Attritional conservation

Seas of Green – UPDATE

Last September we reported on the installation of black plastic sheeting on a couple of ponds in Bilsdale with the aim of shading out the non-native invasive plant species – New Zealand pigmyweed Crassula helmsii – which was accidentally flourishing there. The idea was to give the plant a taste of its own medicine by depriving it of light.

By two months the pigmyweed was becoming etiolated – pale and weakened due to the loss of sunlight – indicting the sheeting was effecting growth.

Crassula helmsii two months after black plastic sheeting applied. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sheeting was left on the two ponds through the winter and spring, and a second survey was carried out this July. The sheeting has killed off 100% of the pigmyweed that was covered, however pigmyweed plants remain around the edges of the ponds, where it was difficult to install the sheeting due to the surrounding vegetation and irregular shape of the pond edges.

One of the ponds covered by the black plastic sheeting July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contrast between the remaining Crassula helmsii at the edge of teh pond and under where the sheeting where the plant is now dead, July 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.The National Park Authority’s southern Apprentice Team will be spraying off the pigmyweed round the edge with a herbicide. The sheeting will remain on the ponds until at least late autumn to try to finish off this invasive species once and for all in this location, allowing the biodiversity of the ponds to recover.

Other non-native invasive plant species

New Zealand pigmyweed is one of the most common non-native invasive plant species found in England, along with Common rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica, and Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. They were all introduced into the UK as garden plants. All of these species are present in the North York Moors to some extent, and work continues to control these particular plant species, without natural competition and predators, that can have such a detrimental effect on the area’s habitats and water quality.

We’re grant aiding the removal of rhododendron from important Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sties (PAWS), to help let in the light and give native ground flora a better chance of survival. Rhododendron can harbour the Phytopthora ramorum pathogen which is a great threat to forest species such as larch.

Himalayan balsam can be pulled out/cut down by hand but this needs to be done before the seeds are setting (August/September) because one shake of a plant can release 1000s of seeds that can travel up to seven metres potentially creating 1000s of new plants. Repeatedly removing the plants from a location before they can seed over a number of years will eventually mean this annual plant no longer regenerates there.

Japanese knotweed is trickier to tackle because it needs to be treated by careful herbicide injection. Repeated treatment can kill the rhizome which is so effective at spreading. The accidental breaking up of live rhizomes can spread the plant expediently. Careful disposal is vital.

We’re currently making best use of four years of funding from Yorkshire Water to tackle Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed along the banks of the Rivers Esk, Rye, Seph and Seven, through whole catchments and sub-catchments starting at the top. Both species are particularly menacing to river habitats as they out compete evergreen native species and die back in the winter leaving banks bare and prone to erosion increasing the sediment loads in the water.

Giant hogweed isn’t quite so common as the other plants in this area. It can be dangerous to deal with because its sap can burn skin so it needs to be treated with care. It can be cut down or tackled with herbicides, but like all non-native invasive species repeat control will be necessary to achieve eradication at a site.

There are lots of initiatives now across the country to address the threat of these out of place species, it can sometimes seem overwhelming but concerted repeated local efforts can have an effect.

Hitching a free ride

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

You might remember at least something about photosynthesis from school – it’s the chemical process by which plants absorb light energy, which reacts with carbon dioxide and water, and produces glucose and oxygen. Photosynthesis provides food/energy for plants, which ultimately provide food/energy for every animal on the planet. It’s also the reason most plants are green – photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts within plant cells, which contain the green chlorophyll that absorbs the light energy.

However some plants have evolved ways to get the energy they need without having to photosynthesise. Instead, they do it by parasitising other plants. Orobanchaceae is one such family of parasitic plants. There are varying levels of parasitism within the family, ranging from those that are hemiparasitic (only deriving some of their nutrients from other plants) to those that are holoparasitic (obtaining all of their nutrients from a host plant).

Toothwort is an example of a holoparasitic plant. I’ve found some particularly nice specimens of Common toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) growing on our doorstep in Helmsley. Note the lack of green colouring because the toothwort doesn’t photosynthesise, and also the resemblance to teeth. Toothwort feeds off the roots of woody plants, such as hazel, elm alder, and also walnut. There is a particularly fine walnut tree close by.

Common toothwort - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Common toothwort, also sometimes known as the Corpse Flower - NYMNPA Office, Helmsley. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

As I mentioned above, hemiparasitic plants are those that derive only some of their nutrients from the host plant but photosynthesise as well. Examples include Yellow rattle, Eyebright, Bartsia, Lousewort and Birds-nest orchid. We’ve commended Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) before on this blog. Yellow rattle can photosynthesise but also parasitizes grasses and other plants nearby. Because of its parasitic nature it can be a useful plant to reduce the vigour of grasses which in turn allows other wildflowers better opportunity to thrive. A recognised technique for establishing a wildflower meadow is to sow Yellow rattle initially to help ensure the grasses don’t out-compete everything else during the establishment phase. But it’s important to remember that Yellow rattle is an annual and like most annuals, it shouldn’t be cut or grazed until late July so it has had time to set seed and so has the chance to grow again next year.

Yellow rattle - copyright NYMNPA.

Plant relationships definitely aren’t as straightforward as you might think – and we haven’t yet featured the carnivorous sundews or butterworts (a future blog post). So the next time you’re out and about where ever you are have a closer look at what’s growing around you – it may not be as innocent as it seems!

Recipes for meadows

Aside

Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

A to Z: a number of Ns and Os

N and O

NATRIX NATRIX

There are three native UK snake species. Although Adders and Slow worms are common in the North York Moors, Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) aren’t. However they are found at at least one known site on the western edge of the National Park which makes them locally rare. They like rough grassland near to water and are known to swim (they’re also sometimes called Water snakes). Neither Grass snakes nor Slow worms are venomous, but Adders are.

Natrix natrix from www.herpetofauna.co.uk

All native snake species are protected. Please leave them alone and they should leave you alone.

NETWORKS

What is a network? In ecological terms it is basically the infrastructure through which species and habitats survive and flourish. In our 2012 Management Plan we identified the key ecological networks that we wanted to consolidate and enhance. Following the Lawton Principles (More, Bigger, Better and Joined) we’re working to ensure these networks and the associated habitats and species not only survive but become more resilient and sustainable into the future.

So what does a network actually look like? When we talk about networks and connectivity (which we do quite a lot on this Blog) we mean all sorts of things corridors, connections, linkages and stepping stones which whilst contributing to the same ecological goal, might look very different on the ground. For example, the Rivers Rye and Esk are important riparian linear networks, winding their way through other interconnected patchwork woodland and farmland networks. Some networks might be important for their great trophic diversity whilst others are essential for the survival of a particularly rare species. Promoting one particular network over another may impact on different species in different ways. For example, some farmland waders such as lapwing tend to nest in open fields with a low or short structure and areas of bare ground. One posited reason for preferring these open and large fields is that Lapwing want a clear line of site to any potential danger approaching their nests. So then planting hedgerows, usually a positive way to increase network connectivity, through good lapwing territory may negatively impact on this wader species. Similarly, native broadleaf woodland planting is usually something to be encouraged but not if it would break up a precious species-rich grassland network and adversely impact upon the important species that rely on it.

The North York Moors hosts a diversity of plants, animals and habitats. The challenge we’re grappling with is a putting together a jigsaw of different habitats and species; connecting up networks at varying spatial levels all within a framework of unpredictable future land use and climate change. It’s as difficult as it sounds.

And talking of different types of network, the National Park Authority is keen to foster a network of land managers in the North York Moors so we can share information and opportunities, and enable the North York Moors area to be a sounding board for new ideas in relation to land management and land use. If you are a local land manager and you’d be interesting in joining in – please contact us.

NEWTONDALE

Newtondale is a narrow valley cutting through the southern central moorland. It is the narrowness and steepness of Newtondale and its resulting inaccessibility which makes this dale unusual in the North York Moors which is renowned for its open landscapes. It contains important SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) successional habitats including wet woodland, flush communities and species rich grassland.

Newtondale - copyright NYMNPA

Newtondale was formed in the last Ice Age at least partly as subaerial overflow from the glacial lake in Eskdale to the north of the higher ground drained south into the glacial lake in the Vale of Pickering. The two lakes formed from meltwaters dammed in the west by the ice sheet in the Vale of York and in the east by the massive North Sea ice sheet. Recently it has been suggested that Newtondale existed already at this time and the overflow scoured and deepened an already existing feature.

This naturally formed cutting was exploited by the always practical George Stephenson when he built the Pickering to Whitby railway (opened 1836). The railway connected up the northern and southern parts of the North York Moors divided by the large central area of high moorland. For centuries the only connections had being inhospitable and difficult trods and tracks. The railway line is still used – by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and Newtondale has its own request stop.

NICHOLAS POSTGATE

Nicholas Postgate was born in or near to Egton Bridge in Eskdale at the end of the 16th century. He was a Catholic. Although Anglican Protestantism was the official state religion by this time, there was much insecurity and uncertainty and an international element was attached to Roman Catholicism that meant not following the protestant religion as prescribed by the state implied potential treachery. In the first half of the 17th century refusing to attend Anglican Protestant services was illegal, this recusancy marked people out as non-compliant and dangerous .

Nicholas Postgate decided to be an active Catholic when passivity was definitely safer. He went to a seminary in France where he was ordained a priest and returned to England where after ministering to catholic gentry families he finally came back to Eskdale in the 1660s to practice his faith and serve persevering Catholics in the wider North York Moors travelling from house to house. The situation of the North York Moors, on the edge and out of the way, has allowed non conformist religions to survive and flourish over the centuries.

Father Postgate survived the Civil War and Commonwealth periods in England, but the Restoration re-ignited the fear of Catholicism which blew up into the Popish Plot in 1678. The plot didn’t need much substance, it suggested that internationalist Catholics were conspiring to murder the King and destroy the State just as many Protestants had long feared and gave credence to some not very latent animosity towards Catholicism and Catholics. There followed a short lived period of persecution and settling of scores.

Father Postgate was arrested in Littlebeck near Whitby, reportedly carrying out a christening. He was charged with being a Catholic priest in England and therefore causing Catholicism to spread ‘of purpose…not only to withdraw … subjects from their due obedience … also to stir up and move sedition, rebellion and open hostility … to the great endangering  … and to the utter ruin, desolation and overthrow of the whole realm’ (Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists, 1585). In line with the punishment for high treason as the highest crime imaginable, Father Postgate was hanged, drawn (disembowelled) and quartered at York on 7 August, 1679. He was 83.

Nicholas Postgate has been beautified by the Catholic Church as one of 85 English Martyrs. His beatification means he is known as the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, intercessional prayers can be addressed to him, and his image and relics are venerated. Reportedly a lock of his white hair is kept in a reliquary at Egton Bridge, a jawbone at English Martyrs Church in York, and a hand with a blood soaked cloth at Ampleforth Abbey.

There is an annual local rally in honour of the Blessed Nicholas Postgate, held alternatively in Egton Bridge (where he was born) and Ugthorpe (where he lived up to his death).

NORTH YORK MOORS

A lot of people get the name wrong. The North York Moors means the moors north of the city of York. There are other areas of North Yorkshire moors and moorland, but only one North (of) York Moors.

OPPOSITE-LEAVED GOLDEN SAXIFRAGE (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage is a creeping perennial plant which can form extensive mats in damp, shady areas. So look out for it alongside becks, flushes and springs. It produces tiny golden flowers (3 to 5 mm) from February through to July. The plant has square-stems with directly opposite pairs of leaves.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium from freenatureimages.eu

To make identification more complicated there is also an Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) which shares the same genus. This species is very similar to the Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage except, as the name suggests, the leaves are alternate rather than opposite, and on triangular shaped stems. Its flowers can also be a bit bigger and brighter. The Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage is less common than its Opposite-leaved relative and it prefers a more limey habitat, but occasionally the different species can be found growing together.

Chrysosplenium alternifolium from freenatureimages.eu

ORCHARDS

In the North York Moors 19th and early 20th century farms and a lot of village houses had their own small orchards (still visible on Ordnance Survey historic mapping). Orchard fruit and other soft fruit provided part of a multi source income to people living hand to mouth and making the most of what they had. The fruit season ran from July through to winter – starting with gooseberries, then red and black currants and raspberries, then plums and finishing with apples and pears. The fruit wasn’t just sold at local markets, fruit could be sold on and because of the railways could end up in towns like Scarborough or end up in jam factories in Liverpool and Grimsby, or at the Rowntree’s factory in York to make jelly.

Apple and pear trees, as well as other tree species, are susceptible to canker (fungus). To counter this people used to whitewash orchard tree trunks with lime and spread lime on the orchard floor. Lime is still used as a fungicide.

Main local orchard species for the moors and dales are recorded as being:
Cooking Apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Lane’s Prince Albert, Old Cockpit
Eating Apples: Green Balsams, Winer Pippins
Pears: Hazels

Taken from Life and Tradition in the Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingleby

The loss of orchards since WWII has been a major change in the landscape, biodiversity and culture of the North York Moors.

ORTHOSTATIC WALLING

An orthostat is a vertical ‘upright’ set stone. If its old enough i.e. prehistoric, it is likely to be called a standing stone. Less dramatic orthostats can also be found in drystone walls where farmers have made use of the stones to hand. Big stones have been reused over time and set vertically into the ground amongst the horizontally laid smaller stones more commonly found in drystone walls. Orthostats are also very useful within a wall as gate posts or as the edges of a sheep creep (to allow sheep but no other stock to rove) providing added strength and structure.

Orthostatic walling is rare enough here that where it does occur the walls are often recorded on the NYM Historic Environment Record.

Stone sheep creep built into wall in Raisdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

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

A to Z: a lump of Ls

L

LAMINARIA

Laminaria is a genus of 31 species of brown algae commonly called Kelp. Some species are also referred to as Tangle. They are characterized by long, leathery laminae (leaf blades) and their relatively large size. There are two common Laminaria that grow along the North York Moors coast.

Laminaria digitata or Oarweed is commonly found along the local coastline and grows in the transition zone between the open sea and the deeper part of the rocky shore. The plant can grow up to three and a half metres long.  The fronds of the plant are hand shaped with fingers hence its species name digitata. They are sometimes (but not always) found still attached to the stipe or stem secured by a ‘holdfast’ at the bottom of the stem to a rock or ledge. After heavy storms this Laminaria can often also be found washed up on beaches after being ripped up by the strong waves and currents.

Laminaria digitata - image from The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae http://www.seaweed.ie/descriptions/laminaria_digitata.php

Laminaria saccharina or Sugar Kelp is another common kelp from the same transitional zone on the foreshore. This single stemmed seaweed can grow up to four metres long. It has a long leathery blade – unbranched and without a midrib – about 15 centimetres wide. The blade is flat but wrinkly and with wavy margins. It is also known as Poor man’s weather glass as it was used to forecast the weather: if it dries up the weather will be fine; if it swells up and becomes damp, rain is on its way.

Laminaria saccharina also known as Saccharina latissima - image from The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae http://www.seaweed.ie/descriptions/saccharina_latissima.php

Laminaria is an economically important genus. In the 18th century seaweeds were burnt to extract potash (potassium) for use in the glass industry to make the glass stronger, and in the 19th century iodine was extracted for medical usage e.g. as a disinfectant. Seaweeds have long been used as an organic fertiliser and spread on the land, because of the minerals they contain. Seaweed is also now used for the extraction of alginic acid used in medicine; in the manufacture of toothpastes and cosmetics; and in the food industry for binding, thickening and moulding. Please not that like most plants, seaweeds can also have detrimental (poisonous) effects.

LASERS at LASTINGHAM

Lastingham Abbey was originally founded in the mid-7th century AD by St Cedd of Lindisfarne as a Christian monastery. St Bede described the site as ‘among some High and remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation’. For whatever reason (Vikings have been suggested) it subsequently fell into eventual ruin. Monks from Whitby then re-established a new monastic foundation in 1087 but again it was abandoned as the monks moved on, with the work left unfinished.

St Mary's Church, Lastingham - copyright NYMNPA.

What is left on the site is St Mary’s Church, now the parish church of Lastingham. The building is mainly early Norman but with Victorian transverse arches and a vaulted roof added in 1879. The subterranean crypt beneath the church building – is particularly atmospheric. The dating of the crypt (e.g. whether it dates back to an original Anglo-Saxon building) and the usages of the crypt (e.g. whether St Cedd was reinterred there, making it a shrine) have long been debated.

Archaeological debates rely on evidence and data collection. In 2008 ‘early’ laser scanning of the crypt was undertaken by the University of Siena and the Landscape Research Centre. It was one of the coldest, dampest days imaginable on the Moors – so much so that the survey team (and the kit) needed to ‘defrost’ in the warmth of the nearby Blacksmith’s Arms pub afterwards. A short film clip – here – shows the scanning being carried out – it is clear that the technology has moved on a lot since. Back in 2008 the juxtaposition of the modern and ancient seems to add to the sense of eeriness.

LAURENCE STERNE
“I take a simple view of life. It is keep your eyes open and get on with it”

Laurence Sterne was born in Ireland in 1713. He came to the village of Coxwold on the south west corner of the North York Moors to be the Anglican Rector in 1760. He had previously attempted to supplement his clerical income with farming for a while but then tried his hand at writing instead, publishing a number of sermons and a critical pamphlet which was promptly banned. His first and most successful novel was ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’. He had written the first two volumes as family members died around him and his family life collapsed. Fortunately on publication in 1759 which Sterne paid for himself, ‘Tristram Shandy’ was an immediate success.

‘Tristram Shandy’ leaves out the strictures of ordinary linear plotting, and has no great conclusion or moral – instead “it is written in a bye corner of the kingdom, and in a retired thatched house, where I live in a constant endeavour to fence against the infirmities of ill health, and other evils of life, by mirth; being firmly persuaded that every time a man smiles, – but much more so, when he laughs, it adds something to this Fragment of Life” (Sterne’s dedication of Tristram Shandy to the Right Honourable Mr Pitt).

Sterne took very well to being a celebrated author both in London and the Continent. At the same time his fame meant that in 1760 he was appointed to a good living at Coxwold for the rest of his life with the security that entailed, and he could leave most of his clerical duties to his Curates. He published nine volumes in all of ‘Tristram Shandy’, the last in 1767, as well as ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (a spin off). Laurence Sterne died in London in 1768. Keeping with the tragicomedy of his life and work Sterne was initially buried in London – he may then have been dug up by Resurrectionists before being partly? reburied – but a skull and femur presumed to belong to Sterne were later removed and interred in the Church at Coxwold, whether he liked it or not.

Portrait of Laurence Sterne by Joshua Reynolds, 1760. Being painted by Joshua Reynolds is confirmation that Sterne was definitely a celebrity of his age. Laurence Sterne Trust.

Along with the Rectorage at Coxwold came Shandy Hall. This is the house where Sterne lived and wrote, in between sojourns in London, France and Italy. It is now the home of the Laurence Sterne Trust and is open to the public during the summer.

LAWTON REPORT

Professor Sir John Lawton chaired a panel considering “Do England’s wildlife sites comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network? If not, what needs to be done?” The panel’s report – Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks – was published in 2010.

One of the starting points was that in many cases habitats for wildlife were usually small and fragmented, missing the coherent and resilient ecological habitat connections across the landscape that would enable wildlife to spread and to move in reaction to change.

The report set out three objectives:
“1. To restore species and habitats appropriate to England’s physical and geographical context to levels that are sustainable in a changing climate, and enhanced in comparison with those in 2000.
2. To restore and secure the long-term sustainability of the ecological and physical processes that underpin the way ecosystems work, thereby enhancing the capacity of our natural environment to provide ecosystem services such as clean water, climate regulation and crop pollination, as well as providing habitats for wildlife.
3. To provide accessible natural environments rich in wildlife for people to enjoy and experience.”

The answer proposed by the report were that “To make space for nature we need more, bigger, better and joined up sites to create a sustainable, resilient and more effective ecological network for England…we need to do more to: 
i) Improve the quality of current sites by better habitat management.
ii) Increase the size of current wildlife sites.
iii) Enhance connections between, or join up, sites, either through physical corridors, or through ‘stepping stones’.
iv) Create new sites.
v) Reduce the pressures on wildlife by improving the wider environment, including through buffering wildlife sites.”

Figure 5 Enhancing ecological networks from 'Making space for nature' Report 2010

For the necessary management, restoration and creation of wildlife habitats the report suggested a number of approaches – including using levels of legal protection and designation, making the most of publically owned land, paying for ecosystem services and biodiversity offsetting, providing incentives through agri-environment schemes and the tax system.

The report offered a landscape vision of nature alongside people and it presented the encouraging idea that we can do things to make the situation better. It spelled out the interconnected benefits from, and the values of, the natural environment to wildlife and to people, including the possibilities of deriving multiple benefits from land-use so that everyone gains.

“It is a long-term vision, out to 2050, and defines a direction of travel, not an end-point. This vision will only be realised if, within the overall aims, we work at local scales, in partnership with local people, local authorities, the voluntary sector, farmers, other land-managers, statutory agencies, and other stakeholders. Private landowners, land managers and farmers have a crucial role to play in delivering a more coherent and resilient wildlife network.”

The Lawton Report was well received on publication. Many environmental organisations have set out their responses to the report since and are working in line with the principles set out within it. The North York Moors National Park Authority put the principles at the heart of our Management Plan in 2012 – our current habitat connectivity initiative is aimed at achieving long term effective wildlife connections along a number of strategic corridors.

LYKE WAKE WALK

The Lyke Wake Walk is a forty mile moorland crossing over the top of the North York Moors from Osmotherley on the western edge to Ravenscar on the coast in the east. The
idea came from a local man called Bill Cowley who issued an open challenge in The Dalesman in August 1955 to cross the moors on foot from west to east within 24 hours, and its continued as a standing challenge ever since. Everyone who completes the Walk within the 24 hours is entitled to become a member of the New Lyke Wake Club. Lately the Club has been working with National Park Authority Volunteers to ensure the classic route for the Walk remains accessible and erosion problems are tackled.

A ‘Lyke’ is a corpse, and a ‘Wake’ is the watch over a corpse before burial, so the Lyke Wake Walk should therefore be an historic route for carrying the local dead to their final resting place. Except that it actually isn’t. Instead it’s an evocative name given to a recent concept to bring people together to take up a challenge and to champion the North York Moors.

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

Summer days

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Grasslands are important habitats in the North York Moors supporting a wide range of plants and wildlife. They’re habitats that have suffered severe declines all over England in the past decades. Therefore conserving, restoring, creating linked grassland habitats is one of the key focuses of our Habitat Connectivity initiative.

National Park Volunteers carry out regular tasks like scrub control in order to maintain and restore grassland sites. But volunteers are also essential when it comes to monitoring our grassland sites. Botanical monitoring is a key tool to ensure that the prescribed management is having a positive effect on the site, and the information collected through the annual monitoring process ensures management can be tailored to each site to help ensure each is in the best condition they can be or are at least moving in the right direction. Repeat annual monitoring means changes, good or bad, can be quickly identified.

Our Linking Landscapes Grassland Volunteers have been across the National Park this summer monitoring grassland habitats. We currently have ten enthusiastic volunteers who kindly give their botanical expertise and diligently undertake an annual botanical survey at their ‘adopted’ site/s.

Back in June the LLG Volunteers attended an informal workshop to work through the survey methodology and brush up on field identification skills before embarking on their own surveys for 2016. Copyright - NYMNPA.

This summer I’ve also been out surveying a number of grassland sites which hadn’t been surveyed previously; getting to visit some lovely spots whilst improving my botanical identification skills and collecting information.

Common spotted orchid in an old limestone quarry sites - nearly twice as tall as my clipboard! Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Both the volunteers and I have followed the same simple methodology for monitoring our site/s. A walking route is marked out on an aerial photograph for the surveyor to follow – the approximate ‘W’ shape ensures that a fair representation of the site is surveyed. The surveyor walks along the route stopping at regular intervals – ten stops is usually adequate. At each stop a square metre (quadrat) of vegetation is assessed and each species present is noted down – this is usually where the ID books and hand lens are invaluable.

The monitoring route for an area of species-rich grassland at Sutton Bank National Park Centre. Aerial photography copyright GeoPerspectives 2009 all rights reserved.

At the end of the ‘W’ shaped monitoring route, a survey sheet will look something like this.

One page of the grassland survey sheets - filled in - NYMNPA.

Because we’ve recorded which species are present in each quadrat at each of the ten stops we can work out the frequency of each of the species:

A species is rare (R) if it occurs in one or two stops out of ten;
It is occasional (O) if it occurs in three or four stops out of ten;
Frequent (F) species occur in five or more stops out of ten.

Common spotted orchid and Betony. Copyright NYMNPA.

Additional information is also recorded, including the amount of bare ground and height of the sward, the amount of scrub and bracken on site, and the presence of pernicious weeds (such as thistles, nettles and docks). Lots of photos are helpful, plus any sightings of notable wildlife!

All this information allows a site to be assessed and assigned one of the following categories:
Good quality species-rich grassland;
or
Good quality semi-improved or degraded grassland of high species-richness;
or
Semi-improved grassland of moderate species-richness;
or
Species-poor semi-improved grassland.

The National Park is keen to see an increase in the area of species-rich grassland. For the North York Moors that means the priority habitats lowland meadow and lowland calcareous grassland. By this regular monitoring we can get a clearer picture of the changing status of each site and use it to advise restoration methods. Altering the grazing regime, clearing bracken and scrub and/or sowing locally sourced wild flower seeds/spreading green hay can improve the quality and diversity of a grassland site with the ultimate objective of achieving and maintaining good quality species-rich grassland.

Ragged robin and Greater bird’s-foot-treofoil- indicators of the Lowland Meadow priority habitat. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

Common bird’s-foot-trefoil, Knapweed and Field scabious on a species-rich area of calcareous grassland. Copyright Kate Bailey, NYMNPA.

We’ll be out again next summer, doing it all again.

Saving up for the future

Sam Witham – Conservation Research Student

This summer I collected 10,000 (approx.) native raspberry seeds Rubus idaeus from the North York Moors for the UKNTSP (UK National Tree Seed Project). This is a project run by Kew to collect tree and shrub seeds from different regions of the UK in order to build a genetic representation of all UK tree/shrub species in the country. I first got involved with the project when I first started with the National Park last autumn.

Collecting wild raspberries in the North York Moors for the UKNTSP - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

A couple of weeks ago I got to visit the Kew Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex to drop off the raspberry seeds and see behind the scenes. Bede West, a field officer for the UKNTSP, kindly gave me a tour of the Seed Bank, and explained the processes involved.

Kew Millennium Seed Bank - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Collected seeds are sent, along with a herbarium (plant) specimen, to the Millennium Seed Bank. The herbarium specimen is used to determine the correct plant species and is then stored at the Herbarium at Kew Gardens.

If seeds are not yet ripe, they are ripened in a ripening room.

Millennium Seed Bank - a zigzag aspirator - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Once the paper work has been checked over, the seeds are extracted from casing or fruit, and washed using inventive methods such as squashing them while wearing wellies, scrubbing them on a rubber car matt, sieving them, and rinsing them in the sink. A zigzag aspirator can be used to separate seeds by size.

Most seeds are then x-rayed. Seeds can be infected by pathogens such as grubs, fungi, viruses and bacteria, reducing their viability. Viruses can be hard to detect in the x-ray so a sample of seeds can also be looked at under a microscope.

Millennium Seed Bank - x-raying seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

There are orthodox, recalcitrant or unorthodox seeds, along with intermediate seeds. Orthodox seeds can be dried to 5% moisture content or lower and then frozen. Relcalcitrant seeds will not survive if their moisture content drops below 40%. Intermediate seeds are someway inbetween and can be dried somewhat.

Millennium Seed Bank - seeds from all over the world are dried in the same room - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Millennium Seed Bank - Sam's NYM raspberry seeds in the drying room - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Orthodox seeds are placed in a temperature and humidity controlled drying room where the seeds are gradually dried to 5% moisture or lower. Certain seeds can take more than six months to dry out. The seeds needs to be dried so that damaging water crystals do not form when they are frozen.

 

At some point before the seeds go into storage, 50 seeds from a collection are weighed and then the whole seed collection is weighed. From this the mean seed weight is calculated.

Millennium Seed Bank - storing seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Millennium Seed Bank - storing seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.When the seeds are ready, they are put in jars and then stored at -20oC in an underground vault.

 

 

Millennium Seed Bank - underground seed vaults - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

There are two types of vault rooms – active rooms and base rooms. The seeds in the base rooms are left undisturbed, while seeds from the active rooms are used for research and regular monitoring. After seeds have been frozen, an initial seed sample is warmed up and germinated to test for viability. Samples are then taken from the underground freezer every ten years and germinated in order to monitor their continuing viability. This is done until there are no longer enough active room seeds to do this. The remaining frozen seeds are then moved to a base room and are also left undisturbed. At this point it’s time to collect more seeds from the wild.

Seeds are germinated on agar, a jelly-like substance taken from algae. Certain nutrients can be added to the agar to meet the requirements of the seeds. The seeds are kept at temperatures and humidities matching their country of origin, and some seeds are moved from light rooms to dark rooms to simulate day and night. Some seeds can be more demandng and extra steps need to be taken to improve germination such as subjecting them to different climatic conditions and adding chemicals.

Millennium Seed Bank - germinating seeds - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

Millennium Seed Bank - seed incubators for germination - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.Once the active room seeds have been germinated and counted they are often destroyed, although Kew is looking into being able to grow more of them on in a nursery. Some seeds are grown on in greenhouses to definitively ascertain species and to create herbarium specimens, and also if they have been requested by outside organisations.

Millennium Seed Bank - growing seeds on in greenhouse - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

The recalcitrant seeds that could not survive the drying and freezing processes include coconuts, brazil nuts and acorns. Currently these seeds are germinated and the embryos are then cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196oC. This method is being actively researched and developed because as yet its not been that successful.

Millennium Seed Bank - recalcitrant seed embryos stored in liquid nitrogen - Sam Witham, NYMNPA.

The value of the seeds stored at the Millennium Seed Bank is as a research resource, and as a living natural heritage archive which can be used to boost wild plant populations if plants become rare.

Sam, on location at the Millennium Seed Bank.

Thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank, and thanks to the Society for National Park Staff for paying my expenses.

Patience and perserverance

We’ve launched a new concerted effort against two of the most threatening non-native invasive plant species in the North York Moors, bolstered by funding from Yorkshire Water over the next four years. We’re chasing down Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in the River Esk and River Rye catchments.

As well as damaging existing ecosystems and decreasing diversity, both these species tend to overwhelm other plant species along river banks and the danger from this is that during the winter when these non-natives die back the banksides are left bare of vegetation so subject to erosion which increases the sediment getting into watercourses and smothering the water habitat.

Both plants are vigorous growers and virulent spreaders. Himalayan balsam disperses thousands of seeds per plant through exploding seed pods that can propel the seeds metres from the original plant. If the plants are next to watercourses the seeds can be carried downstream to colonise new areas. Japanese knotweed spreads through its underground rhizomes which are so effective that all remnants of the plants need to be carefully disposed of because even a small fragment of rhizome if given the chance to re-root will form a new plant.

The only way to have any real impact on the plants is to tackle them systematically starting at the top of catchments and moving downstream, and repeating the control year after year to remove any vestiges of the plants. This new funding will provide a much needed boost to efforts made over the last few years.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) - it has a sickly, sweet smell, pink flowers and a bright green hollow stem. It can grow up to two meters tall. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Japanese knotweed grows to around three metres tall and has large alternate heart shaped leaves and a characteristic zigzag stem covered in purple speckles. Its flowers, which appear in late summer, consist of clusters of tiny creamy-white flowers. Copyright - NYMNPA.

We’ll be surveying the current extent of the plants and then resurveying each year to monitor the effects of the control. We’re using tried and tested control methods – hand pulling the Himalayan balsam before it gets the chance to seed and propogate, and treating individual Japanese knotweed plants with directly administered glyphosate injections to carry the chemical down into the rhizomes. We’ll be using contractors and volunteers to carry out the work coordinated by National Park staff.

Controlling and hopefully eradicating non-native invasive species in an area takes a long time. Simon, our River Esk Project Officer, is a real enthusiast for non-native invasive species control because he sees the detrimental effects the plants have on the river environment and on his beloved Freshwater pearl mussels. He can see the years of attrition starting to pay off as native vegetation starts to recolonise sites where invasive species have been removed.

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose” — Benjamin Disraeli

Calyx, panicle, auricle and glabrous

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

As my role in the Conservation Department develops I am getting more involved in woodland planting/creation, and woodland habitats. To this end, I recently attended a Field Studies Council weekend course on Identifying Woodland Plants. Over the three days we looked at not only typical woodland wildflowers and trees, but also the bryophytes, ferns and grasses which make up an important part of any woodland ecosystem. Plant identification enables a recognition and understanding of a habitat which then helps inform management.

In the North York Moors we have a lot of ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) as well as what is known as plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) where semi natural woodland has been planted up with commercial forestry in the past but where ancient woodland features still persist.

If you walk through a woodland and see combinations of bluebells, daffodils, yellow archangel, celandine, wild garlic you might be forgiven for thinking you are in an ancient woodland because you are looking at typical ancient woodland ground flora. However, all of these species have garden imposters which look similar, and might have been introduced. Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. montanum) for example, is an ancient woodland indicator species, whilst the garden variety of the plant (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentatum) is an invasive plant usually grown as ground cover in gardens. This garden variety of Yellow archangel is classified as a Schedule 9 plant under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 meaning it is an offence to release it into the wild. Quite often the garden imposters are brought into woodlands by people dumping garden waste or tracking seeds in on boots or vehicles. They are therefore usually found on the edges of woodlands at first, but can very quickly colonise inwards.

We spent a large part of the course looking at the species that can be easily confused. These include examples such as Wood speedwell and Germander speedwell, Yellow pimpernel and Creeping-Jenny, Wild strawberry and Barren strawberry as well as trees such as Beech and Hornbeam. When plants are in flower identification can be easy enough but we also focused on vegetative characteristics so as to be able to recognise plants when not in flower. For example, the terminal tooth on Barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) leaves is generally shorter than the two surrounding side teeth, whereas on Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) the terminal tooth is longer than the side ones. This is an important distinction to make as Barren strawberry can be a good ancient woodland indicator species, whereas Wild strawberry tends to be less so.

Wild strawberry in flower with Barren strawberry growing right beside it - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Identifying different oaks on site - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.Another element of the course was learning to describe why a particular species had been identified as one thing rather than another. It was not enough to point at an English Oak (Quercus robur) and say what it was, we had to explain that it could not be a Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) because there were intercalary veins (between the apex and the base) on the leaf, leaf auricles strongly present (ear shaped lobes), and a petiole length of approximately 2-5mm (that’s the leaf stalk). Interestingly, we found stellate (star shaped) hairs on the underside of almost all the English Oaks we looked at, suggesting that they were in fact hybrid oaks (Quercus x rosacea), albeit leaning strongly towards English Oak.

Many botanists currently rely upon Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles for their plant ID, and recent taxonomic changes caught out some of the more experienced participants on the course who were more familiar with previous texts. Taxonomy is the hierarchical system used to classify organisms to a species level; it was initially developed during the 18th century and has been adjusted ever since. With the advances in genetic science a number of plants have been reclassified lately according to genetic, rather than morphological, similarity. For example, in the 3rd edition of Stace, Lime trees are now part of the Mallow family (Malvaceae) rather than having their own Tiliaceae family, the Maple family is now Sapindaceae instead of their own Aceraceae family, and Bluebells have changed from Liliaceae (Lilly family) to Asparagaceae (Asparagus family).

Studying bryophytes was a completely new experience for me, and it was fascinating area to investigate. We looked at the main differences between mosses and liverworts, and then broke them down into acrocarpous/polycarpous (depending on location/number of reproductive parts on the plant) and thalloid/leafy groups (depending on plant structure or lack of it). This allowed us to more quickly use a key to then identify what we were looking at. Out of all the ones we identified my favourite was probably Thuidium tamariscinum; it is tripinnate (the layout of the leaflets) and regularly branched giving it a feathery, almost fern-like appearance.

Identifying a bryophyte back in the classroom - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Ferns were also rewarding. We were able to break these down into groups based on how pinnate (compound leaves with leaflets on either side of axis) they were, and how the sori (clusters of sporangia in which the spores form) on the back of the fronds were shaped. For example, the Dryopteridaceae family we looked at were bipinnate and had kidney shaped sori arranged in a row on either side of the mid-rib of the pinnule (division/sub division of a compund leaf). Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) was one such member of this family. It was similar to the scaly male-fern (Dryopteris affinis agg.) but had fewer golden scales, lacked a small dark mark at the rachis (leaf axis) join and the pinnules tended to taper inwards more towards the apex.

Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) showing the fertile (lighter in colour and more upright) and sterile (darker) fronds on the same plant. Copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

Grasses, rushes and sedges can also be ancient woodland indicators. Some of them, such as Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula) are also common in gardens (and therefore liable to colonise woodlands through being dumped as garden waste), and this served to highlight the importance of always doing a broad survey of any woodland and not assuming it has ancient characteristics based on the presence of only one or two indicator species.

Pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) growing beside a footpath - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

The course finished with a two hour exam in which we had to identify and justify our reasoning for twenty different woody and herbaceous plants. Whilst two hours initially sounded like a lot of time, it meant only five or six minutes per plant, and the time quickly flew by! I actually enjoyed it.

Despite having never previously looked closely at bryophytes or ferns before, let alone encountered terms such as calyx, panicle, auricle and glabrous*, the course had me completely hooked. Some people have dedicated their entire lives to studying single plant families, and new discoveries and species are not infrequent. Now whenever I go into a woodland I’m going to be carrying a hand lens with me – if you do the same you might find that there is a whole world to discover.

*If you want to find out what these words and a host of other botanical terms mean – try here.

Please note that it’s always best to try and identify a plant in the field if possible – take an ID key and a lens out with you. Collecting small amounts of plant material for identification purposes is usually okay, except in the case of protected or (rare) Red List species. But please don’t pick plants if  the population at the location is very small and may suffer as a result. If a specimen really is needed for identification, remove the minimum quantity necessary. Please note it is illegal to uproot most wild plants without the express permission of the landowner.

 

Habitat connectivity: back to basics

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Currently this National Park Authority has two strategic priorities: one is to promote the North York Moors and the other is to improve the connectivity of habitats in order to benefit the biodiversity and landscape of the area, and mitigate the encroaching impacts of climate change.

Habitat connectivity features quite heavily on our Blog; that’s because it’s important to us. Habitat connectivity is the main driver for the work of the Conservation Department. It’s generally accepted that some of the most (ecologically) important habitats within our countryside have declined and fragmented over the decades and good quality habitat now tend to only exist in isolated pockets across the landscape. The first step is to conserve these remnants and then go on to establish connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones – linking and increasing the habitat resource and therefore its sustainability into the future. These connections, buffers, corridors, stepping stones allow animals, birds, plants to move through the landscape between the habitats they need which helps populations thrive and grow (helping to mitigate the effects of climate change) – ‘stitching’ the landscape back together for wildlife.

Imagine a habitat e.g. native woodland and the biodiversity that depends on it e.g. oak, ash, birch, hazel, bluebell, wood anemone, wild garlic, great spotted woodpecker, nut hatch, wood warbler, tawny owl, ringlet butterfly, feathered thorn moth, barbastelle bat, wood mouse, not to mention the ferns, fungi, lichens, mosses, beetles and spiders etc. etc. We want to better the condition of existing native woodland habitat, to increase the extent of native woodland habitat, to create new native woodland habitat, and to ensure native woodland habitat is better connected; all to ensure a linked landscape for native woodland and the wildlife that depends on it.

Woodland with bluebells, near Hawnby - copyright NYMNPA

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Back in 2012 we sat down with a map of the National Park and considered where we were at. As discussions developed a clear picture of where concerted effort was needed began to emerge. We knew more or less where the surviving key habitats were and we also knew where we wanted to enhance other habitats more generally e.g. the areas which had been key habitats in the past and could benefit from restoration. Key habitats such as Ancient Woodlands, species rich and semi-improved grasslands, riparian strips and coastal hinterland were used as focuses around which to plan for greater connectivity. In the North York Moors, heathland/moorland which makes up around a third of the National Park would seem a likely key habitat but as this is already well connected with large expanses stretching as far as the eye can see, it does not require the attention that more isolated habitats do in terms of habitat connectivity.

We identified the strategic corridors where our efforts would be best focused in our 2012 Management Plan. We then identified the key ecological gaps along these corridors as well as a number of essential gaps to address more widely – 132 of them in total.

Strategic Connections Map from the North York Moors National Park Management Plan 2012

Target Connection Sites map from North York Moors National Park Business Plan 2012

What we then needed was a method of implementing our thoughts and vision. We draw polygons around the gaps to provide a framework for practical implementation. Officers are assigned individual or groups of polygons and using the original objectives for each ecological gap (e.g. restore PAWS to having Ancient Woodland characteristics, develop a mosaic of habitats, enhance species rich grassland) we develop rationales setting out what might be done on the ground and how best to do it. If we are going to carry out work and spend money in these target areas we need to establish sound reasons for doing so and to be able to justify our decisions. We start by carrying out a desk study of the habitat interest and records in that area – this includes previous habitat surveys, species information, existing and previous agri-environment agreement areas, public access, historic environment records, designations, and aerial photography. The records are important because as well as looking for opportunities we need to also consider potential constraints such as the historic environment because we don’t want to accidentally damage a valued feature by attempting to achieve the aims of Habitat Connectivity.

Once we have this background picture of a target area we need to get our boots on and get out on the ground to see what’s really there. We’re looking initially from Public Rights of Way only (unless specific permission to access the land has previously granted) – we need to assess how much of the information we have matches the real situation on the ground. A key requirement is to take good quality photographs (both of individual habitats and the wider landscape) as well as making accurate field notes, annotating our original maps and at the same time looking out for possible linkages across the landscape. As our main habitat survey information (a Phase 1 Survey) is nearly 30 years old it is not always still accurate as habitats have changed and shrunk since then. This is especially true of unimproved grasslands identified in the late 1980s where scrub, bracken and bramble succession has since encroached.

Once back in the Office with the results of the field work, we consult with specialist Officers (Rona the Senior Ecologist, Mark the Woodland Officer etc.) to agree the best way forward i.e. how to make a difference. A plan of action is developed using the following principles:

  • Identify – find and assess the current condition of the key habitats.
  • Protect – ensure that quality habitats are in some way ‘protected’ i.e. conserved. If there are particularly important species e.g. breeding waders, making use of a habitat e.g. rough pasture, that habitat might be enhanced but shouldn’t be transformed.
  • Enhance/restore – most areas of habitat need some form of continuing care and maintenance to prevent decline or loss.
  • Expand – are there any adjacent buffer areas of land that could be incorporated into the habitat?
  • Create – establishing new areas of habitat nearby – this is easier for some habitats e.g. woodland than others e.g. grassland. Long term commitment is required.

To take forward any ideas the involvement of landowners/land managers is essential. In many cases for a land manager and their family the land is their living. To protect, enhance/restore, expand or create the landowner/land manager has to be willing. We’re talking about facilitating capital works like fencing to control stock, scrub control, tree/hedge planting, spreading wild flower seeds, cutting grassland, managing woodland etc. Following negotiations, the National Park Authority can provide grant assistance, use its own Volunteers and Apprentices to carry out the required tasks, or buy the necessary materials and the land manager provides the labour. Longer term requirements are met through maintenance clauses or land management payments over time.

Then once the work is organised and underway, at some point we need to be able to declare whether the gap has been addressed and the looked for key ecological connection made, or rather is on the way to being made. We do that by returning to the rationale – have we been able to achieve what was identified as being required at the beginning of the process?

Although the process takes time it is necessary in order to ensure that we achieve the best workable and sustainable linkages we can.

Little Fryupdale - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA