Microscopic wildlife

Recently the Hoopoe blog by NHBS hosted an interview with Ben Fitch, the Riverfly Partnership’s Project Manager.

Ben emphasis how important riverfly monitoring is as an initiative because it is such an effective way of monitoring the health of a river through its fly life. Ben also happens to mention the flat-bodied mayfly larva (Ecdyonurus dispar – Autumn Dun) as one of his favourite river flies, particularly the white-spot variant.

Excitingly during a socially distanced riverfly training session a few weeks ago Alex, Sam and Amy from the Ryevitalise Team found this very variant here in the River Rye. Apparently the exotic looking spots might be caused by a recessive gene, but what triggers it remains unknown.

Autumn dun white spot from the River Rye - through a microscope. Copyright NYMNPA.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye catchment is getting going again now, whilst keeping in line with current Covid-19 restrictions. So we thought we’d have a chat with one of our own riverfly people – Sam Lewsey, Ryevitalise Field Officer.

Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.How long have Riverfly volunteers been out in the Rye catchment this year?

We started the phased return of riverfly monitoring from the middle of June. Amy (Education and Engagement Officer) and myself have been meeting individual volunteers on site to go through revised risk assessments and answer any questions they may have, as well as conducting the first kick-samples of the year. Normally riverfly monitoring would have started up at the beginning of May, but due to restrictions our volunteers understandably weren’t able to get out and monitor for the first 6 weeks of the sampling season.

How many Riverfly volunteers have you got on the Rye?

Currently we’ve got 30 riverfly volunteers registered through the Ryevitalise programme, although not all of these are currently ‘active’; unfortunately due to C-19 we had to Riverfly monitoring in the Rye Catchment. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.cancel our riverfly training and refresher days in April, so some volunteers are still awaiting their official training, including health & safety. Others have received training previously and are in the process of being assigned a site to monitor. Our first phase of volunteers to get back to volunteering were our established riverfly volunteers (8 in total) at sites where they had monitored before.

Riverfly monitoring is a good thing because…
See Catchment Based Approach partnerships website’s explanation of riverfly monitoring

“Riverflies (and other freshwater invertebrates) are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Because riverflies are riverfly populations are affected by many factors, predominately water quality, habitat diversity, water level and flow rate. Their common characteristics of limited mobility, relatively long life cycle, presence throughout the year and specific tolerances to changes in environmental conditions make them powerful biological indicators to monitor water quality, and so are commonly referred to as ‘the canary of our rivers.’  The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality…”

Basically this Citizen Science initiative “ensures that water quality is checked more widely [than it would be otherwise] and action taken at the earliest opportunity if any problem are detected”.

Ryevitalise is participating in the national riverfly monitoring scheme run by the Riverfly Partnership. It’s important that we’re part of the wider scheme for several reasons: it standardises the methodology used across the UK; we get top-notch training and support from the Riverfly partnership’s extremely knowledgeable qualified trainers; we can run reports of our results easily from the database that our result go into; and we get to contribute important data on water quality and catchment health to the wider national scheme so that research into trends in the health of our rivers can be carried out and lead to informed changes and positive impacts on terrestrial and aquatic management.

Riverfly monitoring focuses on three groups – the up-wing flies or mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera).

Such tiny creepy insects are actually fascinating and wonderful because…
See Freshwater Biological Association’s website

  • Riverfly monitoring - Mayfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.They are a vital link in the aquatic food chain as a food source for fish, birds and mammals
  • They are one of the longest lived group of animals on the earth (mayflies have been around for over 3 million years, with the first written reference to them being made over 4000 years ago!)
  • Mayfly nymphs are present in the water all year round, and can spend up to two years feeding under the water before emerging as their adult form… but once they’ve Riverfly monitoring - Yellow hawk female. Copyright Stuart Crofts, Riverfly Partnership.emerged they fly for only a few hours (enough time to display and mate) before dying
  • Caddisfly larvae are fantastic grazers that clean up old leaves and twigs from the river bed, and sort through sediment as they go
  • Caddisfly cases used to be made into jewellery because they are so beautiful!
  • Riverfly monitoring - Cased caddisfly larvae. Copyright Sam Lewsey, NYMNPA.Stonefly nymphs are extremely hardy – managing to continue growth even in sub-zero temperatures. They are also able to suspend growth if a river dries up temporarily
  • Overall, riverflies are a vital part of both the aquatic and terrestrial food chains, as well as being key players in sorting sediment on the river bed and breaking down waste products like old leaves and twigs

Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme main logos

Biological recording for the soul: recording nature – Part Two

“Biological recording on a national scale enables effective nature conservation”

Sam Newton

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

Like I said last time you still don’t necessarily need to go far to observe nature.

If you can identify wildlife as you come across it then you can add to a growing wealth of knowledge. The basic ingredients you need are:

  • what you saw
  • where you saw it
  • when you saw it
  • who saw it

Then all you need to do is submit these details. There are many different recording societies and schemes, but if you are new to biological recording, the easiest way to start is uploading records to iRecord (also available as an App). Uploading photos with your records will help the experts who will check your records. iNaturalist is an alternative for uploading pictures of species you have not been able to identify, and then other users of the site can try and identify them with you.

Please note – we do know what most of these are – but we left them un-named so you can have a go yourself.

Being able to observe and identify a plant or animal species, and in doing so understand a bit more about nature, can be incredibly satisfying. But you don’t need to act in isolation – other people are already doing this and can help and encourage with their expertise, experience and enthusiasm. There are a number of really great local and regional naturalist groups that are interested in the species you are perhaps most likely to encounter in your garden and nearby outdoor spaces. Things to remember are that not all species can be identified from photos, and if you use one of these sites, please read any introductory information or pinned posts to find out precisely how they operate.

For general wildlife in and around the North York Moors
Check out the Ryedale Natural History Society, Whitby Naturalists, Scarborough Field Naturalists, and Cleveland Naturalists Field Club for links and information. You could also follow the Whitby Naturalists and Scarborough Field Naturalists on Facebook. Also have a look at the Yorkshire Naturalists Union, who as an organisation study and record Yorkshire’s Flora and Fauna – look for their latest news, wildlife sightings, their Twitter, their Flickr Early purple orchid on a road verge near Sam's house. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.and they also have a list of the wider Yorkshire groups and societies.

For general plants in and around the North York Moors
Look out for a copy of one of the late Nan Syke’s books, such as A Picture Guide to the Wild Flowers of North East Yorkshire (now sadly out of print*) or Wild Flowers on the Edge: The Story of North Yorkshire’s Road Verges. Maybe join North East Yorkshire Botany on Facebook.

For local invertebrates
Have a look at Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire, and their publication The Butterflies of Oak Beauty Moth from Sam's home moth trap. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.Yorkshire, which brings together a huge amount of identification and ecological detail. Also consider joining the Butterflies and Moths, North and East Yorkshire Facebook page. There are around 2,500 British species of moth. I’m keen on moth trapping which allows more time for identification – the moths are released without being harmed. You can use a purpose made moth trap, or check out the BBC’s Springwatch Blog on Moth Trapping for Beginners. To find out more about dragonflies have a look at the species information and other resources on the Yorkshire Dragonfly Group website, and maybe join Yorkshire Dragonfly Group on Facebook.

For nearby birds, fungi, bats, other mammals and more
There are a multitude of other local websites and groups to follow, such as Scarborough Birders, the North East Fungi Study Group, North Yorkshire Bat Group, the Yorkshire Mammal Group – to name just four! To keep up with local biodiversity and nature news, follow Tim Burkinshaw’s Connecting For Nature Blog, and have a look at Yorkshire Coast Nature’s Blogs and News.

These are resources from around the North York Moors but if you’re from further away there will be similar local and regional naturalist groups for you too. Recording nature is something to do together for a shared purpose without actually needing to be side by side.

When you’re out and about, having a look around, always remember to stay safe during the present Covid-19 pandemic. To keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

*Good news – this book has recently been republished and is available through the North Yorkshire Moors Association.

Looking outwards: recording nature – Part One

“The natural world is the greatest source of excitement. The greatest source of visual beauty. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

David Attenborough

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

You don’t necessarily need to go far to observe nature.

Over the last couple of months, whilst in my garden or taking limited exercise, I have come across early purple orchids on nearby road verges, heard curlew and lapwings in the neighbouring fields, and hunted under stones and on plants for various beetles and bugs. This, along with my gardening for wildlife, has really helped me deal with the lockdown that has been affecting us all, while at the same time developing a better understanding of the wildlife around my home which I will continue to make the most of.

There are lots and lots of Citizen Science projects out there that rely on the general public to collect records/observations/measurements and then report this data to environmental organisations. By analysing the collated data it’s possible for these organisations to get some sort of picture/trend for species and habitats and then hopefully recognise and understand changes. In most cases these projects rely on the general public collecting the data to make them possible. The more data there is the more useful the analysis can be. The more data there is for where you are the more useful the analysis can be for your area.

We’re getting towards the end of the Bee-Fly Watch. This scheme records the several species of Bee-flies across the UK from March until June – the only one we are likely to see in North Yorkshire is the Dark-edged Bee-fly. Did you even know they existed?

In the summer there will be the Big Butterfly Count, which will be taking place from the 17 July – 9 August this year.

A garden focused survey is the Garden Butterfly Survey, in which you can record the butterflies you see over the whole year. This scheme helps Butterfly Conservation to learn more about butterfly populations and how they use gardens.

Similarly the British Trust for Ornithology have their own Garden BirdWatch, where you can contribute your weekly garden bird sightings to help keep an eye on populations and again, how they’re using gardens.

The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species have a Big Hedgehog Map. If you happen to see a hedgehog or if you’ve kindly made a gap in your garden fence for them to pass through (a hedgerow hole), please report in.

For those of you who are keener on something maybe not so sweet, you could have your own slug hunt and send in your data to the RHS cellar slug survey. If you only have a set amount of time to concentrate you could do a quick Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count) as part of the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS), or if you want to get engrossed try measuring involucres and achenes for the BSBI ragwort study project.

Your local observations are also very important for long term monitoring of the influence of climate change on the natural world. Have a look at the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar, and record your phenology based sightings such as hearing your first cuckoo of the year.

Help your garden to help nature…

It’s definitely not cheating to try and attract more of this wildlife you’re recording into your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one. It’s helpful.

There is a lot of information out there about how to make changes to your garden to be more accommodating for biodiversity.

Insects are a vital part of biodiversity. Have a look for ideas on the Buglife and Bumblebee Conservation Trust websites.

Image of the Hoverfly Lagoons which Sam made for his own garden. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.They may not be the most glamorous of pollinators but there are lots of species of Hoverflies in the UK. Because of their tendency to hover in the same place for minutes at a time they are great to look at. To draw Hoverflies into your garden make your own Buzz Club Hoverfly Lagoon.

The RSPB have an initiative called Give Nature a Home suggesting activities for your garden ranging from digging damp ditches and providing deadwood habitat, to building bee hotels and bird nest boxes, and planting for pollinators.

If you’re looking to help pollinators locally you might want to make your own mini meadow. This how-to guide is aimed particularly at the dryish North York Moors. I did this on part of my own lawn, which is now full of wildflowers, from Birds-foot-trefoil and Knapweed, to Yellow rattle, Oxeye daisy and Rough hawkbit – and I only have to cut the grass once a year! Other areas I leave as tussocky grass to benefit over-wintering insects. If you’re desperate to keep using your lawn mower, you could set the cutting blades to the highest setting to encourage Clovers, Self heal and Dandelions to flower in your lawn.

Part of Sam's own lawn with Knapweed, Oxeye daisy, Dandelion, Birds-foot trefoil, Yarrow, Yellow rattle and more. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

For more inspiration I’d suggest reading Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.

Sam observed the current Covid-19 guidelines during his activities. Keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

Esk ventures

Ryan Harvey – River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment Partnership Officer

Hi there, I’m Ryan the new Partnership Officer for the River Esk & Coastal Streams Catchment – its part of a Catchment Based Approach and my post is jointly hosted by the National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust (YERT) . I started back in August and what a fantastic experience I’ve had so far. My role is very varied and fulfills a broad range of objectives: liaising with landowners and farmers, managing volunteers, working with partner organisations and carrying out surveys. All this effort is in the hope of benefiting the ecology of the Esk and building strong relationships and partnerships to maintain the ecology into the future.

It all started with the electro fishing season. That meant getting to know our e-fishing volunteers and arranging some refresher training for them. This was a great opportunity for me to meet the team ahead of our actual surveys and set the scene for the coming weeks. Once the work started along with volunteers I had the much appreciated help of Victoria Franklin (our Conservation Trainee) and Ami Carrick (our Ryevitalise Education & Engagement Officer). Electro fishing is a hugely important element of our data collection on the Esk. It allows us to gain a better understanding of our fish species diversity and abundance, in particular migratory species such as salmon (Salmo salar), sea trout (Salmo trutta), European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and lamprey (Lampreta planeri).

Electro fishing on the Esk. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our sites are repeated year on year and we now have a record of each species population over the last six years. This along with a whole suite of other data collecting techniques better informs our next steps and future conservation measures.

We are looking for new electro fishing volunteers for the 2020 season, so if this is something that may interest you please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Volunteers Team. We can offer all the training you might need.

Another aspect of my role has been working alongside our Pearl Mussel Volunteers who have a long standing history in the National Park; some of its volunteers have been working with us for over 10 years. The volunteers’ work is invaluable because it’s through this group (along with contractors) that we get most of the physical works and restorations done on the river. There are usually volunteer tasks every two weeks at locations along the Esk and in surrounding riparian habitats. Tasks can vary from week to week for instance woodrush and tree planting for bank stabilization and habitat creation, riverbank fencing and repair to help water quality, as well as hedgerow and riverside grassland management to enhance biodiversity. We don’t stop for winter; this year so far we’ve tackled left over Himalayan Balsam pulling/bashing tasks on the upper Esk catchment.

Our 26 existing Riverfly Volunteers have been busy as ever in 2019, providing vital spot data on the Esk’s freshwater invertebrates. This data is crucial as many of our invertebrates are indicator species and being very sensitive they act as useful litmus for water quality and pollution. Many invertebrates are key component of freshwater and riparian food webs and many other species feed on them. Rivers need to be clean for them to thrive and in turn every other species will benefit. The data returns from 2019 have all been highly valuable for us and the national Riverfly Partnership, with most sites showing high levels of target group abundance and a few showing the highest levels in the last three years, which is encouraging news – hopefully this trend continues into 2020!

Riverfly monitoring in the Esk Catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Adopt a Stream initiative is also a great source of data for the catchment. Another long standing citizen science project, this has volunteers who “take ownership” of given sections of the Esk, which they monitor on a month to month basis. Volunteers note down the general ecology of the site, the state of the river (flow regimes and water levels), any pollution inputs, any litter and invasive non-native species. This allows us, through the eyes of the volunteer, to recognise any apparent issues along the Esk. So if this is something you might be interested in, if you have a favourite walk or spot along the catchment you care about and like to visit frequently, then please get in touch and help us to continue to monitor the ecological health of the Esk Valley.

In addition we are hoping to start addressing some of the remaining in-river obstacles such as weirs, culverts and fords. This work could help towards the restoration of natural river processes and hydrology of the Esk and also importantly aid the passage of migratory fish species, such as salmon, trout, lamprey and eels. Structures can prevent fish species migrating up river to spawning sites and also prevent successful downstream migration of our salmon smolts which, added to the decline of salmon at sea, has further compounded population declines in the catchment in the last few decades. We found extremely low juvenile salmon numbers from our electro fishing surveys; this suggests that the installation of fish passage and fish easements could be a vital part of the continued conservation efforts along the Esk.

Example of an In channel obstacle for fish passage. Copyright NYMNPA.

Lastly but most importantly there are our pearl mussels. The catalyst for all this work over the last decade and into the future is our Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) population in the River Esk. We work with land managers as well as our volunteers and contractors to fence river corridors, plant trees/vegetation, stabilise and restore river banks in order to:

  • reduce diffuse pollution because mussels require oligotrophic (low nutrient) conditions, and
  • tackle erosion and sedimentation leading to suspended solids in the river because juvenile mussels require clean gravels with good oxygen circulation.

A strong salmonid population supports good healthy mussel numbers as the fish are crucial to the mussel’s life cycle – the larval form (glochidia) use the fish as hosts by attaching to the gills until large enough to detach and then self sustainably live within the river gravels. This is why we’re so keen on our river obstacle work because we want fish to spawn all the way up the catchment, creating strong, wide spread populations. Helping the fish helps the mussels and the mussels, being bivalves, help clean the river which in turn provides better conditions for our freshwater invertebrates, which then are fed on the by the fish and the cycle continues….

The glochidea phase of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Copyright Elizabeth Clements, NYMNPA.

Everything in the river is connected and helping one species will help another, this is why all our conservation work is so important and why partnership and cooperation between our volunteers, land managers and partners is crucial for the future of the River Esk.

Looking forward to June

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant, and Sam Newton – Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Trainee

Surrounding the remarkable built heritage remains of the Land of Iron is a patchwork of habitats and species that have withstood the industrial exploitation and managed to find a niche in the landscape left behind. The Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund, is working to maintain these habitats and species. Ancient woodland, upland hay meadows and salmon rivers are being enhanced, and by addressing gaps between good habitat the connectivity through the landscape is improved helping wildlife move more freely.

To celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale, one of the key areas of the Land of Iron, a free to attend Wildlife Week is happening from Sunday 23 to Sunday 29 June 2019. The Updale Reading Room (YO18 8RQ) in Rosedale will be the main hub but there will be activities taking place across the dale. This family-friendly week will be full of opportunities to learn all about the remarkable animal and plant life right here in the North York Moors.

Rosedale Wildlife Week poster. Copyright NYMNPA.

Join us during our Wildlife Week as we celebrate the natural heritage of Rosedale by encountering a wide array of habitats and species under the guidance of local experts. By identifying and recording what we find during the week you will be helping to further understand, and therefore help protect, the diverse wildlife of this area of past ironstone industry into the future.

The kind of things that are going to be happening include:

  • Aquatic Rosedale – spend the morning visiting some fantastic wildlife ponds and the afternoon identifying aquatic invertebrates;
  • Bats of the Abbey – stay out till midnight to see what happens after dark in Rosedale Abbey village, guided by a local bat expert;
  • Fabulous Flora – learn to recognise wildflowers and grasses in the historic Rosedale Abbey churchyard;
  • Moth Mornings – a great way to discover some of the 2,500 species we have in the UK;
  • Tantalising Talks – from photographing wildlife to goshawks and humpbacks, listen to our experts share their experiences in the wild;
  • Rosedale Abbey Short Nature Walk – a short nature and history-themed walk, accessible to all around Rosedale Abbey village;
  • Wildlife Walks – wildlife-themed walks visiting hidden Hartoft and up-dale Rosedale.

Curlew - image credit: Steve Race.The moorland edge of Rosedale and Hartoft provides great habitat for Curlew. For a chance to view these birds, come along on the Rosedale Wildlife Walk (25 June) or the Hidden Hartoft Wildlife Walk (27 June). Image credit: Steve Race.

Hay Meadow - image credit: NYMNPA.

Rosedale is home to some of the North York Moors’ best remaining species rich grasslands, like this fantastic traditionally managed hay meadow. Come and explore this diverse plant life on the Meadows and Pastures of Rosedale (24 June) Image credit: NYMNPA.

Wood Tiger Moth - image credit: Allan Rodda.

Rosedale’s rich mosaic of habitats will support a wide variety of moths, such as this Wood Tiger. To see what moths we can find, come along on one of the Moth Mornings (23 and 29 June). Image credit: Allan Rodda.

Keep an eye on the Land of Iron website or the National Park’s own What’s On page for programme updates, or else telephone the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 to find out more. Please note that certain sessions will be unavoidably inaccessible to wheelchair users due to rough and rugged terrain.

To book onto a session please visit our Eventbrite page and reserve your space to avoid disappointment.

If you are travelling into Rosedale from further afield please think about using the local Moorsbus and other public transport – because its good for the environment, and also because Rosedale has narrow roads and limited parking.

Land of Iron logos

 

It’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it or: When all’s said and dung, don’t poo-poo the Dung Beetles

Sam Newton – Natural Heritage Trainee, Land of Iron

A single cow can produce over nine tonnes of dung per year, so across all domestic and wild herbivores imagine how this would quickly build up to mountainous proportions.

Fortunately there are many invertebrates whose life cycles involve clearing this up. Take Dung beetles – in the UK their annual role in the ecosystem is valued at £367 million, for cattle dung alone.

How the different groups of British Dung beetles utilise dung in different ways. Copyright Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project.

Dung  beetles are a collection of around 60 species in the UK, within the Scarabaeidae family which also includes non-dung feeding Chafers and Stag Beetles). The actual dung feeders are split into the Aphodiinae (dwellers, residing within dung) and the Geotrupidae and Onthophagus (tunnellers, burying beneath dung). Contrary to popular belief there a no dung rollers in the UK, as this group are only found in the tropics and sub-tropics. The adults of all groups feed on liquid within dung, while the larvae eat the solids.

These 60 species utilise dung differently and so avoid competition – they use dung from different animals, they feed at different times of day or year, they live in different habitats and they favour dung of assorted ages. The fact that all the species vary in their ecology enhances the benefits provided in dung recycling to the wider ecosystem, helping fertilise the soil and enhance soil structure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, dung beetles transport mites between dung piles, which feed on fly and worm eggs, thus indirectly helping reduce fly numbers along with some gastrointestinal parasites that can affect livestock.

A Geotrupidae dung beetle with hitch hiking mites getting a lift to their next pile of dung. From https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/422423640023441381/

Dung beetles also provide an important food source to many animals, for example Aphodius prodromus (a small Aphodiinae dung dweller), which is incredibly numerous in early spring when there are few other invertebrates available.

So Dung beetles are incredibly useful, as well as being beautiful (without mites) and valuable in their own right.

One of the Dung beetles - this is called a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius). Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

However, all is not well in the dung beetle world. A 2016 review found over 25% of UK species were ‘Nationally Rare’ (found in 15 or less 10×10km squares across the UK) and four may already be extinct.

Changing farming practises and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures is a major cause of this decline in the UK. The loss of dung structure produced by modern livestock breeds fed high protein diets is also detrimental, as dung beetles essentially end up drowning in the dung. Soil disturbance is damaging to some species, and wormer overuse (e.g. Ivermectin can indirectly reduce larval development and survival) is perhaps the main cause of decline, ironically destroying the role dung beetles played in reducing parasitic worms naturally.

Some of the British Dung beetles. Copyright Beetle UK Mapping Project.

So how can people make changes to help conserve Dung beetles and their role in day to day biodiversity? If you keep any livestock, use faecal egg counts to reduce worming, consider keeping a few hardy livestock out during the winter if your land is suitable, also not removing all the dung from out of horse paddocks enables a constant supply of high quality dung. If you don’t keep livestock, try and support the keeping of native breeds which have better quality dung for a Dung beetle’s needs.

The Ancient Egyptians associated Khepri, god of the rising sun, with a dung beetle (a Scarab) which every day was believed to move the sun across the sky. While I’m not suggesting worshipping Dung beetles per se, we can try and appreciate these beetles, understand their predicament and even try and help.

There is a Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project. For lots of help with identifying between species, and to be able to record sightings and help build up a picture of distribution – see their website.

Apologies for the titular puns.

Local communities

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

My job here at the National Park Authority means that I get the opportunity to be out and about in the North York Moors and get to places that most don’t get the opportunity to see. These hidden places are special for all sorts of reasons, in particular I get the chance to see some extraordinary woodlands – I admit I might be a little biased.

Recently we were out monitoring a woodland planting project near Castleton which meant we had to trek through a small existing woodland to get there. This was a combination of well-developed riparian (wet) flood plain woodland along river margins, wet marshy grassland filled with flowering plants and ancient woodland remnants creeping up the valley sides including oak, birch, hazel, alder and willow. Many of the woodland spring flowers were still in bloom and the woods were a lush green and bursting with insect and bird life.

Ancient Semi Natural Woodland site. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

As we approached the edge of this woodland I noticed something wriggling in the grass – it was a slow worm! Coming across this legless lizard species (Anguis fragilis) was a first time for me. Obviously I wouldn’t usually pick up/disturb wildlife but in this case I took the opportunity to move the slow worm to the cover of an old iron sheet as they are quite high up on the menu for many predatory species (birds, adders, badgers etc.).

Slow worm - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

On the way back as we ducked, scrambled and tramped back through the same woodland I almost tripped over what can only be described as a large mound of leaf litter on the edge of a clearing. As I looked a little closer I noticed that the surface of the mound was moving – it was alive with wood ants! I was surprised to see them here as. I previously worked in Scotland and had always associated wood ants with more northern forest habitats. But they were definitely wood ants and they are surely an indicator that this particular woodland is in good ecological health.

Close up of a Northern hairy wood ant. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Northern Hairy Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are a species of wood ant found in Scotland and in only two areas in England – the Peak District and the North York Moors. They are a fascinating species – I’m no expert yet but here are a few facts about our internationally important Northern Hairy Wood Ants:

  • The Northern Hairy Wood Ant currently has a near-threatened conservation status.
  • Northern Hairy Wood Ants ‘farm’ sap-sucking aphids (that favour oak and birch) for their honeydew. They gently stroke the backs of the aphids which then produce the sugar rich liquid in exchange for protection, and the ants use it to feed their young.
  • The ants take specific roles in the aphid farming process including; ‘shepherds’ who collect the honeydew, ‘transporters’ that move the honeydew to their nest, ‘guards’ that protect their aphids from competitors, and ‘scouts’ that search out new aphid colonies.
  • They employ a polydomous (many homes) nesting strategy whereby they have a number of nest mounds which operate as a single colony. The founding of additional nests allows for the expansion of the colony allowing it to grow and capitalise on new foraging and feeding opportunities spreading out through suitable habitat. If a smaller outlying nest is attacked or in danger then it will be abandoned and the inhabitants will return to the central nest.
  • Similar to other ants foraging workers leave pheromone trails, to good nectar sites or to groups of aphids, which direct other foragers to these valuable resources. The trails can persist for months.
  • The nest mounds of Northern Hairy Wood ants provide accomodating habitat for other invertebrates too. These include a variety of beetle species as well as the Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). This ant species lives within wood ant nesting colonies, accepting food from the host species and establishing its own discrete nests inside hollow twigs within the larger nest, raising its own brood. The Shining guest ant is a species of conservation interest, a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.

Northern hairy wood ant nest - if you look carefully you can just make out the well camouflaged orange/black coloured ants. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

The intricacies of woodland ecology are often complex and astounding. My job means I work on woodland planting and creation and by the very nature of the timespan of trees I know that I’m likely never to see these new woodlands in their future glory. Therefore it’s very important to me to keep a perspective, looking at woodlands at a landscape and spatial scale and considering woodlands over their likely lifetime. Woodland visits like this one are what inspire me to want to create new woodlands and plant more trees, to establish the woodlands of the future.

If you might be interested in creating woodland in the North York Moors and would like more information about opportunities please contact me or call on 01439 772700.

Bees’ needs

Aside

Following on from Abi’s bee blog post a fortnight ago, it’s now Bees’ Needs Week 2018.

Top 5 Actions that people can take for bees and other pollinators – you don’t need to be a farmer or a major landowner:

  • Grow more plants
  • Let your garden go wild (even just a bit of it)
  • Leave your lawn to grow a bit more
  • Live and let live when it comes to pollinators and their homes
  • Avoid using pesticides

Wild bee on Field Scabious

Evaluating bees

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

One of the sounds of summer is the recognisable buzzing of busy bees. Bees are a beautiful symbol of British summertime, but much more importantly are one of the best performing pollinators vital for pollinating plants and crops across the world.

Bee facts:

  • Of the 270 species of bee to have been recorded within Britain, 27 of these are bumble bee species and there’s only 1 honey bee species.
  • Wild bees pollinate two thirds of British crops whilst cultivated honey bees pollinate the remaining third.
  • The exact economic value of pollinators in the UK is uncertain due to small numbers of studies but is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds (DEFRA).

I’ve been wanting to learn more about bees and how to identify different species, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Residential Centre at the start of June to take part in a Steven Falk Bee Workshop. Steven wrote the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ which we used throughout the workshop, making use of the guide’s dichotomous keys and illustrations and photographs of the different bee species.

It was a really interesting course – we focused on the habitats around Malham Tarn and the bees that can be found there. The habitats we visited included nationally important calcareous (limestone) grassland and fen/mire (wet grassland) habitats which are part of the Malham-Arnecliffe Site of Special Scientific Interest. We saw fabulous plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort, Northern Marsh Orchid and Water Avens which was particularly popular amongst the bees.

We identified thirteen different species of bee using these habitats. These included the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a Red-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius), the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) and the Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). To ID accurately we learnt to catch the bee carefully with a net and then place it into a container to get a closer look at the head, thorax and abdomen to look for distinguishing features. After a few minutes the bee is released back where it was found.

Declines in bee populations are due to a dangerous combination of reasons which together add up to a growing crisis – reasons include climate changes, creeping urbanisation, agricultural practices including using pesticides, a decline in habitats including the loss of meadows – unfortunately 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since 1937.

Bees need continuous legume-rich flower habitat to sustain populations. Lots of bee species live in large colonies and need enough flowers in their surrounding habitat to sustain up to 400 worker bees over a season so that a colony can successfully produce new males and queens. Remaining species rich grasslands like meadows have become isolated across the landscape as areas shrink and contract, such habitats need to be better linked by creating corridors and stepping stones for bees to move through and between and so be able to make best use of the nectar (and pollen) producing plants. Like many other species, bees benefit from ecological networks where semi natural habitats are biggerbetter and more joined up (Making Room for Nature, 2010, John Lawton)As well as the species rich grassland areas themselves there are other useful linear versions such as species rich road verges, arable farmland flower margins, and native species hedgerows which can all act as useful corridors for pollinators. Domestic gardens with bee friendly plants can act as useful refuelling stops/stepping stone habitats. 

The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme brings together experts and the public to monitor pollinator populations over time. Anyone can join in with the Flower-Insect Timed Count, which is reassuringly complex.

If you want to help build up a national picture of bee populations then The Great British Bee Count continues until the 30 June this year. There is an App to help you to ID and record the different bee species you see. Sightings will help the experts to understand how bees are faring and results feed back into the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.