Traversing the Esk

Christopher Watt – River Esk Project Officer

Hi there, I’m Chris and I’ve just recently joined the National Park Authority as a River Esk Project Officer, having moved down from Scotland, and seemingly brought the weather with me! My role will involve working with farmers and landowners to implement river restoration techniques that seek to improve the water quality of the River Esk catchment.

Over the last month I have started to piece together the Esk catchment, worked with volunteers in delivering practical tasks and began undertaking fish obstacle river surveys. It has certainly been a varied introduction to the role and area.

Autumn colours in Westeredale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Volunteers braved the drizzly elements back in October to repair a broken fence on the River Esk, near Castleton. Thankfully, the task allowed us to remain on dry land and avoid venturing into the river which was rather swollen after recent heavy rainfall. A bankside tree had fallen and crushed a section of the fence-line, slackening the wire and dislodging posts. The volunteers assisted with installing new posts, including a heavy duty straining post, re-attaching the wires and finally tightening them. The volunteers worked extremely hard and it was a pleasure to meet and work with them. The task was also completed in one afternoon and the sun even came out, which is a bonus!

This task was one of the many on-going works to restore and enhance the riparian habitats of the River Esk. Maintaining riverside fences assists in keeping cattle and sheep away from the bankside vegetation and so causing sediment loading through erosion. Bankside vegetation stabilises the soil and is an important habitat in its own right. The reduction of sediment loading should help improve conditions for conservation priority species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Sea trout (Salmo trutta) and Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) which favour clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams.

In combination to riparian habitat enhancements, we have also been undertaking fish obstacle surveys stretching from Westerdale down  to Goathland. These involve inspecting an assortment of obstructions from weirs, fords and culverts and assessing how severe they impinge on fish migration. At each obstacle the length, width and height are recorded, along with a written assessment of the level of severity the obstacle poses to migrating fish populations.  

Esk Catchment weir after high rainfall event. Copyright NYMNPA.

Due to recent high rainfall, many of these obstacles have been partially or fully submerged, and although looking dramatic, have been just too dangerous to take measurements from. Electro-fishing will also accompany these surveys at a later date to inform us about fish species diversity and abundance at each obstacle. The purpose of these surveys is to update our records on obstructions across the catchment and prioritise where mitigation measures would best be targeted to benefit fish populations of the Esk. Migratory fish are a vital aspect of the biodiversity of the river.

Esk Catchment culvert and ford system. Copyright NYMNPA.

Electrifying activities

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee

Last week some National Park Volunteers (all fully trained) have finally been able to carry out the first electro fishing surveys this year along the River Esk. Delays had been caused by the weather.

The priority are sites up and downstream of the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and one Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) in the upper catchment. The first day of surveying was at Commondale.

The concept of electro fishing is to collect samples of fish living within the river, the higher the fish count the healthier the river should be. This will also show the type of fish living in our rivers, the cleanliness of the river and theoretically what the invertebrate population is like along that stretch of river.

The river levels had settled down by Thursday meaning the water was back to a slow flow and all the previous rain had made the water clear giving the perfect conditions for electro fishing.

We fished the river in two 50m sections, one upstream and one downstream of water treatment works. This was done using a zig zag motion to ensure that no area was left unfished. Each 50m section was fished three times to ensure a fair population of fish were caught.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

The equipment used to stun the fish is called an electro fisher and consists of a positive charge the anode at the front and a negative charge called the cathode which trails along the back. These are both attached to a battery which is worn by the person conducting the fishing, today it was Volunteer Paul. Both the anode and the cathode must be in the water to cause an electro charge which is what stuns the fish, but don’t worry rubber thigh waders were worn by everyone so the electro pulse did not affect us humans like it did the fish. The rest of us were in charge of catching the stunned fish in nets alongside the anode, which is harder than it looks as the fish soon spring back to life! They are then transferred into a bucket from the nets.

Esk electro fishing October 2019. Copyright NYMNPA.

We set the voltage output at 150- 200 volts which is enough to temporarily stun the fish making them easier to catch in the net. Once the section of river has been fished the data collection begins. The fish are identified – on this day we found 57 trout downstream and 104 upstream with the largest being 180mm and the smallest recorded at 52mm. The information collected will now be analysed before being sent onto Yorkshire Water, they will then compare this with the other locations which are due to be fished over the next few weeks, and that will all help inform management of their sites as necessary.

An amazing day was had by all the volunteers and staff that attended. More data collection will happen in the next few weeks on different sites along the Esk.

Esk electro fishing October 2019 - small trout. Copyright NYMNPA.

What’s for dinner?

When the funding behind projects comes to an end sometimes the drive and actions generated can inadvertently fizzle out too. The hardest thing to achieve is making the drive and actions self-sustaining so that without the initial funding and without particular individuals those things become habitual, more likely to continue and grow than not.

One such initiative hoping to achieve sustainability is Signature Seafood Yorkshire with its emphasis on locally sourced, seasonally available fish. Not only does this initiative support sustainable fishing* it also aims to be a self-sustaining concept built out of encouraging culinary knowledge, and creating and maintaining local demand in the longer term. Like other successful concepts it includes aspects of the past e.g. the continuing traditions of fishing, and varieties like Whiting and Mackerel, with a modern twist e.g. à la mode recipes, outlets on social media.

Have a look here to find out more – like where to get your Yorkshire seafood and also to access a collection of recipes using seafood sustainably caught off the Yorkshire Coast.

Signature Seafood Yorkshire logo

*Sustainable fishing isn’t difficult to imagine, it’s where the amount of fish caught leaves a viable population and where the fishing methods used don’t irreversibly damage the biodiversity and habitats that support the fish population. There are a number of conservation designations – Special Protection Area, Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Marine Protection Area, Marine Conservation Zone – along the north and east Yorkshire coast because of the importance of the habitats here.

Coastal landscape near Port Mulgrave - tide out. Copyright NYMNPA.

Electric expeditions

People's Postcode Lottery logoUPDATE

The Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust have recently been awarded a grant from the Postcode Local Trust, a grant giving charity funded entirely by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. This grant means we can purchase our own electric fishing equipment and train more volunteers to undertake surveys in 2018. If you’re interested in getting involved with surveys – please contact Kate

.

Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer

Electric fishing is a method used to determine fish populations in watercourses, commonly carried out by organisations such as the Environment Agency and the various River Trusts. Sites across the River Esk catchment up in the north of the North York Moors have been monitored using this technique over the past 20+ years as a way of estimating juvenile fish populations. In the last five years an increased number of sites have been surveyed along the Esk and we’ve managed to gain a better understanding of fish population changes.

This summer we took the chance to learn the technique ourselves. Simon Hirst our River Esk Project Officer, six keen volunteers and I went on a fully certified electric fishing course. Our new specialist team is made up of local anglers and existing River Esk Volunteers, all of whom care about the river and want to safeguard the species that live in it.

The two day course was essential to ensure our ‘in house’ monitoring can be carried out safely and to make sure the information we collect is scientifically robust so we can draw conclusions from it.

Methodology

During an electric fishing survey an electrical current is sent through the water which temporarily stuns the fish enabling them to be easily caught in nets. To produce an electrical current one team member wears the backpack which holds a battery and control box. A cathode trails behind the backpack resting in the water and the operator holds a pole with a metal ring on the end (anode). Once the operator places the anode in the water and turns the system on, the electrical circuit is complete and a small current passes through the water. The equipment has multiple safety features to ensure surveys can be carried out safely for all involved – that’s the fish, the operator and all the other team members in the water and on the bankside.

Two or three team members follow behind the operator with the nets and buckets ready to quickly remove the stunned fish from the river.

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Once caught, the stunned fish are transferred into a large holding tank on the bankside. Each fish is measured using a special measuring board – this helps us estimate the relative age of the fish. The size and species is noted down and the fish is then released back into the river as quickly as possible.

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sites are identified – usually an approximately 50 metre stretch of river – and the team enters the water at the downstream end and walks upstream fishing as they go until they reach the top of the site. It is useful to fish up to a feature in the river, for example a natural barrier like a riffle, to ensure the greatest percentage of fish can be caught. If the end of the site was situated in the middle of a pool, for example, the fish would be driven beyond the far end and hence not be recorded.

Once the site has been fished, it also needs to be measured – this allows us to work out species density (i.e. the number of fish per unit area). We measure the channel width at 10 metre intervals and calculate an average width. This average width is multiplied by the length of river surveyed to give us a total area of river fished! Fish densities are usually recorded as the number of fish per 100 metres2

September 2017 - Electric Fishing in Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Health & Safety

Fish welfare (and the welfare of our volunteers and us) is extremely important, there is little point in measuring fish populations to help sustain numbers if we end up with dead fish. When electric fishing is carried out correctly this methodology does not harm the fish. As part of the training we learnt how to set the control box to the correct settings to ensure the electrical current will temporarily stun the fish but will not cause any damage. This is determined by the electrical conductivity of the water – a reading is taken before carrying out the surveys.  It is important to temporarily keep the fish in a large holding tank in the shade to ensure there is sufficient oxygen for them and that the water temperature does not increase too much, and we release the fish back to the river as soon as possible.

Fish aside, all team members who are in the river must ensure they are fully insulated (e.g. rubber chest waders) and must not put their hands into the water when the backpack is switched on. Prior to undertaking a survey each stretch of watercourse is checked for hazards and a site risk assessment produced. This is to make sure there are no ‘nasty’ surprises (such as deep holes!) when the team enter the water.

Why

Electric fishing is a really good way of estimating fish populations and this is extremely important on the River Esk. Atlantic salmon is a species that is struggling due to a wide variety of issues including water quality and habitat issues, barriers to fish migration and poor survival rates at sea. Monitoring juvenile numbers across the Esk every year will help to highlight areas where these issues are magnified and can therefore help target the conservation work we’re undertaking in the catchment to improve water quality and riparian habitats.

Our electric fishing team were out and about in the catchment in the autumn surveying six specific sites. It proved a success – the surveyed fish were released back and all the volunteers survived. Species recorded included Brown trout (Salmo trutta), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Stone loach (Barbatula barbatula), European eel (Anguilla Anguilla), Bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri). Overall our results showed healthy fish populations at each site, although as expected relatively low numbers of Atlantic salmon were found.

We plan to monitor juvenile fish populations annually in September, to build up our understanding of the local status of the Atlantic salmon and the other species found in the Esk.

Bringing the vegetation back

Gareth Pedley – Wild Trout Trust

Back in June 2013 the Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit for Glaisdale Angling Club on the River Esk, North Yorkshire. This was an interesting visit, identifying many of the common issues associated with livestock grazing and sandy soils on upland rivers leading to sedimentation. One specific issue was significant erosion on the outside of a particular sharp bend. This is exactly the type of issue that would have once been dealt with by hard engineering, often gabions or rip rap (rock armouring), for which there is already evidence of failed attempts. The Trust’s prescription here was to employ more sympathetic, natural bank protection measures that would actually enhance habitat in the area, rather than degrade it.

The use of brash revetment was considered, but the spatey nature of the river meant that there was a potential for further erosion from high water before any protection measures could be completed or take effect. So with this in mind, the recommendation was made to initially use a light touch, low cost approach that focused on fencing off a buffer strip along the bank to control the grazing (one of the main causal factors) and planting native tree species.

The tree and bank work was undertaken by 10 volunteers from Glaisdale Angling Club, in February 2014, coordinated by Simon Hirst of the North York Moors National Park Authority. In all, over 100 alder, 50 hazel and several hundred willow whips were planted, along with relocation of some of the overhanging bank turves onto bare areas of bank face.

As can be seen from the before and after photos from May 2015, fencing livestock away from the river bank has allowed large areas of the bank to become colonised by grass, the foliage and roots of which are already providing significant protection. The saplings and willow whips are now also well-established; the tree roots which will penetrate deeper into the ground and provide additional protection. If the fence is maintained, and livestock continue to be excluded, it can be expected that over the upcoming seasons the more stable bank will facilitate the colonisation of other herbaceous vegetation. This will increase the diversity of root structure within the bank and provide even greater consolidation. The roughness they provide will also aid natural colonisation with local trees and plants by trapping seeds and other propagules (agent of reproduction).

Although the bank is still not completely stabilised yet, and the technique is always initially susceptible to failure in very high flows, it is relatively low cost and provides a great demonstration of how removing the livestock grazing pressure can reduce erosion and stabilise river banks. If major floods do not destabilise the banks they will continue to consolidate and stabilise to natural levels. If major floods do cause further erosion in the future, there may be a case for undertaking a more formal brash revetment as well.

U P D A T E – July 2017

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Kate (Catchment Partnership Officer) and I recently revisited the site with the Glaisdale Angling Club to assess the bank stabilisation work undertaken on this section of the River Esk back in February 2014. Three years later, the young alder, hazel and willow trees are flourishing, and woodrush has also successfully colonised the site naturally.

River Esk, sharp bend site - now (July 2017). Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re planning to carry out further work in winter 2019, which will involve hazel and willow laying, like you would with a hedge to provide horizontal structure. This work will further protect and stabilise the bank, and some of the stems will also be laid into the channel to provide in-channel cover for fish.

30,000 words on water quality

Rosie Nelson – Masters Student

Rosie, geared up for outdoor working - copyright NYMNPAI have finally finished my research masters. All that stands between me and the real world is corrections and actually printing a 30,000 (ish) word document. So did I actually achieve anything. Well I’d like to think so, but first up I’ll tell you a bit about what I did, and how I did it.

I spent six blissful months walking three beautiful watercourse catchments in the North York Moors – Toad Beck, Danby Beck and Great Fryup Beck which are all tributaries into the River Esk. Aside from sun kissed skin and being chased by sheep, dogs and cows, I somehow managed to collect what I was after – a lot of useful data. To establish the water quality of a river a variety of sampling techniques is required. My favourite was using a probe which measures dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, salinity, temperature and much much more. Imagine, dangling a very expensive cable off the side of a bridge and waiting in anticipation for the numbers on the screen to settle. I loved it. Although once or twice the probe did ricochet off rocks to produce an alarming sound.

As my data collection evolved, I also started to gather water samples to take back to the laboratory for COD, BOD, DOC, anion and cation analysis. You might think I’ve just put some letters together to appear clever, but they do actually stand for things:
– COD is chemical oxygen demand (amount of oxygen required to oxidise the organic matter in the solution);
– BOD is biochemical oxygen demand (amount of dissolved oxygen being used by aerobic microorganisms when decomposing the organic matter in the solution);
– DOC is dissolved organic carbon (amount of organic matter in the solution);
– An anion is a negatively charged ion, a cation is a positively charged ion, and an ion is an electrically charged atom.

So what did I actually find out in these three catchments? Well I analysed the spatial and temporal variations of a variety of water parameters. The significance of focusing on both spatial and temporal variations within a catchment is it can easily identify areas of point source pollution at a small scale, something which isn’t done often enough.

For this post I’m focusing on dissolved oxygen and conductivity. The very important key species Freshwater Pearl Mussels require dissolved oxygen levels between 90 – 110% (Oliver, 2000). Other aquatic life like fish can survive on much lower saturations of dissolved oxygen, as low as <30%. The graph below shows how dissolved oxygen (a vital parameter for ascertaining the health of a river) changes through the year. Changes in water levels and plant growth can have serious effects on the amount of dissolved oxygen available for organic and aquatic life. During the summer months, plants will become abundant in a river, thus using up more oxygen and depleting the overall amount of dissolved oxygen available in a river. Once rainfall increases in the autumn dissolved oxygen levels should be replenished. As you can see September 2016 was a particularly poor month for dissolved oxygen, with average levels as low as 80%. Similarly, August on Toad Beck was low as well with an average of 75% saturation. But aside from in September for all three watercourses, and in August for Toad Beck, the dissolved oxygen levels remained within or above the proposed dissolved oxygen threshold.

2016 Dissolved Organic Carbon data graph - copyright Rosie Nelson

Next up – conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of a watercourse’s ability to conduct electrical flow and is therefore related to the concentration of ions in a river. Particular aquatic species need higher or lower conductivity – the Freshwater Pearl Mussel likes a lower conductivity. There are variations between suggested thresholds for conductivity: Moorkens (2000) suggests it should be 65µs/cm, whilst Bauer (1988) suggests <70µs/cm and Oliver (2000) suggests <100µs/cm. So I chose the only logical way forward and used all three thresholds. Focusing again on the month of September 2016, I produced the map below.

2016 Conductivity levels map - copyright Rosie Nelson

This is where analysing data spatially comes into its element. First up, the circles represent sampling locations (every now and again samples were missed out say if there were a herd of cows approaching as I climbed the style into their field, needless to say my flight or fight response would always be flight as advised in the National Park Authority’s Risk Assessments). Using a traffic light system, green circles represent good conductivity levels. As you can see, September was a poor month for both dissolved oxygen and conductivity. What I found particularly interesting was the variations that could occur in a small watercourse like Danby Beck, where as tributary field drains entered the beck conductivity levels could spike or decrease dramatically; how fantastic!

So to round off I thought I’d quickly summarise my thesis’ findings. Water quality is good in the three catchments, but it’s not good enough for Freshwater Pearl Mussels, and that’s the gist of it. The work of the River Esk catchment officers at the National Park to address the issues is great, the water bodies are reaching and maintaining ‘good’ ecological status, unfortunately the Freshwater Pearl Mussels require pristine water conditions and ‘high’ ecological status. However the future direction is positive for the health and conservation of Freshwater Pearl Mussels. And I too am looking forward to the future; I shall be taking a few weeks off from being chased by animals and I can’t wait*.

 

 

 

 

* Editor’s note: Rosie didn’t get much time off – she’s gone off to pastures new and is now a Community (Water Quality) Modelling Project Officer at Thames21. We wish her all the best.

Catchment Trilogy – Part 2: Discovering the Esk

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer

The Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) on behalf of the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership* received a funding boost last April thanks to players of a charity lottery. £10,000 was awarded by the People’s Postcode Trust to deliver Discovering the Esk.

The Discovering the Esk project is made up of four initiatives:

  • Salmon in the Classroom;
  • Young Anglers Initiative;
  • Adopt a Stream; and
  • Riverfly Monitoring.

Discovering the Esk brings local people together to care for the catchment environment, and the first year of the project has been a great success!

Salmon in the Classroom literally brings the river into the classroom albeit in a fish tank! Primary School pupils along the Esk Valley learn more about the lifecycle of the Atlantic salmon, river ecology, and the important role they can play in looking after our local rivers into the future.

In 2015 we delivered Salmon in the Classroom at Goathland Primary School and the pupils did a great job caring for the eggs culminating in releasing the young fry back into the Esk in May. This year we will be at Sleights Primary School so it will be the turn of the children there to watch the eggs hatch and the young fry grow until the fish can be released to take their place back amongst the inhabitants of the river.

Through the Young Angler Initiative nine young anglers learnt to fish this year thanks to the dedication of local angling club volunteers (from the Esk Fisheries Association) who ran the fishing sessions. A professional tutor kick started the season with a Taster Day and then returned towards the end of the season to hone our young angler’s growing skills.

As well as the actual fishing our young anglers also got to enjoy the outdoors and to fish at places they had not been to before, and the sessions were an opportunity for to socialise.

Riverfly Monitoring is currently carried out by twenty local volunteers who have now been trained up in the nationally recognised sampling methodology established by the Riverfly Partnership.

The volunteers have learnt how to identify key aquatic invertebrates groups which we know require good clean water to survive. Our current volunteers are now monitoring thirty sites across the catchment to assess the water quality and detect signs of any issues. They do this by taking a 3 minute kick sample (to disturb the river bed and overhanging vegetation) catching the content in a net, and a 1 minute stone search. The sample is then cleaned using river water and put into a tray to settle. Key river invertebrate groups are identified and counted and if the results are lower than expected the Catchment Partnership and Environment Agency  can investigate the area to check for any potential pollution incidents causing the issues.

Our volunteers have been honing their identification skills at refresher workshops, getting to see these beautiful invertebrates up close!

Adopt a Stream is a new initiative recruiting ‘Guardians of the Esk’. We already have a number of people reporting interesting things they see while out and about, but Adopt a Stream ensures that key areas are being checked regularly and that information is collated and applied. Through Adopt a Stream we hope that all the potential barriers to migratory fish sites on the Esk can be adopted, with volunteers ensuring the structures do not become blocked. If they do, the Catchment Partnership can be alerted and can sort them out. We want to make sure the whole catchment is monitored to check for issues such as litter, and to build up a network of people monitoring the local wildlife so we can accrue a picture of what is normal and use it to continually assess the health of the river.

If you might be interested in becoming one of our ‘Guardians of the Esk’ we are holding an Adopt a Stream workshop on Monday 7 March. The monitoring programme is designed to suit everyone’s interests and fit within the time you can commit, so if you have a favourite walk, a regular fishing spot or simply visit the catchment now and again, then we would love for you to get involved. Please contact us.

View of the Esk - copyright Jeff at Aetherweb (aetherweb.co.uk)

View of the Esk. Copyright https://www.flickr.com/people/tall-guy/.

For more information on Discovering the Esk, how you can get involved, and the latest Catchment Partnership news, please have look at the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust website.

* The Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership is jointly hosted by the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust and the North York Moors National Park Authority, who work together to improve and care for the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment.

 

 

Catchment Trilogy – Part 1

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer

It’s been a year since the River Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership was established and we have a lot to be pleased about!

The new initiative – the River Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership – has brought together the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) and the North York Moors National Park Authority to pool knowledge and resources to improve and safeguard the catchment’s valuable ecosystems. Our Partnership has the support of DEFRA which, in 2013, rolled out the Catchment Based Approach idea across the UK promoting the need to work together to protect and improve our river catchments, with particular focus on sharing the knowledge, skills and expertise of local people.

I was appointed the Catchment Partnership Officer to help deliver our three year Action Plan which sets out a range of projects including river habitat improvements, fisheries monitoring and wider community engagement initiatives.

The main watercourse of Esk and Coastal Streams management catchment is the 28 mile River Esk which flows through some of the area’s most outstanding scenery. Its catchment is almost wholly within the North York Moors National Park – heather moorland, valleys of farmland, ancient woodlands and stone built villages – it reaches the North Sea at Whitby, just outside the National Park boundary. The river hosts a variety of wildlife which rely on it to survive including Freshwater pearl mussel, Water vole, Atlantic salmon, Sea trout/Brown trout (same species), Sand martin, Dippers, Kingfisher and Otters (which are found now in increasing numbers).

Atlantic salmon lifecycle - http://www.nasco.int/atlanticsalmon.html

Atlantic salmon lifecycle - egg deposition in gravels - http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/habitat/spawningbed_protection/redd.html

Over the last year we have secured funding to deliver particular projects in the Catchment – the People’s Postcode Lottery is funding the delivery of our Discovering the Esk project (look out for a future blog post) and the Environment Agency’s Catchment Partnership Action Fund is funding our Glaisdale Beck Restoration Project. Glaisdale Beck is a tributary of the River Esk and suffers from a number of issues affecting water quality, which inevitably in-turn affect the aquatic life found within the beck. Our restoration project is addressing these issues, such as:

Fine sediment – this causes huge problems for spawning fish including Atlantic salmon and sea trout, as a layer of fine sediment over spawning gravels (where fish eggs are deposited within the gravel) starves eggs or young fish (alevins) of oxygen. It also affects species such as the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

Nutrients and organic matter, and bacterial loading from dirty water run-off from farms and livestock having access to the watercourse.

Riverfly Monitoring Volunteer - copyright NYMNPAPollution incidents – we have established a team of local people to act as Riverfly Monitoring Volunteers to assess water quality on a monthly basis by monitoring aquatic invertebrates that are very sensitive to water quality. There are 30 sites being monitored across the catchment, including sites in Glaisdale, so if the number and diversity of aquatic invertebrates drop the Volunteers can alert YERT of any apparent pollution or other trigger incidents so the source can be tackled quickly and the effects limited.

 

Habitat deterioration both in-channel and along the riparian corridor – working with local farmers capital works will be undertaken over the next few months which will help to improve the water quality and riparian habitats of Glaisdale Beck:

  • 2,481 metres of fencing adjacent to Glaisdale Beck will prevent livestock  Example of stock fencing and riparian buffer in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPAaccessing the beck and stop stock excrement entering the river, and also stop the bank sides becoming broken up and bare of vegetation because of stock. The newly formed buffer strips within the fencing will allow riparian vegetation to develop and trees to become established, stabilising the banks and catching sediments and nutrients that may run off neighbouring fields.
  • 5 drinking bays and 2 cattle pasture pumps will be installed because we’re fencing off the access to Glaisdale Beck so we obviously need to install new water supplies for stock.
  • 2 crossing points will be strengthened where there are pinch points in the landscape which livestock pass through on a regular basis. Crossing points can become poached (muddy and eroded) and loose sediments are then easily washed into any nearby watercourse. Crossing points benefit from the laying of hard surfaces such as concrete sleepers to lessen the poaching.

Example of crossing point in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPA

Example of improved crossing point with concrete sleepers in Esk Catchment - copyright NYMNPA

  • 60 trees will be planted to bolster the age structure of riparian trees in the dale and help stabilise the banks with their impressive root systems.

Example of new tree planting in Esk Catchment, for stronger banksides - copyright NYMNPA

As usual, teams of National Park Volunteers have already been hard at work in the catchment doing management tasks that make such a difference such as removing derelict fences, repairing existing fence lines and installing new ones. Over the next couple of months they will be carrying out other tasks such as tree planting too. As always, thanks to all of them for their hard work!

National Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPA

National Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPANational Park Volunteers installing riparian fencing - copyright NYMNPA

Along the riverbanks

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

A couple of weeks ago a demonstration event was held in Bilsdale, organised through the new (Yorkshire) Derwent Catchment Partnership*.

The event, kindly hosted by Mr and Mrs Lang, was held in order to share knowledge and experience when it comes to managing watercourses for wildlife benefits.

Demo Day 9 September 2015 - copyright NYMNPA

Initial discussions between landowners and Partnership organisations focused on  practical application. The Wild Trout Trust led on the practical demonstrations in the river. This included realigning some of the woody debris found in the channel in order to re-direct water flows. There was a lot of talk around the question of responsibility for trees in rivers, and when and where to remove or leave or realign them.

Demo Day 9 September 2015 - copyright NYMNPA

The practical demonstrations also included using natural materials to help stabilise banks in order to lessen erosion. One of the main issues with the Rivers Rye and Seph in Bilsdale is siltation which smothers river gravels and therefore inhibits spawning areas for fish with a knock on effect on fish populations. Riverside fencing and resulting buffer strips can have a significant effect in lessening agricultural run-off into a watercourse and so improve water quality. Creating 6 metre wide grass buffer strips along banks can not only help halt run off and help stabilise the banks with vegetation but also provide excellent habitat linkages adjacent to the river and so enhance connectivity along the river corridors running through a landscape.

Over this summer the National Park Authority has lead on another round of Himalayan balsam control, this time on behalf of the Partnership. This is the 8th year of this programme aimed at eradicating this particular invasive non-native plant at the top of the Rye catchment. Where the programme started, right at the top reaches of the the River Seph, the aim of eradication has almost been achieved, but repeat surveying and the pulling up of any individual plants that remain is vital to make sure this can be finally realised. Himalayan balsam can grow pretty much anywhere but it is particularly rife along watercourses where seeds are effectively spread downstream by the moving water. The main threat of the plant to a riparian habitat is that it tends to out compete native vegetation and then dies back in the winter leaving banks uncovered and subject to erosion.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - copyright NYMNPA

Enhancing the river for wildlife is a key goal for all members of the new Partnership. What is essential for delivery is the engagement of landowners and the identification of common objectives, and this kind of event can help with that.

*The Derwent Catchment Partnership includes the East Yorkshire Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, North Yorkshire County Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, City of York Council, Howardian Hills AONB, and the North York Moors National Park Authority.

 

Carry on saving the mussels

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

Our work to safeguard Yorkshire’s last remaining population of Freshwater pearl mussels has received a £300,000 grant from Biffa Award. The River Esk in the north of the National Park is the only river in Yorkshire which still has a Freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera population. The population is estimated to be approximately 1,000 individuals and is in drastic decline. Pollution and sediment build up, decline in fish populations and habitat degradation are all reasons for this.

River Esk Freshwater Pearl Mussel ~40 year old - NYMNPA

The grant received is part of a larger £1.5 million Biffa Award project (2015 – 2018) led by the Freshwater Biological Association that will also see river restoration carried out in river catchments in Cumbria and Devon where freshwater pearl mussels also survive.

One of the key elements of the project will be sharing knowledge and best practice with landowners, the local community and other conservation groups to help give the mussels a more sustainable future. The project will work with farmers to reduce sediment and nutrient input into the Esk, and volunteer groups and angling clubs will be involved in monitoring work such as sampling invertebrate life throughout the river and also restoration work such as planting trees along the river bank and tackling non-native invasive species. The funding will also help sponsor a Master of Research degree at Durham University, which will look at water quality throughout the catchment.

On top of this local effort, the national project will focus on improving the reproductive success of the Freshwater pearl mussel through the Freshwater Biological Association’s captive breeding programme. In 2007, mussels from the Esk were taken to an ‘ark’ facility in the Lake District which houses and breeds populations from threatened Freshwater pearl mussel rivers in England. We’re aiming for sections of the Esk to have been restored enough by 2018 to provide suitable habitat to accommodate the return of the juvenile mussels.

This is a brilliant opportunity for people from different backgrounds to get involved in the conservation of a rare and valuable species. They may not be cute and cuddly but freshwater pearl mussels are an important indicator species; if we get conditions right for them, it will have positive knock on benefits for a range of other wildlife such as otters, Atlantic salmon, dippers and kingfishers.

BiffaBiffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund. More information on the award is available at www.biffa-award.org.

Juvenile mussel at captive breeding facility - copyight Louise Lavictoire FBA

River Esk research work - NYMNPA

Encystement project - NYMNPA

This new project which started in March builds on the WREN funded three year Freshwater Pearl Mussel project which finished in February.  This project had similar aims to the new project – to educate and involve people, and to carry out restoration work to limit nutrient and silt input into watercourses which damages spawning gravels and juvenile mussel habitats.

WREN Project Outputs

WREN FWPM Project - river bank fencing - NYMNPAWREN FWPM Project - river bank fencing - NYMNPA WREN FWPM Project - river bank fencing - NYMNPA

 

 

WREN FWPM Project - bank stabilisation - NYMNPAWREN FWPM Project - crossing point - NYMNPAWREN FWPM Project - buffer strip - NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

WREN FWPM Project - tree planting - NYMNPAWREN FWPM Project - trough installation - NYMNPA WREN FWPM Project - tree planting - NYMNPA

 

WREN FWPM Project - river bank fencing - NYMNPAWREN FWPM Project - new cattle watering point - NYMNPA
WREN FWPM Project - gateway improvement - NYMNPA

 

 

WREN FWPM Project - Himalayn balsam control - River Esk Volunteers Task - NYMNPA

As well as nutrient and sediment free water the best habitat for Freshwater pearl mussels is a boulder stabilised substrate with pockets of coarse sand and gravel for burrowing. Water quality monitoring equipment was installed at the key potential re-introduction site on the Esk to measure a variety of water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, nitrogen and pH. Redox surveys were carried out to assess juvenile pearl mussel habitat quality – redox surveys measure the water quality within the river gravels (where the young mussels live). One of the Esk sites which was surveyed had redox readings which were potentially suitable for young mussels (which is really positive news), and a few other sites are very close to being suitable.

logoWREN is a not-for-profit business that helps benefit the lives of people who live close to landfill sites by awarding grants for community, biodiversity and heritage projects.

 

Potential FWPM re-introduction site on River Esk - NYMNPAThis is a long term effort. By 2018 all the work and funding over the last 10 years will hopefully come to fruition and the Freshwater pearl mussel will have a sustainable future in the River Esk.