Cosy and warm

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Hygge (pronounced hoo–gah) has been a major trend for this Christmas period. It’s a Danish ‘concept’ of living cosily e.g. wearing thick socks whilst drinking hot chocolate and watching Murder She Wrote – which can make us feel better about the icy and harsh season outside.

For a number of wild animal species, they have their own version of hygge except for them it’s a necessary survival mechanism. Hibernation is an extended period of deep sleep, or torpor*, which allows animals to survive the winter extremes. By reducing their metabolic rate and lowering body temperature this enables them to sit tight, conserve their energy and survive through the cold periods when food is scarce or has little energy value. *Animals in a state of torpor rather than sleep can venture out to try and find additional supplies during warmer winter spells.

In autumn as the temperature begins to fall and the nights draw in, many of the small mammals that live in our fields, woodlands and hedgerows forage for extra food to store over the winter and look for a suitable site (a hibernaculum) to hole up in for the coldest part of the year. Autumn months are often one of the better times of year to see small mammals in the North York Moors such as mice, voles, shrews and Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) out and about eating vast quantities of food to build up fat reserves which will carry them through to the spring.  Following this period of feasting they retreat to somewhere suitably warm and undisturbed and begin to enter into a period of hibernation, which can last for up to four months of the year depending on the harshness of the weather. Also in autumn bats relocate to hibernation roosts looking for a constant temperature and to avoid frosts and freezing e.g. caves, trees and built structures.

And it’s not just our small mammals that hibernate:  Queen bees dig in for the winter and also some species of moths and butterflies, like the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) which hunker down in grassy tussocks. Many of our reptiles and amphibians also hibernate. Adders find warmer crevices under boulders or in dry stone walls. Newt species spend the winter in the muddy banks of ponds, under paving slabs, piles of wood or in a handy compost heap. Common Toads (Bufo bufo) sleep out the winter buried deep in damp places such as leaf piles or compost heaps, before emerging to travel back to their traditional breeding sites in early spring. The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) which needs to keep damp is able to partially freeze in its state of hibernation before thawing out in spring. Occasionally such species come out of hibernation during any short sunny spells in the winter to make the most of the weak sunshine, only to return to their hiding place when the temperature falls again.

Malkin Bower, Bilsdale - in winter - copyright NYMNPA.

So as you’re reading this, hopefully somewhere cosy and warm, spare a thought for our wildlife that’s out there sleeping through the winter, hidden away from view deep in their retreats, practising their own life saving hygge and waiting for the first signs of spring.

Beside the sea

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

The spectacular coastline that makes up the eastern edge of the North York Moors National Park consists of a great number of composite habitats which in turn are home to a great number of complex plants and animals. The number of habitats – from grasslands to woodlands, farmland to coastal slope, rocky shore to marine environment – means the biodiversity interest on the coast is particularly abundant.

North York Moors coastal landscape - looking out to sea - NYMNPA

On the clifftop farmland plateau, a network of traditional field boundaries provide corridors for a variety of wildlife. Small mammals such as Field voles, Mice and Shrews take advantage of the cover that old walls and growing hedges offer, whilst high in the hedgerows farmland birds such as Yellowhammer, Linnet, Whitethroat and Goldfinch call out to mark their territories and deter predators from their nest sites. Old stone walls and also buildings offer cover for herptiles along the coast such as Slow worms and Adders. The large open fields on the clifftop are often lookout points for Brown hare and Roe deer at dawn and at dusk.

Yellowhammers - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Slow worm - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Hare - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Intersecting the plateau there are coastal woodland gills (narrow valley with stream) running down to the sea which contain their own microclimates. Sycamore often dominate the frontage to coastal gill woodlands as they seem to tolerate the cold north easterly winds; further up the gills where the growing conditions are less harsh, indicators of ancient woodlands are prevalent. English Oak and Ash are common along with a healthy understory of Hazel, Holly, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. Below this layer during springtime a plethora of ground flora comes to life with Wild garlic, Lesser celandine, Wood anenome and Dog-violets providing dashes of colour to the woodland floor.

Wild garlic - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Hayburn Wyke near Cloughton retains many native tree species growing alongside more recently planted introductions such as Larch and Rhododendron, a Victorian favourite! Introduced into the United Kingdom from Southern Europe and South East Asia in the late 19th century, Rhododendron flowers may be pretty, but the plant has become a serious problem in many woodlands due to its vigorous ability to colonise via seed and underground suckers. In doing so the evergreen canopy of the bush shades out much of the native ground flora leaving a barren ground layer below. Which is why the National Trust at Hayburn Wyke are actively controlling this non-native invasive species and bringing the native ground flora back to life.

Magic wood of Hayburn Wyke by robiuk - http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/North_Yorkshire/Cloughton_Newlands/photo155135.htm

The coastal cliffs and crags are temporary homes to seabirds such as Kittiwakes, FulmarsCommon gulls and Herring gulls before they take to the wing and patrol the waters below. Sand martin colonies also exist in the soft cliffs if you know where to look. Kestrels and the occasional Peregrine falcon will also use the craggy outcrops as they search for prey on the undercliffs and rocky shore.

Kittiwakes - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Coastal slope grasslands on the undercliff (below soft cliffs) offer some of the most unimproved habitats in the whole of the National Park. They have evaded the plough and fertiliser spreader and have therefore remained an almost natural habitat with an abundance of wild plant life. The grasslands are home to a variety of orchid species but these can become choked by ranker vegetation such as bracken and bramble. This is where management is needed to conserve the best features of the habitat through grazing by livestock to keep the invasive domineering species in check. In the sheltered hollows within the cliffs mosses and lichens grow, the lichens being good indicators of unpolluted, clean air in the atmosphere.

Exmoor ponies grazing the coastal slope - NYMNPA

Butterwort, Beast Cliff - NYMNPA

Marine life abounds along the rocky shore between land and sea – intertidal habitats. Covered by seawater twice a day, plants and animals that live in the rock pools are super resilient and have adapted to the constant flooding and desiccation that the harsh coastal environment brings. Barnacles, Blennies, Butterfish, Anemones, Periwinkles, Dog whelks and Limpets have all developed intricate methods of survival as the tides recedes for 6 hours before returning to overtop their pools and hiding places and plunge them underwater again. Common seals and Grey seals also regularly visit our shores during the summer and autumn months, hauling out at the remotest headlands to rest and give birth to pups.Rocky Shore - tide out - near Port Mulgrave - NYMNPA

Periwinkles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Marine mussles - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/Limpets - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

Out into the sea along the North York Moors coast marine cetaceans thrive during the summer months. Along with Bottlenose dolphin and Harbour porpoise, five different species of Whale have been recorded off the coast not that far from the shore – Pilot, Fin, Sei, Minke and even Humpback whales – as they follow the herring shoals around the North Sea.

Dolphin - http://northeastwildlife.co.uk/

What with cliffs, crags, caves, coves, crabs and cobblestones this post on the coast was meant to be part of the next instalment of our North York Moors National Park A to Z – but it just felt like it needed its own space.

More encounters

Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student

I was thinking about what I could share with you and found myself pondering the various enchanting and unexpected meetings I have had with wildlife since starting here in August. I decided to ask around the Conservation Department and gather together a number of recent stories and the odd picture to share.

It is amazing once you stand still how quickly wildlife often finds you. Whilst carrying out the Veteran Tree survey in Hawnby, Alasdair and Alex have been lucky enough to have several great wildlife encounters. While standing still, quietly surveying a fantastic old oak tree with lots of veteran characteristics a tiny Goldcrest started calling close by, this lovely wee bird was shortly followed by a flock of Long-tailed tits, chattering loudly in the canopy above them. They then heard the recognisable sound of a wood pecker drilling into old dead wood…to their surprise it was a rare Lesser spotted woodpecker, the first time either of them had seen one. It was surprisingly small compared to the more commonly seen Great spotted woodpecker and busied around for a good 10 minutes. They enjoyed watching it so much that neither of them thought to take a photo!

Whilst out conducting botanical surveys for the National Park’s habitat connectivity ‘Linking Landscapes‘ programme, Kirsty, Ami and Alex found some interesting creatures in the undergrowth.

Minature worldAlex and Kirsty joined in with a bunch of volunteers to discover how to spot water vole signs around Fylingdales, and although they didn’t see any notoriously shy water voles, there was a female adder lurking nearby.

Female adder

As well as adders, beautiful slow worms can often be found under stones, in and around dry stone walls, like this one found in a derelict wall near Cawthorn Camps.

Slow worm - being moved for it's own safety

Talking about Cawthorn Camps – from time to time, one of the tasks for Graham, our Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer, is to keep an eye on the Roman forts here. The site is owned and managed by the National Park Authority and Graham is watching out for erosion and encroaching vegetation problems. On a particularly hot, sunny summer’s day, he was showing a placement student around the site. Many of the visitors to Cawthorn walk around the main circular path, often exercising their dogs, but the interiors of the forts at this time of year are covered in long grasses and some heather. Because few people venture into the fort interiors, they are well-known as good adder habitat. In this sort of knee deep vegetation, generally the first sign of the presence of an adder is a fierce hiss just before you are about to step on it! On this most memorable occasion, Graham was pointing out the subtle internal earthworks of the site to the student when an extra loud hiss sent him into low earth orbit, badly jarring a frozen shoulder at the time – excruciating! He landed – unfortunately without a camera to hand – to the sight of a pair of conjoined adders which then – their coitus interrupted – serenely slid away while Graham + student stood there, recovering from the shock.

An excited Simon during his second summer of surveys for the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project found a “young” pearl mussel. Until then he had only found mussels which were 60-70+ years of age. This individual – the smallest live musseI that has been found in the river (75mm) recently, was approximately 20-25 years old. This proves that the mussels have bred successfully in the not so distant past, which gives encouragement to the aims of the Project, and all in all it was Simon’s best day out – ever.

A young Freshwater Pearl Mussel

As for myself, while sampling for bugs in Glaisdale Beck I spied a strange brown shape floating downstream in a very odd fashion. It turned out to be a common toad that drifted ungainly towards me and bounced off my waders before bobbing off downstream – a little bewildered.

Common Toad - River Esk

As I was dipping a small pond beside the River Esk looking for smooth newts prior to hibernation I came across this enormous hawker dragonfly larvae at nearly two inches long, a top predator within the little pond.

Hawker dragon fly larvae

And we mustn’t forget the local ladies when discussing encounters for it is hard to visit many parts of the North York Moors without meeting farm animals of some kind or other.Cattle - Esk Valley

The creatures we come across may not necessarily seem exotic or exciting (except maybe for Simon’s mussel) on an international scale, but each animal and bird is part of the biodiversity of this corner of the world – and that’s important to us.

Before and After

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Land managers and local contractors across the North York Moors have been working hard throughout the year, despite the adversity of torrential rain, deep mud, and endless gale-force winds, to keep the hedges and walls of our National Park going.

In addition to being a great landscape feature, the hedge and wall boundaries provide a long list of benefits to land managers, livestock and wildlife. Here are a few of the benefits (you might be able to think up more):

  • Wind break (crop and livestock protection)
  • Long-lasting livestock retention (outlasting fences by many years!)
  • Soil erosion prevention
  • Wildlife corridors
  • Shelter for livestock and a range of wildlife from snakes to ladybirds
  • Nesting areas for wildlife such as birds and voles
  • Pollen and nectar for bees and other insects
  • Food for wildlife (and foraging humans!)
  • Diversity of vegetation, within the hedge and in the sheltered areas at the foot of hedges and walls, in addition to fungi and lichens

A number of land managers applied for grant aid via our Traditional Boundary Scheme during the year. It was my job to initially assess each site, run a constraint check to make sure that what we were going to grant aid wouldn’t have a negative effect, and draw up the grant-aid agreements. I’m now rushing around checking up on grant claims before the end of the financial year.

Here are some of the before and after shots from the Traditional Boundary Scheme so far.

Thanks to all the land managers who have been involved in the Scheme over the last year, and well done everyone who’s completed so far; the renovated boundaries are looking good (the hedgerows always take a bit longer to look good than the walls)! Keep an eye out on our website, our Twitter and Facebook sites, and in the local press, for how to apply for the Traditional Boundary Scheme next financial year.

Chance encounters

Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser

On one of the many lovely warm days this summer I was looking for signs of water vole along the marshy banks of a stream on the moorland plateau, when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Looking round I saw it was a small, delicate frog hopping over the moss. Only about 1cm long it must have been one of this year’s youngsters.

Then I began to think about how often it is that most people’s encounters with wildlife are down to pure chance, and how exhilarating this can be.

I grew up in York and went on many walks with family and friends over the nearby North York Moors. Like many people who tramp the Moors regularly, I’ll never forget my first adder encounter as a child. I was running through the knee high heather when I suddenly stumbled across a large flat rock. On it, for a fleeting second, was a massive (to me!) brown zigzag patterned snake. Never having seen a real, live snake before I was amazed, and then rather sad when it slithered off into the heather and out of sight. Perhaps this was the beginning of my fascination with reptiles and amphibians.

I learnt later that this is typical adder behaviour – basking out in the open but darting off quickly at the first hint of danger. The individual I saw was a female; males typically are off-white with a black zigzag. The North York Moors provides a lot of excellent habitat for adders (Vipera berus) and we are lucky enough to still have good populations of this reptile.

Spring and autumn is when they are most often encountered, basking in the sun near their hibernation sites, which are often communal. Before breeding, males sometimes engage in a ritualised form of combat known as the ‘Dance of the Adders’ to decide who is going to mate with a female (see YouTube to see some fantastic footage). The young are born live in clutches of about ten during August and start hunting straight away. Their main prey is small mammals which they immobilise with a bite which injects a lethal dose of venom.

One of the great things about these chance encounters with wildlife is that it’s a win win situation – the more time you spend out and about in the countryside, the more chance you have of witnessing something special.

Story of a (temporary) drystone wall

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

Back one Sunday in August, Alex and I took part in a drystone walling workshop for the general public led by National Park Ranger (West), Carl Cockerill.

The heavens opened just after we arrived at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, but thankfully we were indoors for the first half-hour to watch a short film about drystone walling…set in India. It was interesting to discover the technique of drystone walling was devised because of a lack of skilled people to provide dressed stone, so the careful interlocking and balancing of stone of all shapes and sizes, known here as drystone walling, meant stock-proof boundaries could be built without dressed stone. There are examples of these types of boundaries all over the world.

Next it was outside for some hands-on effort as the sun came out, and our first job was easy – dismantle the training wall!

We carefully brought the wall down to the foundations. Then Carl set up the A-frames to ensure we would be working to the correct width and height as we began the rebuild. Some boulders were so heavy I was unable to move them, but with a bit of teamwork the wall slowly came together, layer by layer. The foundations consisted of the largest stones, and in this style of wall, stuck out from the first layer by about 5cm. The base of the wall was roughly half the height in order to provide stability. Throughstones ran from one side of the double-skinned wall to the other at regular intervals to steady the layers. Small stones were packed into the middle of the wall, filling in gaps and strengthening the structure. The upper layers included coverbands (creating a flat layer beneath the coverstones) and finally there was a topmost layer of flat, slanted coverstones.

There is a huge amount of skill behind a good drystone wall, and a wall repaired by a skilled waller can be expected to last around 100-150 years! Whilst it would have been nice to be able to see how well we did in the long term (I’m thinking potentially 5 – 20 years at most!), unfortunately the next workshop will enjoy dismantling all our hard work! Keep an eye out for events in the North York Moors and in our ‘Out and About in the North York Moors’ free magazine for future workshops and events such as another Drystone Walling workshop.

Wildlife within the walls….drystone walls provide shelter and habitats for all kinds of creatures, such as slow worms, lizards and adders, attracted to the warmth absorbed by the stones from the sun. So walls can be as much use to biodiversity as other traditional boundaries such as hedgerows and ditches.

Hares, voles, mice, stoats, frogs and toads, and bird life such as wrens also make good use of these boundaries, weaving in and out and sheltering within the stonework.  Birds of prey such as kestrels often perch upon the walls, keeping an eye out for movement from these small creatures.

Various beautiful lichens and mosses live on the rock faces, often preferring the cooler north-facing stones.

All kinds of invertebrates live within the nooks and crannies like beetles, snails and springtails.

Livestock frequently use walls for shelter against strong winds, rain and snow, and these boundaries hinder soil erosion.

In some cases, people have deliberately created structures within walls for particular animals, such as bee boles and sheep creeps (a sheep creep is a purpose built gap in the wall which sheep can get through to graze the next door field but other bigger farm animals can’t). The Dry Stone Walling Association has informative leaflets on both walls and wildlife, and bee boles.

Drystone walls are an important landscape and cultural feature of the North York Moors, across farmland, past and present, and along the edge of the moorland. In many cases a stock proof drystone wall is still an important management tool. If you have a field boundary drystone wall in the North York Moors that could do with being repaired, have a look at our Traditional Boundary Scheme grant information. You could potentially receive up to £2,000 per financial year towards your wall repairs.

Wall in landscape - Ladhill Gill

Rosedale’s mini meadow – part 2

Gallery

This gallery contains 30 photos.

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee The mini meadow conservation site in the churchyard of St Mary and St Laurence in Rosedale Abbey (established in 2011 through the LEADER Small Scale Enhancements Scheme) is full of wild flowers, including beautiful pockets … Continue reading

Looking after Levisham Estate

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

I recently carried out the Levisham Botanical Survey for this year with the help of Dawn Rothwell, our current Volunteer Service Assistant and a keen Volunteer herself, and Sam Lightfoot, LEADER Volunteer.

Levisham Estate is one of the very few areas in the North York Moors actually owned by the North York Moors National Park Authority. It’s just north of Pickering and the land holding is made up of c. 1,360 ha of moorland, woodland, and upland farmland..The overall aim of management on the Estate is to maximise the contribution of the Estate to National Park Purposes

The purpose of the annual Levisham Botanical survey is to ascertain if bracken/scrub encroachment and over grazing are still having a detrimental effect on sites which had been identified as being species rich and of high botanical interest in the past. The Survey has been carried out most years since 2006 and the results help inform us on further management, or suggest changes to the current management, in order to improve the botanical value of the sites.

Three specific exclosures (4m x 4m) have been set up in Levisham Bottoms, the Hole of Horcum and on Levisham Moor. The exclosures are monitored each year to compare species diversity within the exclosures where grazing is eliminated compared to the surrounding area where grazing continues.

Over the years since 2006 the areas outside the exclosures have greatly improved due to the change in grazing pressure on Levisham Estate. A balance is needed between over grazing/management and not enough management allowing scrub to build up at the expense of other habitats.

Ragged RobinRagged Robin 2Ragged Robin 3This year six additional sites were surveyed that hadn’t been monitored since 2007. These sites had previously had an indication of over grazing and bracken encroachment/shading. Some of these additional sites are still species rich but others are suffering from overgrazing, resulting in species being miniature in appearance. Some sites are under severe threat from bracken and gorse encroachment and have reduced in size since they were previously surveyed.

All in all however sites have greatly improved as a result of active management – bracken and scrub clearance – that has been carried out in the last few years. These sites, such as a species rich flush in the Hole of Horcum and a roadside flush near Levisham Station, are really special. A flush is an area of wet ground fed from ground water. Plant species such as Black bog-rush, Round-leaved sundew, Common butterwort, Bog pimpernel and Ragged robin have been found in good numbers. These areas are also attracting other species such as the Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, Golden-ringed dragonfly and the Common lizard.

Return to Fylingdales Moor

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

A week or so ago Kirsty Brown, our Conservation Projects Assistant, and I carried out our second bird survey for the Hawk and Owl Trust, covering a one kilometre square on Fylingdales Moor in the North York Moors. It was a perfect early morning – the sun was shining, the wind was calm and the birds were singing! We recorded all the birds we could see, including those in flights and any we could hear. The most abundant bird we recorded was Meadow pipit, closely followed by Skylark, both are beautiful little birds frequently seen on our moors, with characteristic calls and flight. Both species are in decline nationally.

Linnet, siskin, stonechat and willow warblers were some of the other species we recorded. Six mute swans also flew overhead which is a first for the Fylingdales Moor Bird Survey.

These results combined with the results from our first survey in June have been sent to Dr John Edwards of the Hawk and Owl Trust. Dr Edwards compiles an annual report, looking at the numbers of different bird species present on this Moor as reported by a number of surveyors, and compares the results to previous years. The survey will run again next year which will be the tenth year in a row of the survey – a fantastic achievement. Consistent repeat surveying can build up evidence of trends. This research is used to help manage Fylingdales Moor in the best way for biodiversity to flourish.

During our survey it wasn’t just us and the birds that were out and about – amongst the heather and cotton grass we also encountered a common lizard, tiger beetles, a noctuid moth larvae, many Northern/Oak eggar moth caterpillars and several spiders!