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

The Winter King

Paul Thompson – Ryevitalise Programme Officer

Trees give us so much – visually from a landscape perspective, environmentally by cleaning the air producing oxygen and storing carbon, and emotionally as spending time in a woodland is said to boost our immune system and have a restorative effect on our mental wellbeing.  They have also had a leading role in our cultural heritage and seasonal festivals for thousands of years.

At this time of year there is one tree in particular that stands out in hedgerows and woodlands across the land – relishing the freezing temperatures, still in leaf and adorned with bright red berries, it’s the humble holly tree (Ilex aquilarium).

Close up of holly. Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

Image of Old Father Christmas with a holly crown and a yule log on his back. From Wikipedia.This species’ highly recognisable spiky, waxy leaves contain cells with anti-freeze properties and were historically used as winter forage for sheep, while the berries now continue to provide food and shelter for migrating fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes. Pagan folklore has the Holly as the Winter King ruling over the cold winter months and providing food and shelter for wildlife during this crucial time, while the warmer half of the year is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King; the two doing battle at the spring and autumn equinox to regain their crown. It is suggested that the origins of Father Christmas hail from the idea of the Holly King, traditionally dressed in evergreen.

The Romans gave boughs of holly to friends during the festival of Saturnalia – a celebration of Saturn and the winter solstice, later christianised to make Christmas. Christian mythology had it that holly sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, “the leaves’ spines representing the crown of thorns and the red berries the drops of his blood”. The name holly derives from “holy tree”; Jesus’ cross was said to have been made from holly wood. From medieval times holly was being used to decorate churches and people’s homes during the festival of Christmas, and it wasn’t until Victorian times that conifer trees started to take centre place thanks to Prince Albert.

In the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme area we are lucky to have some of the largest specimens of holly in the UK.

Holly Tree in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Birch Wood nature reserve in Bilsdale. Copyright Paul Thompson, NYMNPA.

We also have some fantastic veteran and ancient oak trees in the Ryevitalise area; indeed one of the largest collections of ancient oak trees in northern England.  These arboricultural giants are home to one of the rarest mammals in the UK, the alcathoe bat. The presence of alcathoe bat was reaffirmed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) who were commissioned to carry out research into the distribution of bat populations as part of the development of the Ryevtialise scheme. The River Rye riparian corridors and adjoining hedgerows provide feeding super-highways for bat species. Ryevitalise will be expanding on this research through a citizen science project that will train up and empower the local community to monitor both the local bat and veteran tree populations to ensure they are valued and continue to thrive in our landscape.

If you would like to find out more about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership, upcoming volunteer opportunities and events please keep an eye on our website pages.

Ryevitalise logo

A to Z: a troupe of Ts

T

TEMPLARS

Most people have probably heard of the Knights Templar, mediaeval military monks best known for their Order being forcefully suppressed.

The sole purpose of the Order was to protect pilgrims, and that meant supporting knights in the Holy Land which required money. Along with many monastic orders the Knights Templar were good at making and managing money to fund themselves and their work. Nobles were particularly happy to endow military orders with gifts and property as a way to win favour with God, because they shared a common interest in the noble art of fighting. A mix of Papal and Regal authority granted the Templars immunity to local jurisdiction and taxation, putting them beyond the law.

The Templars were pan European and had a network of estates in England. One of these holdings was the Manor of Westerdale in the north west of the North York Moors, which was gifted to the Knights Templar in 1203 by Guy de Bonaincurt. There are also records of additional gifts from other landowners in the wider area, at Kildale, Ingleby Arncliffe, Pinchinthope, and Broughton. At Westerdale a preceptory was founded – a preceptory is a military order’s equivalent of a monastery – and the land put to good use producing income. It’s not known where the buildings and granges were, suggestions include Westerdale Hall and there are earthworks at two sites towards the head of the dale. 

The Knights Templar Order consisted of Knight Brothers (you had to already be a knight), Sergeants/Serving Brothers, and Chaplains. Then there were the lay servants to do most of the work. There wouldn’t have been knights at Westerdale, but there would no doubt have been servants farming the land. When the Order was surpressed the Manor was recorded as being 1,182 acres and producing £37 of annual income.

The Order didn’t long survive the end of the Crusades in the Holy Land. Pope Clement V issued a bull in 1307 telling all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest Templars and seize their assets. The dissolution in England was drawn out and non-violent. The Manor of Westerdale was taken by the crown in 1311 or 1312 and then held until it was either given or sold to the Knight Hospitallers (the other major military order) in 1338. Two hundred years later it went back to the crown during the Reformation..

TEMPLE MOORE (1856 – 1920)

The fantastically named Temple Lushington Moore was a celebrated Victorian/Edwardian architect, particularly renowned for his ecclesiastical commissions both inside and out. He conceived new churches* and restored/rebuilt churches**, many of which are now listed. He also designed decorative church fixtures such as screens, windows, reredos, lecterns, and pulpits.

Moore’s style was Late Gothic Revival with its focus on the mediaeval: for example pointed arches, buttresses, vaulted ceilings, ornamentation and decoration.

There was a lot of new building/rebuilding of Anglican churches at this time; to serve the growing urban populations and to rival the pull of the evangelical low church congregations. The Gothic Revival style linked directly with the high church tractarian movement at the end of the 19th century. The exaggerated style presented an idealised medieval past in reaction to mechanisation and industrialisation. The enthusiasm for the style itself could sometimes result in the destruction or diminishing of original mediaeval elements of the buildings being ‘restored’.

Temple Moore worked on a number of commissions in and around the North York Moors and elsewhere in Yorkshire which earned the appellation for his work of ‘gothic with a Yorkshire accent’.

*New Churches in/around the North York Moors
St Aiden, Carlton
St Botolph, Carlton in Cleveland
St John the Evangelist, Bilsdale Midcable
St James the Greater, Lealholm
St Mary Magdalene, East Moors

**Restored/rebuilt Churches in/around the North York Moors
St Chad, Sproxton
St Augustine, Kirkby
St Oswald, Newton upon Roseberry
St Hilda, Danby
St Nicholas, Guisborough
St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale
St Mary, Church Houses, Farndale
St Mary Magdalene, Faceby
St Mary, Rievaulx

TREE PRESERVATION ORDERS

The North York Moors has a statutory claim to fame, because one of the first Tree Preservation Orders in England was served in the village of Sinnington. It was served to protect an area of woodland known as The Stripe to the north of the village. It was an ‘interim’ TPO made under the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act of 1943.

This Act was followed up a few years later by the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. This legislation looked to build a new country, depending on receiving permission. It aimed to control development and protect the best elements such as buildings with special architectural or historic interest as well as trees and woodland, the natural equivalent of the buildings. Where trees or woodland might be under threat and those trees or woodland had an identified amenity value – that is they mattered to local people and the wider landscape – a Tree Preservation Order could be served. Also in 1947 came the Hobhouse Report which recommended the creation of National Parks; however the thing about Tree Preservation Orders is they can be used anywhere not just in protected landscapes, because any tree can be special.

Tree Preservation Orders are still a useful part of planning legislation, most recently reiterated in the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 2012.

TREE SPARROWS

Many people would recognise the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), a common visitor to garden bird tables and feeders. Less often seen is the smaller Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), a shyer bird that can be distinguished by its chestnut brown cap and black cheek spots.

The Tree Sparrow has suffered a substantial decline in recent decades with a 93% population decrease between 1970-2008. They are therefore on the Red List for conservation concern.

Tree Sparrows make use of cavities in trees and old buildings to nest in. They will also build their own nests within thick hedges. During the 1970s and 80s many elm trees were lost to Dutch elm disease which reduced the availability of nesting holes for this and other species. Alternatively, they will make use of nest boxes – projects aiming to expand Tree Sparrow populations place several nest boxes close together as the birds like to live in colonies.

A good habitat for Tree Sparrows is mixed farmland where small woodlands, scrubby hedgerows, cereal crops and dead trees can be found together. Aquatic invertebrates are a good food source for their young so farmland ponds are also valuable features. Young chicks are fed on insects to provide them with the minerals they need to develop their bones. Seeds and cereals, such as wheat and barley, are also part of the Tree Sparrow diet.

The southern edge of the North York Moors is a good area for Tree Sparrows, villages such as Hackness, Staintondale, Newton-upon-Rawcliffe and Lockton all have Tree Sparrow populations.

Close up of Tree Sparrow - RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/old-world-sparrows/

TWAYBLADES

There are two types of Twayblades: Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) and Lesser Twayblade (Neottia cordata). These are orchids, not the blousy bright orchids but much more subtle and discreet.  Both have one upright stalk with small clusters of flowers at the top. The Common Twayblade has tiny yellow/green flowers and can grow up to 60 cm tall, the Lesser Twayblade has tiny reddish flowers and grows up to 20 cm. The name Twayblade comes from Old English words for two leaves, because Twayblades have one pair of leaves except sometimes they don’t, sometimes there is a third leaf. Common Twayblade are much more adaptable than Lesser Twayblades, growing in neutral/calcareous grassland and woodland. Lesser Twayblades favour acid soil so are found in wet Ancient Woodland and on wet heath. They’re pollinated by tiny insects e.g. flies for Common Twayblade, even smaller gnats for Lesser Twayblade. They both smell, however whereas the Common Twayblade has a gentle sweetish smell, the Lesser Twayblade produces a smell like rotting flesh which humans find unpleasant but gnats like. Both plants produce tiny seeds like dust, but they can also spread through rhizomes from their roots. As well as diminishing habitat, one of the other reasons for Twayblades being relatively rare is because they take such a long time to grow up, it can take a Common Twayblade 15 years to mature enough to flower.

Close up of Common Twayblade flowers, Monks Dale in Derbyshire copyright RWD from wildflowerfinder.org.uk. The tiny flowers are said to look like tiny people if you look carefully..

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q, R, S 

Hedgerow equations

Large parts of the North York Moors have either no field boundaries (open moorland) or have drystone walls as boundaries (upland tops and slopes), but round the edges of the area and in the farmland dales there are often hedgerows. A large number of these hedges will have existed for years, but they’re not considered ‘ancient’ unless they’re older than 1700, just like Ancient Woodland.

Hedgerows of course are made out of trees and shrubs just like woodland but are otherwise culturally and ecologically distinctive. Hedgerows have long been a man-made feature of landscapes – boundaries to keep things in as well as out. In other parts of England there are hedgerows that are thought to date back over a millennium. This is not so likely in the North York Moors. Many hedgerows here probably just date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a lot of enclosure and land ‘improvement’ going on, here as elsewhere in the country.

Old roadside hedgerow, Bilsdale. Copyright Ami Hudson, NYMNPA.

Hedgerows have been created through one or more of these three methods – original planting/transplanting, allowing uncultivated field edges to grow up, or by leaving a ‘ghost’/edge of a removed woodland. A curved hedge suggests a ghost hedge because natural woodlands are more likely to have had curved not straight edges, whereas constructed boundaries are often as straight as possible.

Ancient hedges share Ancient Woodland herbaceous ground flora such as Wood anemone, Sweet woodruff and Golden saxifrage. There is also a well-known ‘rule’ (Hooper’s Law) sometimes used to estimate the age of a hedge by counting the number of established woody species over a 30 yard/30 metres stretch or preferably an average over a series of stretches. The equation is then Age = no of species in a 30 yard stretch (or average number) x 110 + 30 years.

Whereas an enclosure hedge (18th/19th century) will have one or two species, a pre Norman Conquest hedge might have more than ten species. However such ancient hedges would have been an unlikely feature in the ‘wastes’ of the North York Moors recorded in the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th century.

Managed hedgerow, Glaisdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Like all rules there is bound to be exceptions. Hooper’s Law relies on the hedgerow being mainly naturally colonised, not planted 30 years ago by a biodiversity enthusiast. Also any hedgerow adjoined to or close-by woodlands are more likely to be colonised at different rate than another hedge. In the end it’s probably best to use other evidence of dating, such as maps and records, as well.

Although original hedgerows may have been planted and laid to incorporate existing older trees it would be difficult to keep such trees alive, and therefore much more likely that in-boundary trees were planted at the same time as a hedge or added later. The first edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch mapping includes individual in-field and in-boundary trees. For the North York Moors area these maps are usually from the 1890s. The presence of a mapped in-boundary tree suggests that boundary was a hedge rather than wall or fence at that time.

Since the middle of the 20th century the amount of hedgerow in the country as well as the number of boundary trees has been reduced. Machinery meant it became easy enough to remove a hedgerow, and to maximise the cutting of hedgerows. At the moment the cultural and ecological importance of hedgerows is valued and lately there have been efforts to use agri-environment schemes to encourage good practice management and to use the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations to control removal.

Briar rose in an old hedgerow. Copyright NYMNPA.

* This is the list of species which count towards Hooper’s Law. The species listed grow in a wide variety of habitats across the country, only some of these would ever have been used in and around the North York Moors. As it is currently winter, identifying different species is particularly difficult and therefore maybe more fun.

Alder Cherry-plum Hornbeam Sallow
Apple incl crab apple Dogwood Lime – ordinary, pry Service
Ash Elder Maple Spindle
Beech Elm – Wych, English, East Anglian, Cornish, Dutch/Huntingdon etc Oak – pedunculated, sessile Sycamore
Blackthorn Furze Pine Wayfaring-tree
Briar (three named species) Guelder-rose Plum incl bulace Whitebeam
Broom Hawthorn – ordinary, woodland Poplar – aspen, blackwhite, grey Willow – crack, white
Buckthorn Hazel Privet (wild) Yew
Cherry Holly Rowan

Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

There are few more rewarding things in life than creating new habitat for wildlife and then watching with delight as birds and other animals move in.

What would make it extra special would be hearing a Turtle Dove sing its beautiful purring song.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

A major part of our HLF funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project involves working with land managers to create exactly the right feeding opportunities for Turtle Doves. The National Park and the Project have a brand new grant aimed at providing flower rich plots from which Turtle Doves can feed on a natural seed source.

We are really pleased that this autumn 11 farm businesses have established 17 Turtle Dove flower plots covering a total of five hectares within our project area. This is a great start and it’s very exciting that so many land managers are keen to help; however we need many more if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.

The pioneering 11 includes a wide range of landowners and tenants such as our first community Turtle Dove reserve in Sawdon village sown by the local community and primary school, Ampleforth Plus Social Enterprise, the Danby Moors Farming and Wykeham Farm businesses, and Hanson Quarry near Wykeham.

Sawdon Community Group, with Richard on the right - celebrating the first community Turtle Dove plot with a mug of tea!. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sown plots are needed because many of the wild flowers that provide seed such as Common Fumitory and Birds-foot Trefoil are no longer common in the arable landscape which is one of the major reasons Turtle Doves are now at risk of extinction. The plots will also support a range of other scarce arable plants such as the locally rare Shepherd’s Needle. We are working with the local Cornfield Flowers Project – Into the Community to make sure we provide available ground for many naturally occurring but declining local flowers.

Common Fumitory - showing the seeds which Turtle Doves feed on. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

These new plots will not only provide habitat for Turtle Doves they will also provide valuable for a whole range of declining farmland birds. Grey Partridge feed their chicks on invertebrates and need open fallow land rich in small insects. Our flower plots are sown at a very light sowing rate to leave a good proportion of the plot shallow which allows access for Partridge and other birds such as Yellowhammers searching for insects in the summer.

If you have arable or temporary grassland on your farm and you would like to help Turtle Doves please get in touch to find out more about the grant and payments on offer. Contact us or call the National Park’s Conservation Department 01439 772700.

A to Z: a slew of Ss

S

SAINTS

A number of saints are associated with the North York Moors. Geographical associations can sometimes be found in the name of parish churches dedicated to particular saints, like St Oswald’s, St Cuthbert’s or St Hilda’s, all Anglo-Saxon celebrities when the north east of England was particularly important for the celtic branch of Christianity before the church in England romanized. Not all saints are Anglo-Saxon, it’s just that quite a lot of them are in Britain, many awarded sainthood before canonization became more centrally organised.

The full name of the church in the village of Oswaldkirk (which means Oswald’s Church) is the Church of St Oswald, King and Martyr. St Oswald (died 642) was a King of Northumbria, the kingdom included most of Yorkshire at one time or another. Oswald converted to Christianity as a young man in exile on the island of Iona, a hotbed of celtic Christianity whilst the rest of Britain was mostly pagan. He regained his kingdom as a Christian and then made it his mission to spread the new religion. He died in battle against pagan Mercians in 642, hence the title of Martyr. His body was supposedly cut up in a pagan ritual, but this meant his body parts were them disseminated across the country, and even onto the continent, as inspirational Christian relics.

St Cuthbert (died 687) was a monk for most of his life, he was the Prior on Lindisfarne before he gave it up to become a hermit on one of the nearby Inner Farne islands. After his death he became a very popular saint widely venerated across the north of England and beyond, probably because of his steadfastness and asceticism as well as his holiness. Over 400 years later he was said to have had an incorrupt corpse when dug up, which always makes an impression. St Aiden (died 651) was the first Prior on Lindisfarne and seems to have had a similar character and calling to Cuthbert, but he ended up partly eclipsed by his successor in the saint popularity stakes. Although there are many St Cutchbert’s Churches round and about the Norht York Moors, but only one within, at Kildale. But there are two St Aidan’s, in Oswaldkirk and in Carlton.

St Hilda (died 680) as an Abbess had status in the Christian hierarchy which gave her authority and influence in her lifetime, her personal qualities meant that continued after her death. She was an advocate of education, and her own wisdom was greatly valued. She was first an Abbess at Hartlepool before re-founding the Abbey of Whitby (not the current ruin), where monks and nuns lived separately but worshipped together. She hosted the important Synod of Whitby in 663/4 at which it was decided that the future of the English church should be Roman. Like Cuthbert, after her death Hilda was widely venerated in the north of England. There are St Hilda’s Churches in Ampleforth, Beadlam, Danby and Hinderwell – which is a derivation of the name Hilda’s well.

The church in Lastingham is named after St Chad but it is St Cedd, his brother, who is buried in the crypt. St Cedd (died 664) was an important person in the hierarchy of the Anglo-Saxon church, as well as founding a monastery at Lastingham he evangelized all over England and was known as the bishop of the East Saxons i.e. Essex. St Chad (died 672) succeeded him as Abbot of Lastingham but spent much of his time converting the re-occuring Mercians in the midlands of England. Both brothers learned their ‘trade’ on Lindisfarne before being sent out by various Christian kings of Northumbria to convert the pagans in the rest of England. There are also St Chad’s Churches in Sproxton and Hutton le Hole.

St Caedmon (died 680) is a particularly local saint, he was possibly a herdsman from Whitby before he became a monk at Whitby Abbey whilst Hilda was the Abbess. He never had a position of authority like the other saints mentioned, he did however have a gift for composing poetry in the vernacular which illustrated Christian stories and ideas, so helping to spread the faith. One thing to note is that there are no churches dedicated to St Caedmon, but he does get to patronise a school in Whitby.

SEGMENTED EMBANKED PIT ALIGNMENTS

Segmented Embanked Pit Alignments (SEPA) are an historic earthwork feature of the north east of the North York Moors, identified by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as a specific type of monument in the 1990s. Previously this type of feature had been classed as a double pit alignment – two lines of pits marking a boundary. A SEPA earthwork however is made up of two or three pairs of pits inside two parallel enclosing banks largely made from the spoil from the pits, these are generally in what appear to be conjoined segments. The segmentation suggests development over time rather than a linear structure created in one go as a land boundary.

In each case the SEPAs appear to be aligned with nearby Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds), which suggest the SEPA are Bronze Age too and could have had a related ritual purpose. The alignment of all the SEPAs is north-west to south-east. This alignment seems to have taken precedence to any alignment with the barrows. The parallel banks were oddly low, which means the earthworks were not prominent in the landscape when they were constructed, unlike the barrows.

No similar features have been identified in the rest of Britain. SEPAs are therefore particularly important and are now scheduled along with their associated barrows. There are three locations of SEPA earthworks within ten miles of each other – on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor (SM 1020351), on Danby Rigg (SM 1018782) and on Ugthorpe Moor (SM 1016532 and SM 1016533). Graham Lee, our previous Archaeological Conservation Officer, believes there is also a SEPA monument near to Boltby aligned to a nearby scheduled round barrow (SM 1010343).

SEPA on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor - the ranging rod is in one of the pits. Copyright NYMNPA.

SHEEP

Sheep are the main stock animal farmed in the North York Moors. According to Defra’s June 2016 agricultural census returns, there were 296,120 sheep in the National Park at that time, five and a half times the number of cattle. Why the pastures, grasslands and moors of the North York Moors are used for sheep is based on current economics and a couple of centuries of custom. Sheep can manage on open moorland for a lot of the year without much input if they’re hefted – which means when a flock keeps to a certain part of an area because of learnt behaviour, rather than needing fencing. But just like there are a variety of different habitats and landscapes in the North York Moors, there are a variety of different sheep breeds and farming methods, and not all North York Moors sheep spend summer amongst the heather.

Blackface sheep on moorland. Copyright NYMNPA.

One of the main breeds in the North York Moors are Blackface. Blackface sheep are hardy and easily hefted, so good on northern hills. Mixing sheep breeds to develop sheep that best suit local conditions and to accentuate their best commercial features is an ongoing endeavour amongst sheep farmers. A mule is a cross breed sheep, mixing the qualities of a Blackface sheep with a more commercial breed either for wool or for meat.

Ram, ewe and lamb are common enough descriptive nouns for sheep, but there are a lot more you’ll need to know if you want to talk sheep with a North York Moors farmer. For instance a tup is another name for a ram, a wether is a castrated male lamb, a hog is an older lamb more than a year old, a gimmer is an older lamb which will be used for breeding.

North York Moors sheep flock. Copyright NYMNPA.

If you want to find out more about sheep, and who wouldn’t – have a look at the National Sheep Association’s very informative website.

SMUGGLING and other criminal enterprises

The North York Moors has high cliffs, sheltered coves and small fishing villages on its eastern coastal edge. So ideal for people with boats in the 17th to 19th centuries  to bring in comestibles whilst avoiding being made to pay custom and excise duties due to the government. This smuggling was never on the scale of that in the south of England because of the distance from the continent, but there were local opportunities for small boats to go out to sea and collect goods from passing ships.

The fact that the terrain of the North York Moors and distance from authority meant it was difficult to collect duties plus the fact that many people didn’t want to pay the duties, together meant organised criminal enterprise was rife. There weren’t very many ways of making money, smuggling was one, as long as you weren’t caught and potentially transported or executed.

Goods were landed, held in coastal villages and farms, and then distributed, all the while the Customs and Excise Officers tried to prevent this with varying enthusiasm and results. The British Government used money from duties to help finance numerous wars in Europe and so always wanted to collect as much money as possible because wars are always expensive. Customs were levied on imported foreign goods (charged at recognised ports) and excise was levied on domestic production.

Such widespread smuggling reached a peak of activity at the beginning of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic Wars. It wasn’t all brandy, silk and tea however, another comestible which suffered from a high rate of tax was salt, both home produced and imported. The Wagon and Horses Inn, just north of the Hole of Horcum, was surrounded by treacherous and secretive moorland, it was also alongside the main road across the moors connecting the coast around Whitby and the south to Pickering, York and beyond. The name of the inn underlines the importance of the location for transportation, and because of this location it became a criminal hub. Untaxed salt was held at the inn, fisherman from the coast would bring in their fish to be salted and then moved on to be sold. Salted fish could be transported more widely and therefore could make more profit, as long as the salt was untaxed. Everyone knew what was happening and there were frequent raids by Excise Officers. The story goes that on one occasion a single Excise Officer managed to catch the felons by surprise, and he ended up murdered. Elements of stories then got muddled up together. The body is supposed to have been buried under the fire place, a tradition was established that the fire should never be allowed to got out else the devil would arise or the ghost of the murdered man would seek revenge or more prosaically the body might be discovered.

Later the Wagon and Horses was renamed the Saltersgate Inn, the wider site is now called Saltergate. It’s obvious what the first part of the name signifies, and the word ‘gate’ means a road. The Saltersgate Inn recently fell into dereliction, it is due to be demolished and the site redeveloped. So far no body has been found.

SOCIAL CAPITAL

Social capital is defined by Wikipedia as a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central; transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation; and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.

We’ve recently helped a PhD student from Bangor University by putting him in touch with North York Moors Farmers willing to answer questions about what it is that motivates them to engage (or not) with high nature value farming and/or agri-environment schemes.

The research being undertaken is aiming to identify social capital types within farmer groups. It is recognised that there will be significant impacts on farming communities, especially upland livestock farmers, as a result of agriculture policy changes post-Brexit. So having an understanding of how resilient communities are and how able they are to adapt to change will be valuable in the design and potential success of future land management schemes seeking to deliver environmental outcomes. An aim of this research is to try and understand whether high levels of social capital are a driver that encourages a farmer’s participation in high nature value farming and/or engagement in agri-environment schemes? whether a farmer’s participation leads to greater levels of social capital? or are there other drivers that come into play?  Whatever conclusions are drawn from this research, one thing is certain – there must have been some very interesting conversations being had around farmhouse kitchen tables over the past few weeks!

SUNDEW

On particularly wet peaty acidic areas of moorland you might find Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia. It grows low to the ground with upright stems and small white flowers in the summer. Sundews use photosynthesis like many plants to make glucose for energy, but plants also tend to need nutrients and minerals usually obtained by their roots from the soil they grow in. But the wet soils on which this species live have few nutrients and minerals because these have leached away. Many plants would find this habitat too inhospitable but Drosera rotundifolia has a proactive solution to supplementing its diet. It has leaves with sticky inward curving hairs in which unsuspecting insects get trapped when they come to look for nectar, and are then slowly digested by enzymes. It is one of a number of carnivorous plants across the world.

Round-leaved sundew, Bransdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q, R

An exceptional bog

Last year the Land of Iron commissioned an eco-hydrological assessment of Fen Bog(s) by consultants (Sheffield Wetland Ecologists).  An eco-hydrological assessment examines the workings of a water system and its wider ecosystems. Sunday was International Bog Day so to celebrate the complexity and variety of bogs – here is a very very simplified overview of that assessment. Any misunderstanding or misinterpretation is all mine.

View over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Background

Fen Bog(s) is at the top end of the Newtondale glacial channel in the east of the North York Moors. It’s part of the Newtondale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the majority of it is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Most of the site is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, other parts are owned by the National Park Authority, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Duchy of Lancaster.

Fen Bog(s) is a large peatland/wetland site, and according to the report “is of exceptional biological, palaeo-ecological and telmatological (to do with bogs) interest, especially as there are no comparable examples in the region or, indeed, in most of England”.

The bog happens to be within the boundary of the Land of Iron Landscape Partnership Scheme. The scheme focuses on the landscape area impacted on by the short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway development in the North York Moors. Intriguingly part of the Fen Bog(s) site has been subject to long-term modification since the Whitby–Pickering Railway line (now belonging to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) was built alongside/across the site. The Partnership commissioned the report in order to get an holistic assessment of the existing data (of which there is a lot), and to identify the gaps and address these through additional field investigations, with the aim of increasing the understanding of the eco-hydrological functioning of Fen Bog(s) in order to help inform future management decisions. This management needs to conserve and restore its environmental value as well as allowing the continued functioning of the railway.

Historical Aspects

The Whitby & Pickering Railway was first opened in 1837, as a single-track, horse-drawn enterprise carrying freight between the two towns. Newtondale connects through the central moorland which largely separates the north and south of the North York Moros. Soon after the line was doubled and substantially rebuilt for steam propelled haulage with services starting in 1847.

Benham (An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2008) explains that Fen Bog(s) proved a “major headache” for the railway builders and that “Stephenson resorted to the same technique employed at Chat Moss when building the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This involved stabilising the land by ‘pile-driving’ fir trees into the bog and overlaying them with sheaves of heather bound in sheep skin, together with more timber and moss.” In addition deep drains were dug alongside the railway through the mire to try and keep water off the track. The extensive drainage has tilted parts of the bog. It has also been suggested that it meant the bog turned from a topogenous system (source water mainly from the land) to an ombrogenous one (source water mainly from precipitation) – but the report considers this is unlikely. The railway’s embankments and sidings were built and maintained using railway ash, basic slag, limestone and basalt – all base rich materials imported onto the site which still have an impact.

The summit of the railway is a short distance north of Fen Bog(s), near the former location of the ‘Goathland Summit’ signal box. South of this the railway track skirts the western edge of the wetland, it is built mostly along the steeply-sloping edge so that its upslope side is on mineral ground or shallow peat whilst the mire side is over deeper peat. The railway line has therefore partly obliterated, truncated and drained much of the western edge of Fen Bog(s). Towards the southern end of Fen Bog(s), the glacial channel curves west and the railway here crosses the bog to the other side of the channel, thereby cutting across and separating parts of the Bog(s).

View of North Yorkshire Moors Railway crossing Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

Methodologies

Peatlands are strongly influenced by hydrology, chemistry, and vegetation.

The Fen Bog(s) report considers the hydrogeology including stratigraphy, surface profiles, and solid, wetland, and superficial (recent) deposits.

It also investigates the water supply in and the drainage out. All the different water features on the site are mapped – as pool, spring or seepage, stream/ditch with visible flow, water flow track, water filled ditch with no visible flow, damp channel, or seasonally wet channel. The main artificial drainage is associated with the railway including the drains on either side of the line, but there is also other historic drainage at the south end of Fen Bog(s) which was done to improve the land for agriculture.

Hydrochemical measurements were taken as part of the assessment to establish the current pH and also the electrical conductivity of the water at different points. There is a lot of variation across the site. It has been suggested that high pH readings i.e. alkaline are caused by leeching slag used in the construction of the railway track. Measurements from the recent assessment suggest that in terms of chemistry any effects of the trackway on the Bog(s) is either historic or localised. Because of the mix of chemistry Fen Bog(s) is classed as a Transition mire and this is reflected in its mix of vegetation (see below). The transition can be geographical or successional, or both.

There are a series of historic water table measurements at two specific points, from the 1970s to 1990s – one in ‘wet’ bog, rich in sphagnum, in the north, and one in relatively ‘dry’ bog, with a lot of heather, in the south. The report suggests the main reason for the more consistently higher water table at the northern monitoring point can be associated with the greater number and penetration of flow tracks across the mire, the number of groundwater outflows and a more consistent supply of telluric water (surface water and groundwater). Groundwater geology is always important in sustaining a high water table.

Looking into Fen Bog. Copyright Louise Cooke, NYMNPA.

Development and status

Much of the depth of peat at Fen Bog(s) is believed to sit in a hollow which decreases at its southern end. It has been suggested this hollow may have been a glacial or post-glacial lake. However it appears as if the mire developed on a dry surface, that is through paludification, and not by infilling a water body (terrestrialisation).

The lower layers of peat cores and sections collected contain the remains of tree species (Birch, Willow and Alder) and other plants (Reeds and Sphagnum) that suggest wet woodland. Then the higher up layers on top contain more plants and silt indicating the formation of swamp and a rise in the water level. This may be a consequence of wetter climatic conditions but also may partly be to do with human activity. There is an increase in non-tree pollen suggesting the removal of trees at the time, and the report postulates that the build-up of water on the site may have been due to it being artificially damned at the southern end. Sphagnum increases in the top level of peat, from c. 1100 AD atleat until the 19th century. The development of a Sphagnum-dominated surface on a reed-monocot swamp requires some isolation of the surface from more base-rich water sources which means the margins with inflow must have remained largely free of Sphagnum and a dome of peat therefore developed in the middle of the bog.

Fen Bog(s) can therefore be considered an embryonic raised bog, which has developed upon a protracted phase of reed–monocot peat that, because of the topography of the trough and the occurrence of marginal inflows, has been susceptible to flooding with telluric water until relatively recently. Because the system has developed across a shallow watershed, it can be regarded as an embryonic ‘sattelmoor’ (saddle bog). The report notes that this assessment is based on the centre and eastern margin of Fen Bog(s) – the western margin has been modified too much by the railway development and associated drainage to be useful as evidence. The modification led to a tilt of the mire’s surface towards the west.

Vegetation over time is the raw ingredients of a bog. The report reviews and updates current NVC vegetation classifications across the Fen Bog(s) site. It’s quite a mosaic. As well as non-mire vegetation such as dry grassland, bracken, dry heath and wet heath, there is also:

  • Weakly base-rich springs and soakways – base rich means a richness of chemical ions i.e. alkaline, a soakway is a narrow track of water flow where little or no water is normally visible. Supports plants such as Bog bean, Broad-leaved cotton grass*, Common butterwort*, and Black bog-rush*, as well as Sphagnum sp. and other bryophytes. Beyond the immediate Fen Bog(s) site there are base-rich springs and weakly base-rich soakways – where soils are acid rather than alkaline so it means the water ends up only weakly or not base-rich at all.
  • Acidic springs and soakways – supports plants such as Common sedge, Yorkshire fog and Marsh violet, as well Sphagnum sp.
  • Ombrotrophic bog – where the main source of water is precipitation. Supports plants such as Common cotton-grass, Cross-leaved heath and Bog myrtle.
  • Minerotrophic Bog – where the main source of water is watercourses and springs. Supports plants such as Purple moor-grass, Common yellow sedge and Carnation sedge.
  • Molinia mire – purple moor-grass dominated vegetation, also supports plants such as SundewsStar sedge and Bog asphodel
  • Nutrient-rich fen – these areas may be influenced hydrochemically either by base-rich springs, or by the base-rich material that make up the railway embankments/sidings. Supports plants such as Angelica, Tufted vetch and Water horse-tail
  • Carex rostrata fen – base-rich mire supporting plants such as Bottle sedge (this is the Carex rostrata), Marsh marigold and Ragged robin.
  • Pools and soakways with Carex limosa – supports plants such as Bog sedge* (this is the Carex limosa), Slender sedge*, and Bog pimpernel.
  • Wet woodland – these remaining woodlands are similar to that which began the formation of peat millions of years ago. Supports plants such as Grey willow, Downy Birch and Creeping buttercup.
  • Reeds and willow scrub – can also be classed as wet woodland. Supports plants such as Narrow buckler fern, Soft rush and Sphagnums.
  • Tall swamp and reedbeds – each at different stages of development with their own characteristics. One site which supports bulrush is presumably mineral enriched from the track ballast but this shows no sign of spreading out into adjacent vegetation without the enrichment. Another site, not yet colonised by willow scrub, supports plants such as Marsh pennywort, Water mint and Branched bur-reed.

* notable uncommon vascular plant species

Another view over Fen Bog. Copyright NYMNPA.

What next?

From the assessment the report goes on to outline the main management issues and to suggest restoration opportunities for the Fen Bog(s) site. These include vegetation control through gazing and fencing, monitoring the spread of reeds (Phragmites), clearing parts of the species poor scrub areas, retaining the wet woodland/scrub habitat, blocking and redirecting specific railway ditches, minimising the introduction of new embankment ballast material, and using engineered solutions to tackle subsidence problems. Interested parties will consider the recommendations and decide what is desirable as well as practically possible, in order to maintain this very important bog site that embodies a clash of natural and cultural heritage.

Postscript: There is a story that a steam locomotive sank into Fen Bog(s) at some point in the past, and remains there today. But this is just a story.