Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant
I’ve taken over the role of Conservation Project Assistant from Kirsty who left the National Park Authority earlier this year for pastures new.
I have had a fairly diverse career so far. I am a qualified primary teacher, have worked in business and manufacturing, and have spent more time studying than I care to think about! I have always had a passion for the natural environment, and volunteered whenever and wherever I could. A recent move to North Yorkshire enabled me to retrain in this sector, and now I find myself working for the National Park Authority, which is a dream come true. I love being able to meet the people who manage the land in the National Park, helping them to conserve and enhance the North York Moors in a way that is beneficial to both people and the environment. So far I’ve been largely concentrating on turning Traditional Boundary Scheme (TBS) applications into agreements to help restore boundaries that are so important to the landscape character of the North York Moors.
Amidst my TBS efforts, a couple of weeks ago John (Land Management Adviser) and I attended the annual Farm Liaison Officers conference hosted by the South Downs National Park. This event is an opportunity for agri-environment staff from all 15 of the UK’s National Parks to meet and discuss common issues and difficulties that we face, as well as to find areas of best practice which we can take back to our own National Parks. Whilst the job titles differ from Park to Park it was clear that what we all shared was a passion for working with land managers to achieve mutually beneficial conservation goals.
The first full day was filled with site visits – even if the specific habitats and species we saw were sometimes different to those in the North York Moors, the issues around land management and competing pressures are similar to those we face here.
The first day started with a visit to Bignor Farm near Pulborough. Here, Tom Tupper, a local landowner, introduced us to the chalk grasslands, known as downlands, that make up much of the iconic character of the South Downs. During World War II the South Downs lost about 80% of its grassy downlands, partly to intensive agriculture for food production, and partly to military training. Today, only about 4% of the South Downs remain as chalk downland.
Tom also took us to Bignor Roman Villa, which has been in his family’s stewardship since it was re-discovered over 200 years ago. The site is renowned for having some of the best Roman mosaics in the country, both in terms of detail and preservation. Our stop at the villa allowed us to discuss the intricacies of preserving monuments alongside the public (and often financial) requirement for interpretation and access. There are similar issues at Cawthorn Camps, a Roman site on the North York Moors.
We visited Peppering Farm on the Norfolk Estate. The Estate is currently in a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment agreement, but carries out more conservation work than it receives money towards, for instance in regards to reversing the decline of the Grey Partridge. This highlighted the ongoing issues that arise from trying to balance landscape enhancement with the need for productive practical agriculture. We also saw a restored dew pond. Dew ponds have been dated as far back as Neolithic times, and are a source of much debate as to how they traditionally filled up with water. Landscape archaeology suggests they were used for watering cattle and were lined with clay to hold the water. As we saw, they are always a popular haven for wildlife. There are number of such ponds in and around the North York Moors.
We also visited Pepperscombe on the Wiston Estate. Here we were introduced to the Steyning Downland Scheme which aims to reconnect people, particularly children, with the countryside around them. The Scheme partly came about because of increased visitor pressure on the South Downs Way, which runs through many farms and fields, as well as mountain biking and dog walking issues. Today there are Trustees and a steering group to represent the needs of the local community, which has seen a designated area created for bikers, the establishment of a team of local volunteers to monitor the plant life, and the opportunity for school children to enjoy creative educational days out on site.
Cattle are used to graze the scrub. The photo below shows the effect just a small number
of cattle can have. The area on the left in the foreground was grazed by just six Dexter cattle for only 3 weeks. The area on the right in the background is a new area of scrub the cattle have just moved in to. The difference is remarkable. Dexter cattle are the smallest of all European cattle breeds, and can be particularly suited to conservation grazing with public access because the animals are less intimidating to members of public than larger breeds.
On the second day, we were back in doors talking through shared subjects such as funding opportunities under Rural Development Programmes and transition from the current national agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship) to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Overall the conference proved to be very informative, and I think we all took away knowledge that will help us with our work with land managers to enhance the qualities of each of our wonderful National Parks.