Following in the footsteps

Elspeth Ingleby – Natural Heritage Officer, This Exploited Land of Iron

Wildlife can be wonderfully conspicuous – in the UK there are lots of places where you are assured a wealth of wildlife before your very eyes, be it throngs of guillemot on a sea cliff, ducks and geese scrambling for titbits at a local park, or even clouds of the infamous Scottish midge. However many other species can be much harder to discover, whether because of where they live, what they eat or their sensitivity to disturbance.

But with a little effort and some detective work, you can discover a whole new world of wildlife. Spring is a great time to look a little more closely and see what you can find.

Prints, tracks and signs

You can pick up guides to some of the more common prints and signs (the Field Studies Council produce several) and then with a little practice it is possible to find and follow the footsteps of your local wildlife seeing how animals are using the landscape which is their home. Things to look out for include:

  • Bare ground, turned earth or puddle edges which are great for retaining foot prints of passing wildlife – head out a few hours after rain (or snow!) to see what has passed by in the recent past.
  • Patches of white splattered on the ground, branches or tree trunks that are a dead giveaway for a regular perch or roost where the resident has lightened the load before taking flight.
  • The bottom of fences and around the base of trees which can provide rich pickings of hair tufts which can identify who has been there.
  • Holes in the ground that can indicate where a pheasant has scratched, or a badger has dug after worms.

Pellets and poo

You can tell a lot about wildlife from the physical remains they leave behind. Looking a little closer at droppings or the regurgitated pellets of raptors can yield a wealth of information, not only about the eater, but also about the eaten.

At our recent This Exploited Land of Iron launch weekend, we challenged young wildlife explorers to see what they could find within Barn Owl pellets. Within minutes we had identified remains of Field Vole, Common Shrew, Wood Mouse, Robin and Frog showing just what a range of food owls will eat. It’s also fun trying to see how many skulls you can find, or identifying the different bones of the victims’ anatomy!Getting hands on at the Land of Iron launch event (copyright NYMNPA) and photo of Barn Owl (copyright Brian Nellist).

Many of our native predators use scats (animal excrement) as sign posts advertising their presence and territory to others. Surveying some of our shyest mammals is often done almost entirely by poo alone. The distinctive ‘tic-tac’ Water Vole droppings can identify not only where a population is, but also size of inhabited area, number of population, whether breeding or not – where you could be walking every day and never actually see ear nor tail of a Water Vole.Water Vole by WildStock Images

Smell can be a great way to tell different species apart as a careful sniff can tell you a lot. For instance Otters will leave ‘Jasmine scented’ scats often containing fish bones and scales, on prominent rocks in a stream, whereas Foxes will leave grey, foul smelling scats with wisps of hair, bone and beetle shells in the middle of a path giving clues to their daily haunts and diet.

Camera tracking

Trail camera. Copyright NYMNPA.A slightly less ‘hands on’ approach is to wait for the wildlife to come to you. As technology progresses and costs fall, remote cameras are becoming much more accessible – whether you are hoping to learn about a particular species, or simply work out what is digging up your vegetable patch! Our Land of Iron Programme has recently invested in a number of cameras to help us find out more about the shy and elusive Ring Ouzel which breeds around the moorland edge, and is also known as the Mountain Blackbird. The local population in Rosedale has been vulnerable to nest predation in recent years and we are hoping to catch the Ring Ouzel with its distinctive white chest. Copyright North East Wildlife.culprits in the act by staking out key nest sites. We are also expecting these cameras to give us real insights into Ring Ouzel behaviour, informing how we can best support and bolster the population of these beautiful birds. The best bit? – we don’t have to spend the next three months sitting behind a bush to find out!

Rosedale with Rowan in the foreground. Copyright Tom Mutton, NYMNPA.

Animal tracking can be incredibly rewarding, and a great activity to do when you’re out and about – particularly with kids. You can get involved for yourself by joining This Exploited Land of Iron at the upcoming Rosedale History Society Festival on 22 and 23 April where we will be busy dissecting owl pellets, or taking part in one of the family friendly events at The Moors National Park Centre over the Easter holidays, or just heading out yourself for an explore! However when you’re exploring please remember that most of the North York Moors is privately owned and you’d need permission from the landowner to explore over private land.

This Exploited Land of Iron LPS logos

 

Missing links

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

As mentioned previously one of our core conservation objectives is improving ‘habitat connectivity’ – ensuring that wildlife has the opportunity to travel within habitats and between habitats in order to help populations thrive into the future.

The National Park Authority itself owns very little of the land within the North York Moors; good relations with people who own and manage the land are crucial to be able to roll out connectivity.

One of the first acts in any connectivity scheme is to make contact with the land owner/manager (although we don’t always know who they are so this can take some time) and put any project ideas to them. After negotiations and if they are in agreement, the next stage is to work through the inevitable paperwork (it isn’t too convoluted) which sets out the process steps and secures the scheme in place. Once the agreement between ourselves and the land owner/manager is signed – the scheme can begin – materials ordered, labour organised and work carried out.

Creating these habitat networks for wildlife needn’t take up large tracts of land. Planting new hedges or creating rough grassland buffer strips are key elements of connectivity and can be installed at relatively little cost. Agreeing to leave awkward field corners out of cultivation, planting selected areas with trees or fencing out wet boggy grassland to avoid poaching of the ground, can all be beneficial to the enhancement of connectivity.

For example – a connectivity scheme with a landowner near Cowbar, along the coastal Harvest Mouse from sciencephoto.comhinterland, is delivering excellent long term results for biodiversity. A large expanse of arable land now has a wildlife superhighway running through it – a new hedgerow – linking the clifftop back to existing roadside hedgerows. Whilst weeding the new hedgerow last summer we came across a nest of a Harvest Mouse. The North York Moors is known to be close to the northern most limit of UK distribution for this little creature. The arrival of the Harvest Mouse demonstrates the value of movement between linked habitats; and the new hedge, providing shelter and food, will help enable the wider area to support a higher population in the future.

New hedgerow planted near Cowbar - copyright NYMNPA.

Connectivity efforts continue and I’ll keep you posted.

Beside the sea

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

The spectacular coastline that makes up the eastern edge of the North York Moors National Park consists of a great number of composite habitats which in turn are home to a great number of complex plants and animals. The number of habitats – from grasslands to woodlands, farmland to coastal slope, rocky shore to marine environment – means the biodiversity interest on the coast is particularly abundant.

North York Moors coastal landscape - looking out to sea - NYMNPA

On the clifftop farmland plateau, a network of traditional field boundaries provide corridors for a variety of wildlife. Small mammals such as Field voles, Mice and Shrews take advantage of the cover that old walls and growing hedges offer, whilst high in the hedgerows farmland birds such as Yellowhammer, Linnet, Whitethroat and Goldfinch call out to mark their territories and deter predators from their nest sites. Old stone walls and also buildings offer cover for herptiles along the coast such as Slow worms and Adders. The large open fields on the clifftop are often lookout points for Brown hare and Roe deer at dawn and at dusk.

Yellowhammers - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Slow worm - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Hare - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Intersecting the plateau there are coastal woodland gills (narrow valley with stream) running down to the sea which contain their own microclimates. Sycamore often dominate the frontage to coastal gill woodlands as they seem to tolerate the cold north easterly winds; further up the gills where the growing conditions are less harsh, indicators of ancient woodlands are prevalent. English Oak and Ash are common along with a healthy understory of Hazel, Holly, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. Below this layer during springtime a plethora of ground flora comes to life with Wild garlic, Lesser celandine, Wood anenome and Dog-violets providing dashes of colour to the woodland floor.

Wild garlic - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Hayburn Wyke near Cloughton retains many native tree species growing alongside more recently planted introductions such as Larch and Rhododendron, a Victorian favourite! Introduced into the United Kingdom from Southern Europe and South East Asia in the late 19th century, Rhododendron flowers may be pretty, but the plant has become a serious problem in many woodlands due to its vigorous ability to colonise via seed and underground suckers. In doing so the evergreen canopy of the bush shades out much of the native ground flora leaving a barren ground layer below. Which is why the National Trust at Hayburn Wyke are actively controlling this non-native invasive species and bringing the native ground flora back to life.

Magic wood of Hayburn Wyke by robiuk - http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/North_Yorkshire/Cloughton_Newlands/photo155135.htm

The coastal cliffs and crags are temporary homes to seabirds such as Kittiwakes, FulmarsCommon gulls and Herring gulls before they take to the wing and patrol the waters below. Sand martin colonies also exist in the soft cliffs if you know where to look. Kestrels and the occasional Peregrine falcon will also use the craggy outcrops as they search for prey on the undercliffs and rocky shore.

Kittiwakes - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Coastal slope grasslands on the undercliff (below soft cliffs) offer some of the most unimproved habitats in the whole of the National Park. They have evaded the plough and fertiliser spreader and have therefore remained an almost natural habitat with an abundance of wild plant life. The grasslands are home to a variety of orchid species but these can become choked by ranker vegetation such as bracken and bramble. This is where management is needed to conserve the best features of the habitat through grazing by livestock to keep the invasive domineering species in check. In the sheltered hollows within the cliffs mosses and lichens grow, the lichens being good indicators of unpolluted, clean air in the atmosphere.

Exmoor ponies grazing the coastal slope - NYMNPA

Butterwort, Beast Cliff - NYMNPA

Marine life abounds along the rocky shore between land and sea – intertidal habitats. Covered by seawater twice a day, plants and animals that live in the rock pools are super resilient and have adapted to the constant flooding and desiccation that the harsh coastal environment brings. Barnacles, Blennies, Butterfish, Anemones, Periwinkles, Dog whelks and Limpets have all developed intricate methods of survival as the tides recedes for 6 hours before returning to overtop their pools and hiding places and plunge them underwater again. Common seals and Grey seals also regularly visit our shores during the summer and autumn months, hauling out at the remotest headlands to rest and give birth to pups.Rocky Shore - tide out - near Port Mulgrave - NYMNPA

Periwinkles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Marine mussles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Limpets - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Out into the sea along the North York Moors coast marine cetaceans thrive during the summer months. Along with Bottlenose dolphin and Harbour porpoise, five different species of Whale have been recorded off the coast not that far from the shore – Pilot, Fin, Sei, Minke and even Humpback whales – as they follow the herring shoals around the North Sea.

Dolphin - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

What with cliffs, crags, caves, coves, crabs and cobblestones this post on the coast was meant to be part of the next instalment of our North York Moors National Park A to Z – but it just felt like it needed its own space.

North York Moors Top 10 flora

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Ami Walker – Lead Land Management Adviser These are my Top 10 of wild flowers and grasses that you can see round about now in the surviving meadows, uncultivated grasslands and road verges of the North York Moors. These are some … Continue reading

Before and After

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Land managers and local contractors across the North York Moors have been working hard throughout the year, despite the adversity of torrential rain, deep mud, and endless gale-force winds, to keep the hedges and walls of our National Park going.

In addition to being a great landscape feature, the hedge and wall boundaries provide a long list of benefits to land managers, livestock and wildlife. Here are a few of the benefits (you might be able to think up more):

  • Wind break (crop and livestock protection)
  • Long-lasting livestock retention (outlasting fences by many years!)
  • Soil erosion prevention
  • Wildlife corridors
  • Shelter for livestock and a range of wildlife from snakes to ladybirds
  • Nesting areas for wildlife such as birds and voles
  • Pollen and nectar for bees and other insects
  • Food for wildlife (and foraging humans!)
  • Diversity of vegetation, within the hedge and in the sheltered areas at the foot of hedges and walls, in addition to fungi and lichens

A number of land managers applied for grant aid via our Traditional Boundary Scheme during the year. It was my job to initially assess each site, run a constraint check to make sure that what we were going to grant aid wouldn’t have a negative effect, and draw up the grant-aid agreements. I’m now rushing around checking up on grant claims before the end of the financial year.

Here are some of the before and after shots from the Traditional Boundary Scheme so far.

Thanks to all the land managers who have been involved in the Scheme over the last year, and well done everyone who’s completed so far; the renovated boundaries are looking good (the hedgerows always take a bit longer to look good than the walls)! Keep an eye out on our website, our Twitter and Facebook sites, and in the local press, for how to apply for the Traditional Boundary Scheme next financial year.

Not too late for water voles

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer and Laura Winter – Aquatic Mammal Specialist and National Park Volunteer

There is often a gloomy tone to reports on Britain’s water vole (Arvicola amphibious) populations. For example, an Environment Agency spokesman has said that numbers in the UK are thought to have fallen by over 95% since the 1970s and a further 20% since 2011. But recent work by University of Aberdeen researchers shows that water voles can move from further from place to place than had been thought previously. This behaviour could give them a better chance to adapt to changing conditions, but only if there is still suitable habitat to act as corridors for them to travel through.

Despite difficult weather conditions over the last few years, and the presence of predatory mink, we believe that the North York Moors water voles are hanging on here in the uplands more successfully than in some other parts of the country. The best area here is in the east of the North York Moors, centred on Fylingdales Moor and Langdale Forest. The nature of this area means that the water voles are able to move and recolonize other sites when environmental and predation pressures render their usual habitats inhospitable. This is because

  • there is a large number of tributaries, ditches and headwaters connecting two river systems in the area;
  • there are large expanses of heather and forest providing cover for movement as well as pockets of water vole favoured habitat;
  • and importantly, the major landowners in the area, are sympathetic to the needs of the animal and try to manage their land accordingly.

Water voles need lightly-grazed wetland habitat extending beyond the immediate banks of slow flowing becks and rivers. Legal mink control can give the water vole a better chance of survival, although good wetland habitats provide better cover for the voles to escape the attentions of all potential predators.

We’re definitely not complacent though.

The habitat connectivity programme we’re rolling out in the North York Moors will help to reconnect fragmented areas of valuable habitat and should give the water vole more chance to safely relocate and hopefully spread out. Peatland restoration on a number of moors over the last few years, plus the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project above Pickering, is resulting in water being held back for longer on the higher ground and the run off during heavy rain slowed. This is an advantage for water voles (slower-flowing watercourses and less flash flooding of their burrows), as well as hopefully for people living further downstream.

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.

Story of a (temporary) drystone wall

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Back one Sunday in August, Alex and I took part in a drystone walling workshop for the general public led by National Park Ranger (West), Carl Cockerill.

The heavens opened just after we arrived at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, but thankfully we were indoors for the first half-hour to watch a short film about drystone walling…set in India. It was interesting to discover the technique of drystone walling was devised because of a lack of skilled people to provide dressed stone, so the careful interlocking and balancing of stone of all shapes and sizes, known here as drystone walling, meant stock-proof boundaries could be built without dressed stone. There are examples of these types of boundaries all over the world.

Next it was outside for some hands-on effort as the sun came out, and our first job was easy – dismantle the training wall!

We carefully brought the wall down to the foundations. Then Carl set up the A-frames to ensure we would be working to the correct width and height as we began the rebuild. Some boulders were so heavy I was unable to move them, but with a bit of teamwork the wall slowly came together, layer by layer. The foundations consisted of the largest stones, and in this style of wall, stuck out from the first layer by about 5cm. The base of the wall was roughly half the height in order to provide stability. Throughstones ran from one side of the double-skinned wall to the other at regular intervals to steady the layers. Small stones were packed into the middle of the wall, filling in gaps and strengthening the structure. The upper layers included coverbands (creating a flat layer beneath the coverstones) and finally there was a topmost layer of flat, slanted coverstones.

There is a huge amount of skill behind a good drystone wall, and a wall repaired by a skilled waller can be expected to last around 100-150 years! Whilst it would have been nice to be able to see how well we did in the long term (I’m thinking potentially 5 – 20 years at most!), unfortunately the next workshop will enjoy dismantling all our hard work! Keep an eye out for events in the North York Moors and in our ‘Out and About in the North York Moors’ free magazine for future workshops and events such as another Drystone Walling workshop.

Wildlife within the walls….drystone walls provide shelter and habitats for all kinds of creatures, such as slow worms, lizards and adders, attracted to the warmth absorbed by the stones from the sun. So walls can be as much use to biodiversity as other traditional boundaries such as hedgerows and ditches.

Hares, voles, mice, stoats, frogs and toads, and bird life such as wrens also make good use of these boundaries, weaving in and out and sheltering within the stonework.  Birds of prey such as kestrels often perch upon the walls, keeping an eye out for movement from these small creatures.

Various beautiful lichens and mosses live on the rock faces, often preferring the cooler north-facing stones.

All kinds of invertebrates live within the nooks and crannies like beetles, snails and springtails.

Livestock frequently use walls for shelter against strong winds, rain and snow, and these boundaries hinder soil erosion.

In some cases, people have deliberately created structures within walls for particular animals, such as bee boles and sheep creeps (a sheep creep is a purpose built gap in the wall which sheep can get through to graze the next door field but other bigger farm animals can’t). The Dry Stone Walling Association has informative leaflets on both walls and wildlife, and bee boles.

Drystone walls are an important landscape and cultural feature of the North York Moors, across farmland, past and present, and along the edge of the moorland. In many cases a stock proof drystone wall is still an important management tool. If you have a field boundary drystone wall in the North York Moors that could do with being repaired, have a look at our Traditional Boundary Scheme grant information. You could potentially receive up to £2,000 per financial year towards your wall repairs.

Wall in landscape - Ladhill Gill

Rosedale’s mini meadow – part 2

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This gallery contains 30 photos.

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee The mini meadow conservation site in the churchyard of St Mary and St Laurence in Rosedale Abbey (established in 2011 through the LEADER Small Scale Enhancements Scheme) is full of wild flowers, including beautiful pockets … Continue reading