A to Z: a multiplicity of Ms

M

MAGNETITE

As mentioned previously, in the 1850s a seam of iron rich ironstone was discovered in Rosedale. Also known as lodestone, magnetite had long been a valued mineral because of the amount of iron ore it contains, so much so that it is often magnetic.

Rosedale - copyright Colin Dilcock, NYMNPA

The discovery in Rosedale led to the rapid development and expansion of the mining and calcining industry there and in the wider area. There were great expectations …

“Professor Phillips delighted and informed the company by his description of the ‘Ironstones of Cleveland’ … The Rosedale band at its richest points, yielded 50 per cent [ore] and in many places 42 per cent. The Rosedale stone was magnetic and contained phosphorous, it was not merely magnetic, but it had an inherent magnetic polarity … There must spring up over the Cleveland district, through the working of the iron ore, great towns, with a numerous and active population; and, as a result, the moorland would be brought under cultivation and this once dismal tract of 20 square miles would rejoice in all the material means that could promote human happiness and prosperity…”

From a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Leeds, as reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 2 October 1858.

However the actual magnetite seam was soon exhausted leaving the industry exploiting poorer ironstone and slowly declining into the 20th century. The magnetite proved to be rather a flash in the pan.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

MESOTROPHIC LAKES

There are very few natural lakes in the North York Moors due to geology and climate, which makes Lake Gormire on the south western edge of the National Park even more remarkable. In the last Ice Age a hollow was formed by a meltwater channel between the edge of the moving Vale of York ice sheet and the edge of the North York Moors gritstone escarpment. The channel damned up and the lake left behind divided into two bodies of water – Gormire and the much smaller, Buttermere.

These are mesotrophic lakes – containing a narrow range of nutrients in medium concentrations. This type of lake chemistry is rare and becoming rarer as lakes are effected by artificially increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and so become eutrophic. Lake Gormire is surrounded mainly by semi natural woodland and fed by springs and so largely circumvents the risks of artificial diffuse pollution and nutrient enrichment.

Because of their chemistry Mesotrophic lakes can support higher levels of diversity of macrophytes (algae), aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish. The fen (‘mire’, ‘mere’) plants around Gormire/Buttermere reflect the acid soil, so there is Marsh cinquefoil Potentilla palustris, Common skullcap Scutellaria galericulata and Tufted loosestrife Lysimachia thyrsiflora, as well as Bog bean Menyanthes trifoliata and Water horsetail Equisetum fluviatile. Gormire is particularly popular with noisy water birds, mating toads and freshwater leeches, all exaggerating the primeval sense inside this Ice Age hollow.

Lake Gormire from Cleveland Way, north of Sutton Bank - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

Lake Gormire and the area around it is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The cliff slope woodland above Lake Gormire is the Garbutt Wood Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

MILKY WAY

The Milky Way is a galaxy of billions of stars and planets sometimes partly visible to the naked eye as a milky looking band of light in the night sky.

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor Shower Sutton Bank - copyright Russ Norman Photography.

We’re in the middle of the Dark Skies Festival 2017 here in the North York Moors National Park. The dark skies over National Parks make it easier to see the lights of the galaxies around us. This February is particularly good for viewing Orion and also a very bright Venus.

February 27 1920   The mysterious stars

…Later in the evening a half-moon shone in a filmy sky across which, from S.E. to N.W., ran a Noë-ship of thin white clouds. A soft mist hung in the far valleys, but the nearer moory slopes loomed clearer. In the pastures the furze bushes were startlingly like huge black beasts grazing on the rimmed herbage. No sounds broke the utter silence of the moonlit hills; the wind had almost died away, but as I stepped over the little rill from Thunderbush Farm [Commondale], I heard its faint, musical ripple.

The ever-mysterious stars flashed through the interspaces of the filmy clouds and circled silently above the dim earth. Sirius flashed due south whilst mighty Orion hung high above the moor edge, his glory somewhat dimmed by the moon. What would life have been without the stars?”

A Man of the Moors: Extracts of the Diaries and Letter of Frank Elgee.

MINI-BEASTS

We use the term mini-beasts for the tiny invertebrates that go without notice until they’re looked at under the microscope and a menagerie of marvel and dread is revealed.

Identifying and counting river invertebrates is a very useful way of assessing the health of a river at a particular spot. Certain species indicate good water quality and others, poor water quality; a change in species/numbers indicate a change in water quality e.g. a pollution incident. There is a national programme of riverfly monitoring led by the Riverfly Partnership. Results are recorded centrally and indications of a potential incidents are reported to the Environment Agency. The National Park run a number of local Riverfly Monitoring Workshops for volunteers – the next one is 1 March.

MOSCHATEL Adoxa Moschatellina

Moschatel is a perennial unobtrusive plant which likes the damp, shady conditions found along woodland edges and on shaded hedge banks. It flowers between March and May, producing five lime green flowers on top of a leafless stalk, four flowers face outwards and one flower faces upwards, forming a cubic which has led to the plant’s other common name – Townhall Clock. The plant grows along the ground through rhizomes with the flower stalks growing up through its leaves to only c. 15cm tall. It is a common plant but easy to miss – look out for it in early spring before it gets hidden by taller plants.

Moschatel at Sieve Dale. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

MOTTE AND BAILEY

Historic England suggest there are over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles in England. These were early medieval fortifications built by the Normans and made up of a large mound of earth/rubble (the ‘motte’) with a defensive palisade and tower on top, and an embanked enclosure with other buildings (the ‘bailey’) adjoining.

A motte and bailey castle could act as a fort when required as well as providing the residence for the local landowner/representative of the King and a centre for feudal power. They were often built on high ground to take advantage of the extra height to dominate the landscape and overlook access routes.

Soon after the beginning of Norman rule in England came the ‘harrying of the north’ – a military campaign to overcome and overwhelm the population in the north of the country and hammer home the idea that the Normans were here to stay. The new motte and bailey castles were a highly visible tool for holding that ground and reinforcing that message.

By the 13th century castle design had moved beyond the basic motte and bailey. Although the timber structures have largely gone, the earthworks are often still traceable in the landscape, and rubble mottes and the remnants of stone towers remain. Many are scheduled. Examples in the North York Moors include Hood Hill, Easby motte, and Foss Castle.

MOTHS

Moths are often considered the poor cousins of butterflies in the Lepidoptera family. The most obvious difference between butterflies and moths are that the former are active during the day whereas moths are mostly (but not all) nocturnal, feeding on the nectar of night blooming/night scented plants. Another difference is that when resting, butterflies usually close their wings whereas moths leave theirs open and this makes it easier to examine their intricate patterning and refined colouring. But as with most ecological questions – what is the difference between butterflies and moths? – there is no obvious answer and always an exception. Moths can be just as colourful, just as beguiling and just as in peril, as butterflies. For more on moth conservation see here.

Shandy Hall, Coxwold has become a location for moth study and reporting over the last few years. The gardens there provide a semi-natural/cultivated habitat for many species – over 400 different species have been recorded in the gardens to date.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L

Ageing Mussels

Simon Hirst – River Esk Project Officer

As mentioned previously, the River Esk in the North York Moors is the only river in Yorkshire with a Freshwater pearl mussel population Margaritifera margaritifera. The population is estimated to be comprised of approximately 1,000 individuals and is in drastic decline, so much so that it is on the verge of extinction. The decline is due to a number of linked causes such as water pollution, choking of the river bed by sediment build-up, deterioration in fish numbers and habitat degradation.

A dense bed of healthy adult mussels in Scotland. Copyright Sue Scott - SNH,

We’re working to improve the riparian habitat and so help secure the local population of Freshwater pearl mussel in the River Esk. We recently sent a sample of mussel shells from the Esk* over to the Swedish Natural History Museum in Stockholm, in order to determine the age of the mussels in the River Esk. The maximum age of Freshwater pearl mussels in the wild has been shown to vary considerably, from a low of 35 years in Spain (warmer, lower latitude rivers) to over 200 years in arctic areas (colder and high latitude rivers). Information from the ageing study would tell us how long we have left to save the Esk population from extinction and help identify the approximate time when the River Esk mussel population went into decline.

Dr Elena Dunca from the Swedish Natural History Museum sectioned (cut though) the shells supplied and then counted the growth lines on the mussel shell using a high powered microscope.

1

Growth lines visible on the freshwater pearl mussel shell.

Esk FWPM - Age and length graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

This age/length graph will allow us to age fairly accurately any mussels we find in the wild in the future just by measuring them.

A total of 10 shells were aged by Dr Dunca, and the graph below shows that the mussels sent to Sweden ranged in age from 45 to 88 years of age.  The mussels in the River Esk also showed normal growth rates.

Esk FWPM - Length frequency graph - Swedish Natural History Museum

Length frequency graph of mussels in the River Esk

The smallest live mussel we have found in the Esk up to now was 75mm (approximately 28 years of age). This means the last time the Esk mussels reproduced successfully in the wild was in the late 1980s. The largest mussel we have found in the Esk was 156mm (approximately 100 years of age), which means it was born around the time of the First World War. The vast majority of the mussels are around the 130mm-140mm size range (approximately 80 years of age). We now know for scientific certainty that the Esk has an ageing population in need of help!

The best hope for our mussels is for them to start to successfully reproduce again. We’re working with the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) who are carrying out captive breeding work in the Lake District. We hope to re-introduce the captive bred young Esk mussels from the FBA Facility back into the Esk once the riparian habitat is restored enough to sustain them, and so ultimately stop this species from becoming extinct in the wild (of Yorkshire).

* Please note – No mussels were harmed in the making of this study! We used empty shells that were found on the banks of the Esk.

Thanks to our funders at Biffa Award, for their support to carry out this vital research work.

Biffa

Biffa 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.

Benefiting bees

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Recently my colleague Ami and I went on an organised farm walk near Menethorpe to the south of the North York Moors. The event was led by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the theme was habitat management for pollinators. The walk was well attended by local land managers who wanted to know a bit more about the benefits that pollinators provide, and how they might most easily encourage them, in particular on otherwise unproductive areas of their land.

The main focus of our discussion was inevitably bees – our most efficacious pollinators.  We were given copies of an excellent booklet from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology called ‘Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators’.

We’ve mentioned bees a number of times before in this blog, but felt it was about time they had their own post because they are so important.

CFE Farm Walk - a pollinator meadow on the farm we visited full of red and white clover and meadow vetchling. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the UK whilst there is only one species of honey bee Apis mellifera (both wild and semi-domesticated), there are about half a dozen common bumble bees and over twenty common species of solitary bees like mining bees, mason bees and leaf cutter bees.

The bee flying season can begin as early as March and extend right the way into October, as long as there is food i.e. nectar and pollen available. Most species of bees can survive over winter if there is somewhere for them to hole up.

Bumble bees on a thistle - copyright NYMNPA.

The anatomy of different bee species varies greatly, and so to assist most species it’s best to have a wide range of flower species from which they can feed. As some of the mining bees have short tongues of only 4-5mm, they need open flowers such as cow parsley and daisies. The garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum on the other hand has a tongue that can extend to around 12mm, so it can feed from flowers with a long corolla (i.e. petals) like foxgloves and honeysuckle.

As well as fragrance, one of the other things that attracts bees to flowers is colour. So its worth considering maintaining colours throughout the season. For example, coltsfoot and hawk’s beard provide yellow colour from about February to June, and then cat’s ear How we see it (left) and how a bee might see it with UV shades visible (right) - Klaus Schmitt.and bristly oxtongue do the same from June to October. Similarly, a successional combination of white deadnettle, oxeye daisy and yarrow can ensure there are plenty of white flowers throughout the year. Interestingly, it is thought that bees can see in ultraviolet, which means how they perceive flowers will be very different from how we do.

Establishing and managing a wildflower meadow is one of the most effective ways of ensuring bees have a suitable habitat. In addition it is thought that on arable farms having a flower-rich margin on at least 1% of the land will provide significant benefit to pollinators, which in turn will improve crop production and quality. Hedgerows can be another useful way to help bees – cutting hedges on a two or even three year cycle will encourage more hawthorn and blackthorn flowers. When new hedges are planted, a greater species diversity (using hazel, field maple, crab apple, holly and willow where appropriate) will also mean that there is more food and nectar available for a longer period throughout the year.

Bees are fantastic creatures in their own right. They also provide a number of hugely important direct benefits for our countryside and environment. There are things we can do to encourage bee survival such as sowing appropriate wildflowers and creating habitat stepping stones, allowing what we might think of as typically weeds to flourish (in the right place), creating patches of bare ground in sunny dry spots which will allow solitary mining bees to nest, and leaving tall grass over winter which can provide places for bumblebees to hibernate and nest.

Bees are often in the news these days, mostly because they are in decline – they even need their own national strategy. If we can do our best to make the landscape more friendly, we can help give bees a better chance, and ensure they can continue to play a key role in pollinating our flowers, trees and crops.

Bee on red clover - copyright NYMNPA.

For a local initiative – see B-Lines Ryedale

Another crustacean crisis

Due to the sustained period of dry and hot weather recently an emergency rescue was required last week. We’ve blogged about similar operations in the previous two years, where the River Rye in Duncombe Park, Helmsley tends to dry up during summer months because of numerous natural sink holes. This leaves large numbers of fish and other water-dependent creatures stranded in shrinking pools. This year the crisis was particularly acute with no effective quantities of rain in the short term weather forecast.

The River Rye is one of only a few rivers in the North East of England which supports a population of White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). The species are “Globally Threatened” according to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. They are the only native crayfish in the UK, and the majority of populations here are declining due to competition from introduced crayfish species, crayfish plague and water pollution.

So last week, alerted by the local fishing club, staff and apprentices turned up in force under the supervision of Simon our River Esk Officer (because he has a licence to handle the protected crayfish). Using gloves and buckets everyone scooped up what creatures they could and then relayed the buckets upstream to where the collected creatures were released back into the River Rye, safely above the sink holes. Over 500 White-clawed crayfish were rescued along with a variety of fish species – Bullhead (250+), Brown Trout (20+), Stone Loach (20+) and Brook Lamprey (50+).

White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Drought conditions. Copyright NYMNPA.

White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Drought conditions. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Bucket collection. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Cooling buckets to adjust water temperature before releasing. Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Releasing White-clawed crayfish (adult). Copyright NYMNPA.White-clawed crayfish rescue, River Rye, July 2016. Releasing White-clawed crayfish (female carrying young). Copyright NYMNPA.The translocated fish and White-clawed crayfish will inevitably recolonise the dried up section once the flows return to normal. The habitat here is ordinarily really good, the only down side being the disastrous disappearing water phenomenon during the summer.

The future for local White-clawed crayfish is somewhat uncertain. Further survey work is needed to establish the location of populations in the Rye, in order to help direct and prioritise effective measures to bolster the populations and make them more resilient to climate change risks like flash flooding and drought crisis. Rescue events may need to become a regularised occurrence.

We have no current evidence that the introduced Signal crayfish, which are such a threat to the White-clawed crayfish, have made it into the River Rye yet. Elsewhere in the country ark sites have been established, away from river networks, where populations of White-clawed crayfish can be introduced and kept in blissful isolation. If feasible here this could be a useful additional safety measure, but the first priority is keeping the Rye White-clawed crayfish populations in the river for as long as possible and conserving this particular element of our local natural heritage.

As beautiful as a butterfly…

Gallery

This gallery contains 14 photos.

There is a national butterfly census underway across the country – its the Big Butterfly Count and anyone can join in. The North York Moors are home to a number of butterfly species – some rare (like the Pearl Bordered … Continue reading

Mastering the river environment

Rosie Nelson – Masters Student

I’m Rosie and I’m two months in to my research masters at Durham University, kindly sponsored through the North York Moors National Park Authority with funding from Biffa Award. Since my second year of university, I’ve known I wanted to work with (or in) rivers, and this masters should help me get one step closer to achieving that.

I’m investigating the water quality of three hotspot tributaries of the Esk: Danby Beck, Toad Beck and Great Fryup Beck, in the hope to identify point source pollution and its cause/s. Ensuring good water quality is crucial for the health of the river and paramount for the Freshwater pearl mussels that live there. The key contaminants I will be looking at are Phosphate, Nitrogen and Ammonium. The Esk currently exceeds the thresholds for these three elements/compounds which pollute the river environment and damage freshwater systems. I hope that through my data collection and analysis I can identify point source pollution issues and help reduce the contaminants entering the Esk. Hopefully making the Freshwater pearl mussels a little bit happier!

Being based in the Authority’s Conservation Department for at least one day a week is proving to be very helpful. Not only am I extremely productive, but I’m also learning what it’s like to work in a conservation environment – something I definitely hope to be doing in the future.

At the start of May, I got to join in with the Salmon in the Classroom project alongside Simon the River Esk Project Officer and Alex the Catchment Partnership Officer. Simon taught me how to kick sample, something I really wish I’d known how to do before. You get into a safe watercourse with a fishing net, place the net downstream of you and kick the river bed. After several kicks, you empty the net into a bucket of water and hope you’ve found things, like invertebrates and potentially even fish! After several kick samples, we had collected enough living invertebrates for the children and me to identify.

Salmon in the Classroom - this is me and the children identifying what we found - check out my wicked waders! Copyright NYMNPA.

Last week I went out with Alex in Glaisdale in the Esk Catchment, and aside from us both getting stuck in the mud I had a great day (luckily I was holding a spade and could dig us out!). In the morning we visited a farm which is perfect for bank stabilisation work to lessen the amount of sedimentation. In the afternoon at a different site in the dale we planted trees and sowed grass seed to re-vegetate where a new drinking bay had been installed (to provide water for stock which are now fenced off from the river).

Well that’s just a snippet of the things I’ve been getting up to in the past couple of months, not forgetting reading as much as physically possible about anything and everything river related!

Biffa

Catchment Trilogy – Part 3: wildlife wonderland

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer I’m the Catchment Partnership Officer for the Esk and Coastal Stream Catchment and I love rivers! A big part of my role is surveying along the River Esk and its tributaries. I get to … Continue reading

Catchment Trilogy – Part 2: Discovering the Esk

Alex Cripps – Catchment Partnership Officer

The Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) on behalf of the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership* received a funding boost last April thanks to players of a charity lottery. £10,000 was awarded by the People’s Postcode Trust to deliver Discovering the Esk.

The Discovering the Esk project is made up of four initiatives:

  • Salmon in the Classroom;
  • Young Anglers Initiative;
  • Adopt a Stream; and
  • Riverfly Monitoring.

Discovering the Esk brings local people together to care for the catchment environment, and the first year of the project has been a great success!

Salmon in the Classroom literally brings the river into the classroom albeit in a fish tank! Primary School pupils along the Esk Valley learn more about the lifecycle of the Atlantic salmon, river ecology, and the important role they can play in looking after our local rivers into the future.

In 2015 we delivered Salmon in the Classroom at Goathland Primary School and the pupils did a great job caring for the eggs culminating in releasing the young fry back into the Esk in May. This year we will be at Sleights Primary School so it will be the turn of the children there to watch the eggs hatch and the young fry grow until the fish can be released to take their place back amongst the inhabitants of the river.

Through the Young Angler Initiative nine young anglers learnt to fish this year thanks to the dedication of local angling club volunteers (from the Esk Fisheries Association) who ran the fishing sessions. A professional tutor kick started the season with a Taster Day and then returned towards the end of the season to hone our young angler’s growing skills.

As well as the actual fishing our young anglers also got to enjoy the outdoors and to fish at places they had not been to before, and the sessions were an opportunity for to socialise.

Riverfly Monitoring is currently carried out by twenty local volunteers who have now been trained up in the nationally recognised sampling methodology established by the Riverfly Partnership.

The volunteers have learnt how to identify key aquatic invertebrates groups which we know require good clean water to survive. Our current volunteers are now monitoring thirty sites across the catchment to assess the water quality and detect signs of any issues. They do this by taking a 3 minute kick sample (to disturb the river bed and overhanging vegetation) catching the content in a net, and a 1 minute stone search. The sample is then cleaned using river water and put into a tray to settle. Key river invertebrate groups are identified and counted and if the results are lower than expected the Catchment Partnership and Environment Agency  can investigate the area to check for any potential pollution incidents causing the issues.

Our volunteers have been honing their identification skills at refresher workshops, getting to see these beautiful invertebrates up close!

Adopt a Stream is a new initiative recruiting ‘Guardians of the Esk’. We already have a number of people reporting interesting things they see while out and about, but Adopt a Stream ensures that key areas are being checked regularly and that information is collated and applied. Through Adopt a Stream we hope that all the potential barriers to migratory fish sites on the Esk can be adopted, with volunteers ensuring the structures do not become blocked. If they do, the Catchment Partnership can be alerted and can sort them out. We want to make sure the whole catchment is monitored to check for issues such as litter, and to build up a network of people monitoring the local wildlife so we can accrue a picture of what is normal and use it to continually assess the health of the river.

If you might be interested in becoming one of our ‘Guardians of the Esk’ we are holding an Adopt a Stream workshop on Monday 7 March. The monitoring programme is designed to suit everyone’s interests and fit within the time you can commit, so if you have a favourite walk, a regular fishing spot or simply visit the catchment now and again, then we would love for you to get involved. Please contact us.

View of the Esk - copyright Jeff at Aetherweb (aetherweb.co.uk)

View of the Esk. Copyright https://www.flickr.com/people/tall-guy/.

For more information on Discovering the Esk, how you can get involved, and the latest Catchment Partnership news, please have look at the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust website.

* The Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership is jointly hosted by the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust and the North York Moors National Park Authority, who work together to improve and care for the Esk and Coastal Streams Catchment.

 

 

Battling the birch

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Species rich grasslands are one of the key habitats that we’re working to conserve and enhance across the North York Moors.

Grasslands that are high in biodiversity interest are one of this area’s rarest habitats. A lot of these sites are now isolated, so once a site can be brought up to a good condition we’re looking for opportunities to buffer and expand the site and how best to link it up to other grassland sites in order to enable a re-propagating more sustainable future.

Grasslands have been compared with tropical rainforest in terms of the numbers of species and the importance of habitat to biodiversity. But over 90% of the traditional hay meadows (one type of species rich grassland) in the UK have gone under the plough or been ‘improved’ with inputs since the 1940s. Their importance to wildlife such as pollinators which mean the habitat is an ecosystem in itself is now being grasped and our initiative is only one among many being progressed across the UK.

As part of our ongoing habitat connectivity programme, National Park staff and volunteers are currently concentrating efforts in the south west corner of the North York Moors which has a particularly rich reserve of fragmented species rich grasslands peppering the area. Ensuring these sites are well managed, properly resourced and cared for into the future is a major part of our work in the Land Management Team.

Contact was initially made with landowners in the area and then followed up with an assessment of each grassland and proposals suggested to enhance the condition of the particular meadow or rough grassland habitat sites. One of the recurring issues arising from a lack of management is encroachment by scrub and bracken which can be detrimental.

This is an example of a site near Oldstead which recently required a task force and so National Park Volunteers were called in, organised and supervised by the National Park’s Volunteer Services Team. The task was taking out some of the birch scrub that was taking over and out competing the wet grassland/heathland habitat on the site. Rather than suddenly removing the scrub, the birch stems were cut and piled into concentrated habitat heaps to provide some shelter for wildlife over the winter before slowly rotting away. During that time the long lengths of timber providing wet, damp conditions just under the bark of the cut trees is ideal for invertebrates, so provides a food source for other wildlife inhabitants of the wet grassland/heathland site.

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPA

NYMNP Volunteer Task clearing scrub - copyright NYMNPAAlthough this type of volunteering can look and sound like hard work, it can also be great fun to take part. At the end of the day you can see the results of your labour and you know it’s good for your natural environment as well as being good for you – you’ve had plenty of fresh air and it can actually improve your health!

Practicalities of meadow creation

Michael Johnson – Conservation Graduate Trainee

In June I was on a remote farm near Burradon on the outskirts of the Northumberland National Park to attend a workshop run by Flora Locale on Practical Meadow Creation and Management.

Flora Locale Training Day - June 2015 - Michael Johnson, NYMNPAWhat made this workshop different to others I’ve attended was the emphasis that was placed upon the invertebrate population and their place within the ecosystem as a whole. Yes, there was the need to make a living from the land; however, in this case there wasn’t a trade-off with ecological responsibility. The farmer was happy to support the conservation interest of his land and at the same time able to make money.

The farm was managed in order to both maximise profitability in terms of hay production for sale and to create species rich hay meadows by growing species such as Ox-Eye Daisy, Yellow Rattle, Plantain, Lesser Trefoil, Eye-bright and Red Clover which supports populations of native pollinators. The local provenance flower and grass seeds were also harvested and sold on to local collectives, other farmers, and the Northumberland National Park to enhance, restore and create buffer strips and meadow areas elsewhere in the area.

Flora Locale Training Day - June 2015 - Michael Johnson, NYMNPA

The concept of leaving field margins as wild areas on farms is not a new one, yet here there was quite a novel take on the notion – separate fenced off areas within a field that equated to perhaps a tenth of the total field size that were planted some weeks after the initial fields were sown, not cut for hay, not aftermath grazed and just left so that pollinators would have a ready and available food source throughout the season and after the main fields were harvested so as to enhance their potential and give the pollinators more of a chance to survive the winter.

There is the idea of maximising productivity from managing available land intensively; I believe that when considering what makes our land profitable – the role of the pollinators in food and crop production cannot be overlooked in the quest for productivity.

Flora Locale Training Day - June 2015 - Michael Johnson, NYMNPA

There are different ways to create species rich grassland. One is to cut a flower rich hay crop before the plants in it set seed and then spread this ‘green hay’ mix onto harrowed and disturbed ground, and then use aftermath grazing to remove the rank vegetation that is a by-product of the process. Potential problems with this method is that the process is very time sensitive – the time from cutting, collecting, transporting and spreading is very short due to the natural enzymes and chemicals within the decomposing vegetation causing the plant material to heat up and therefore contributing to the seeds denaturing and reducing their germination effectiveness. The addition of livestock to trample the seed into the ground and remove the rank vegetation can contribute to the nitrogen and mineral levels in the soil, making it more fertile and therefore susceptible to encroachment and colonisation by weeds and perennials such as thistle and dock.

I think that the alternative of collecting the seed with a specialist seed harvester from the plants still in situ means these problems are dissipated and lessened; there is no time urgency for removal and transportation, no need for aftermath grazing to separate out the seed and no over fertility issues in adding more nutrients to the soil.

The aim of this post isn’t to nay-say and dispute traditional and existing land management methods, just to highlight another potential option for sustainable land management.