Nature Recovery in National Parks

Briony Fox – Director of Conservation

It is widely recognised that there are significant opportunities in our National Parks to address the dual challenges posed by the climate and biodiversity crises.

Resilient, biodiverse and ecologically functioning landscapes can provide a whole range of environmental and social services which enable wildlife to thrive, protect communities from environmental extremes such as flood, drought and fire and provide opportunities for recreation, enjoyment and employment for visitors and residents alike.

Through National Parks England, we have developed a Delivery Plan for Wildlife, to work together at scale to transform nature’s recovery with enhancements covering 10% of England. Over the next 10 years, we’re committing to delivering a nature recovery programme that:

  • Identifies zones to deliver concentrated habitat enhancement and improved functionality
  • Prioritises species to be safeguarded and re-introduced
  • Increases tree cover and restores peatlands, grasslands, heathlands and other habitats, with the principle of right habitat, right place, right reason
  • Provides nature based solutions to climate change resilience.
  • Restores soil structure and health to improve function (carbon storage and water management)
  • Implements long-term invasive non-native species control programmes
  • Establishes buffer zones and green and blue infrastructure corridors linking our National Landscapes with National and Community Forests, and urban areas to create a genuine national network where everyone can access and experience nature and wildlife at their best.

Most land in National Parks is privately owned – and much of what is special has been created by farming. So we will continue to work through our strong local partnerships to co-create plans for nature with our farmers, landowners, and local communities, as well as our local statutory and voluntary sector partners. Along with farmers, landowners and local communities we know our landscapes intimately and benefit from a wealth of collective expertise – ecologists, planners, environmental scientists and rangers. We can work together to see opportunities to achieve sustainable change that supports the community and identifies investment in nature recovery to help support viable, high nature value, farm businesses.

But we also need the policies, funding and collaboration to support delivery, both locally and nationally. We have been actively working with DEFRA and Ministers to make National Parks part of the backbone of the national nature recovery network and strengthen the role of National Park Management Plans, so they are the local nature recovery strategies for National Parks, and back their implementation with stronger legal status.

To achieve this, we have asked that National Parks to be identified as priority areas for funding within the new scheme for Environmental Land Management (ELM) and we have been working with DEFRA on a range of Tests & Trials and through the Farming in Protected Landscape Programme to ensure that public funding for public goods offers a sustainable funding model delivering mutual benefits for farmers and land managers as well as for nature.

The new National Peat Strategy and English Tree Strategy fully recognise the need for positive action in National Parks and we have asked for a strengthened ‘section 62’ duty to be included in the Environment Bill to place on all public bodies, a clear duty to help deliver the nature recovery network, along with further legislation to create powers to promote and protect nature in National Landscapes on a par with built heritage or road transport.

There must also be an evidence based approach to delivering Nature Recovery and a common template and set of nature recovery indicators to assess the status of nature and natural capital is needed so that recovery can be robustly and confidently measured.

Finally, this work can’t happen without resources; so we continue to champion the necessity for a sustainable finance model blending public, private and 3rd sector funding to enable objectives to be delivered and more importantly, sustained and monitored.

Our new management plan will direct our work in future to achieve our objectives of realising a more resilient and naturally functioning ecosystem, teeming with sustainable, healthy communities of wildlife and working hard to offer a range of ecosystem services to benefit nature and our health and wellbeing.

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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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.