathing Water Directive raises the bar on water quality. By working in the wider catchments now, addressing land management, we hope to give the beaches a better chance of reaching these new stricter guideline standards. So working with land managers we’ve been assisting with the fencing off of watercourses (and providing in field water sources) and planting beck side trees where there had been access points for cattle and breaks in the woodland cover. As well as the trees buffering the watercourses, the fencing prevents the livestock standing in the water and doing what comes naturally after a day’s grazing in the fields!

As well as addressing water quality issues this work also improves habitat connectivity by creating habitat corridors. We will also be back at farms in the Staithes Beck catchment in early 2015 to continue with some of the excellent work done last winter to promote habitat connectivity. We’ll be back planting hedges again at Roxby and Borrowby to provide these vital wildlife links between the coastal wooded gills there.

The Exmoor ponies on the coastal slope at Runswick Bay are currently off the undercliff for the winter. In the meantime our National Park Apprentices will set to and undertake some mechanical scrub control. Taking out the edges of the established scrub is part of the plan to encourage the seacliff grassland habitat to expand. The ponies have done a marvellous job over the summer tackling the scrub and will be back in the spring ready for some light grazing in 2015.Butterwort growing on cliffs at Beast Cliff Special Area of Conservation (SAC) - John Beech

The mixture of work that I do as the Coastal Project Officer is incredibly varied and thoroughly enjoyable and the opportunity to work in such a dynamic environment is something that I cherish every day.

Saving our Pearl Mussels: assisting encystment

Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student

The big day finally arrived. As mentioned previously (at least twice) we have been prepping for our bankside encystment project to assist the endangered Freshwater pearl mussel in the Yorkshire Esk to reproduce. I won’t go into it too much as I think I’ve told you the process in enough detail but suffice it to say all went to plan – without a hitch*. The Environment Agency team were brilliant and we got all the fish we needed in plenty of time, even the weather behaved, and the mussels – well they didn’t really seem to do anything, because they’re mussels – but hopefully they produced their glochidia.

Now we can only wait and see next spring whether we were successful. Hopefully we will be bringing you news of lots of developing young mussels on the fishes’ gills next year.

I’ll leave you a taste of the rather manic day – see the pictures below and there is even an 8 minute feature.

Now unfortunately I must say goodbye. My year of working for the North York Moors National Park Authority has come to an end, and it has been wonderful.

Farewell,

Sam

* There was a potential hitch. About a week previously Simon, the Esk Project Officer and lead on the Encystment Project, had dislocated his knee which curtailed his mobility and meant he was unable to be involved on the day. Fortunately Sam stepped up to the task, and Simon is now on the mend.

 

 

Counting down the days

Emily Collins – Research Student

As the newest member of the Conservation team, I’ve barely had time to lace up my boots before having to, quite literally, wade into the deep end. Having studied Picture 1Biology for two years at The University of York, I will be spending the next thirteen months working alongside Simon Hirst (River Esk Project Officer) and Rona Charles (Senior Ecology Officer) on numerous National Park projects as part of my Year in Industry, replacing Sam Jones who leaves at the end of August. A major focus of my year will be on helping Simon with the Pearl Mussel encystment project which aims to counter the declining numbers of rare Freshwater Pearl Mussels in the River Esk.

Picture 2

As you might have read in Sam’s earlier post, this is an exciting time of year for the Pearl Mussel encystment project. The project revolves around the stage in the mussel life cycle which usually occurs between July and early September, in which glochidia (baby mussels) are released by adult mussels so that they can latch onto the gills of passing salmon or trout. They then grow on the gills for nine months before they are large enough to drop off and survive on the riverbed. A couple of weeks back, with August fast approaching and the release of the glochidia from adult mussels just around the corner, we called in mussel experts Ian Killeen and Evelyn Moorkens, to gives us some vital advice and training on how to artificially induce the encystment process ourselves.

Picture 3

Picture 4So far this year we have found no evidence of natural encystment occurring in the Esk, something which we feared might be down to the fact that the female mussels weren’t producing eggs at all. All is not lost, however, for Evelyn having gently prised the mussel shell open with special tongs, was able to study the gills of a number of our mussels with an otoscope and show us that, to our relief, we still have some healthy egg-producing mussels in the Esk! What’s more, we found that many of the males have become hermaphrodites (egg-producing) due to the sparse distribution of mussels (a natural process that can sometimes occur). Picture 5

Picture 6Picture 7Ian and Evelyn also showed us how to extract fluid from the gills of the mussel using a pipette. The fluid can be studied under a microscope and any glochidia within it identified. At the moment our glochidia are in stage 2-3 of development so, using estimations from previous studies, we can predict that they will be at stage 5 – the ‘snapping’ stage – and ready to be released within a fortnight.

pictureNow that we have a date for the encystment, it’s vital that the whole encystment team, including the Environment Agency’s electro-fishers, are on standby so as not to miss the moment of release. On the day, we hope to visit the two sites which Evelyn believes to be good juvenile habitat and collect glochidia from the mussels by placing them in buckets and increasing the temperature of the water slightly to stimulate release. The mussels will then be replaced in the river and the glochidia mixed with salmon and trout in the buckets for fifteen minutes until the majority of them have ‘snapped’ onto the gills of the fish. The fish are then released. We will then return in the spring to see if any of these fish have glochidia still growing on them and whether the encystment has been a success.

Now we’re just counting down to the big day.

Emergency rescue

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

A couple of days ago Simon, Emily, Sam and I carried out an emergency crayfish rescue on the River Rye.

Crayfiah rescue  (1)

The Rye and the Upper Derwent (which both rise in the North York Moors) are two of only a few rivers in the North East of England which still support a population of the globally threatened White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes).

White-clawed crayfish are incredibly important as they are the only native crayfish in the UK, but unfortunately populations are declining due to competition by introduced crayfish species, crayfish plague and pollution.

The recent sustained period of dry hot weather had caused crayfish and fish to become stranded in small pools as the river dried up. Working under a Natural England licence we managed to collect the stranded crayfish and a number of small fish and move them upstream, using buckets and a small car, to a safer haven above the limestone swallow holes.

Crayfiah rescue  (2)Crayfiah rescue  (7)Crayfiah rescue  (6)

Along with the Environment Agency we will be continuing to monitor the river levels over the summer and will be ready to leap back into action if further rescues are required.

We recorded a quick film of a White-clawed crayfish that we’d just released (click on the image above). Look out for the juvenile crayfish in the top left corner about half way through – you can also see a small Bullhead darting about too!

 

Saving our Pearl Mussels

Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student

Pic 1 Copyright Sue Scott SNH

I thought I would take a little time to mention our Freshwater Pearl Mussel encystment work this summer (part of the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project). The mussel is a large long lived mollusc that inhabits a small number of rivers in the United Kingdom including the River Esk in the north of the Park. The species is endangered and struggling to reproduce naturally within the Esk, resulting in an aging population with falling numbers.

Pic 2 Courtesy Anne lewis EA 2008

The mussels reproduce by releasing millions of microscopic young (called glochidia at this stage) into the open water in late summer. A lucky few of these glochidia drift onto the gills of young salmon and trout fry or parr in the river. These young latch onto the gills of the fish and grow there over winter, causing no harm to the fish. They then, after having grown to about the size of a pin head, drop off around May time and settle in the river bed.

Pic 3 Courtesy of the FBA

Pic 4 Courtesy of the FBA

This is natural encystment but as you may guess the likelihood of the glochidia landing on the gills of fish is exceedingly low; the river is a big place. As we have so few mussels, the glochidia need a helping hand in reaching their target. The idea is that this summer we will gather as many fish as possible by electro-fishing (using electricity to stun and catch small fish), and put them in containers on the bankside along with collected fertile female mussels. The mussels will then be encouraged to release their young, and if all goes well we will end up with a high rate of encystment.

We have already been out on the river preparing for this work. In April a few of the local Environment Agency fisheries team were good enough to come along and electro-fish stretches of the river around our planned re-establishment sites. This turned up some good healthy fish populations, but unfortunately we did not see any natural encystment on the gills of the fish this year. It is likely that some natural encystment is occurring in the river, but at such a low level that it is very hard to spot. These results highlight even more the pressing need for the artificial encystment work. We’ll be using electro-fishing again next year to measure how effective this year’s encystment work is, comparing this year’s results with next year’s.

Pic 5

Pic 6

Pic 7

Pic 8

Pic 9

So, over the next month Simon Hirst (Esk Project Officer) and I will be trained up in glochidia monitoring by an expert. Then we will start our mussel checks, looking for fertile females. The unpredictable molluscs have to be closely monitored as they can release their glochidia anywhere from late July to mid-September (likely influenced by temperature, but not definitely known). We will select 20 or 30 female mussels and return to them repeatedly to open them up ever so slightly so we can take a small sample of the developing young. The stage that these young are at will tell us approximately how long until they are ready to be released by the female mussel. It’s all going to be a bit frantic on the actual encystment day as we gather together the Environment Agency’s fisheries team, the fish and the mussels at short notice.

Pic 10

This is one element of a two pronged efforts to save our mussels. There is a Pearl Mussel Ark facility at the Freshwater Biology Association’s Headquarters at Windermere in the Lake District. They have mussels from rivers all over the country including the Esk, and they are attempting to breed them in captivity for re-introduction to the wild. Some progress has been made, but unfortunately as yet, no Esk baby mussels have survived long enough to be brought back to the North York Moors. Hopefully though, if this encystment project goes well and is worth repeating next year, and if the Ark facility can produce surviving young, the Freshwater Pearl Mussels in the River Esk can thrive again!

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Soggy moorland helping to stop soggy carpets

Rachel Pickering – Conservation Officer

I wish that my favourite view in the National Park was tucked away somewhere that nobody else knew about – but it isn’t.  Instead it’s one of our most photographed views – the Hole of Horcum within Levisham Estate. Not only is the view stunning but it has also proved to be a key location for landscape works towards the Slowing the Flow in Pickering project.

Work began on 8 January 2014 on the bund at Newbridge which will store flood waters upstream of Pickering. This work is a culmination of efforts by a number of partner organisations over the last few years to make changes to upstream land management to slow down the water running off the North York Moors and into Pickering Beck before it gets into Pickering town.  For the last three years the National Park Authority has been busy carrying out the following work on its own land at Levisham Estate.

Slowing the Flow - tree planting

Tree planting

Wooden dams created

Slowing the Flow - moorland gully blocking photo taken November 2012 - shows heather bales holding water back

Moorland gully blocking

  • The National Park Authority has spent £7,000 on partially blocking natural occurring moorland gullies with heather bales on various parts of the Estate.


Re-vegetation work

  • Heather brash has been spread in the Hole of Horcum to aid re-vegetation after the previous years’ bracken control left areas of bare ground.

Footpath repair work

  • An eroding footpath into the Hole of Horcum has recently been repaired with improved drainage that will slow down run off along the route.

Heather burning buffers

The hope is that with this type of beneficial land management established upstream of Pickering, along with the creation of the bund just to the north of the town, the chance of extreme flooding events will be lessened in the future.

Local grants: past and future – part 1

Clair Shields – Small Scale Enhancements Scheme Co-ordinator

As we’re entering the final year of the LEADER funded Small Scale Enhancements (SSE) Scheme in the North York Moors I thought it would be good to highlight some of the great projects the Scheme has supported.

The habitats and wildlife of the National Park are one of its most bee hivesvaluable aspects, and consequently projects which look to enhance areas for the benefit of birds, bees and insects can only be a good thing. The Honeybee Conservation project involved the purchase of 30 nucleus hives providing new beekeepers with the equipment needed to set-up new hives to help increase our local bee population. Local bees have a high tolerance to the Varroa Virus, derived from 15 years of hard work by our local Beekeepers’ Associations.

River Esk monitoringThe SSE has also funded a monitoring programme to continually assess the health of the River Esk. Known as the River Esk Monitoring Initiative, twelve local anglers have been trained to assess the biological health of the river which will feed into the data collected by the Environment Agency who can then take action should the water quality drop below expected levels. The River Esk is home to a number of protected species, including the nationally important Fresh Water Pearl Mussel.

Other environmental projects supported include the Rosedale Church Conservation Area project which is enhancing a “wild” area of the churchyard using wildflower seed gathered from a local farmer’s hay meadow; and St Matthew’s Church Habitat Improvements linking children with their local wildlife havens and sustaining the wildlife populations in area by making bird and bat boxes and bug hotels. The SSE has also supported projects to encourage local communities to start up small growing initiatives, re-connecting communities to their environment. An example is the Doorways Project which involved young people (not working or in education) constructing 20 wooden containers, which were then placed within the public realm and are used by the local residents of Easington and Charlton in the far north of the National Park to grow their own vegetables.

Local history and cultural heritage has been the most popular of the SSE’s themes and I can only mention a few of the projects facilitated. The North York Moors Association‘s History Tree at History TreeDanby Moors Centre was one of the first projects supported – a metal plate was fitted to the stump of the iconic copper beech tree (which had to be felled in 2007) displaying a timeline of historical events which occurred during the lifespan of the tree (c. 200 years), and now forms a popular teaching tool for the education team at the Centre. The conservation and promotion of our history and cultural heritage is important to give a grounding for people, which is why those involved with the Egton Mortuary Chapel wanted to erect a plaque to raise awareness and appreciation of the Chapel’s history. Sited in a secluded location outside Egton village, many locals and visitors to the area will have been unaware of the listed Chapel’s story; however the plaque will now illuminate those passing by. Similarly the new Beggar’s Bridge Interpretation Board tells the tale of the local legend behind the building of the bridge involving an endurance swim and a happy ending. It doesn’t matter if it is true or false, it adds an interesting layer to its history, so visit the site to see what you think!

The final theme has been improvements to community buildings, not only village halls but cricket pavilions, football clubs, recreation fields, churches… Conserving a sustainable functioning community of people is as valuable to the North York Moors as populations of wildlife. The SSE assisted Danby Village Hall with their A Warm and Welcoming Village Hall Project, funding loft and cavity wall insulation. The cost savings made from these works will feed into the Danby Village Hall and Esk Valley Community Energy websites to help share useful information with other communities.

Quite often it is the hidden benefits which are the most worthwhile, as with the Fylingthorpe Methodist Chapel. The funding simply provided a new cooker for the Chapel, and one of the resulting benefits was it allowed the community to set up a ‘luncheon club’ for the elderly residents of Fylingthorpe.

Overall there has been some great projects (too many to mention in this post) and it is hoped that this enthusiasm and interest can be carried forward using future grant schemes.