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 -

Atlantic salmon lifecycle - egg deposition in gravels -

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

Honey Bee Boles: part 2

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

Following on from Kirsty’s post last September it is very pleasing to report that the conservation of the bee boles wall on the south side of Glaisdale is now complete.

The funding for the work was provided by Natural England through Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), with project management supplied by us on behalf of the HLS agreement holder/landowner. The work was completed by Donald Gunn, an expert in building and restoring dry stone walls, using photographs and historic knowledge of the site.

The row of bee boles at GR 477038 503548 is easy enough to visit if you get the chance as they face onto the public footpath which runs along the south-eastern side of Glaisdale, between William Howe (off the road up from Delves) and High Gill Beck.

It’s brilliant to see such a striking feature of our local historic and cultural environment conserved for the future.

Honey Bee Boles

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

One of our latest projects involves the restoration of approximately 77 bee boles along a wall near Glaisdale. This is the largest number in a single wall ever recorded in England and Scotland!

What is a bee bole?

Bee boles are sheltered recesses in the wall which would have traditionally held skeps. Skeps are wicker/heather/straw bee hives, often moulded around sheep horns.

Donald Gunn is an expert in historic dry stone walls and is currently working at the Glaisdale site to return the huge stones to their original positions, using photographs and historic knowledge of the site. Natural England are providing funding through Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), and the North York Moors National Park Authority are managing the project on behalf of the HLS agreement holder.

The wall runs east to west, with the bee boles facing south. This deliberate orientation would ensure that not only would the bees face the heather moorland alongside the wall, but the warmth from the sun reaching the sheltered skeps would ensure an early start and late finish to their day of collecting heather nectar and pollen, maximising the amounts of honey and other bee products per skep.

Researcher Caroline Hardie, of Archaeo-Environment Limited, is also working on the project, and believes this site may have been for commercial honey production, or was a resource shared between the local communities.

The Glaisdale bee boles and attempts at traditional skep creation were featured on BBC Countryfile, on Sunday 8 September 2013. If you missed it, you might still catch it on BBC iPlayer.

Another beautiful example of bee boles in the North York Moors can be seen in nearby Westerdale. This remarkable structure (see below) was built in 1832 and is a Grade II listed building.

If you want to know more about bee boles and find out where else you can see them in Britain – have a look at the IBRA Bee Boles Register website. If you have any information on or photos of the use of bee boles in the North York Moors National Park, we would love to hear from you.

The National Park Authority is also keen to help with the conservation/restoration of more mundane but still valuable drystone walling in the National Park which is an important cultural and landscape feature of the North York Moors. If you might be interested in a grant for the restoration of standard dry stone walls (and hedgerows), we have a new Traditional Boundary Scheme which could help.

Special Projects – an Historic Environment update

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

At the end of the financial year one of my priorities was ensuring the completion of a number of special historic environment projects within Higher Level Stewardship Scheme Agreements in the National Park. Higher Level Stewardship is a Natural England funded scheme aimed at delivering significant environmental benefits on priority holdings where there are particular environmental interests.

The National Park Authority has been helping to facilitate a number of these special projects, which usually involves the production of an archaeological management plan. The latter often leads to conservation works where they are found to be appropriate and necessary.

One of these special projects was focused on the Foord water races within the Bransdale Moor Environmental Stewardship Scheme. Joseph Foord was responsible for the construction of a number of water races (channels) in the 18th century to bring water down from the wetter moorland to the villages on the drier southern edge of the North York Moors. A number of the races can still be seen in the landscape today. The work in this case included surveying of the races by volunteers from the Helmsley Archaeological and Historical Society, the production of a management plan by Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd and the conservation of the remains of an aqueduct (by Historic Property Restoration Ltd). The aqueduct carried a water race across Bonfield Gill.

Bonfield Gill Aqueduct - before repair

Bonfield Gill Aqueduct – before repair

Bonfield Gill Aqueduct - after repair

Bonfield Gill Aqueduct – after repair

Bee boles in drystone wall in Glaisdale

Bee boles in drystone wall in Glaisdale

Another special project has involved an investigation of a particular wall in Glaisdale which contains built features called bee boles. In this case the bee boles are lintelled indents in the drystone wall where it is believed basket bee hives were housed. The archaeological investigation by Archaeo-Environment Ltd was commissioned to better understand the remains prior to actual physical consolidation of the boles which should commence shortly. Study of the bee boles as part of this project has served to highlight just how important and unusual these structures are, and will govern the scope of conservation tasks that will be permitted.

Elsewhere, on Wheeldale Moor, erosion repairs have been carried out to part of the ‘Roman Road’ damaged by waterlogging and erosion by sheep. There is some argument over whether this archaeological feature is either a road or from Roman times.