Revitalising the Rye

Tom Stephenson, External Funding Officer

There must be something in the water in the North York Moors, having just started delivering the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, the National Park Authority and its partners* have also been successful at the first stage of securing a further £2 million of Heritage Lottery Fund money to develop our next Landscape Partnership SchemeRyevitalise.

The River Rye and its tributaries rise on the moorland of the North York Moors, flowing through fast and clear upland becks that carve out steep sided dales until the land flattens and the river slows and broadens taking on the character of the undulating Howardian Hills and the flat lowlands of the Vale of Pickering. The Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme under development will help appreciate and enhance the Rye’s verdant landscape and clear waters which have been prized for millennia for their beauty and tranquillity resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape.

Planned projects will cover four themes:

  • Water Environment, looking at aquatic habitats of the Rye and rare and threatened species;
  • Water Quality, working with land-owners and managers to reduce pollution;
  • Water Level Management, working alongside our delivery partners to harness natural processes to manage the sources and pathways of flood waters; and
  • Reconnecting People, improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and helping people to protect their heritage.

Without wanting to spoil the surprise of future blog posts, below are just some of the particular issues we are aiming to address through Ryevitalise scheme projects if we’re lucky enough to be successful in our Stage 2 application due in October 2018.

The wet…

Water is the major theme of Ryevitalise. Through the Ryevitalise scheme, from the high moorlands to the lowland wetlands, we will identify priority areas of riparian habitat for restoration to ensure existing high-value habitats (and their species) are in positive management and can act as nodes from which to extend outwards by creating ‘stepping stones’ and connections between these habitat sites.

Wetter still, we will assess the geomorphology and key features of the aquatic environment and target areas where aquatic habitats could be improved by creating changes to the channel through creating gravel bars, by placing debris to create slacks or by making changes to river bank profile. This work will include a survey of the habitats and species of the oxbow lakes in the lower Rye, and also the collecting and analysis of sediment cores to look for valuable paleoecological data which might shed light on how the local landscape formed.

The dry…

We have previously reported on the problems that fluctuating water levels in the River Rye
in Duncombe Park has on the White-clawed crayfish, the only native crayfish in the UK, White-clawed crayfish - during 2016 rescue in Duncombe Park. Copyright NYMNPA.which is suffering from a “perfect storm” of threats. Ryevitalise will prioritise protective measures for the existing population and carry out a feasibility study to identify where potential local ark sites might be located. Ark sites for White-clawed crayfish would allow populations to become established in isolation, separated from the threat of non-native crayfish and the crayfish plague they can carry.

The small…

Alcathoe bat. Copyright Cyril Schonbachler.One of the Rye catchment’s smallest inhabitants is the Alcathoe bat. Relatively new to science, having been first identified in 2001 and only recently becoming the latest addition to the UK bat family, this little creature has only been found at two other sites in the UK so far. Ryevitalise will seek to establish a deeper knowledge of where colonies of the Alcathoe bat and other key bat populations are, along with the requirements to support their survival.

The tall…

At the other end of the size spectrum and intrinsically linked to bats are some of the Rye catchment’s largest residents – its ancient and veteran trees. The area is a national hotspot for these giants that not only give an air of majesty to the landscape as living witnesses to history but also provide important habitat for many invertebrate species as well as providing important roosting sites for Rye bat populations.

The old…

Not only is the Rye catchment home to iconic built heritage like Rievaulx Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace, Duncombe Park and Nunnington Hall but it also contains a wealth of less obvious heritage that traces vernacular land use and tells the story of the working River Rye. Working with local history groups, Ryevitalise will record the remaining evidence of man’s relationship with the river over the centuries, surveying and recording the traces of the former agricultural and industrial settlements along the river banks. Accurate 3D models will be produced of the principal remaining watermills, iron working sites, water races and leats. Essential conservation and consolidation work will be identified from the surveys carried out.

The new…

Meanders in Rye near Sproxton - can see the water crowfoot beds within the river, September 2016. Copyright North East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre.Like a lot of watercourses, it is not practical to access the river in its entirety at ground level. So as part of the Ryevitalise scheme an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight will record the entire 50km main river from its moorland origins all the way downstream to where it
meets the River Derwent. This will produce an invaluable record and will provide an insightful journey along the river for local communities, highlighting how this vital artery connects them all. Tailored sections of flight data will be made freely available to local schools, businesses, and community groups as a community resource; it will also form part of the scheme’s wider education programme.

We are all really excited about the next steps in developing the Ryevitalise scheme; the opportunity to make the most of the wealth of habitats, species and history surrounding the river; the potential to make a lasting difference to this wonderful landscape, and the chance to create a real splash.

HLFNL_2747

* Partners currently include East Yorkshire Rivers Trust, English Heritage, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Howardian Hills AONB, National Trust, Natural England, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council, Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, as well as local communities.

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.

 

Slowing down

Taken mainly from the final report for the ‘Slowing the Flow’ Project

The ‘Slowing the flow’ project is now completed, ahead of approaching winter. The purpose of the project has been to reduce the risk and severity of flooding in Pickering and nearby Sinnington.

The approach has been to slow the flow of water from off the moors into Pickering Beck and the River Severn and subsequently down into the settlements below.

The last element has been the creation of a flood storage area at Newbridge, upstream of Pickering – a site to hold up, and so slow down, extreme flows of water. It can hold up to 120,000 m3.

The ‘Slowing the Flow’ project was one of a number of Defra pilot projects looking into reducing flood risk and impacts. The idea was to make the best use of natural processes by adapting land use and land management to slow down and delay the passage of water.

Phase 1 of the project concentrated on building up a working partnership including with the local community. The National Park Authority were heavily involved in Phase 1 of the project as a major landowner in the area. The National Park Authority owns Levisham Estate upstream of Pickering and a number of tributaries into Pickering Beck arise on the Estate’s moorland.

View of Hole of Horcum (part of Levisham Estate) - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

The land management work undertaken in the two sub-catchments included establishing no burn buffers along moorland watercourses to protect soils and retain vegetation, impeding moorland drains using heather bales to lessen erosion, constructing ‘woody debris dams’ which slow but don’t halt watercourse flow, creating riparian buffer zones in forestry, and large scale tree planting and long term woodland creation because trees prevent sediment runoff and hold and use more water than other habitats. Two timber bunds were also constructed in the River Severn catchment. 

Large woody debris dam during flood - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015

Large woody debris dam secured by angled posts and wire on Pickering Beck - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015Face of upstream timber bund within Forestry - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015Small woody debris dame - Horcum, Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

 

 

Heather bale 'check' dams within moorland drain - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015

Drainage channel - Fen Moor, Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

Slowing the Flow in action - Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

 

 

 

Slowing the Flow tree planting - Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

Phase 1 (2009 – 2011) led to Phase 2 (2011 – 2015) which allowed for the implementation of the outstanding land management interventions planned. One of the lessons learned was that five to six years is a more effective time scale for delivering a demonstration project, especially one that includes persuading landowners to change land use. Another lesson is that the measures undertaken have to be at an effective scale – the bigger the contribution to flood protection required, the larger and/or more extensive the measures need to be at the catchment level to make a difference.  The use of smaller, more diffuse, storage features can collectively contribute a sizeable flood storage volume, depending on their design and management – however catchment level planning/modelling is needed to guide and achieve the optimum placement and combination.

The ‘Slowing the Flow’ project was led by Forest Research, and the partnership that made it happen included the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, Natural England, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Durham University, Pickering Town Council and Sinnington Parish Council and the local community including vital landowners, and us. The project was possible only because of this joined up and inclusive approach to flood, water and land use management. Another lesson from the project is that efforts to reduce flood risk via land management interventions can be accidentally counteracted by other activities in the same catchment.

Although the main purpose of the project was to lessen the risk of flooding in Pickering, and also the village of Sinnington, the methods used will provide added benefits to biodiversity and the wider ecosystems. The piloting of the practical demonstrative measures have allowed the sharing of good practice, knowledge and skill development (e.g. NYMNP Apprentices).

Some issues…

Concerns over the stability of ‘woody debris dams’ and the potential for debris to wash out and damage downstream structures need to  allayed by the construction methods that use slot trenches and bracing logs to attach the structures to the banksides.

Having a National Park – a designated landscape – in the north of the sub-catchments had implications for the siting and design of land management interventions. For instance from a National Park point of view there was a limit on how much tree planting could be/should be accommodated on the Levisham Estate because of the ecological value of the existing moorland habitats which are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and in some places also a Special Protection Area/Special Area of Conservation.

Persuading people to create woodland can be difficult. The selection of Pickering Beck as a demonstration sub-catchment was partly because of the relatively high level of public land ownership e.g. National Park, Forestry Commission. In the future achieving the necessary sizeable level of change on privately owned land is likely to require greater financial incentives. The new, integrated, Countryside Stewardship scheme should help by providing grant for planting that provides benefits, including reducing flood risk and diffuse pollution.

Conclusions…

Land management measures can make a significant contribution to downstream flood alleviation. They vary in type, size, scale of operation and mode of action but are most effective in combination as part of a whole catchment approach to managing flood risk. More modelling and experience of actual flood peaks is required to better understand the cumulative effect of the measures. In view of the level of commitment and investment required, resources are best focused on small to medium sized catchments that can be expected to deliver large-scale changes in land use and/or management.

It is not suggested that the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project will prevent all flooding in the two sub-catchments, but it is anticipated that there will be less flooding. It has been suggested that the previous 25% chance of flooding in any given year in Pickering, has now been reduced to a 4% chance or less…

A to Z – starting, unsurprisingly, with A

We thought we’d try something new, new for us anyway. Now and again we’re going to post bits and pieces on conservation. the National Park and the North York Moors – under each letter of the alphabet. That’s the plan – we’ll see how far we get.

A

AFFORESTATION

The North York Moors includes large areas of forest owned and/or managed by the Forestry Commission. These forests were planted at the beginning of the 20th century when in a time of uncertainty following World War One it was decided that the nation needed to create and maintain its own timber resource. This afforestation had a dramatic long term effect on the landscape of the North York Moors which continues today. Timber and other wood products from both public and private enterprises in the National Park remain economically important to the North York Moors.

Boltby Forest - Southwoods - NYMNPA

Boltby Forest - Southwoods - NYMNPA

This is using the word afforestation as it is understood nowadays – turning land into forest by planting trees. In medieval times afforestation meant designating land as forest and therefore placing it under forest law, separate from common law. A forest meant an area for hunting belonging to the Crown; so heathland and grassland as well as woodland, wherever deer and boar and other game animals would live.

ALCATHOE BAT Myotis alcathoe

This bat was first identified as being in the United Kingdom in 2010 – in Sussex and in the North York Moors. It could have been here for years it’s just that it’s difficult to distinguish from other bat species. The Alcathoe bat lives in woodland and swarms with other bats to mate before hibernation. One of the records in the North York Moors was from the autumn swarming at one of the Ryedale Windy Pits.

Alcathoe bat. From www.batconsultancy.co.uk.

ALUM

Alum was one of England’s earliest chemical industries, operating in the North East Yorkshire region from c.1604 until 1871. Alum (aluminium sulphate) was important in textile production which was our main export in the 17th century, and was used as a compound with potassium (e.g. seaweed) and ammonia (e.g. urine – at first collected locally and later also shipped in from coastal towns) to make vegetable dyes colour-fast. With the exception of one Alum Works in Lancashire, North East Yorkshire produced the entire supply of English alum until the early years of the 19th century. The main Alum Works and Quarries were along the coast, which provided better exposures of the mineral together with the most practical means of transport to markets when travelling by sea was a much better prospect then setting off across country. Although softened by over a century of weathering and coastal erosion, the extracting and processing industry has left huge imprints on the North York Moors landscapes which can still be seen today for example at Ravenscar, Saltwick, and Kettleness.

Saltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPA Saltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPASaltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPA





Saltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPASaltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPASaltwick Nab Alum Works - NYMNPA

(WILD) ARUM (Arum maculatum)

Also known as Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint etc.

Grows on hedge banks and on woodland edges in the leaf enriched soil. Common throughout Britain and Ireland.

Looks like something from science fiction and has a life cycle to suit.

Has large shiny green leaves sometimes with dark blotches, followed by a thin leaf like cowl growing up through the centre and partially opening to reveal a smelly purple-ish central spike (March/April). This smelly heat emitting spike attracts insects which then slip down into the plant and are temporarily trapped in the base where they pollinate the tiny hidden flowers (female) and collect pollen from the male flowers to carry elsewhere once released. The leaves and initial spike wither away and are replaced by another spike growing upwards topped with the female flowers as small berries which turn from green to red (July/August). Birds eat the berries – but they’re unpalatable and poisonous to humans, as is most of the plant.

Wild Arum. From easywildflowers.wordpress.com/tag/arum-maculatum/Wild Arum. From easywildflowers.wordpress.com/tag/arum-maculatum/

ATLANTIC SALMON (Salmo salar)

The Esk is the principal Atlantic salmon river in Yorkshire. The whole of the River Esk catchment is within the North York Moor National Park.

The rod catch on the Esk in 1923 was 950 fish per year, this number has declined to about 170 fish in 2010. The National Park Authority’s Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project has been running since 2007 and its aims include reversing the decline in the Atlantic salmon population in the river by improving water quality, improving in-river and riparian habitats and removing barriers to vital fish migration.

Atlantic salmon. From www.thesundaytimes.co.uk - picture by Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst

ATTITUDE

i.e. the right attitude to work positively with people in the National Park to listen to what others have to say; to try and tackle concerns; and to take forward National Park purposes together.

The latest example of this attitude in action has been the Dales and Moors Farm Innovation Pilot Project where the North York Moors National Park worked with the Yorkshire Dales National Park and neighbouring Areas of Outstanding Beauty across the wider area and used skills funding through the local LEP to provide free business and environmental advice to guide local farmers into producing their own whole farm plans and tailored proposals for sustainable ways forward for their farms.

AUSTROPOTAMOBIUS PALLIPES

White-clawed crayfish - Helen Webster, NYMNPAAustropotamobius pallipes are native White-clawed crayfish. The upper tributaries of the
Yorkshire River Derwent in the National Park still support populations of this nationally declining species. What with needing clean aquatic habitats, competing with non-native aggressive signal crayfish, and suffering from deadly crayfish plague, the White-clawed crayfish are in a perilous situation. Just when you thought their luck couldn’t get any worse, one of these Yorkshire Derwent tributaries, the River Rye, tends to dry out in the summer at one particular location because of sink holes, leaving the local population of White-clawed crayfish and other aquatic creatures stranded.

So just like a year ago, last week we had to launch another rescue mission. Alex led a team of Emily, Simon (who has a licence to trap and/or remove crayfish), Helen the Planning Officer, Alex’s partner Toby, and a helpful man called Jim and his dog. They managed to collect and relocate upstream of the sink holes around 500 White-clawed crayfish (including females carrying hatchlings) as well as 20+ lamprey and 40+ small fish that were scooped up with them.

River Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - Alex Cripps, NYMNPARiver Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - Helen Webster, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - Helen Webster, NYMNPARiver Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - Helen Webster, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - Alex Cripps, NYMNPA

River Rye crayfish rescue 16 7 15 - if you look closely you might make out the hatchlings on the abdomen - Alex Cripps, NYMNPAA couple of weeks before the Environment Agency (EA) had carried out a fish rescue at the same location. The EA rescued and re-located 265 Brown Trout, 65 Grayling, 5 Lamprey and 100s of minor fish species including minnows, stone loach and bullheads. They also rescued 50 White-clawed crayfish, some carrying eggs.

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.

Not too late for water voles

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer and Laura Winter – Aquatic Mammal Specialist and National Park Volunteer

There is often a gloomy tone to reports on Britain’s water vole (Arvicola amphibious) populations. For example, an Environment Agency spokesman has said that numbers in the UK are thought to have fallen by over 95% since the 1970s and a further 20% since 2011. But recent work by University of Aberdeen researchers shows that water voles can move from further from place to place than had been thought previously. This behaviour could give them a better chance to adapt to changing conditions, but only if there is still suitable habitat to act as corridors for them to travel through.

Despite difficult weather conditions over the last few years, and the presence of predatory mink, we believe that the North York Moors water voles are hanging on here in the uplands more successfully than in some other parts of the country. The best area here is in the east of the North York Moors, centred on Fylingdales Moor and Langdale Forest. The nature of this area means that the water voles are able to move and recolonize other sites when environmental and predation pressures render their usual habitats inhospitable. This is because

  • there is a large number of tributaries, ditches and headwaters connecting two river systems in the area;
  • there are large expanses of heather and forest providing cover for movement as well as pockets of water vole favoured habitat;
  • and importantly, the major landowners in the area, are sympathetic to the needs of the animal and try to manage their land accordingly.

Water voles need lightly-grazed wetland habitat extending beyond the immediate banks of slow flowing becks and rivers. Legal mink control can give the water vole a better chance of survival, although good wetland habitats provide better cover for the voles to escape the attentions of all potential predators.

We’re definitely not complacent though.

The habitat connectivity programme we’re rolling out in the North York Moors will help to reconnect fragmented areas of valuable habitat and should give the water vole more chance to safely relocate and hopefully spread out. Peatland restoration on a number of moors over the last few years, plus the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project above Pickering, is resulting in water being held back for longer on the higher ground and the run off during heavy rain slowed. This is an advantage for water voles (slower-flowing watercourses and less flash flooding of their burrows), as well as hopefully for people living further downstream.

PAWS

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer

What are PAWS?

If you are involved in forestry and woodland management you will probably be familiar with this slightly more memorable than average acronym. It has been used for a while now and so likely to stay in use. If you’re not involved in forestry and woodland management – it stands for Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site.

Ancient Woodland Sites are areas of woodland that have had a cover of trees for at least 400 years. Many of these have been converted to forestry plantations and are hence called Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites or PAWS for short.

PAWS Restoration

Ancient Woodlands are our richest wildlife habitats and they also frequently contain a wealth of historical and cultural features. When these woods were converted into plantations of often single age and single species trees a great deal of this interest was lost. Most PAWS contain non-native conifers.

The restoration of these plantations involves protecting any remaining features of interest in the woodland and replacing the trees with native broadleaved species that are better suited to maintaining the special qualities of these woods.

PAWS in the North York Moors

The North York Moors was almost entirely covered in woodland before man started clearing them. Now only 4% of the area is woodland of ancient origin. Over half of this has been converted to plantation forestry giving the National Park in the order of 3,700 hectares of PAWS.

British Ecological Society Forest Ecology Group Meeting

In October this year Ecologists and Foresters with an interest in PAWS met at the National Park Offices in Helmsley to discuss how PAWS and other plantations can be best managed. A range of talks from practitioners and researchers was followed by site visits to Duncombe Park, Robson’s Spring and Wykeham Forest.

There was much lively debate about how to encourage and achieve restoration of PAWS. Woodlands are complicated and highly varied ecosystems and so each site needs to be looked at on its own merits. Even within the National Park a wide range of approaches to PAWS restoration have been undertaken ranging from large scale instant removal of the canopy trees through to very gradual thinning over a long period of time.

The National Park Authority has a grant scheme to help land managers in the North York Moors look after their Ancient Woodlands – just ask.

Looking after Scheduled Monuments

Mags Waughman – Monument Management Scheme Officer

A green bracken covered hillside in the sunshine would be seen by many visitors to the National Park as an unspoilt piece of countryside, but how many would imagine that bracken is actually Public Enemy No. 1 for rural archaeological sites?

Bracken has its place in biodiversity, but in the wrong location it can be very destructive for the historic environment. Because of the way the underground parts of the plant (the rhizomes) develop and spread, this inoffensive looking plant can cause enormous damage to fragile deposits and features below the ground surface. So the alarm bells start ringing when I see bracken growing on some of the best-preserved sites across the National Park, many of which are protected in law as Scheduled Monuments because they are considered to be nationally important.

Organising the treatment and control of bracken growing on Scheduled Monuments has been a big part of my work as Monument Management Scheme Officer over the summer. I’ve often felt daunted by the sheer expanses of bracken hiding what I know to be wonderful archaeological sites and have had a number of unpleasant experiences pushing my way through waist-high bracken fronds. However, with a little perseverance and the goodwill and cooperation of very many people we’ve arranged for bracken to be sprayed on 35 Monuments this summer and I think we’re starting to have an effect. Landowners and farmers, partner organisations such as Natural England, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission, archaeological consultants, land management contractors and my colleagues in the National Park have all helped in the targeted battle against the bracken. From Bronze Age burial mounds and prehistoric field systems to medieval rabbit warrening features and 18th century alum working sites – many different types of site have needed attention and I’m hoping that when I go back to these Monuments next summer I will be able to see archaeology where I could only see bracken this year. Our fight against the bracken has been possible because of the North York Moors National Park Monument Management Scheme (MMS). This programme was set up in 2009 in partnership with English Heritage in order to improve the condition of Scheduled Monuments on the Heritage at Risk register, which is published annually by English Heritage to highlight the Monuments across the country considered to be most under threat. The aim of the MMS is to remove as many Monuments as possible from the Heritage at Risk register by improving their condition. The risk is the possibility of the destruction and loss of nationally important Monuments. The MMS is now into its fifth year and it’s working very well – helping landowners and farmers to improve the condition of Monuments on their land by arranging for management and repair work to be carried out. Usually we commission an archaeological consultant to draw up a Management Plan identifying the work needed without causing further damage to the Monument, and supervise contractors to carry out the work once everyone is happy with what has been proposed. With bracken control and other vegetation management work, it’s very important that treatments are repeated in subsequent years in order for it to have a full effect.

Extra feet on the ground…..

The National Park has a group of Historic Environment Volunteers and they’re fully involved in our drive to remove Monuments from the Heritage at Risk register. In the spring our enthusiastic volunteers were trained in what to look out for and now we have Jo Collins who works for the MMS two days a week coordinating their efforts out in the field. The Volunteers have been busy over the summer visiting Monuments to give us an up-to-date record of their condition. This is immensely helpful as we have a huge number of Scheduled Monuments in the National Park (840 – the highest density within the Yorkshire region, and second in number to only one other National Park). Many of these Monuments haven’t been visited for several years and have almost fallen off the radar for regular monitoring, but with the help of the volunteers we can identify any problems developing and then try to address them through the MMS.

136 Scheduled Monuments were on the Heritage at Risk register before I started work on MMS – we’ve removed 38 since then, but we still have a long way to go!

A word about the photographs – some archaeological features are sometimes difficult for non-archaeologists to make out – but if you can get your eye in and learn to recognise different shapes on the ground …..

Getting off to a great start

Alasdair Fagan – Conservation Graduate Trainee

I’m a recent MSc graduate from the University of Leeds and I began working for the North York Moors National Park Authority as a Conservation Graduate at the beginning of this month.

During my time at the Authority I will be assisting with a number of woodland projects involving Juniper (Juniperus communis), Veteran Trees and the restoration of PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites) i.e. replacement of conifers with native broadleaves through natural regeneration or planting. I will also be offering additional assistance with any work to do with the endangered White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) because I’ve had previous experience of working with the species in the Yorkshire Dales.

During my first weeks I’ve been getting to grips with the different projects I will be assisting with and I’ve had the opportunity to go out into the Park with a number of other staff members. This included taking part in a volunteer task with the Forest Volunteers (and Kirsty) at Dalby Forest.

The task involved providing some much needed maintenance the Forest Garden (near to the Visitor Centre). The Garden was planted and designed last year by the same group of Volunteers.

The Forest Garden has clearly been a success, it was well established with many of the plants growing well, and there were pollinators everywhere.

I am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to work within such a diverse and beautiful National Park. I look forward to keeping you up to date with my progress, and progress on the projects I’ll be involved with.