Tackling invasives

Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser

In Britain, Himalayan balsam is a non-native invasive plant species. It is pretty and pink when it flowers, but it is a domineering plant that crowds out smaller native plants, and 1when it dies back in the winter it leaves sites with bare ground and no stabilising vegetation. This unstable bare ground along river banks where Himalayan balsam likes to grow is a particular problem because it leads to increased sedimentation in a river which detrimentally affects the river habitat.

Fortunately unlike other invasive plant species, Himalayan balsam is not too difficult to tackle and hopefully eradicate before it swamps a site. It can be pulled up in June/July, before it flowers and seeds. However it may take a few years of repeat pulling to actually get rid of the plant at a particular location.

For the sixth year in the row we’re tackling Himalayan balsam along the banks of the River Seph in the west of the National Park. We started at the top of the river catchment gradually edging down as well as going back up stream to repeat the control each year where necessary. The plan  is that we eventually eradicate the plant on this river.

It’s proving to be a resilient adversary but the amount of balsam now left on the Seph has been reduced enough for us to also move down onto the River Rye (which the Seph runs into). This season we’re commissioning control work, over a twelve week period, for a stretch of about five kilometres.

The vast majority of the control work will again be done by our three local contractors, who use a combination of strimming and hand pulling to remove this annual plant. Willing bands of National Park Volunteers will also tackle patches including in Duncombe Park National Nature Reserve. A survey conducted by our Volunteers in 2011 along the River Rye from the Seph confluence down to Helmsley has highlighted new areas where balsam is occurring so we know what we’re up against in our new drive against the plant.

Induction into National Park thinking

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant, and Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Plas Tan Y Bwlch Training Centre

Plas Tan Y Bwlch Training Centre

In April we attended a three day National Park induction course at Plas Tan y Bwlch in Snowdonia National Park. The course is held every now and again for new National Park staff and is aimed at sharing the National Park ethos and making connections between different Parks.

Some of the main themes we considered included UK National Park legal purposes which are:      

  • To conserve & enhance natural beauty, wildlife & cultural heritage.
  • To improve understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.

National Parks also have a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities. If these purposes ever come into conflict, the first purpose should be paramount.

UK National Parks are about cultural heritage and character rather than wilderness per se, and they fall into the United Nation’s Protected Areas Category V. Most UK National Parks are man-made and man-managed landscapes.

We looked at a number of case studies focusing on the village of Beddgelert –

  • Rhododendrons: There is a conflict of interests between tourism bringing coaches of visitors in to admire the masses of rhododendrons on the mountainside in flower over a few short weeks a year, versus conservation of the native species by the National Park through invasive plant species removal. National Park staff in Snowdonia think they have gradually won local people over to backing the protection of their native plants through education on their benefits, including a far longer flowering period from heather!
  • Gelert’s Grave: The story of a faithful dog and its final resting place is not entirely true, being based on myth and legend, yet tourists flock from all over the world to visit the dog’s ‘grave’, sometimes in floods of tears. Should the National Park Authority as a public body always strive to convey the facts/provide correct information, or is it fair enough to encourage the colour and character surrounding the local culture to thrive?
  • Tourism: In small villages parking and road capacity can be a big issue. Where as some locals want to increase tourism and depend on it for their livelihoods, others are fed up with the stress and hassle in the high-season around their homes. What stance should the National Park Authority take?
  • Second homes: Many of the villages in Snowdonia National Park include a substantial number of second homes, which have artificially raised local house-prices, resulting in locals being unable to afford housing in their own patch. Affordable housing schemes have been introduced, however often the resulting architecture/styling is not so aesthetically pleasing as the traditional buildings. Is this an addressable?

One of the most interesting projects in action involves the National Trust who have purchased a lake-side farm in Snowdonia National Park with the aim of taking on an apprentice annually to run the farm. The intention is to encourage young people to take up farming because farming is in decline amongst the young, and allow them to practice before they take on a ‘real’ farm. 

Our discussions revealed how similar the issues are across all of our National Parks, and the overall conclusion was that we need to work together to generate ideas and resolve problems. As National Park staff, together we have a wide range of experience, and cover vast tracts of land and water-way in the UK. Where there is an issue, another National Park has probably already tackled it and we should be linking up to move forward in each of our own Parks.

View of Snowdonia National Park

View of Snowdonia National Park

New roles in the Conservation Department – part 3

Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser

I have recently moved over the Pennines from south Cumbria to take on this new exciting and varied job with the North York Moors National Park Authority. Over there I was the local officer for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust with a focus on conserving the rare and charismatic natterjack toad, which has the accolade of being the UK’s noisiest amphibian. Before that I spent seven years as a Ranger with the Lake District National Park.

With the North York Moors National Park Authority my role is split into two parts. For three days a week I am working on the Authority’s land management agreements under our Wildlife Conservation Scheme. These agreements are aimed at conserving small areas of particularly valuable habitat where other funding sources or protection methods aren’t appropriate. I’m also responsible for winding up the last of the Authority’s long running agreements under the North York Moors Farm Scheme. The Farm Scheme began in 1988 and focused on farms in the central dales area providing grant for capital works and annual payments for environmental land management. Over the last few years these farms have been encouraged and helped into Natural England‘s Environmental Stewardship Schemes. Where there are farms with particular environmental features which can’t be protected solely by Stewardship, the Authority is offering top up Wildlife Conservation Scheme agreements. I’m currently managing 41 agreements dotted all over the North York Moors.

For the other two days a week, I’m assisting Rona Charles, the Authority’s Senior Ecology Officer. I’m already picking up on upland water vole issues (water vole are much much quieter than the natterjack toad); the Himalayan Balsam control project along the River Seph and the Cornfield Flowers Project; aspects of the North York Moors species rich road verge project; and the annual monitoring of the wild daffodils in Farndale.