Born to be Wild

Dr Ceri Gibson – Pearl Mussel Projects Manager, Freshwater Biological AssociationFBA logo

The Freshwater Biological Association has been working with the North York Moors National Park for the last 3 years on the ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ project (funded through Biffa Award). Our role has been to rear juvenile mussels ready for reintroduction back into the River Esk at some appropriate time in the future when the habitat is restored and the water quality improved enough to support them.

Rearing juvenile freshwater pearl mussels (FPM) is a 24 hrs a day, 365 days of the year operation with our staff attending the hatchery even on Christmas Day to ensure that the mussels, and the host fish that they rely on as part of their lifecycle, are all okay.

Proof that the FPM are looked after even on Christmas Day. Copyright FBA.

But it’s not a bad job over here on the shores of Windermere. Whilst the wind may funnel up the lake at times, come rain, snow or sunshine, the views are wonderful and we have a great team.

View looking north over Lake Windermere. Copyright FBA.

The adult mussels are kept in circular tanks in our hatchery connected to tanks which contain host fish. Keeping fish and mussels in close proximity under controlled conditions improves the chances of the mussels successfully completing their lifecycle. We try to maintain the mussels in as natural an environment as possible so they are kept outside in flowing water provided from Windermere.

We constantly monitor the mussels and fish to record when glochidia (freshwater pearl mussel larvae) are released from the females and when these glochidia have grown sufficiently on the fish gills. Then we set nets to collect juveniles as they drop off their fish hosts and transfer them to trays in our juvenile rearing facility. Whilst other techniques of bank-side encystment and seeded gravel reintroductions have been used for some rivers we believe that rearing juveniles beyond their most vulnerable pedal feeding stage, when they live amongst the gravels before filtering free-flowing water, will yield better reintroduction survival rates and allows us the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures.

Back in 2016, we worked with Simon Hirst (River Esk Project Officer) to translocate more adult mussels from the Esk to the hatchery. This exercise followed a recently commissioned brief from Natural England and was very carefully monitored. It proved successful and we have been collecting the captive bred juveniles in large numbers over the last two seasons. FPM larvae are carried on the gills of specific fish hosts for up to 10 months as part of lifecycle. It is interesting that in recent years the Esk glochidia grow to excystment size (350-400 microns long) and drop of the fish hosts within 2 to 3 months at the hatchery. We are therefore monitoring their survival in the rearing trays carefully.

We have been working with other river populations to prepare juveniles for reintroduction into their native rivers. The trays they are reared in are indoors where the juveniles are well protected. So we have set up flume systems to expose captive-bred juvenile mussels to diurnal and seasonal conditions which better reflect the river situation they will be reintroduced to. Once in the flume we can control flow to ‘teach’ them how to adapt to flood and drought conditions. During these experiments we record how many mussels are deeply buried, how many remain on their side on the surface of the gravels and how many are roaming about using their muscular foot. We also record whether they are siphoning water or not.

We look forward to the time that we can repeat these experiments for the Esk population but in the meantime have a look at some of our other, older juveniles filmed in their flume – click here. Or organise a group visit and come and see us at the Ark to visit the Esk juveniles and learn more about what we do.

Rainbow from Mitchell Wyke. Copyright FBA.

Biffa Award logoBiffa 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. 

 

Scrub, scub, glorious scub

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

If you are a farmland bird – such as a Turtle Dove or a Song Thrush, looking to protect your nest from predators and other disturbance – where should you nest? If you have any sense you will be looking for a dense patch of protective scrub or a large hedge (slightly more organised scrub) safe from dangerous raptor talons or avaricious eyes.

Unfortunately this type of vegetation containing older stands of Hawthorn and Blackthorn is becoming increasingly rare in the countryside due to creeping development, agricultural intensification and ‘tidying up’. Scrub can often be assumed to be a problem which needs to be removed. It has been an undervalued habitat in many conservation schemes over the years with other more showy habitats taking precedent.

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project is wanting to improve the appreciation of this fantastic habitat.

Scrub is very important for Turtle Doves. Their delicate nests are often built within 2 metres of the ground in a dense tangle of thorns and twigs. They need this structure to reach the ground to feed. Stock grazing under such a habitat can remove any value to many birds such as Turtle Doves. In the winter scrub is a fantastic habitat for roosting birds such as Long-eared Owls. These magnificent birds are also looking for protection from disturbance and somewhere to have a daytime nap.

Last week we started work on our first community reserve for Turtle Doves at Sawdon near Scarborough. We were out with the Sawdon Community Nature Reserve Group and a very hard working Community Payback team. We planted a mixture of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Hazel to create a thicket of scrub for the future. Luckily the planting day was sunny and warm with many birds singing in the trees around us. Amongst the appreciative audience were Song Thrush, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammers who will all be able to benefit from the effort made to increase their local nesting habitat. Future plans for this site include pond restoration and a Turtle Dove flower meadow.

Creating our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - at Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.

Richard and Katie, helping to create our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - Yederick Spinney, Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.

Why why why the Rye?

Anne-Louise Orange – Ryevitalise Programme Manager

We’re continuing to develop our stage two application for submission in October to the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme.

We need to explain and evidence why the upper Rye catchment is such a special area for people, wildlife, and the rich diversity of habitats the wealth of species rely on; and why it needs support to secure its future.

To help us we are delighted to have recently appointed the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Consultancy to undertake audience development and interpretation consultancy work for the Partnership. WWT Consulting are pleased too and have written their own blog post which you can read here.

We’re keen to hear from you if you have ideas and views about the catchment – please get in touch directly or complete our survey. Your ideas and views will be used to inform the delivery phase of Ryevitalise which, subject to a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, will commence spring 2019.

View of the Rye. Copyright Claire Flanagan, Environment Agency.

 

Call of Nature

This might not be the nicest subject to ever feature on this Blog – but it’s important stuff.

Kate Bailey – Catchment Partnership Officer

The National Park Authority is a partner in the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership. All partners have an interest in improving water quality in the catchment.

The Catchment Partnership is therefore very happy to be involved in the Call of Nature Yorkshire campaign which aims to reduce inadvertent pollution getting into rivers and the sea when off-mains sewage systems aren’t maintained as they need to be. In rural areas, like the Esk and Coastal Streams catchment, individual homes/farms and small settlements are often not connected to the mains sewage network and so waste – from toilets, sinks, showers, baths, washing machines, dishwashers – is contained in cesspits, or treated in septic tanks or package sewage treatment plants, on site.

  • Cesspits are very basic, these tanks hold waste without any treatment. They need to be emptied regularly and the waste removed.
  • Septic tanks hold waste water where it settles and separates with sludge at the bottom and liquid at the top. Bacteria breaks down the organic matter in the tank. The effluent at the top drains onto a soak away area so that other bacteria in the soil can break down the remaining pollutants. The effluent cannot be discharged directly into a watercourse (which include ditches, field drains, small streams, rivers, lakes etc)
  • Package treatment works are a bit more technical than septic tanks. An electric pump brings in air which helps bacteria breaks down organic matter more effectively. This means under certain conditions that effluent can be discharged into a watercourse.

The Call of Nature Yorkshire campaign is raising awareness of the potential problems if these off-mains systems aren’t maintained properly and providing guidance on maintenance.

Local surveys by the Environment Agency have shown elevated levels of phosphates in certain areas of the catchment, and this could be partly due to individual sewage treatment systems and the domestic detergents and human sewage they’re supposed to treat. This isn’t the only issue; diffuse pollution from agriculture e.g. fertiliser, manure and slurry can also cause elevated nutrient levels in watercourses.  Phosphate acts as a nutrient and can trigger excessive plant growth in rivers and streams. This depletes the oxygen in the water, smothers the river bed and blocks out the sunlight damaging these important ecosystems. The Glaisdale Beck Restoration Project and the Biffa funded Esk Project is working with farmers to tackle agricultural impacts. But that leaves the accidental domestic waste.

General binding rules were introduced in 2015 and apply to people who are not connected to the mains sewage network.  All tanks need to be maintained to prevent leakage and to be emptied regularly to prevent over flow, any faults should be fixed immediately and maximum discharge volumes should not be exceeded (without a specific permit). If waste water that hasn’t been adequately treated gets out, it can end up polluting watercourses and beaches so damaging everyone’s environment and the nutrients and sewage released can harm both humans and wildlife. It’s much easier to maintain a off-mains system correctly than replace it when it fails. A poorly maintained system can also have a detrimental effect on the value of the property and so affect a house sale. Dark smelly liquid, sewage fungus (a slimy grey growth), a backing up toilet and a poorly-draining soak away are all indications that there is something wrong.

How to reduce domestic phosphates getting into local watercourses wherever you are (some of these suggestions are applicable if you do or don’t have an off-mains sewage treatment system):

  • Make sure you know how your own system works and where it is located
  • Make sure tanks are emptied regularly (by a licensed company) to ensure the lower layer of sludge doesn’t build up
  • Check all parts of your system regularly – make sure any faults with the system are fixed immediately
  • Make sure your system can manage the amount of waste being produced by the household – old tanks were not designed to manage the volumes used now e.g. washing machines, dishwashers. You might need to invest in a new system.
  • Don’t connect rainwater drainage pipes or guttering into an off-mains system
  • If possible space out your use of a washing machine and a dishwasher so the waste water/detergent isn’t entering the system at the same time.
  • Use ‘environmentally friendly’ products – only use small amounts.
  • Only use minimum amounts of bleach or disinfectant – these chemicals kill bacteria that is actually vial to breaking down waste
  • Don’t flush solid items down the toilet which can block the system and lead to overflow.
  • Don’t pour grease/cooking oil down the sink. Don’t pour paints or solvents or down the drains.

If you do have one of these off-mains sewage treatment systems and would like further information please can call the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506.  The Call of Nature Yorkshire website also has lots of useful fact sheets with further information.

Call of Nature Yorkshire logo

Environment Agency logo

Updating the landscape

This is a good example of the time and effort it can take to change a landscape for the better.

The Trennet Bank Project was initiated back in 2013 (although the wish to do something here had existed for much longer than that). We’ve now achieved the major part of the planned work with the removal of conifers and the start of the gradual restoration of the site to moorland and native woodland.

Trennet Bank is on the eastern edge of Bilsdale West Moor, just west of the village of Chop Gate. Set on the top of the bank was Trennet Plantation, a 20 hectare 20th century conifer plantation (Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine) planted on moorland in the late 70s/early 80s. Since then the plantation was identified as an inappropriate forestry development at this location in terms of landscape and environment. Because it was so high on the horizon it stood out on the skyline from a number of vantage points and because it was surrounded on three sides by important moorland (designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area, Special Ara of Conservation) it was isolated from other woodland. In fact it stuck out like a sore thumb.

In addition, there was no future as a working plantation (plant-grow-fell) as it had become uneconomic to manage and harvest the timber, because of its location. So the trees would eventually start to be blown over leaving very little ground vegetation and therefore this would lead to erosion.

From a National Park Authority point of view Trennet Bank Plantation provided an ideal example of where to put into practice the North York Moors Management Plan policy – The removal of plantations from inappropriate sites will be supported where this will deliver landscape enhancement or other environmental benefits.

What happened…

The first requirement was the creation of a temporary access route from the plantation on the hillside down to the farm below and then onto the main road. This was a more achievable alternative to trying to take the trees up over the designated moorland. It meant building up the existing track including the provision of a new bridge so that the route could be used by timber lorries, and by machinery accessing the site to fell the trees. Subsequently once the conifer removal was completed the track was reinstated to ensure it was suitable for continued farm use. During and after the work, farm stock had to continue to be managed with fencing and gates, to allow the farm to function.

To remove the conifers a felling licence was required from the Forestry Commission. A felling licence requires a commitment to replant so there is no net loss of woodland. As the idea for Trennet Bank was to remove the existing woodland, the subsequent native woodland and wood pasture planned for the site wouldn’t amount to the required 20 hectares. Mark Antcliff, Woodland Officer, undertook the challenge to establish enough alternative planting sites in the wider area to ensure there was no let loss. In all, nearly 36 hectares of new compensatory woodland was established including on the plantation site and also in other appropriate locations such as bracken dominated moor edge, thanks to willing landowners and land managers.

With the access route improved and the felling licence in place the removal of timber started in the summer of 2015, and was completed by November 2016. The timber was of reasonable quality because the trees were over 30 years old and so could be sold on with some of the money made covering some of the costs entailed. The work also created large amounts of brash, some of which remains on the site to decay naturally and some of which was removed to be used as biomass.

In the winter of 2016/17 part of the felled site was replanted with oak and hazel, leaving the remainder (80% of the site) to naturally revert to heath and mire. The planted trees will need to be managed over the next three years to ensure they become established.

Establishing wood pasture on Trennet Bank. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lessons learnt for other potential large scale projects…

  • This turned out to be a major project for one Woodland Officer, with occasional assistance. A project of this scale and complexity would be helped by having a project manager on the ground.
  • Unavoidably the project relies on the good will and co-operation of landowners and tenants. It just couldn’t have happened otherwise.
  • In all, because of the complexity of the project, seven different agreements were required to be brokered by the Authority.

In the end a lot of time and resource was spent over a number of years, and as a result the landscape and environment of this part of the North York Moors has been significantly enhanced.

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.

Talking about Turtle Doves

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

Our Turtle Doves are now in Africa, but that doesn’t mean our work stops.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

With the majority of results now in for our two formal survey areas (Cropton and Dalby Forests), along with many additional sightings logged this year, we can now announce our results. In 2017 a total of 244 birds were logged over 78 dates between the first seen on 17 April and the last record of one on 25 September near Pickering. Over both the 2016 and 2017 survey seasons we recorded 24 singing males in Cropton Forest. During our 2017 surveys in Dalby Forest we found 12 singing males. Our largest flock was 13 birds including juveniles recorded on 25 July 2017.

These results illustrate how important our area is for these endangered birds. In comparison there were very few sightings in the rest of Yorkshire this year and even fewer to the north of us. We have known for some time our area has been a stronghold for this species due to the committed work of many individual birdwatchers and the local Forest Bird Study Group. However this is the first time Turtle Doves have been surveyed as a single species in the north of England. We would not have been able to achieve these detailed results without the hard work of our volunteer surveyors. I started this project as a volunteer myself, keen to help these beautiful birds and I hoped other people would feel the same. Thankfully a small army have now joined the Turtle Dove brigade! Here’s a quote from George Day, one of our volunteer surveyors this year; “Being part of such an exciting project has been fantastic. It’s been a real treat to spend dawn in the forest with purring Turtle Doves”.

Carrying out these surveys can be fun in themselves, but we are often asked what happens to the data collected and is there a direct benefit to Turtle Doves? Within the first six months of this project the data collected by volunteers so far has been used to identify and target the best areas to set up new feeding sites and attempt to improve nesting habitat. I can now visit a farm, explain to the land manager how important their land is for Turtle Doves based on how many birds are nearby. This makes a huge difference to the delivery of the project.

Richard presenting to an end of term meeting of Turtle Dove volunteers, Dalby Visitor Centre 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working hard to spread the word and plan sites for new and improved habitat to create in 2018. I have a Heritage Lottery Fund target to deliver 40 talks to groups in the three years of the project and I’m pleased to be on course to complete 20 by the end of the first year! It seems a lot of people want to learn about and help these iconic birds. From a small village community in Sawdon to a national Forestry Commission conference the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove roadshow is purring its way around our beautiful county and beyond….

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partner logos

Lunch time research

Joan Childs – Head of Volunteer Service

When I returned to live in North Yorkshire recently, I unearthed some old records of the rare hoverfly Parasyrphus nigritarsis from the Farndale area, and decided to look for this species along the River Rye, Helmsley – close to where I now worked, because it looked to be a similar habitat. This section of the riverbank is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (local designation for important wildlife sites) from Helmsley Bridge down to West Ness.

Swathes of dock (Rumex spp.) by the River Rye, Helmsley. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

The larvae of this hoverfly feed on the eggs and larvae of Chrysomelid beetles on alder, sallows i.e. willows, and dock (Rumex spp.). Back in May, I found some of the dock beetles by the River Rye, and started to turn the dock leaves over to look for their egg clusters on the underside. While I was doing this I noticed that a hoverfly was engaged in exactly the same search pattern as me, hovering around the leaves, and disappearing underneath them, one by one! This behaviour, and the broad, dark-orange stripes on the abdomen, suggested that I had found the hoverfly in question.

Adult P nigritarsis showing the black feet from which it gets its name. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

Catching one of the three I saw confirmed that it was, and that it was a female. Several of the clusters of dark orange beetle eggs were overlaid by the paler yellow eggs of the hoverfly.

Dock beetle egg cluster overlaid by the pale yellow eggs of P nigritarsis. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

In June, I returned to the site and found that larvae had emerged from the P nigritarsis eggs and were feeding on the beetle eggs and larvae. Over the next few weeks the larvae were observed feeding and growing, eventually becoming harder and harder to find as they dispersed following the beetle larvae and then going into diapause (suspended development) in leaf curls and in the leaf litter, where they will spend the winter before pupating and emerging as adults. The hoverfly larvae will face a number of potential dangers over the winter, including a rise in water levels depositing mud across the lower dock leaves, and possible negative effects from agricultural land management.

Growing P nigritarsis larva feeding on beetle eggs. Copyright Joan Childs, NYMNPA.

Having found a technique for locating the P nigritarsis, I checked many clusters of beetle eggs on dock in a number of other sites, but did not find any further hoverflies. This suggests that this is a genuinely scarce species, not just overlooked. Other sites where the beetle occurred on dock but the hoverfly was not present, showed extensive beetle feeding damage to the leaves – which did not exist at the site by the River Rye, showing that P nigritarsis can significantly affect the beetle population.

What Katie did next

Katie Pownall – Conservation Research Student

My name is Katie Pownall and I am currently working at the North York Moors National Park for my year in industry, before heading back to the University of York to complete my biology degree next autumn. So many people have told me how valuable a year in industry can be for future employment prospects, and I feel very lucky to be able to spend my year with such an inspiring organisation. I hope to gain skills and knowledge from this placement that will allow me to pursue a career in ecology when I have graduated. What other job would involve me doing some of the things I’ve already had the chance to do so far?

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank…

Four of us travelled to Sutton Bank Visitor Centre and walked round existing paths on the heathland area there to locate the mats previously placed on the ground to act as attractive refuges for reptiles. We were looking for three particular species – Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards, all of which are protected by law in the UK. The ongoing monitoring was to provide evidence to consider as part of a planning application for a car park extension.

Reptile monitoring at Sutton Bank Visitor Centre - September 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

After carefully looking under about a third of the mats and having had no luck, we decided to wait a little to allow the sun to heat up the mats a bit, which would encourage the cold blooded reptiles to rest there in order to warm up. When we continued we had more luck, finding some Common lizards as well as some Common toads. Unfortunately we did not come across any slow worms or adders, nevertheless we were pleased with what we had found, and a Fox moth caterpillar and a vole or two added even more excitement to the day!

Water vole surveying at Eller Beck…

The next day I joined the search for Water voles, or at least for signs that they are living in the area around Eller Beck, Fylingdales. Water Vole populations have suffered in the UK due to habitat loss as a result of agricultural intensification. More significantly populations have come under threat from the American mink as a short lived mink fur industry in the 1960s/1970s declined and mink were released into a wild without natural predators. Between 2004 and 2007 the UK’s Water Vole numbers decreased by around a fifth. In many areas mink have wiped out water voles completely; the remnant populations hang on in less than optimal habitats for Water voles but where mink find it very difficult to survive – upland areas such as Eller Beck and urbanised areas such as Burdyke in York. The fragility of the populations are why surveys to ensure they’re surviving in the North York Moors are so important.

Having donned our wellies and waterproofs we started trying to make our way over the rough terrain of a former plantation to find the beck. The ground was very tricky to move across, and we soon found multiple smaller streams running across the landscape by putting our foot down in the wrong place! Eventually we found the actual water channel that we were going to survey and started searching for clues that Water voles had been there. We were looking for latrines (piles of water vole droppings that look like dark green or brown tic-tacs!), grass that had been chewed and cut at a 45° angle, and Eller Beck - Water vole latrine with cut grass. Copyright NYMNPA.Water vole burrows along the side of the bank (which should have a clean opening with a diameter of 4-8 cm). After carefully treading along the banks of the beck we came across several latrines, some cut grass and potentially one or two burrows. This was encouraging since it proved that Water voles were still living in the area. Also, we didn’t find any evidence of mink in the same area, which is great news.

As the day progressed we found that some channels where signs of Water voles had been recorded in the past now seemed less suitable since the vegetation on the banks was particularly overgrown and so latrines and burrows could be less easily formed here. Water voles may still have been using these channels, but possibly just not living in them.

Eller Beck - Water vole burrows. Copyright NYMNPA.

Just after lunch we were surprised by an individual who had been lying low in the grass and which we accidentally startled. After not seeing one the day before whilst doing the reptile surveying, I was delighted to see my first Adder! The excitement of this experience more than made up for having a welly full of water all day.

Eller Beck - Adder. Copyright NYMNPA.

Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites investigations…

As part of the This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, PAWS surveys are being undertaken to look for opportunities to conserve remaining ancient woodland features. The Ingleby Plantation was previously planted on the site of what might have been ancient woodland, so our job was to survey the area to identify any trees that we thought were over 60 years old, and would therefore have been present before the plantation. We recorded the level of threat to the amount of standing and lying deadwood, which is such a great habitat for invertebrates and fungi, and to the remaining ground flora.

Ingleby Plantation - stream that ran through the site, with stones from old retaining wall. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - dead wood placed in piles after selective felling. Copyright NYMNPA.Ingleby Plantation - Dead Moll's Fingers fungus on lying dead wood. Copyright NYMNPA.

We considered what changes could be made to the area to reduce these levels of threat. Where it seemed like there was little succession of ground flora some thinning of the trees preventing light from reaching the ground would help. Tree felling in a ‘halo’ around older, more vulnerable trees would help them to grow and stay healthy. Ring barking some trees – cutting off the nutrient supply to the tree – would create more standing dead wood where there is a lack of it.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

Practical conservation work…

I joined a group of National Park conservation volunteers to clear an area of scrub near Rievaulx to encourage wild flowers to grow and spread next spring in a site of potential species rich grassland. To prevent the scrubland plants such as bracken and bramble from taking over the site again before the wild flowers get a chance to establish we had to remove all the cuttings from the area so that they didn’t reintroduce their nutrients to the soil. Wild flowers should grow better than the scrubland plants on nutrient-poor soil.

This kind of outdoor work was what I had imagined I might be doing quite a bit of during my time with the National Park, and despite the couple of downpours we had, it was good fun, and we all felt a huge amount of satisfaction once the job was done!

National Park conservation volunteers clearly scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

As the new Conservation Research Student I sarted my new job not knowing what the next week would hold, never mind the next year! I have not been disappointed so far, as so many opportunities to go out on site and get involved in a wide range of projects have been presented to me, and I am keen to gain as much experience as I can from them.

Conservation recruits

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee and Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee

Abi Duffy, Conservation Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.I’m Abi Duffy, and I have recently started as a Conservation Trainee. I graduated from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Geography in July 2016 and since then I have been working towards gaining employment within the conservation sector. I am really interested in developing my knowledge and experience in this two year position with the National Park.

Sam Newton, Natural Heritage Trainee. Copyright NYMNPA.My name is Samuel Newton and I have started in the position of Natural Heritage Trainee with the National Lottery funded This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. I have always been interested in the environment, leading to my graduation from Newcastle University with a degree in Ecology earlier this year. I am keen to use this opportunity to gain as much experience as possible of working in conservation.

Our first two months have been both varied and interesting as we’ve been contributing to a wide range of projects. We’ve taken advantage of the end of summer to be out in the field most days surveying.

Water vole surveying

One particularly memorable day was water vole survey training, for which we headed up to Fylingdales. This surveying entails walking a stretch of stream looking for signs of Water vole (Arvicola amphibious). The most obvious signs are droppings, which are ‘tic tac’ shaped and tend to be green, and are used for territory marking. Where droppings are flattened and more have been deposited on top this creates a ‘latrine’. We also looked for piles of nibbled grass, with a 45° cut angle at the end – characteristic of voles, as well as for burrows and footprints.

The training links in with our Water vole project which is aiming to secure the few remaining populations of Water vole within the North York Moors. The animals have North York Moors Water Vole. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.suffered from habitat loss and also the spread of invasive American mink. I (Sam) have been mapping water vole and mink survey results, mostly collected by our dedicated group of Water vole survey volunteers. These records create a base from which management of habitats and also mink can be carried out.

Botanical Surveying

We have been visiting species rich grasslands across the North York Moors, with a range of different underlying ecological conditions. By surveying the plant species and their abundance on these sites we can try and ensure management fits the individuality of each one, and that certain species are not being lost or becoming dominant to the detriment of others. Our Linking Landscapes volunteers also survey grassland within the National Park each summer; many volunteers survey the same site each year which helps identify changes. The volunteers send in their results to us for analysis.

Some of the interesting and beautiful flowers we have seen so far include Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum). We also joined in with the Conservation Volunteers cutting some of these grassland sites where they’re not grazed and importantly raking off the cuttings to stop the grasslands becoming too nutrient rich. Nan Sykes’ book ‘Wild Flowers of North East Yorkshire’ has proved invaluable in helping improve our botanical ID skills.

Harebell. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

MoorFest

As part of National Parks Week back in August, I (Abi) got involved with a MoorFest event at our Sutton Bank National Park Centre letting people know about the species rich grassland resource within the North York Moors. We had many families chatting to us about wildflowers and asking us questions about the grassland. This was a good way to help communicate to the wider public the work that farmers and the National Park do together to conserve and enhance grassland sites.

Moonwort at Sutton Bank. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.The triangular meadow out of the front of the Sutton Bank National Park Centre is a great example of such grassland. Back in June, before beginning in our roles, we both took part in a Volunteer training day there; we found the rare fern Moonwort and several Common Spotted Orchids among a vast array of species. This site is a good quality species rich grassland in top condition, and with continuing management we hope to keep it that way.

Triangle Meadow, Sutton Bank - Common spotted orchid at the forefront. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

West Arnecliff Woodland Survey

In early August we were given the opportunity to follow up on research work done by the previous Research Student at the National Park, Sam Witham. Sam had been investigating the impact of deer browsing in woodland by constructing small exclusion enclosures, in order to establish whether these allowed greater natural regeneration. This is part of the National Park’s long term PAWS restoration project. Non-native conifers had already been removed from this site at West Arnecliff and the continuing research is to help understand how best to assist the regeneration of the Ancient Woodland features and habitat.

Japanese knotweed surveying

Something else we have been involved with is the River Esk project – in particular surveying stretches of the river for Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This destructive invasive has the potential to spread rapidly along the river banks generating sedimentation and damaging the river environment. There has been control work over the last decade but it’s important to keep on top of the plant and where it is coming back it needs to be treated as soon as possible to prevent a new outbreak. So the surveying is important and has become a bit of a right of passage for new members of the Conservation Department.

Conclusion

So far we have really enjoyed the first two months in our new roles We are looking forward to going out into the field even more and meeting and working with the land owners and land managers who shape the landscape of the North York Moors.

It is great to have the opportunity to understand and contribute to the work the National Park is doing, while learning about working in conservation at the same time.

Abi, Sam and Bernadline surveying in Rosedale. Copyright Elspeth Ingleby, NYMNPA.