Linking Landscapes latest

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

We’re always looking to make our grant budgets go as far as possible, and for our Linking Landscapes habitat connectivity programme this involves using a mix of delivery mechanisms to undertake the necessary habitat management on the ground. So working alongside land managers that means making use of local contractors, apprentice teams, and volunteers.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAVolunteers from the Rosedale community were hard at work at the end of August with the annual management of the Rosedale churchyard mini-meadow. The conservation site in the churchyard of St Mary and St Laurence in Rosedale Abbey was initially established in 2011. Since then it has developed into a wonderful mini-meadow, with beautiful pockets of wild flowers buzzing with pollinator insects such as bees, butterflies and moths, which in turn support many birds. The site is also providing a home for small mammals and slow worms.

Once a year the mini-meadow needs a helping hand – after the flowers have all died back and set their seed, the excess vegetation needs to be cut and raked off the site to ensure unnecessary nutrients do not build-up. It may seem strange not to want a build-up of nutrients however wild flowers favour poor nutrient-rich soils. Additional local seeds from established meadows nearby were also scattered at the end of the day to encourage even more flowers such yellow rattle, red clover, stitchwort and knapweed to establish and grow.

Keep up-to-date with Rosedale news and events – such as next year’s volunteer day – on their community blog.

Hand cutting - Rosedale Churchyard conservation areaSANYO DIGITAL CAMERABird's Foot Trefoil

Near Oldstead, National Park volunteer teams have been getting stuck in to revitalising an important habitat mosaic area. The Conservation Volunteers spent a whole day pulling up Himalayan balsam (non-native invasive plant species) which was covering a small wooded site and stifling the ground flora. As usual, continued balsam bashing will be required over the next few years in order to have a lasting impact, but it was a good start. The MAD volunteers – MAD means Making a Difference – then braved a thundery wet day
to pull creeping thistle (invasive plant species) from a nearby pasture field. This field contains a diverse mix of habitats comprising calcareous, neutral and acidic grassland;
mire communities and rush pasture; and areas of woody blackthorn scrub and hazel MADs volunteers with giant thistle!coppice. The site is grazed by Exmoor ponies who are great at conservation grazing but they needed a helping hand to deal with these particular thistles which are detrimental to this particular site. This sort of management which needs repeat commitment is picked up in Land Management Agreements between the National Park Authority and the land manager. The Agreements last five years – it’s an EU/NPA State Aid notification requirement (click here if you’re especially interested) – and five years of repeat annual control of invasives and pernicious weeds will make an impact on the ground and enable better quality habitats to survive and flourish.

MAD Volunteers - thistle pulling MAD Volunteers - thistle pulling The MAD Volunteers

We have a Land Management Agreement with the land manager of a site near to Scawton. This particular farm includes a wild flower area where the species include orchids. Often on a farm such sites would be grazed by stock and this would keep the vegetation in check and open up the dense matt of vegetation by the act of trampling. However in this case the area isn’t suitable for grazing because the Cleveland Way National Trail runs through it. So to avoid the site vegetation becoming tall and rank our Conservation Volunteers strimmed back the dead vegetation after all the flowers had set seed and then raked off the debris. This was the first year this task was carried out so it will be really interesting to see how the site responds over the next few years. The site was one of those surveyed earlier in the year by our new Grassland Volunteers in order to establish a baseline species list. This monitoring will be carried out each year, along with the management, and will hopefully demonstrate an increase in abundance of the existing species, and maybe one or two new species as well.

Conservation Volunteers  at workConservation Volunteer - strimmingConservation Volunteer raking off the cut vegetation

 

 

Conservation VolunteerCommon spotted orchidsExmoor ponies can be very effective conservation gaziers

 

 

 

Betony & Common Spotted Orchid  Common Spotted OrchidSelf-Heal & Yellow Rattle

 

 

Ami Walker – Lead Land Management Adviser

The first year of the ‘Linking Landscapes – Grassland Volunteers’ worked really well. Each of the initial Volunteers adopted sites where they will carry out an annual botanical survey. In all –

  • 9 volunteers surveyed 14 sites, a total of 35 hectares of grassland.
  • 140 quadrats were surveyed and 159 different plant species were recorded.

One of the measures for determining if grassland is actually species rich is that it must have at least 15 different species per 1m2 quadrat. 7 of these sites already have these characteristics, and 1 site had 25 species recorded in just one quadrat. Our ultimate aim is to see an increase in the number of plant species at each site, year on year. The results from the Volunteers are essential to identify if this is happening.

Linking Landscapes - Grassland Volunteers, practice surveying at Sutton Bank in the summer

As usual, a big thank you to all our volunteers!

Conservation grazing

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

Conservation grazing as a management technique: how does it work, when do we use it and what animals do we use? These are all questions we discussed during a recent Grazing for Site Conservation Management course held at Plas Tan y Bwlch, Snowdonia National Park’s Study Centre.

Why use grazing?

Conservation grazing can be an important tool for habitat management and works in three main ways:

  • defoliation by grazing and browsing vegetation;
  • trampling by treading and breaking up vegetation;
  • dunging/urinating by recycling materials back into the system.

The combination of these three processes, along with understanding the ways that different animals graze can help manage and extend important habitats.

Grazing is the traditional way of managing hay meadows (species rich grassland). Surviving meadows have an increased fungi:bacteria ratio, when compared to improved grasslands, as fertilizers increase bacterial levels which result in less healthy soils. The addition of any type of artificial fertiliser has a negative effect. Controlling the grazing e.g. shutting the animals out of a meadow in the summer is vital to allow the plants to flower and set seed without being eaten. Where the hay meadows are shut in summer, a later shut date leads to greater meadow species richness. A helping hand to the traditional grazing method is also useful as studies have shown that the addition of appropriate seed mixes helps establish good species richness.

The course involved a number of case studies/site visits looking at grazing and non grazing on a variety of different upland habitats. Sites included Newborough Warren Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Llanddwyn Island, both on Anglesey, to study grazing management in action using ponies and cattle on coastal habitats; Caeau Tan y Bwlch, managed through a partnership between Plantlife, The Wildlife Trusts and Natural Resources Wales; and Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve. This Nature Reserve with its mountain habitats had previously been heavily grazed, but grazing had been removed in 1998 to help restore priority features, including rare plants. The image here shows an exclosure (on the right) that has been closed off from grazing for approx. 40 years, showing how vegetation varies from that on the left, which has been excluded from grazing for only approx. 10 years. It was surprising to see that the majority of 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brownvegetation in the 40-year exclusion area was still barely knee-high. On this particular site, without grazing, there is currently a diverse botanical richness of species and structure, and it hasn’t become swamped with invasive species or scrub. This is an improvement in terms of biodiversity against the original uniform short sward that once covered the area, caused by over-grazing.

Which animals?

When looking to choose the best grazing animal for an area we learnt that:

  • Sheep can select particular plants and leaves down to ground level. Horses can also select to plant level.
  • Cattle have a big, wide mouth, and eat by wrapping their tongue around vegetation then pulling it out. They can only graze down to about 5cm from the ground, and can eat a variety of plant species in one mouthful. As they take longer to digest their food, they are able to absorb more nutrients from poorer grasslands.
  • Mixing different types of grazing animals on a site can be very beneficial, e.g. on grassland dominated by Molina (Purple Moor Grass), grazing with sheep only saw increased spread of Molina, but with a ratio of 1.5 ewes to 0.75 cattle grazing the area, there was a significant decrease in Molina.
  • Some grazing animal breeds do better than others in the winter (usually native breeds over continental breeds).
  • Grazing animals change their plant preferences depending on their nutritional needs, and tend to choose the tastiest and most nutritional plants first. They can also change their preference for different plants throughout the year.
  • Where animals have had particular worming treatments it is necessary to make sure the treatments have had time to flush through (at least 3 weeks) before the animals enter a conservation grazing area, to avoid detrimentally affecting beneficial and non-target invertebrates at the conservation site.

Animal welfare

It is important to consider whether, on a conservation grazing site, the animals are going to be:

  • Living a natural life? e.g. in an environment to which the species/breed is adapted;
  • Fit and healthy? e.g. able to achieve normal growth and function, and maintain good health in adult life;
  • Happy? e.g. sense of mental satisfaction, or at least freedom from mental distress.

The Grazing Animals Project has helpful advice.

Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) regulations (2000, 2003): includes duty of care by both Owners and Keepers. Persons attending to the animals should be acquainted with the relevant statutory welfare codes. So for conservation grazing management we need to

  • Enlist the help of an expert on that species/breed.
  • Ensure a site risk assessment for the grazing animals is carried out well in advance of putting the animals on the site, keep the document under review.
  • Ensure there is adequate contingency planning, in case the usual stock keeper/checker is unable to tend to the animals for any reason.
  • Make sure we’re not accidentally breaking the latest animal movement and standstill regulations and transport welfare regulations.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownManagement plans

Every plan needs a sustainable goal – and we need to know when we’ve reached that goal.

Currently lapwing are in the spotlight as they are declining in the UK, however their initial population rise was due to post-war human habitat intervention, creating lots of grazed habitat that benefited them and other farmland waders over other species. What is our goal? – should we be concentrating our efforts on supporting lapwing? should we look to the species assemblages that were present prior to this? or should we work towards habitat mosaics supporting lapwing and the other species?

The rule of thumb is to start by grazing the area lightly. Establishing the level of grazing appropriate is always important, over or under grazing can be damaging or ineffectual. Incorporate regular assessment and survey. Monitoring the site is vital so that the effects of the grazing on the valuable features can be assessed, and the grazing adjusted if necessary. Be prepared to be flexible and ready to tweak if necessary – increase/decrease, change animals/timing etc. Be ready with Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work! Management plans need to be dynamic documents and be reviewed/amended/built upon as required.

Conservation grazing is not an exact science so this course was really valuable in learning from the experts and hearing about their experiences and the general principles they have adopted. As each site is so unique it is important to recognise our starting point and decide what we want our end point to be: we may currently have quite a species-poor grassland but we would like it to become a species-rich hay meadow….so then we can work up a management plan to make that happen.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Caeau Tan y Bwlch - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown

2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Blaen y Nant - by Kirsty Brown
2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownNow to translate all we have learned to help manage relevant sites in the North York Moors National Park, through our Habitat Connectivity project!

Swallows and Amphibians (and ponies)

John Beech – Heritage Coast Project Officer

The six ponds installed last year through our Habitat Connectivity programme (“Linking Landscapes”) are thriving with life this spring. I’ve just returned from a site visit to the area north of Robin Hood’s Bay and found the ponds full of tadpoles, water boatmen, backswimmers and whirligig beetles. It’s a marvellous sight given that these shallow hollows in the landscape previously held no water at all and contained very little in the way of wildlife.

We arranged the project with the landowner (National Trust) and tenant, and paid for the contractor with his mini digger to form these scrapes and ponds. The ponds were fenced off to allow the vegetation around them to grow up and not be grazed off by stock. This type of habitat should be ideal as breeding sites for amphibians.

Whilst looking for submerged wildlife, I also saw my first Swallow of the year as it swooped to drink from the ponds freshwater after its long journey of migration. The Yorkshire Coast must have been its first landfall for thousands of miles. It’s incredibly satisfying to think that you’ve added to the whole biodiversity and wildlife interest of the area with a few scoops from a digger.

Further up the coast at Wrack Hills near Runswick Bay, hardy Exmoor ponies are settling in well on the undercliff grassland. Undercliff habitat is found alongside soft cliffs where the land has slumped and settled, and been recolonized by vegetation over time. During the winter we’ve fenced off part of the existing SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and installed a watering point. The fencing, in part, follows an historic fence line which implies that there was stock in the past on this useful, if difficult to access, rough pasture. We were previously talking about putting cattle on the undercliff but instead the land manager has managed to arrange for Exmoors to begin to tackle the coarse grasses and scrub that have been taking over the site. This conservation grazing regime is aimed at halting the decline of the patches of species rich grassland that are left here. Big thanks to the land manager and the Exmoor Pony Trust for taking on this challenge. We’re promoting this type of grazing management on the National Park’s coastal undercliffs wherever possible.

The two ponies (one small mare and one larger gelding) were introduced to the site in April. Since then the paths they’ve made (and dung piles they’ve left!) show that they’ve explored much of the site and have started to make an impact on some patches of grassland. Encouragingly there are plenty of primroses, bluebells and a few early-purple orchids in flower, so it doesn’t look like the ponies are eating the flower heads.P1030889

It might be good to have more ponies on the undercliff when the ground is drier and less liable to poaching up. Otherwise combining ponies with the land manager’s own shorthorn cattle might be advantageous. Mixes of ponies and cattle have an added benefit that ponies can graze the best grass very tightly, which encourages cattle to tackle the rough stuff before the ponies might get round to it. In addition, after the bird breeding season, if human labour is available, it might be worth strimming some of the edges of the bramble patches, or creating routes though them which the ponies can then expand. The same could apply to bracken patches, although I hope the ponies might make inroads there themselves.

Hunting out Ancient Trees – in the North York Moors

Alasdair Fagan – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Alex (my fellow Conservation Graduate Trainee) and I have been tasked with the discovery, measurement and recording of each of the veteran trees on the Hawnby estate on the western side of the National Park. This is an area noted for its high proportion of tree cover which is a characteristic of the landscape in this part of the North York Moors.

Old/Notable/Ancient/Veteran Trees

Ancient and veteran trees are of high importance biologically as they support a diversity of different plants, birds, fungi, bats and insects. The Natural England FEP Guidance – Ancient Trees defines veteran and/or ancient trees as ‘Trees that are or look old relative to others of the same species’. Characteristics include:

  • Very large girth for the species
  • Hollow or hollowing trunk
  • A large quantity of dead wood in the canopy

The veteranisation of a mature tree is the first indication of the tree’s truly old age and as a part of this inevitable ageing, provides visual signs that the tree has begun to approach the end of its life (hundreds of years in the case of some trees) and in the meantime provides valuable habitats through processes like the decaying of wood.

Different species of trees have differing lifespans and so some tree species will reach maturity and veteran status much quicker (Silver birch for example) than those with longer life expectancy (such as Oak). A difference in the length of time it takes trees to veteranise is inherently valuable to the biodiversity of the area’s ecology, providing habitats for those organisms that depend on a continuous cycle and creation of veteran characteristics to survive.

The Survey

Data recorded from the Ancient Tree Hunt suggests that there are over 102,200 Veteran and Ancient trees in Britain, giving it the highest proportion of Ancient tree cover in the whole of Europe. But there are still parts of the country that have yet to be fully surveyed for these important trees.

This particular survey that Alex and I are carrying out on Hawnby estate involves identifying the species of each veteran tree and recording the tree’s girth, condition, any biological interests associated with the tree, and any threats currently posed to the tree that we might be able to address in order to ensure that it is able to endure for as long as possible.

We’ve used aerial photographs, and Ordnance Survey modern and historical maps (including from over 150 years ago) to establish areas where we suspect there may still be important, notable and veteran trees that aren’t yet part of the Ancient/Veteran tree current record.

We use GPS to record the location of each of the trees we record. Being able to see where veteran trees are across the North York Moors and being able to compare associated data allows us to build up a picture of this asset and to target efforts to keep the trees going as long as possible and at the same time to plant and manage new generations of trees nearby.

The search for veteran trees has so far proved eventful with a valuable opportunity to experience the beauty of the North York Moors National Park during autumn. We’re now up against the seasons as autumn has turned into winter and so it inevitably becomes harder to identify tree species without leaves.


An Unexpected Encounter

We also had a number of encounters with wildlife and the seasonal timing of the survey ensured that we got the chance to see many weird and wonderful species of Fungi.

Something that Mark the Woodland Officer here at the National Park told me when I first began: ‘whenever you look at a veteran tree, always make sure you walk all the way around it first’. Good advice indeed as it is often very easy to assume a tree is in good health when judging it on its appearance from one side, but on further inspection the other side may reveal that the tree is entirely hollow and well into its decline phase. Because of this advice, during the survey Alex and I decided to investigate what appeared to be a dead/relic branch that was still partly attached to the trunk of a tree but had clearly been removed forcefully by a weather event some time ago. As I approached the tree and leaned round the back to peer into the hollowing stem, my gaze was met by the bright yellow and beady eyes of a Common buzzard who was probably perching in the hollow whilst on the lookout for its next meal. The few silent seconds of disbelief (probably on both accounts) were then abruptly brought to an end as the impressive Bird of Prey turned, spread its wings and silently glided away to an alternative (more private) tree nearby.

Heritage of the North York Moors

Our Linking Landscapes programme aims to connect fragmented woodland habitats and areas of high ecological value. Veteran trees (and their associated ecology) have an important role. Many of our most notable and veteran trees are visible today in fields and along dry stone walls and hedges as remnants/relics of historical field boundaries, they remain important features of complex habitat networks throughout the landscape and as part of the programme we’re planting new in-field and boundary trees to ensure that tree habitats remain even when the veteran tree itself has died.

But the biodiversity value of veteran trees within our landscape is something which we cannot replace in the short term. Many species associated with the habitats provided by these trees are specialists and depend on veteran trees for their survival, either directly (beetle larvae living within, and feeding on, the freshly decaying wood) or indirectly (birds and bats regularly utilise the hollows associated with veteran trees for nesting and roosting sites).

It is important that we plan ahead and attempt to provide the best opportunity for the development of future generations of old and veteran trees that we can.

If you come across an Ancient/Veteran Tree – please tell the Ancient Tree Hunt. If you come across an Ancient/Veteran Tree in the North York Moors National Park – please let us know as well.

Mega Task

Ami Walker – Conservation Land Management Adviser

Something amazing happened a couple of weeks ago (near Lockton) – 370m of new hedge was planted! Not coppiced or laid or gapped up – but planted from scratch.

370m of new hedge might sound good to you – but maybe not amazing

So let me explain why I think it is……

  • 370m of hedge = 111 hollies + 1776 hawthorns + 333 blackthorns + 10 trees (oak, bird cherry and crab apple)
  • Hedge Planting Team = 2 Conservation Graduate Trainees + 5 National Park Modern Apprentices and their 1 leader + 18 National Park Volunteers and their 2 leaders + the farmer + his children + me
  • The hedge was planted as part of our National Park’s Linking Landscapes Project
  • The hedge will allow safe passage for wildlife between two woods which were isolated habitats in the landscape
  • It will provide food and shelter for birds, small mammals and invertebrates
  • The Graduate Trainees have learnt how a hedge planting project is progressed from selecting a site, setting up an Agreement with the farmer and the hedge being planted.
  • The Apprentices now have new skills and knowledge that will help them achieve the NVQ Level 3 in Environmental Conservation that they are studying for
  • The dedicated Volunteers gave their time for free. This project helped them to understand the importance of the great work they do and how it fits in with National Park objectives.
  • The entire team now know about the concepts behind the Linking Landscapes project and can pass that knowledge on to others
  • The farmer’s cattle will have shelter from the cold winds that blow across the hill that the hedge is planted on.
  • The new hedge is a feature in the local farmland landscape. The hedge can be seen in the landscape by motorists and walkers that use the footpath running parallel to the hedge will now get a living hedge to walk next to rather than  just a fence.
  • Two local businesses were supported – the hedge plants and trees came from a local nursery and the stock proof fence that will protect the hedge from grazing animals will be erected by a local contractor.
  • It was a great team effort we all worked very hard and we laughed a lot too. There was a massive sense of achievement when the last plant went in the ground.
  • I very rarely get out on the ground to do practical tasks. To have been the person that did the first negotiations with the farmer to agree where the hedge would be planted, then working with such a great team and to see the last plant go in the ground gave me masses of job satisfaction.

 I hope you now agree – 370m of new hedge is pretty amazing!

But there’s more. The National Park have provided extra hedge plants to the farmer – and he’s going to be planting more hedgerow himself – so all in all, once he’s finished = 560m of hedgerow

 Thank you to everyone involved, I look forward to watching the new hedge grow and flourish.