Two Turtle Doves, one Turtle Dove, and then there were none

We’re beginning a new three-year project (Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor) with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund* through their ‘Our Heritage’ grant. We want to try and help our local population of Turtle Doves. The species is declining dramatically in the UK and is considered vulnerable to global extinction. The North York Moors still has a small population of the birds which currently breed here over the summer before migrating back to Africa.

Turtle Doves - copyright RSPB.

We know that Turtle Doves have been recorded mainly around the forests on the southern fringe of the North York Moors. Through our project we want to establish what it is that the Turtle Doves favour in terms of farmland/forest edge habitat here and then provide informed advice and carry out conservation work to secure and enhance these habitats to maintain our local population. We’re aiming to assist the birds by ensuring there are suitable plants for seed to eat throughout the summer, and also by providing clean supplementary seed in spring. The spring seed will help the birds reach breeding condition quickly once they arrive back following migration and this should hopefully improve breeding success.

We will be commissioning annual surveys and working with local volunteers on supplementary surveys, as well as asking the general public to submit sightings. The conclusions from the data collected will build up an understanding and help target and tailor advice to land managers whose land is, or could be, supporting the species though simple actions or help into an agri-environment scheme. The idea is that this will not only benefit Turtle Doves, but other declining farmland birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge and wider biodiversity interests such as cornfield flowers, wildflower grasslands and pollinating insects.

We’re looking to build on synergies developed with the Cornfield Flowers Project, a long term arable flora conservation initiative and its existing network of conservation-minded farmers which provides a model for engagement and a source of farmer champions. We want to expand this engagement and use farm and woodland managers as advocates to share knowledge and best practice.

We’ll also be involving other parts of local communities as well as visitors – through interpretation, events and talks – sharing how to identify the Turtle Dove, where it goes on its perilous cross continent migration, why it needs assistance and what that entails. The more people appreciate the species as part of their natural heritage, the better placed the species will be to get the active help it needs to survive. We will be working with Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils to manage public land for the benefit of the species e.g. roadside verges, village greens, churchyards, cemeteries; and we’ll be advising what people could do in their own gardens. Hopefully small actions will have beneficial consequences for the birds and for the people who then get to see and hear Turtle Doves in their own locality.

As well as the HLF and the National Park Authority, other project partners include the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, Scarborough Borough Council, and the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and crucially volunteers as well as the land managers and the local communities on the ground.

Turtle Dove - copyright THINKSTOCK.

We want to do what we can to prevent local extinction and to contribute as much as we can to the conservation of the species nationally so as many people as possible can get to hear the Turtle Dove’s evocative purring call first hand.

We’ll let you know what’s happening and how to get involved as the project develops.

* The project is part of the HLF’s campaign – Yorkshire’s Back Garden – to re-connect people to their natural heritage.

Fantastical fungi

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Fungi is found on every environment on the planet and plays a vital part in many ecosystems. They don’t actually belong to either the plant or animal kingdoms, they have their own. Fungi are key decomposers and so are crucial in terms of nutrient cycling. Because fungi don’t photosynthesise like plants (they don’t contain any chlorophyll) they instead rely on absorbing food from their environment to survive. This is why you will often see fungi growing on or around other plant material, living or dead. By decomposing organic plant material, particularly lignin and cellulose that make up the bodies of plants, the locked up carbon, nitrogen and minerals are released and used again by other plants and organisms.

Fungi often form important symbiotic relationships with other organisms. These can be antagonistic (injurious to the host e.g Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), mutualistic (mutually beneficial) or commensal (apparently neither injurious nor beneficial). One of the most well-known mutualistic relationships is that with mycorrhizal fungi. It is estimated that over 90% of all plant species are part of a mycorrhizal relationship and are dependent on it to thrive. Mycorrhizae are found between plant roots and the soil, and help other plants collect moisture and nutrients (such as nitrate and phosphate). In return the mycorrhizae are able to use the carbohydrates and sugars that the plants produce. It has been suggested that a single oak tree can have up to 19km of associated mycelium – these are the thread-like hyphae (filaments) that extend outwards from the mycorrhizal fungi.

For most fungi these hyphae are their main part. Even when these hyphae tangle together and are visible to the human eye we often don’t see them because they’re underground or within their food source e.g. a tree. Some fungi however produce fruiting bodies in order to release spores – these are the mushroom parts which appear when it’s warm and damp. The mushroom parts are short lived and die back within a season but fungi can live for years and years.

The North York Moors hosts a great variety of fungi types and their mushrooms, from waxcaps, inkcaps and milkcaps to chanterelles, boletes and russulas. Because of the amount of plant material available woodlands, particularly ancient woodlands, are an excellent place to see mushrooms in the late summer/autumn and some varieties in the spring. To encourage fungi on your own land leave deadwood where it is (either standing or on the ground) instead of clearing it away. Managed grasslands are also a good habitat to find mushrooms. Waxcaps in particular can be found on grassland around historic houses and churchyards, and also on grazed pastures. The best grassland fungi sites typically have a short turf, plenty of moss, are well drained, poor in nutrients and usually unfertilised. Many waxcaps form mutualistic relationships with mosses, so to encourage fungi in your own garden don’t remove the moss.

Over the centuries the hundreds of types of fungi in England have been given graphic common names like ‘Ashen Knight’, ‘Bitter Poisonpie’, ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’, ‘Dryad’s Saddle’, ‘Flaming Scalycap’, ‘Humpback Brittlegill’, ‘King Alfred’s Cakes’, ‘Mealy Bigfoot Webcap’, ‘Old Man of the Woods’, ‘Papillate Pinkgill’, ‘Plums and Custard’, ‘Powdercap Strangler’, ‘Scurfy Deceiver’, ‘Slippery Jack’, ‘Sordid Blewit’, ‘Witches Butter’ … I’ll stop there.

Fungi are an often underrated element of biodiversity; working away, mostly out of site, maintaining healthy ecosystems that are so important to the natural environment..

A few types of wild (uncultivated) mushrooms are edible, many taste of nothing, and others are toxic and quite often deadly. You always need to be absolutely sure which is which if you’re intending to eat one. Foraging in England and Wales is not illegal as long as what is collected is not intended for commercial use. However please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to range over private land.

Picking mushrooms won’t necessarily damage the fungi but the more that are picked the less chance the fungi has of reproducing.

Fungi in and around the North York Moors - mixture of fungi possibly including Candlesnuff - copyright Tom Stephenson, NYMNPA.

For more on fascinating fungi – have a look at The British Mycological Society and the Fungus Conservation Trust websites. Local Naturalist Societies are often great sources of local knowledge.