A miscellany of wildlife encounters

During the last few months, alongside everything else that has been going on, there has been the chance for additional up-close and personal nature experiences. Here’s a few from the (mostly) home life of the Conservation Department – some in pictures some in words.

Here’s a stunning patchwork green view that could be seen when looking over towards Whitby from Borrowby while completing a grassland survey. Copyright Victoria Franklin, NYMNPA.

Golden ringed dragonfly being pointed at. Copyright Rachel Pickering, NYMNPA.“A golden ringed dragonfly let both our children [very gently] touch it. For me I guess one of the more striking things about this encounter was that we were in Cropton Forest – part of Forestry England’s ‘commercial conifer forestry’ which some people write off as having no wildlife value. My family and I have spent many happy hours in Cropton Forest during the past couple of months enjoying wildlife and cultural heritage and just for that time not seeing another soul.

There was a nesting blackbird squashed into a hole in a wall in my parent’s potting shed which successful fed and raised a brood of chicks. On our usual dog walk near home we came across a cobweb of small eggar moth caterpillars. We took some home for a week or so and they enjoyed living in our kitchen fed on blackthorn. We let them go back into the hedgerow when we realised that when they form a cocoon they stay in it overwinter and perhaps even for 2 or 3 winters! So much better off back in the hedge.”

“Last week after a dawn bird survey I stumbled across a fantastic small quarry … With three species of orchids; Bee, Butterfly and Fragrant (maybe Chalk Fragrant) … I was as they say Well Chuffed!”

“I’ve been seeing loads of wildlife; it’s photographing the pesky thing’s that’s the problem – for some reason they don’t seem to want to cooperate! There’s the barn owl that’s been hunting at the bottom of the garden and in our neighbour’s field almost every morning and evening for the past couple of months; I’ve seen more badgers this year whilst out running than ever before, including an adult with two cubs; then there’s the hare that’s taken up semi-permanent residence on the lawn; the herd of 10 fallow deer in the barley field next door that I see from the kitchen window most evenings; and I’ve been dived bombed by lapwings when running on the moor above Kepwick.”

“I came across this delightful critter in my garden yesterday – it’s a Nicrophorus Nicrophorus Investigator. Copyright Briony Fox, NYMNPA.Investigator – it is a burying beetle and like other burying beetles they bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and mice as a food source for their larvae. They are common and widespread (although I’ve never seen one before!). They have a very good sense of smell and are reputed to be able to smell a carcass up to two miles away (ewww!). It was quite a big bug – around 2cm long.”

“I had a rather unpleasant wildlife encounter at Falling Foss on Thursday when our friends dog ‘found’ a nest of agitated bees on the path and they swarmed and chased us. I evaded the inevitable but the others all got stung so that wasn’t fun. We did see a toad later on so that made up for it a bit!”

“Me and my family have spent hours watching the wildlife in our garden and in and around the village throughout lockdown, this is my favourite event because I love a happy ending…We have a troop of sparrows who eat their way through a big feeder of bird seed every day. I enjoy watching them line up on twigs waiting for a go and squabbling over the perches on the feeder. They have a dust bath under the hedge often alongside our chickens. The group fledged lots of young and my two children loved watching the fluffy youngsters hanging around under the feeder waiting for attention from their parents. Just before the children’s bath time one day we heard a loud thump on the lounge window. I ran out followed closely by the children and found a stunned just fledged sparrow lying on the ground. I picked up the little bird and we all peered down at her – she opened an eye! We decided to put her in a big cardboard box while the children had their bath and see what happened . . . After the quickest bath on record we opened the box and there she was standing up and looking up at us. The children carried the box out into the garden and off she went back to the troop…”

Swallow Beard - Alasdair wearing a swallow chick. Copyright NYMNPA.“Earlier in the year I had about 50 whooper swans fly low over the house! What a noise! I’ve had a pair of redstarts nesting in the eaves of the house…A pair of swallows built a nest in the chicken coop and the chicks fled the nest early to escape the temperature of a hot day (nest was very close to the tin roof). So I moved the nest, scooped up the chicks and popped them back – one got attached and found comfort under my beard for a while before I popped it back with siblings – happy to say all four have fledged! Good work mum and dad!

Being at home more has meant that I’ve gotten to see the green woodpeckers more often rather than just hearing them ‘yaffling’ in the woods…”

“My main experiences with wasps have mainly been negative…it normally involves providing a glass of sacrificial cider to keep them at bay in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon. They also act as play things for my cats when they invade my house. I don’t know much about wasps but never the less I know how important these little beasties Alex's wasp nibbled bird table. Copyright Alex Cripps, NYMNPA.are, although trying to explain that to anyone outside of the conservation sector can prove challenging. Whilst attempting to tackle my garden I noticed my log bird table had slowly started to shrink, once a solid round log was now two thirds of its size. I assumed I was not feeding the birds enough food and they had taken to destroying my table as a form of protest, until I noticed a wasp happily munching away at the wood. I was unsure why a wasp might have taken a liking to my bird table until I stumbled across an episode of Springwatch where Chris Packham was stood excitingly next to a wasp having a good old munch on his old shed door. I didn’t realise that this ritual was part of the nest building process until seeing that episode, so although my bird table is not as smart of it used to be, it’s great to see nature in action!”

“No major surprises but it’s been a lockdown pleasure to watch goldfinches, tree sparrows, magpies, wood pigeons, doves, crows, etc. pop into the garden and the occasional herring gull pop down to eat any scraps left out and remind me just how big they can get! We also have three cheeky hens who are resident in the back garden…We’ve also had a few visits from hedgehogs in the front garden, including one who popped by at 5pm for a quick snuffle in the soil – we haven’t actually seen a hedgehog in the front garden for quite a few years now, so our late afternoon visitor was quite welcome. There was also some distinctive paw prints left out on the front step one night and we think it had popped back for some more exploration. We’ve also had rabbits in the garden too, probably from the close-by cemetery which is home to a few. Last weekend I joined a small group of friends in a mates back garden to celebrate his birthday and at dusk we had the pleasure of watching the local bats pop out and skitter around the sky for insects – one bat came very close to brushing all of our faces with its wings as it did a loop around the table top! I’m presuming they were common pipistrelles, we have them at home too and they have been a delight to watch.”

“In my tiny garden I’ve had three blackbird nests, one thrush nest, and two robin nests … and the butterfly is a common blue seen in a quarry near my house.”

Ephialtes manifestator. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.“I’ve had lots of red mason bees and leaf cutter bees using my solitary bee ‘hotel’ and holes drilled in the fence. While watching them a few weeks ago, an impressive parasitic ichneumon wasp called ‘Ephialtes manifestator’ visited and started laying eggs in some of the full nesting tubes. I’ve since found out that it’s only the 10th record of this wasp in Yorkshire, so I’m really pleased that I’m helping support these associated parasitic species as well.

More small eggar moth caterpillars. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.I ventured on a few new footpaths not far from home, and on one came across a really nice veteran oak tree. While looking at it, I found a number of deathwatch beetles on it – which this far north are very rare in natural situations (i.e. not eating National Trust properties!) – so were quite an exciting find (for me anyway!).

When lockdown began to ease I spent some time looking for small eggar moth webs in the nearby hedgerows, and have also reared some caterpillars. They’ve all pupated now, but they kept me very busy as they ate an immense amount and needed daily supplies of fresh blackthorn!”

“I saw a hedgehog as I was leaving a site visit in Bilsdale last week, makes a refreshing change to see a live one rather than the many killed on the roads.”

Bilsdale hedgehog. Copyright James Caldwell, NYMNPA.

Not all the species have been rare and not all the locations special – but each encounter made an impression.

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.

A to Z: a variety of Us and Vs

U, V

Underwood

Underwood is a term for trees within historically managed woodland (Silva minuta in the Domesday Book) – the ones grown and managed for common usage such as wattle for buildings, stakes for fencing, and firewood and charcoal for fuel i.e. not for building timber. A managed woodland often included underwood as well as timber trees left to grow big and straight. Underwood is made up of the trees that were coppiced and pollarded over and over again – from early history on to the post medieval period.

The underwood was managed frequently so trees stayed smallish, and their crop of wood was productively harvested much more often than from the timber trees and so the underwood could be worth more than the timber. What is left of the historic underwood can sometimes still be seen within semi natural ancient woodland – look for idiosyncratic-shaped overgrown veteran trees. Because the trees were managed and encouraged to rejuvenate they have lived a lot longer than single timber trees which were felled. They are as much cultural heritage as natural heritage. 

Veteran tree - grown up underwood - in the upper Rye catchment. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whereas oak and beech might be more likely to have been left to become timber trees, the quicker growing underwood species were often more of a mix such as crab apple, holly, service, ash, sallow, hazel, maple, thorn, wych elm, birch. Careful rotation would be needed to give the different species the best chance to flourish and to ensure there was always wood available to the people who had the rights to collect it. The species mix were what came naturally in different parts of the country and what thrived in local conditions.

From the 18th century onwards, as demand altered, the products from underwood became less valuable and timber trees became more so, and therefore the management and species proportions of woodlands changed. During the 20th century predominantly conifer planted woodland for timber prevailed.

Urra

Urra Moor, part of the Cleveland Hills, contains the highest point on the North York Moors – 454 metres above sea level, at Round Hill. There is a lot of prehistoric archaeology in the area – cairns, lithic scatters and a flint arrow head find. Being at the highest point for miles around is always going to be useful for humans as well as significant.

There is some disagreement over where the unusual name Urra comes from. Most simply it might mean hill from the Norse haugr, or it could imply a more impressionistic idea of the darkness and gloom of such a wild barren area and be from the Old English word for dirty – horheht/horhig/horuweg. Try speaking the words without pronouncing most of the consonants.

Trig Point on top of Round Hill, Urra Moor. Copyright NYMNPA.

Obviously it’s not the time to explore Urra Moor, due to the Covid-19 situation. Please do not travel into or around the North York Moors National Park unless this is absolutely essential (essential travel does not include travel for exercise or to second homes and holiday accommodation). The National Park will be here waiting for you to enjoy when it is safe to do so.

Urtica dioica

The European stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is found where there are high amounts of nutrients in the soil and so is usually associated with habitation and other types of development. It is often frowned upon as a ‘pernicious weed’ because it is such a successful perennial that spreads through its rhizomes and runners, out competing other plants. At least it wont be suffocating many wildflowers however as many of those don’t appreciate nutrient rich soils.

Urtica dioica has serrated edged leaves and small grouped flowers. The leaves and stem are covered in hairs the tips of which can deliver a biochemical sting into your skin if touched (Urtica comes from the latin word for burn). This active element may be one of the reasons some people think it has medical efficacy. The plant can be usefully added to compost, and it (as a young plant only) can be used as an ingredient in food and drink, the immediate danger being in the collection rather than the eventual digestion. N.B. Don’t partake of any wild plant unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is and whether it really is edible or not. 

From a biodiversity point of view the nettle is particularly useful as a living plant because it acts as a host for the eggs and then provides vital food for the caterpillar stage for a multitude of butterfly and moth species – including Comma (Polygonia c-album), Peacock (Aglais io), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), Buff Ermine (Spilosoma luteum), Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis), Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae), Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli humuli), Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis), Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum), Snout (Hypena proboscidalis), Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda).

Red Admiral caterpillar on nettle plant. From Butterfly Conervation website.

Verjuice

Verjuice (Verjus) is the liquor that comes from pressing unripe fruit. The word means ‘green juice’ – ‘green’ conveying the tart un-ripeness of the fruit. The fruit used depended on what was available in the region. In and around the North York Moors that would have largely been crab apples, and maybe gooseberries. The fruit would have been pressed/crushed to abstract the liquor. The remaining mush could be fed to animals like pigs. The liquor could be used to flavour food with sourness – it is very acidic, like lemon juice before lemons were widely available, like a mild vinegar or a bad wine – and as medicine or tonic. The Crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris) is native to Britain and the trees were mostly wild in the past, although sometimes used in fencing (i.e. manipulating woody species to create enclosure hedges). In the 19th/early 20th century foraged crab apples were collected along with orchard fruit from the North York Moors to be sent off to jam factories; crab apples have a particularly high level of pectin to help the jam set.

Crab Apple Tree in Tripsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

There are a couple of records of parts of Verjuice presses included in the North York Moors Historic Environment Record (HER 840 and HER 19525). There is also at least one ‘crab mill’ which would have been driven by a horse, conserved as a feature in village of Sutton under Whitestonecliffe on the edge of the Moors. Crab apple trees are much less common than they were, both in the wild and in the hedgerows.

Image of a Crab Mill

Vernacular

Vernacular buildings were domestic and functional. They were ordinary in their time – built out of local materials (what was to hand) using traditional techniques. The vernacular buildings in each area might look similar, but are very rarely identical. It is this local distinctiveness that makes these buildings particularly important nowadays and therefore the best examples are worthy of being listed.  From the 19th century onwards materials became more easily transported around, house building was done on a more uniform and larger scale, architectural techniques and fashions were reiterated across the country – so the term vernacular is mainly used only for pre 19th century buildings..

Vernacular buildings have been described as a component of the landscape and not just because they’re built from materials hoved out of the local geology. The buildings needed an appropriate toughness to withstand the weather.  They are patched up over time to stay useful sometimes these phases of building add to the character sometimes they might deflect. But vernacular buildings,  whether they’re listed or not, always have a connection back to the people who built them, lived in them, drank in them, kept their animals in them. 

In the North York Moors vernacular buildings that still stand are mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. The most typical are built from sandstone and clay pantiles. Around Whitby cut ashlar blocks and quoins (corner stones) are common instead, and along the south edge of the Moors buildings are often built out of mixed rubble and quoins or sometimes gritstones/limestone. Materials were often re-used; after the Dissolution (mid 16th century) new or repaired buildings around some of the dissolved Abbeys and Priories of the North York Moors ended up a characterful mix of the vernacular and the spectacular.

Whereas it can be easy to see why stately homes, churches and castles are listed (protected for the nation), it can be more difficult to identify which of the many vernacular buildings of England should be listed too. Historic England have a series of Listing Selection Guides.

Vernacular building (not listed), after repairs - Raisdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … ABCDEF, GHI, J, KL, M, N, O, PQRS, T

Much Ado About Mothing

Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer

MOTH NIGHT

Records generated from moth trapping with light traps by amateurs naturalists all over the UK is the main way conservationists can understand how moth numbers are changing. N.B. The moths are subsequently released unharmed. While many enthusiasts moth trap year round, Moth Night is an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland aimed at raising awareness of moths among the general public. It is organised by Atropos, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Usually held in the summer months, this year it is being held from 26-28 September to target the spectacular (in appearance and in name) Clifden Nonpareil, and other late summer migrants moths.

The records generated from Moth Night, and from all other moth trapping is useful to conservation. While declines in large and ‘charismatic’ species are regularly reported in mainstream media, insects are often forgotten. For example in the UK, Butterfly Conservation reported habitat specialist butterflies (26 species) to have declined by 77% since monitoring was started in 1976, while more generalist butterflies (24 species) decreased by 46%. This is unfortunately also seen on a global scale, with 40% of insect species declining, and a third classified as endangered. It’s also not just the numbers, but the biomass, with the total mass of insects falling by 2.5% a year – suggesting an unsustainable future for populations.

The more we know about insects, the more we can do to try and save them. Below are a few images of moths recently seen within and around the North York Moors, including our own brilliant Clifden Nonpareil – the first time this moth has been seen in Yorkshire for many years.

Further Reading/References
Insect Armageddon: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/insect-armageddon
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

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

 

A to Z: a multiplicity of Ms

M

MAGNETITE

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

Rosedale - copyright Colin Dilcock, NYMNPA

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

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

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

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

This Exploited Land of Iron logos

MESOTROPHIC LAKES

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

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

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

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

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

MILKY WAY

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

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

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

February 27 1920   The mysterious stars

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

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

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

MINI-BEASTS

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

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

MOSCHATEL Adoxa Moschatellina

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

Moschatel at Sieve Dale. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

MOTTE AND BAILEY

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

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

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

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

MOTHS

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

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

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

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!

All creatures, great and very small…

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Bugs – do you love them, or hate them?

Skipper butterfly - Kirsty BrownI love them. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve been keen to have some random creature in my hand, and because of their usual accessibility and small size, these creatures have usually been insects.

Larval stage

Growing up in Houston in the USA, magical fireflies blinking at dusk were amongst the first to take my fancy, and I’d happily gather them gently into my bug-barn (as built by my Dad) and watch their eerie green glow. They sometimes accompanied me on the yellow school bus to take pride of place during show-and-tell. The large, green tomato horn worms (hawkmoth caterpillar) were also a favourite of mine to collect. I guess I must have been reasonably cautious in my collecting as, despite the many poisonous/stinging/biting/hairy creatures around Houston and picked up on various camping trips in the Rocky Mountains, I am happy to say I am still alive, intact, and fascinated!

Six-spot Burnet Moth - Kirsty Brown

When my family later moved to Eglwysbach in North Wales, my bug-barn was constantly filled with a variety of invertebrates, though I soon discovered snails didn’t make good guests, as they slimed up the inside, creating a sticky trap for my next ‘pet’. Gerald Durrell’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ was a great source of inspiration. Although there weren’t quite so many bright and shiny insects here compared with the USA, I raised caterpillars – impressive mini-snake-like Elephant Hawk moths, fluffy Yellow-Tail moths, and notorious Cabbage White butterflies – poring over bug books to determine their food-plants, life cycles and characteristics, watching as the caterpillars turned into chrysalises, and the magical metamorphosis into butterflies and moths. I also kept stick insects in a tank and ants in an ant-farm (which was not quite escape proof, to my mother’s delight!).

Pupation and Adult stages

At University, my dissertation was on seaweed flies – ironic because being at the University of Leicester, I was pretty far from the coast! Following graduation from University, I secured a job with a company near Edinburgh, and identified over 70,000 invertebrates as part of a project studying insect growth regulators. These insecticides disrupt pest insect development, and had been applied to livestock. The study assessed for any effect on beneficial invertebrates in the field, with particular attention paid to dung and those insects such as dung beetles and dung flies, which help break it down. I usually had the whole laboratory to myself, due to the wonderful aroma.

I’ve also worked at the Central Science Laboratory (now Fera), and helped raise a variety of invertebrates, including springtails, cabbage white butterflies, lacewings, soil mites and Eisenia fetida (tiger or compost worms). The worms were kept in huge containers, about 4x3m in size, filled with soil, and we fed them with oats, lettuce and Matilda the Mantis - Kirsty Brownother vegetable matter. Each summer, I identified aphids as part of the Aphid Monitoring Scheme, to help farmers decide whether insecticide sprays were required, as several species are vectors for plant diseases. I also kept a ‘pet’ praying mantis, whose head swivelled as she watched me with her huge iridescent eyes…

Insects continued to be a theme when I joined the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as a trainee. I was able to delve into the identification of our native British species, and learned about the threats from habitat fragmentation and climate change. And now I’m working for the North York Moors National Park Authority.

At the North York Moors National Park, I see a great diversity of invertebrates almost every time I venture out to grant aid the restoration of walls and hedges, and to advance our habitat connectivity programme. This summer has been warm and dry, and so has been particularly good for butterflies and moths.

Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle - Kirsty BrownOne of our regular volunteers found a lovely Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle up at Sutton Bank when we were surveying the species rich grassland. The beetle was particularly interesting as they are usually found in the south of England and not this far north.

Another unusual beetle is the strange red-breasted Red-Breasted Carrion Beetle, Oiceoptoma thoracicum - Kirsty Browncarrion beetles, which we found near Lockton, on some dung.

The lovely red-headed cardinal beetle and coppery click-beetle, are amongst the prettier beetles to be found in this area.

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis - Kirsty BrownCoppery Click Beetle, Ctenicera cuprea - Kirsty Brown

 

 

 

 

Even on holiday…

Costa Rica has proved to be an excellent holiday destination for someone interested in entomology. I saw a click beetle with glowing ‘eyes’ in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a terracotta-coloured longhorn beetle posed for a picture, and during a night walk, I photographed a most incredible web-casting spider. A scorpion also decided to bed down for the night in our suitcase…I couldn’t have been more delighted.Scorpion in suitcase, Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown

Leaf scale bug in Costa Rica - Kirsty BrownOrb web spider in Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown  Tiny mantis in Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown

 

 

Longhorn beetle in Costa Rica - Kirsty BrownMoths in Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown Net casting spider in Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown

 

 

Rhinoceros beetle in Costa Rica - Kirsty Brown

On a trip this summer to Gran Canaria, I couldn’t help photographing some of the local insects, though this huge robber fly got a bit close to my head, even for my liking! Robber flies ambush other flying insects, and even eat bees.

Robber fly, Asilidae sp in Gran Canaria - Kirsty Brown

Never ending fascination

Over the summer, I attended the Royal Entomological Society’s European Congress of Entomology, in York. The speakers were world-class, and discussed all sorts of issues such as controlling mosquitoes to rid the world of malaria, stepping in to help the last few endemic water beetles trapped in the Sierra Nevada as Spain becomes hotter and drier with climate change, and how incredibly useful Citizen Science has become through websites and apps such as iSpot.

I know I can’t go for a walk without carefully lifting (and replacing!) various stones and logs, to see what I might find. You might be the same. You might like to have a go at building a bug hotel in your garden, then you can attract your own local mini-beasts.

Green Tiger Beetle, Cicindela campestris - Kirsty Brown

We have our own North York Moors National Park wildlife recording system, and we’re always keen to know what people have seen so we can build up a picture of what is about in the North York Moors. The information you give will help us conserve these amazing and vital creatures.

Hoverfly, Syrphus ribesii- Kirsty Brown

We have our own Discovery Days, here in the National Park – the next one is 29 October 2014. If you’d like to get more involved with bugs in the United Kingdom, the Amateur Entomological Society and Buglife have lots of information, activities and events. Watch out for National Insect Week events, such as bio-blitzes.

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar,Lasiocampa quercus - Kirsty Brown

There is no getting away from it, I love bugs.

Linking up Landscapes and Volunteers

Gallery

This gallery contains 30 photos.

Ami Walker – Conservation Land Manager Adviser    The objectives of the Linking Landscapes (Habitat Connectivity) Project are to ensure that the best bits of habitat in the National Park are as good as they can be, and to extend … Continue reading

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.