This gallery contains 40 photos.
Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. Henry James
This gallery contains 40 photos.
Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. Henry James
Large parts of the North York Moors have either no field boundaries (open moorland) or have drystone walls as boundaries (upland tops and slopes), but round the edges of the area and in the farmland dales there are often hedgerows. A large number of these hedges will have existed for years, but they’re not considered ‘ancient’ unless they’re older than 1700, just like Ancient Woodland.
Hedgerows of course are made out of trees and shrubs just like woodland but are otherwise culturally and ecologically distinctive. Hedgerows have long been a man-made feature of landscapes – boundaries to keep things in as well as out. In other parts of England there are hedgerows that are thought to date back over a millennium. This is not so likely in the North York Moors. Many hedgerows here probably just date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a lot of enclosure and land ‘improvement’ going on, here as elsewhere in the country.
Hedgerows have been created through one or more of these three methods – original planting/transplanting, allowing uncultivated field edges to grow up, or by leaving a ‘ghost’/edge of a removed woodland. A curved hedge suggests a ghost hedge because natural woodlands are more likely to have had curved not straight edges, whereas constructed boundaries are often as straight as possible.
Ancient hedges share Ancient Woodland herbaceous ground flora such as Wood anemone, Sweet woodruff and Golden saxifrage. There is also a well-known ‘rule’ (Hooper’s Law) sometimes used to estimate the age of a hedge by counting the number of established woody species over a 30 yard/30 metres stretch or preferably an average over a series of stretches. The equation is then Age = no of species in a 30 yard stretch (or average number) x 110 + 30 years.
Whereas an enclosure hedge (18th/19th century) will have one or two species, a pre Norman Conquest hedge might have more than ten species. However such ancient hedges would have been an unlikely feature in the ‘wastes’ of the North York Moors recorded in the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th century.
Like all rules there is bound to be exceptions. Hooper’s Law relies on the hedgerow being mainly naturally colonised, not planted 30 years ago by a biodiversity enthusiast. Also any hedgerow adjoined to or close-by woodlands are more likely to be colonised at different rate than another hedge. In the end it’s probably best to use other evidence of dating, such as maps and records, as well.
Although original hedgerows may have been planted and laid to incorporate existing older trees it would be difficult to keep such trees alive, and therefore much more likely that in-boundary trees were planted at the same time as a hedge or added later. The first edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch mapping includes individual in-field and in-boundary trees. For the North York Moors area these maps are usually from the 1890s. The presence of a mapped in-boundary tree suggests that boundary was a hedge rather than wall or fence at that time.
Since the middle of the 20th century the amount of hedgerow in the country as well as the number of boundary trees has been reduced. Machinery meant it became easy enough to remove a hedgerow, and to maximise the cutting of hedgerows. At the moment the cultural and ecological importance of hedgerows is valued and lately there have been efforts to use agri-environment schemes to encourage good practice management and to use the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations to control removal.
* This is the list of species which count towards Hooper’s Law. The species listed grow in a wide variety of habitats across the country, only some of these would ever have been used in and around the North York Moors. As it is currently winter, identifying different species is particularly difficult and therefore maybe more fun.
|Apple incl crab apple||Dogwood||Lime – ordinary, pry||Service|
|Beech||Elm – Wych, English, East Anglian, Cornish, Dutch/Huntingdon etc||Oak – pedunculated, sessile||Sycamore|
|Briar (three named species)||Guelder-rose||Plum incl bulace||Whitebeam|
|Broom||Hawthorn – ordinary, woodland||Poplar – aspen, black, white, grey||Willow – crack, white|
Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer
The BIFFA funded project ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ came to an end in 2018. We were involved because of the River Esk in the north of the National Park. The £300,000 made available helped towards safeguarding Yorkshire’s last remaining population of Freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera).
A huge amount of work was achieved in the Upper Esk catchment during the three year period of this project, working closely with the farming community to address diffuse pollution from agriculture. Pollution including sedimentation detrimentally affects water quality and therefore impacts on aquatic species like the mussels.
For most of its three years the project was led by Simon Hirst, our River Esk Project Officer. Simon worked with 38 land managers in the Upper Esk catchment delivering improvement works to help keep pollution including sedimentation out of the river and its tributaries. This has meant:
Big Thank You to Biffa for supporting the Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England project.
Big Thank You to all the local land managers who worked alongside Simon on the Esk, contributing a lot of their own time and capital to complete these improvement works.
Big Thank You to our dedicated Mussel Volunteers who have played such a vital role in this delivery project, and all the other volunteers that helped out like the Explorer Club and the 1st Marston Moor Scout Group.
And one more Big Thank You to Simon Hirst. Last year the North York Moors National Park had to say goodbye to Simon because he moved on to a new role working on the River Holme in Huddersfield. His enthusiasm and knowledge will be greatly missed by us and the Esk’s Freshwater pearl mussels.
Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron
A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.
Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.
Dung beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.
These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.
Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.
So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.
However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.
Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.
So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.
The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.
There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.
Apologies for the titular puns.
Claire Bending – Lead Land Management Adviser
As part of the working up of conservation plans for the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme (currently under development) we’ve been looking at available historic maps. Such maps can provide a view of the past landscape illustrating land use and field boundary patterns.
We’re not trying to revert the landscape back to how it was two hundred years ago, but there may be opportunities to re-establish habitats overcome by agricultural improvement and to restore relict features of conservation value. Examples of this might be recreating a hay meadow, planting new trees on a site which used to be woodland, or reinstating a natural meander in a watercourse that had previously been straightened.
We have digital access to early editions of Ordnance Survey maps. The earliest being the 1st edition 6 inch to one mile mapping from the 1850s. It seems incredible that if you overlay a modern Ordnance Survey map, the two maps separated by 170 years match up pretty perfectly. I have a feeling our Victorian counterparts would be insulted if they knew we thought it might be anything less, but to my lazy modern day brain it does seem incredible that the entire country could be mapped so precisely to the last inch without GPS, laser lines or aerial photography.
For maps from before the 1850s we went to the North Yorkshire County Record Office. They hold the Feversham Collection which is full of information on the Feversham Estate, which over time has included Bilsdale (within the Ryevitalise project area), Bransdale and Farndale as well as the townships of Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside.
Amongst the collection are two surveys that feature Bilsdale; one by Tukes and Ayer drawn up in 1826, and commissioned by Charles Duncombe, 1st Baron Feversham (1764 – 1841); and another includes a painstakingly drawn map of Bilsdale from 1781, by William Calvert and commissioned by Charles Slingsby Duncombe (???? – 1803).
The 1781 map is particularity informative as it is still relatively early on in the agricultural ‘revolution’ period that came about in the century following 1750, when a huge sea change occurred in farming, fuelled by the enclosure acts, improving efficiencies and profits for landowners. The landscape altered with open common land enclosed, fields reconfigured with straight walls, land drainage organised, new roads built to improve transport, and conifer plantations planted to produce wood.
Compare the two maps below of Cam House, Bilsdale – one is an extract from the 1781 map, and the other of the same place seventy six years later, in 1857 as drawn on the 1st edition OS map.
Barely a boundary has remained immune to the straightening process. Although replacing the earlier, wiggly ad-hoc walls with grid-like boundaries was hugely labour intensive, the gains in the longer term through enabling horse plough teams to utilise the entire field area, therefore maximising production, were great.
William Calvert’s map is also of interest for all the field names recorded on the map – for the Tukes and Ayer survey field names were recorded in separate field books.
Field names are sometimes related to the use of the field, such as Cow pasture, Milking field, Corn close, Lime kiln field and Lear field (Lear is another word for a scythe). They can also be descriptive of the place, including words like Holm (the land in a river bend, or low lying land by the river), Syke (stream), Sievey (rushy), Heights, Stoney, Loaning (lane) or Thwaite (clearing).
Other names refer to the vegetation; Birk (birch), Hollin (holly), Eller (alder), Broom, Brier. Sometimes the names reference annoying insects often found in hollows – Loppy hole (Lop was an old word for a flea, but maybe in this case meant ticks) and Midge hole.
There are also a few references to field shape, which is interesting as there is one called Four nook’d (cornered) field. By the 19th century, most fields had four corners but in 1781 four corners was notable because fields either had a myriad of corners or rounded boundaries or both. Other field names give a clue to industries – Collier intake (related to the local small-scale coal mining) or Tenter close (tenters were frames for stretching drying cloth), Cinder field/Smithy hill (reference iron smelting and iron working).
Finally there are some field names that are just plain enigmatic – Camel hill, Slatern Field and Sweetheart Field. Answers on a postcard please!
Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron
Charles Darwin was an undoubted genius, according to most people’s definition – so it should come as no surprise that he was interested in earthworms. He even wrote a book with the catchy title The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habitats.
Earthworms are fundamental. They are ecosystem engineers – a term associated with important ecological outputs, which can often be stalked by controversy because of the affects caused e.g. Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber). However, everyone can get behind earthworms; they are the only species playing a significant role in pedoturbation and are a major player in pedogenesis.
What are pedoturbation and pedogenesis? Well, they’re words we should all know. They describe the process of mixing between soil horizons resulting in healthy homogenization, and the formation of soils through biogeochemical processes.
Soil is the unconsolidated material on the top level of the earth in temperate climes. In the UK most plants grow in soil. Our soils are under pressure from erosion/loss, compaction and decline in organic matter. In the 2015 bestselling book, What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper, estimated the annual cost from soil degradation is between £900 million and £1.4 billion, while studies suggest soils will be too degraded for production within around 100 harvests. The need for solutions is urgent.
Soil health targets are included in the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan. Further national measures are planned through legislation during 2018 to manage all soils sustainably, including devising a soil health index, and updating guidance on crop establishment and optimal tillage choice.
Earthworms are crucial for tackling these problems and maintaining the health of soils. Still little is known about earthworms, despite Darwin’s efforts. We know there are 29 species in the UK, split into four groups: composters living in organic rich vegetation, epigeics living amongst leaf litter, endogeics living in the soil, and anecics living in vertical burrows. They all eat (and so recycle) decaying material, help drainage and aeration, and are food for many other species (so crucial for biodiversity). The fact that all four groups and all the species have varying ecology enhances their benefits to the reducing of erosion, compaction and the loss of organic matter, therefore benefiting the entire ecosystem – including us.
It will be very important to increase our understanding of distributions and ecology of each earthworm species, to help us to properly conserve and encourage worms to be a vital partner in such a time of soil health concern.
The Earthworm Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has information regarding the recording of earthworms, identifying different species, and further facts on their biology and ecology.
The British Society of Soil Science is supporting the advancement of soil science in the UK. The more we understand the resource the more we can do to conserve and enhance it.
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.
John Beech – Land Management Adviser
Mature trees within a hedgerow network are an important feature in the countryside. This is where land managers across generations have allowed single hedgerow plants to grow to their potential, alongside hedgerow plants that are coppiced, laid, and managed to create a boundary. Hedgerow trees have no particular value in terms of land management, but have huge value for wildlife and for the landscape.
Traditionally Elm, Ash and Oak trees were the dominant hedgerow tree species reaching heights of up to and over 30 metres tall, towering above the hedgerow corridors. Saplings that are allowed to grow higher than the surrounding hedge do not need to compete for light and therefore grow and spread their canopy high and wide up into the air. This provides a wonderful habitat kingdom for many species of wildlife, free from the clutch of ground based predators. Such trees act as key wildlife ‘stepping stones’ between woodland habitats and across a mixed landscape.
The intensification of agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century including increasing field sizes resulted in the loss of thousands of miles of hedgerows along with their hedgerow trees. The outbreak of Dutch elm disease from the late 1960s onwards removed some 20 million elms from our countryside, mostly from hedgerows. It is therefore quite rare now to find a mature Elm tree within a hedgerow. Similarly Ash trees are now threatened by Chalara dieback.
In 1998 there were an estimated 1.8 million hedgerow trees in Britain (CPRE survey). Many of our over mature hedgerow trees today are beginning to die and slowly retrench. There is an adage that an Oak tree takes over 200 years to grow and then 200 years to die.
To check the loss of hedgerow trees we need to be planting new ones to replace the ones that are dying back. The 1998 survey revealed that only 1% of hedgerow trees were in the youngest age class (1-4 years old). Without successional planning there is a danger that these key features will be lost for good from the landscape and the disconnection between farmed land and semi natural woodland will become more marked than ever. It takes a leap of imagination but by planting now land managers will be leaving their mark on the landscape for their children.
Trees take time to grow. Native wildlife species use hedgerow trees but birds, bats and butterflies in particular favour mature hedgerow trees.
Tawny Owls take advantage of mature trees both as nesting sites and day roosts usually hiding close up against trunk. From a tree perch owls can see the movement of their potential prey on the ground below them. Bullfinches clamber amongst the branches searching for seeds, buds and insects. Treecreepers and Nuthatches use their acrobatic skills to forage for insects, nuts and berries and Woodpeckers drill away into the deadwood high in the canopy to make a home and feast on any tiny invertebrates in the wood. Butterflies such as Hairstreaks forage for honeydew from aphids and lay their eggs high up in the Oaks and Elms. Rich lichen communities also grow on the branches of old hedgerow trees.
In some of the older trees, holes and crevices provide ideal habitats for a variety of bat species. Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. Bats use different parts of the tree for different reasons, depending on the time of year and temperature. In the summer bats use the higher canopy sites to have their young in warmer temperatures. In winter, they move deeper and lower into the tree to hibernate. Trees such as Oak, Beech and Ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any hedgerow tree has potential for a bat roost – especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy. In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by law.
We’re working on enhancing wildlife corridors and connections through our habitat connectivity initiative, and as part of this we’re actively encouraging the planting of hedgerow trees where appropriate. With the loss of Elm and the threat to Ash, Oak is now the main species being planted in the North York Moors to become the hedgerow trees of the future. With good care and maintenance the trees should grow into vigorous specimens.
To foster hedgerow trees:
Practical help and advice can be provided by the National Park Authority. Contact us.
I, J, K
INTAKE and INBYE
An intake is a parcel of land on the fringes of the moorland which has been “taken in” from the moorland and brought under cultivation i.e. farmed, usually by stock grazing. An intake is often separated and demarked from the moorland with drystone walling using the materials to hand. As a habitat these intakes are often a mix of acid grassland, wet rushy areas and remnant areas of heathland species such as bilberry. There are farms on the North York Moors that have the word intake in their name such as Riddings Intake in Westerdale where the farm holding is nearly all intake.
Inbye land is further down from the moorland, usually closer to the farmstead. Inbye is often the most productive land on an upland farm holding and is used for grass production (hay/haylage/silage) and sometimes arable. Inbye can also provide winter grazing as conditions on the higher more remote areas of the farm, the intakes or the moorland beyond, become too harsh for livestock.
Ironstone is a rock that contains minerals with an iron element. In the 19th century if the iron elements could be extracted the rock had a value. The ironstone in the Jurassic mud stones of the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills was close enough to the surface to make it relatively easy to mine, coal and limestone resources for processing were available nearby, the same entrepreneurs processing the iron were involved with the development of the railway network, and together this made exploitation worthwhile for a short lived period. The first ironstone mine in the area was Hays Mine near Grosmont which opened in 1837; by 1863, 78 of the 108 blast furnaces in the north east of England were using iron primarily from the North York Moors/Cleveland Hills. Most of the ironstone was of a low grade with a high phosphorous content – magnetite (a much purer iron ore) was discovered in Rosedale in the 1850s but it proved to be the exception and the seams were quickly worked out leaving lesser grade ironstone to maintain the industry here. The development of the Cleveland Practice in iron making in the 1860s meant that the problem of the phosphorous content became surmountable for a while and boosted the value of local ironstone. Because of the low grade it was economically advantageous to calcine the ironstone in blast furnaces close to mine sites rather than pay for conveying the unwanted dross as well, and so the resulting pig iron was then transported by railway to the developing town of Middlesbrough and its emergent steel industry.
The financial viability of the industry and the companies involved was somewhat helter-skelter. After the initial rush and a period of consolidation for the local industry, better quality iron ore imports and decline after World War 1 saw the last working ironstone mine in the North York Moors close in 1927.
The impacts of the ironstone industry on the North York Moors’ landscape and communities are a major focus of our This Exploited Land Scheme.
Jet is fossilised waterlogged wood which has been buried between sedimentary rock layers and compressed over millions of years. Buried in isolation and enriched by organic oils jet is formed instead of fractious coal. The wood was mainly from a type of monkey puzzle tree Araucariaceae which grew when the North York Moors were warmer than they are now; plant cellular structures can be seen in real jet.
Jet is only really used for one purpose – ornamentation. The best jet is always pure opaque black. Whitby Jet is a high quality hard jet formed in saline water and so easy to work. The town of Whitby was at the forefront of an upsurge in the popularity of jet jewellery – following the fashion for mourning set by Queen Victoria after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1852. Jet had previously been collected out of the cliffs or from the sea shore but the heightened demand meant mines were opened across the north of the North York Moors to the west of Whitby; this line is thought to have been the edge of a salt water swamp some 180 million years ago. The enthusiasm for mourning became a social occupation – a widow was expected to wear mourning i.e. black for two years after the death of her husband, although many remained in black for the rest of their lives. Jet was the perfect accessory for the shrouds of mourning.
Whitby Museum has a fine collection of local jet jewellery.
John Bunting (1927 – 2002) was born in London and educated at Ampleforth College on the edge of the North York Moors. The area made a considerable impression on him and he returned to the College to teach art in 1955. He also taught at the York School of Art, and later became sculptor in residence at Ampleforth. Without doubt, his religious faith was central to his work.
In the 1950s John Bunting bought a small piece of land on the edge of the ridge above Byland Abbey and on it he created the War Memorial Chapel . He renovated a derelict farm building on the site himself with the help of a Mr Winspear of Oswaldkirk.
The whole chapel is a work of art. The outside and inside commemorate the dead, in particular four named alumni of Ampleforth College, and the peace the dead sacrificed themselves for. The recumbent stone soldier inside the Chapel wearing WWII commando boots connects the modern age with the past, echoing a tomb of a mediaeval Catholic knight.
The Chapel is also known as the Scotch Corner Chapel; it was round about here that in an earlier conflict the Scots defeated the English in battle.
The Chapel is occasionally open to the public.
There are two genera in the rush family common to the UK, luzula and juncus. Rushes can easily be confused with sedges, and even some grasses. As a rule of thumb, grass stems are usually cylindrical and hollow, sedges are triangular and solid whilst rushes are round and filled with pith – hence the common adage ‘sedges have edges and rushes are round’.
Soft rush Juncus effusus is one of the most widespread rushes in the North York Moors, and on the moorland Heath rush Juncus squarrosus is also commonly found. Other locally important rushes include Jointed rush Juncus articulatus, Blunt-flowered rush Juncus subnodulosus and Sharp-flowered rush Juncus acutiflorus.
Rushes are significant for a variety of animal species. Snipe often build their nests at the base of a clump of rushes near water, whilst meadow pipits feed on the seeds in winter. Lapwing, curlew and redshank also benefit from the damp pasture on farmland where rushes can be found. Rushes are an important food source for butterflies; the Large Heath butterfly feeds on Jointed rush.
Semi natural rush pasture is usually dominated by rushes. The UK priority habitat – purple moor grass and rush pasture – is found in the North York Moors, on or around moorland and in patches on damper ground around flushes or hollows on inbye land. Rush pasture can be managed with light to moderate grazing. The ideal level keeps the Juncus and Molinia caerulea (purple moor-grass) from becoming dominant and allows other species to flourish in these more vigorous swards. Occasional poaching caused by grazing stock can have the beneficial effect of creating varied soil surfaces and bare ground, which can be colonised by the smaller plants. However, as always, too heavy a grazing level will have a negative impact on the botanical interest. Draining rush pasture removes the vital element of water and will modify the habitat leading to the loss of specialist wetland plants.
JUNIPER (Juniperus communis)
Common Juniper is a coniferous shrub or tree which is both evergreen and perennial. It is also a dioecious plant – plants are either male or female, not both as with many other plant species. It often lives to 100 years and can grow up to 4 metres in height, though it has been recorded at heights of up to 10 metres. It grows in a diversity of forms including as an upright bush, as a low-growing mat or a towering spire. It is typically found on moorland/heathland/downland and in pine and birch woodland habitats. It is one of only three “native” conifers in the UK (alongside Yew and Scot’s Pine).
Thirty-five insects and three mites are specifically associated with Common Juniper, such as the Juniper carpet moth (Thera juniperata) and the Juniper pug moth (Eupithecia pusillata). Juniper can also provide an important food source for berry-eating birds such as thrushes, fieldfares and waxwing who help spread the seed that passes through them. Juniper berries have long been exploited by man too, for their flavour, fragrance and presumed medicinal properties.
Juniper is becoming increasingly rare. There are a small number of plants in the North York Moors. The population here is fragmented, and as Juniper is dioecious to regenerate both genders must be close enough to one another so that the wind-borne pollen of male plants may reach and
pollinate a receptive female. Otherwise a population has no chance of successfully reproducing and will eventually die out. Juniper seeds become less viable with age, and natural regeneration of Juniper is also vulnerable to moorland management and grazing. Between 1990 and 2012 over 1750 new Juniper plants propagated from local seeds and cuttings, were planted in the North York Moors through a volunteer initiative. The local Forestry Commission have also been planting Juniper on their holdings, for instance at Bumble Wood. The threat of the pathogen Phytophthora austrocedrae means any further propagation work will need to be self sufficient within the North York Moors.
A kiln is a structure capable of holding material at temperatures high enough to effect chemical change. Quicklime (or burnt lime) is used to improve soil structure and increase the fertility of acidic soils which are common in the North York Moors. It is also used to bind and render stonework. To abstract one tonne of quicklime from limestone you’d need a lime kiln, two tonnes of limestone, and half a tonne of coal (or similar) as a fuel source. Stack the limestone and fuel in alternate layers inside the kiln and heat to 1100°C. Leave for 4 to 5 days to cool. Be careful, because the end product is unstable.
There are records of lime kilns across the southern North York Moors dating back to the medieval period. Kilns were more common in the south because this is where the limestone is. Kiln structures ranged from single basic clamp lime kilns on farmland to lines of industrial heat-efficient kilns next to limestone quarry sites. Remains of a number of lime kiln structures can still be seen in the North York Moors landscape.
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:
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.