National Park Newbie

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Kate, Conservation Graduate Trainee - copyright NYMNPAHaving started in September as the new Conservation Graduate Trainee, I have been busy getting out and about in the National Park getting to know my colleagues and my fantastic place of work.

One thing I have been fortunate to get involved with so far has been this year’s National Park Authorities’ Ecologists’ Workshop. The theme of the three day workshop hosted by this National Park was “Improving Habitat Connectivity” and there was a great turn out – ecologists from all 15 UK National Parks attended, apparently the first time this has happened! For a new member of staff it was great for me to hear about how this National Park is working on restoring and reconnecting important habitat networks such as species rich grassland, river corridors and native woodland. It was also a great opportunity to meet people from across the country who are so passionate about conserving our countryside and wildlife.

Our Monday evening activity was a boat trip out of Whitby – with the possibility of seeing some whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. Everyone joked that it is always the way – as a group of ecologists approach, all the wildlife disappears! However, we had a great trip all the same with a beautiful sunset, topped off with fish and chips – a must if you are in Whitby.

View looking back at Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Sunset over land - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAComing back into Whitby - Ecologists Workshop Sept 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAWe had beautiful weather for all three days, especially for our field trips on the Tuesday. We visited four sites which illustrate some great examples of restoration in the North York Moors – on moorland, in PAWS and along rivers – always returning to the importance of building a connected landscape within the National Park and beyond.

Glaisdale Moor peatland restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Lealholm stepping stones - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPAEsk Valley farmland - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

Arnecliff Woods - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Sam Witham, NYMNPAArnecliff Woods - PAWS restoration - Ecologists Workshop 2015 - copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m looking forward to getting involved with as many different things as possible to make the most of my time as Conservation Graduate Trainee over the next two years. I’ll be carrying out botanical and bird surveys, monitoring farmland and land management through our Wildlife Conservation Scheme and Traditional Boundary Scheme, and hopefully getting the opportunity to go on lots of interesting training courses as well as learning from my colleagues. All in all, I hope my time with the Authority will give me enough experience and knowledge to pursue the career in conservation that I have always wanted!

Landscape matters

Gallery

This gallery contains 27 photos.

David Renwick – Director of Conservation It is my feeling that landscape is a construct of the interaction between the environment (in its broadest sense) and mankind’s influences, actions and emotions. But it’s more than the sum of its parts. Whilst … Continue reading

Slowing down

Taken mainly from the final report for the ‘Slowing the Flow’ Project

The ‘Slowing the flow’ project is now completed, ahead of approaching winter. The purpose of the project has been to reduce the risk and severity of flooding in Pickering and nearby Sinnington.

The approach has been to slow the flow of water from off the moors into Pickering Beck and the River Severn and subsequently down into the settlements below.

The last element has been the creation of a flood storage area at Newbridge, upstream of Pickering – a site to hold up, and so slow down, extreme flows of water. It can hold up to 120,000 m3.

The ‘Slowing the Flow’ project was one of a number of Defra pilot projects looking into reducing flood risk and impacts. The idea was to make the best use of natural processes by adapting land use and land management to slow down and delay the passage of water.

Phase 1 of the project concentrated on building up a working partnership including with the local community. The National Park Authority were heavily involved in Phase 1 of the project as a major landowner in the area. The National Park Authority owns Levisham Estate upstream of Pickering and a number of tributaries into Pickering Beck arise on the Estate’s moorland.

View of Hole of Horcum (part of Levisham Estate) - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

The land management work undertaken in the two sub-catchments included establishing no burn buffers along moorland watercourses to protect soils and retain vegetation, impeding moorland drains using heather bales to lessen erosion, constructing ‘woody debris dams’ which slow but don’t halt watercourse flow, creating riparian buffer zones in forestry, and large scale tree planting and long term woodland creation because trees prevent sediment runoff and hold and use more water than other habitats. Two timber bunds were also constructed in the River Severn catchment. 

Large woody debris dam during flood - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015

Large woody debris dam secured by angled posts and wire on Pickering Beck - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015Face of upstream timber bund within Forestry - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015Small woody debris dame - Horcum, Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

 

 

Heather bale 'check' dams within moorland drain - from Forest Research: appendices to Phase 2 Final Report, May 2015

Drainage channel - Fen Moor, Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

Slowing the Flow in action - Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

 

 

 

Slowing the Flow tree planting - Levisham Estate - NYMNPA

Phase 1 (2009 – 2011) led to Phase 2 (2011 – 2015) which allowed for the implementation of the outstanding land management interventions planned. One of the lessons learned was that five to six years is a more effective time scale for delivering a demonstration project, especially one that includes persuading landowners to change land use. Another lesson is that the measures undertaken have to be at an effective scale – the bigger the contribution to flood protection required, the larger and/or more extensive the measures need to be at the catchment level to make a difference.  The use of smaller, more diffuse, storage features can collectively contribute a sizeable flood storage volume, depending on their design and management – however catchment level planning/modelling is needed to guide and achieve the optimum placement and combination.

The ‘Slowing the Flow’ project was led by Forest Research, and the partnership that made it happen included the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, Natural England, North Yorkshire County Council, Ryedale District Council, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Durham University, Pickering Town Council and Sinnington Parish Council and the local community including vital landowners, and us. The project was possible only because of this joined up and inclusive approach to flood, water and land use management. Another lesson from the project is that efforts to reduce flood risk via land management interventions can be accidentally counteracted by other activities in the same catchment.

Although the main purpose of the project was to lessen the risk of flooding in Pickering, and also the village of Sinnington, the methods used will provide added benefits to biodiversity and the wider ecosystems. The piloting of the practical demonstrative measures have allowed the sharing of good practice, knowledge and skill development (e.g. NYMNP Apprentices).

Some issues…

Concerns over the stability of ‘woody debris dams’ and the potential for debris to wash out and damage downstream structures need to  allayed by the construction methods that use slot trenches and bracing logs to attach the structures to the banksides.

Having a National Park – a designated landscape – in the north of the sub-catchments had implications for the siting and design of land management interventions. For instance from a National Park point of view there was a limit on how much tree planting could be/should be accommodated on the Levisham Estate because of the ecological value of the existing moorland habitats which are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and in some places also a Special Protection Area/Special Area of Conservation.

Persuading people to create woodland can be difficult. The selection of Pickering Beck as a demonstration sub-catchment was partly because of the relatively high level of public land ownership e.g. National Park, Forestry Commission. In the future achieving the necessary sizeable level of change on privately owned land is likely to require greater financial incentives. The new, integrated, Countryside Stewardship scheme should help by providing grant for planting that provides benefits, including reducing flood risk and diffuse pollution.

Conclusions…

Land management measures can make a significant contribution to downstream flood alleviation. They vary in type, size, scale of operation and mode of action but are most effective in combination as part of a whole catchment approach to managing flood risk. More modelling and experience of actual flood peaks is required to better understand the cumulative effect of the measures. In view of the level of commitment and investment required, resources are best focused on small to medium sized catchments that can be expected to deliver large-scale changes in land use and/or management.

It is not suggested that the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project will prevent all flooding in the two sub-catchments, but it is anticipated that there will be less flooding. It has been suggested that the previous 25% chance of flooding in any given year in Pickering, has now been reduced to a 4% chance or less…

“Day 222 – My Local Patch – The Fantastic North York Moors”

Have a look at this – it’s from A year of my nature hunting blog by Zach who live close by the North York Moors. He’s posting every day on his blog, and he very kindly agreed to include a post on the National Park. So for this week, here is the view from a particularly young, enthusiastic, joyous observer of nature.

Day 222 – My Local Patch – The Fantastic North York Moors

A lovely view over the moors - from A year of my nature hunting blog

Hangover cure

Emily Collins – Conservation Student Intern

The future of Sil Howe, an abandoned mine site above Beck Hole, has changed quite a bit since I first set foot there in early autumn. It was then that we recognised the iron ochre within the mine as being an ongoing potential threat to the surrounding countryside. In the event of high rainfall, this thick orange blanket, which oozes into the watercourse at the slightest disturbance, could potentially form a terracotta cascade potent enough to wipe out whole communities within the surrounding area… Silhowe January 2015 - someone's wellie covered in iron ochre - by Emily Collins

Residents of nearby Darnholm, Goathland and Beck Hole should have no fear though, for I’m talking about a very different type of community to that which might revolve around the local pub. As explained in an earlier post, this iron sediment can smother invertebrate populations in the surrounding watercourses and reduce the amount of food available for important fish populations in the Esk. Even when leaking into the beck at low levels the iron sediment seems to be having an effect, with initial water samples indicating large changes in pH and a loss of aquatic invertebrates close to the entrance of the mine. Now we’re working on a solution.

Silhowe January 2015 - group discussing proposals - by Emily Collins

Earlier this month my colleagues and I were joined by Natural England, the Environment Agency, the University of Hull and the local Head Gamekeeper on site to discuss plans for the installation of a reed bed at the Sil Howe mine entrance. Whilst trying not to become too distracted by the beautiful views and the numbing feeling in our toes, we discussed how the reeds would slow the flow of the water, allowing enough time for the iron to precipitate out of it before it continues downstream.

Silhowe January 2015 - remains of miners' hut - by Emily CollinsOf course, such a venture poses a number of concerns:

Will it be aesthetically pleasing?

Will the bund be large enough to hold the water and where do we get the material from to build it?

Will it have any impact on the neighbouring remains of the historic miners’ hut?

Whilst it meant freezing our appendages off on top of the moor for two hours, resolving these environmental, cultural and local conflicts was vital for strengthening the foundations of the project.

Silhowe January 2015 - mine adit - by Emily Collins

If planning permission is granted the work is due to start around the beginning of February and will last 2-5 days. In the meantime, students at the University of Hull are analysing the invertebrate and water samples we collected from the beck in October and will provide evidence for the detrimental impact that the iron sediment is having on aquatic life in the beck. We will then return to collect more samples once the reed beds have been installed, and again for the following few years to record the changes in water quality over time.

Original plan for remedial wetland creation at Silhowe - subject to change

If this works, we could roll out the same kind of thing elsewhere where the historic environment still impacts on the North York Moors today.

Understanding the past in the present

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

Working in archaeology probably consists of a lot more desk work than most people imagine. There are site visits which are necessary from time to time in order to gain specific or detailed knowledge about a site – required for the provision of information or advice. Excavations are actually quite rare and generally undertaken by outside contractors since they are immensely time-consuming both in terms of the time on-site but more so in writing up the final report. Excavation also tends to destroy the features that are being investigated – so it tends to be an option of last resort.

So in terms of desk work one of the most important activities that we carry out is the maintenance and development of the archaeological index for the National Park area, on which we base most of our decisions and which we use to provide information and advice. Known as the Historic Environment Record (HER), this database contains summary information on all the archaeological knowledge that we hold. Presented graphically against a digital Ordnance Survey map background, this allows a very rapid assessment of the archaeological resource or potential of an area. Coupled with historic mapping and modern aerial photography, we have a very powerful tool to help us to understand the development and uses to which the North York Moors landscape has been put.

Below are a few examples to help demonstrate the range of information that exists within our HER.

Levisham Estate - boundary dyke

The first map (below) shows part of the Levisham Estate, which is owned and managed by the National Park Authority. The pink outline defines the area of the Scheduled Monument, the largest within the National Park, which has been designated (a process which confers legal protection) due to the archaeological importance of the range and survival of the archaeological sites it contains.

The National Park contains many moorland areas which have not been disturbed by recent agricultural activity and are consequently rich in prehistoric, and later, remains. The surviving sites on Levisham Moor illustrate the range of uses the land has been put to over thousands of years.

Areas on the map outlined in red or marked with the crossed-hammers icons represent records within the HER. Features plotted in black, with the exception of the mapped field boundaries, are earthworks recorded by the National Mapping Programme (NMP), undertaken for sections of the National Park area by Archaeological Research Services Ltd in partnership with English Heritage. The NMP pulls together existing aerial data and through analysis identifies features of interest. Activity over thousands of years is often clearer when viewed from the air rather than on the ground. On Levisham Moor particular attention has been drawn to the Bercary earthworks, a monastic sheep-farm dating from the 13th century, and the remains of a field system to their north-north-east which may be related. Away to the east of the central track there are a further series of enclosures and field systems – the enclosures which have been dated belong to the Romano-British period.

Levisham HER Blog

By adding our 2009 Geoperspectives aerial photographs as a backdrop (the most up to date aerial photos we currently have for the National Park), the way the archaeology fits within the landscape becomes much clearer.

Levisham HER Blog2

The third map (below) shows Rievaulx village and Abbey. As well as showing the data types mentioned above the map also includes designated Listed Buildings and designated Registered Parks and Gardens in blue, which indicate part of Rievaulx Terrace. The latter was laid out in c.1758 for Thomas Duncombe and linked to Duncombe Park by a picturesque carriage drive. The NMP plotted earthworks reveal evidence of the water management system around the mediaeval Abbey, as well as agricultural terraces, quarrying and even the faint outline of the monastery garden at the bottom centre of the image, just to the west of the pond.

Rievaulx HER Blog

Like I said, in the discipline of archaeology there is a lot of desk work to be done. The results – a better understanding of the impacts that people have left on the landscape over millennia and therefore a better understanding of the people themselves – are always going to be worthwhile.

Rievaulx Abbey by Jen Smith (NYMNPA)

The North York Moors HER is available to be viewed – but at the moment to see everything together, you’ll need to make an appointment and come along in person to the National Park Office because it’s not all accessible on-line. The information can also be supplied for an area on request, for a charge. However the national designations – Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings, Register of Parks and Gardens – are available to download from English Heritage.

Poetry in silken motion

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Projects Assistant

A couple of weeks ago we were contacted by a local man wondering about something he had seen out on the moorland where the natural behaviour of an arachnid and the weather conditions had fortuitously coalesced to produce a visual phenomenon.

What he had seen were lengths of silken threads stretching over the heather as far as the eye could see, highlighted by the autumn sun catching hanging water droplets. The effect is caused by numerous spiders, often young spiders and those of the money spider family, using a method of dispersal called ‘ballooning’. The spiders climb up to a high point in the vegetation and cast out a few long threads of silk, which catch the wind and carry the tiny spiders away, and some travel for considerable distances.

When the spiders land, their long threads drape across anything they touch. The sight is images (2)most often seen in autumn and early winter when they are at their most numerous and many balloon simultaneously. The word ‘gossamer’ is often associated with the resultant shimmering visual effect.

The sight can be hard to capture by photography. If you don’t get to see the sight first hand, for the next best alternative – try here.

The local man was called Brian Clark. Luckily for us Brian is a co-founder of the Helmsley Art Centre and a runner-up in the Poetry Society’s national competition last year. So he put his impressions into words …

Balloonists

For Kirsty

 

The only spiders nobody minds:

money spiders

bringers of good fortune

who each autumn seek theirs

by shinning up heather sprigs

casting silken threads to the wind

to slip off in search of love;

minute adventurers galore

in an ocean of gossamer

high on the moors

a sun-spangled billowing

and shimmering in the breeze

spinning their luck

and yours.

 

Brian Clark

November 2014

 

Peculiarity of Character: part 1

 Clair Shields – Planning Officer (Building Conservation)

The majority of the Listed Buildings across the North York Moors are traditional houses, cottages or farmsteads constructed of local stone with pantile or slate roofs.

P1180281

However, the North York Moors also hold a number of more unusual and peculiar structures, listed for their special interest and historic value.

Stone crosses

There are approximately 150 crosses and standing stones on the moorland of the North York Moors. The crosses tend to be the earlier structures dating back to the mediaeval period (mid-10th to mid-16th centuries) while the majority of the standing stones were erected in the 18th century (so not to be confused with prehistoric standing stones). The crosses and erected stones marked boundary points between parishes, property or settlements; and/or acted as way markers across featureless moorland keeping the traveller on the right path (with a heartening Christian symbol).

The most iconic cross on the North York Moors is Young Ralph’s Cross – the National Park’s emblem; but there are many more with peculiar names such as Fat Betty, Catter Stone, Pricket Thorne.

National Park Commission Summer 2008imagesCA8CBUHB

Fat Betty is a wheel head cross (incorporating a circular shape) of the 10th or 11th century which make it the only surviving example of this type in the region. It is still in its original position on a road across the Danby Moors, as attested by a 13th century charter. The cross also marks the meeting point of the three original parishes of Danby, Westerdale and Rosedale.he1

The National Park Authority has grant aided the repair of a number of split boundary stones by fixing the two pieces of stone together with a steel dowel embedded in epoxy resin (used because both materials are inert and won’t rust and crack the stone like iron would) and also worked hard to keep the whitened ones painted, so conserving these landscape features which still aid navigation across the misty moors.

Mileposts and Finger Posts

Milestones and fingerposts are a relic of our transport heritage over the centuries; the variety of styles reflecting local materials and designs. Their existence dates back to Roman times when metalled roads were laid to move soldiers and supplies across the Empire, measuring distances to aid timing and efficiency – every 1,000th double step would be marked.

Most of the North York Moors’ mileposts are of 19th century origin, triangular in shape, cast iron construction and generally those which are listed were manufactured by F Mattison & Co of Bedale.

Last year, the local LEADER Programme and North Yorkshire County Council’s Highways & Transportation Department carried out a jointly funded project to restore some of the most vulnerable posts to ensure these historic features continue to survive in villagescapes and landscapes.

beths pics 059Roman Road after (2)IMG_0302

 

 

 

Shooting Box, Roseberry Topping

Situated at the foot of Roseberry Topping, this building which is known as a shooting afterbox or banqueting house was built for the local landowner, Captain Wilson, to shelter members of the gentry who visited this romantic spot for picnics and shooting expeditions. Providing far reaching views northwards on a clear and sunny day you won’t find many places as idyllic as this. The National Park recently managed the restoration of the building in partnership with Natural England who funded the repairs. Anyone who has tried to shelter here recently will know that the wind whistles through the building and the ensuing microclimate had caused severe erosion of the internal walls. Deeply eroded joints between stones were galletted (packed out with slips of stone) and then lime pointed and a damaged section of the cornice was replaced.

T’awd Abba Well, near Hawsker

WellAlso known as The Old Boiling Well, this feature is probably of 18th century origin and isn’t necessarily that prepossessing. However it was the original spring which fed Whitby Abbey (which helps explain the following rhyme). A plaque on the gable end, now replaced, used to read; 

“T’awd Abba Well (also known as The Old Boiling Well). Lang centuries aback.

This wor t’awd Abba well. Saint Hilda, veiled i’ black. Lang centuries aback.

Supped frey it, an no lack. All t’Sisterhood as well. Lang centuries aback.

This wor t’awd Abba well.”

Are we making a difference?

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer

A couple of days ago I visited part of Bransdale Moor, where a peatland restoration project initiated originally by the National Park Authority was completed a couple of years ago. This is one of a number of sites in the North York Moors where peatland restoration work has been carried out over the last few years.

Funded by Natural England and coordinated by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership*, the work on Bransdale Moor involved blocking grips or drains that had been dug several decades ago to try and drain the moors to improve the land for agriculture. Blocking the drains allows more water to be held on the moorland rewetting the peat. The work also involved helping peatland vegetation to regrow on bare areas. The peat had been eroding badly on these bare areas and within these drains, washing peat and silt into rivers, and destroying our most valuable carbon store and one of our most fragile wildlife habitats.


As with any ecological project, there is always still work to do and we’re determined to do it, but I am hugely encouraged by the signs of recovery there now. Many of the dams in the drains have trapped impressive quantities of peat, preventing it from washing away, and some of the trapped peat is already being colonised by cotton-grass. Even better, bog plants like Sphagnum are growing well on the undamaged ground nearby, despite last summer’s dry weather. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps it is a bit wetter up here than it was before. That really would make a difference, not only for the wildlife on the moors like the golden plovers I heard calling, and the fish and other wildlife which benefit from cleaner rivers downstream, but maybe even the people down below the moorland whose property could be less liable to flood. I do hope so.


* Yorkshire Peat Partnership c/o Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
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In search of Juniper: part 1

Alasdair Fagan – Conservation Graduate Trainee

The intrinsic value of Common Juniper (Juniperus communis subsp. Communis) is significant in both cultural heritage and the natural environment.

Many people may have heard of Juniper due to its use as flavouring for gin (the word “gin” derives from an Old French word meaning “juniper”). In fact juniper has historically had a range of practical uses which includes use of its wood in crafts in mainland Europe, and as a key ingredient in a number of historical traditional herbal medicines. Juniper charcoal was also highly desirable as it provided a fast explosion quality to  resulting gunpowder, for instance at the ‘Low Wood Gunpowder Works’ (1798-1935) in the Leven Valley in Cumbria.

Common Juniper has the most extensive natural global distribution of any woody plant. Its range extends across the Northern Hemisphere and includes North America, Europe, Asia, and consequently is of little conservation concern at a global scale. However, in the United Kingdom juniper numbers have fallen drastically. There is a recognised lack of natural regeneration, which has raised concerns for the future sustainability of Juniper populations throughout England in particular.

Common Juniper  is therefore a priority species for conservation. It is listed as a species “of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity” in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006) under Section 41 (England).

It is a coniferous shrub or tree which is both evergreen and perennial. It often lives to ages over and above 100 years during which time it often grows up to and including 4 metres in height but has been recorded at heights up to 10 metres. It can grow in a diversity of forms including a variety of upright bush profiles, low-growing mats and towering spires.

Characteristic of upland ecosystems (but can be found down to sea level), Juniper is typically found in moorland, heath and woodland (Pine and Birch) systems and can tolerate a variety of habitats including both acidic and alkaline soils. As one of only three conifers native to Britain (together with Yew and Scot’s Pine) you would be forgiven for expecting it to be widespread and ‘common’ as its name would suggest. Unfortunately Juniper has now become a relatively rare sight in the United Kingdom, and in particular in the North York Moors.

As a ‘dioecious’ plant (plants are either male or female, and not both as with many other plant species) both genders must be close enough to one another such that the wind-borne pollen of male plants may reach and pollinate a receptive female. If this is not the case for a population it has no chance of successfully reproducing and will eventually die out.

Ecology

Juniper may not necessarily appear to be visually engaging to the viewer but it holds a considerable significant biological importance.

A characteristic native invertebrate fauna comprising 35 insects and 3 mites are supported by the plant, some of which have specialised habitat requirements and restricted distributions. These include both the Juniper Pug Moth and the Juniper Carpet Moth.

Juniper shoots and ‘berries’ (or modified cones) provide an important source of food for wild birds (such as thrushes, waxwing and fieldfares) and mammals (like voles). In addition, over 40 species of fungi, plus a range of epiphytic lichens and bryophytes, are known to be associated with the plant.

During my time here at the North York Moors National Park Authority I have been tasked with the surveying and monitoring the health and progress of existing and planted Juniper throughout the National Park, a priority species in our Local Biodiversity Action Plan. In my next post I’ll be letting you know how that’s going.