Turtle Doves: back with a purr

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

In my time as a birdwatcher I have learnt to identify any large pigeon-like bird crashing through the trees as a blundering Woodpigeon. These very successful birds are with us all year round fattening up on our winter bird tables.

Turtle Doves however are a very different story* – more remarkable and more refined, no clattering of wings, just a delicate flutter and an enticing soft purr. The Turtle name is presumed to come from the latinisation of their call: turr turr. The Turtle Dove is currently considered a high conservation priority in the UK because of severe population decline, and is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

NYM Turtle Dove - coyright Steve Race

The Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) is the smallest member of the European dove family but it flies the furthest during migration; a bird nicknamed Titan was radio tracked in 2014 and found to have flown 11,200 km from Mali back to its nesting site in Suffolk. He flew up to 700 km per night, at speeds up to 60 km per hour!

This year our North York Moors Turtle Doves have arrived back from Africa on time despite the cold north winds in early spring. Our first bird was seen on 16 April near Pickering. This was perfect timing for the start of my role as the HLF funded Turtle Dove Project Officer a few weeks later.

As the spring has developed our vital group of volunteer bird surveyors have been out and about recording Turtle Doves in known sites where they were present last year and in new sites offering similar habitats. Our project area survey is one of only two formal, locally based Turtle Dove surveys in the UK this year and the only one in the north of England. We’ll be looking to extend this surveying into the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 2018.

One of the known sites for Turtle Doves is the National Park Centre at Sutton Bank. Up to three birds were recorded here in May visiting the bird feeding station, usually when there were fewer visitors around. Turtle Doves can be shy and wary. We are collecting lots of data on the birds at Sutton Bank and have a special Turtle Dove sightings book in which we want visitors to note their sightings – so if you are up at the Centre and you see the Turtle Doves, please add your report.

Using reported sightings we’ve identified the initial villages along the southern edge of the North York Moors which have small populations of the bird (< 6) and where we hope to start building community links and engagement.

During the next couple of months if you’re lucky enough to see or hear a Turtle Dove in or around the North York Moors, please let us know. The best time to hear them is either very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Example of Turtle Dove habitat - forest edge, Cropton Forest - copyright Richard Baines

*Footnote: The Turtle Dove has long been culturally associated with true love and devotion.

“..Oh yonder doth sit that little turtle dove
It doth sit on yonder high tree
A making a moan for the loss of his love
As I will do for thee, My dear
As I will do for thee”

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.

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.

 

Guardians of the Prehistoric Park

Jo Collins – Monument Management Scheme Volunteer Coordinator

There are 840 Scheduled Monuments in the National Park; they include the remains of prehistoric settlements and burial mounds, medieval monastic sites, alum and iron ore workings, and World War II radar and decoy sites. Malo Cross near Saltergate - NYMNPA

Three years ago 15% of these monuments were classified as ‘at Risk’ by English Heritage (now Historic England). Through the work of our Monument Management Scheme (MMS) this has been reduced to 8%. This is due in no small part to the work of the Historic Environment Volunteers, who help us keep an eye on the large number of monuments in the park.

During the previous two years 43 volunteers have visited and surveyed 391 monuments; an considerable achievement, THANK YOU!

Historic Environment Volunteers visit a Scheduled Monument, fill out a short report and take a photo for the record. Part of my job is arranging permission to access the monuments beforehand and making sure the volunteers have the right information and maps so they know where they’re going. The monuments can be a short walk from the car, or high on exposed moorland with a long walk in, or across private farmland; all are accessed with the kind permission of the land owner. The volunteer’s reports and photos have highlighted some monuments that are in better condition than expected (🙂 ) and some monuments that are in worse condition than expected (😦 ). As a result eight have been completely removed from the ‘at risk’ register with a further eleven now classed as ‘low risk’. Bracken growth is the main reason for a worsening condition and we have been able to tackle this through the MMS.

A small sub group of volunteers have also been involved in surveying badger activity on 17 round barrows and dikes in the National Park – round barrows are burial sites dating from the Bronze Age and Dikes are linear earthworks which were built during the Bronze and Iron Ages, probably to indicate territory boundaries. These ancient monuments have since been exploited by people and nature, with badgers being some of the most recent explorers. Volunteers have so far found paw prints, ‘snuffle holes’, bedding airing, fur, tracks, and setts. The monuments are visited about four times a year by a dedicated volunteer. It’s early days for this project but so far so good; apart from the obvious damage caused by the existing setts there appears to be relatively little new digging and no exposed archaeology.

In addition a small group of volunteers help directly with practical management on
monuments; the majority of tasks involve cutting back growing vegetation which causes Danby Rigg - NYMNPAdamage to archaeological remains. This is a new group and we are hoping more people will be up for joining in the future. Two such volunteer tasks on Danby Rigg have contributed to a much bigger project to improve the condition of this prehistoric cairnfield – cairnfields are field systems dating from the Bronze Age; stones were moved and piled into cairns to make space for fields but the Danby Rigg - NYMNPAremains of burials and settlements are often found there too. The problems here were being caused by erosion by people and the flowing water running over site which had damaged and even destroyed some of the cairns. The project to improve the drainage and repair the bridleway was developed with our Northern Area Ranger, Naomi Green, and different National Park volunteer groups were roped in to add heather bales eroded path around ring cairninto small drainage ditches to slow the flow, infill some of the deep ruts and scours and then to spread heather brash over the bare areas. The vegetation will take some time to recover but the area should look as it used to in a short while and the archaeology will be defended from further damage.

Danby Rigg, one of the various volunteer tasks - NYMNPA

Mags, the Monument Management Scheme Officer, and myself were recently asked to share our experience with our neighbouring designated landscape, the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and to help with training their new group of volunteers. The Howardian Hills AONB is currently setting up their own Monument Management Scheme for their area and wanted to find out how we have been using volunteers. We started with a classroom session at Coxwold Village Hall and spent the afternoon visiting 4 round barrow sites to practice their volunteers’ new survey skills. We’d like to wish the AONB the best of luck with their MMS (although I’m sure they won’t need it!).

HE Volunteers working at a monument near Sutton Bank - NYMNPA

And so what’s the future? There are still those 8% of monuments ‘at risk’ and with the help of our volunteers we’re hoping to care for them to conserve our heritage for future generations. Without the help of volunteers it would simply not be possible to achieve everything the scheme has been able to. So here’s to our volunteer guardians of the prehistoric park! And if you would like to join us please do get in touch.

Horcum Dyke - NYMNPA

Monument Management Scheme (MMS) – Scheduled Monuments are assessed as being ‘Low Risk/Not at Risk’, ‘Vulnerable’, or ‘At Risk’ for a variety of reasons. Historic England (previously English Heritage) publishes an annual Heritage at Risk register to highlight the ‘At Risk’ monuments. The MMS is a joint funded project between Historic England and the North York Moors National Park Authority with the aim of reviewing and tackling the condition of these monuments at risk within the North York Moors. Historic England have recently agreed funding for a third phase of the scheme which will run until March 2018. The new programme will continue to work to improve the condition of Scheduled Monuments and remove them from the Heritage at Risk register and it will be looking for ways to keep them in good condition and well managed into the future – hopefully for the long term.